Crochet Through History

Many people believe that crochet is an ancient craft, but recent scholarship has shown that it is relatively young, originating sometime in the early nineteenth century. Crochet has not been extensively studied by scholars, so reliable information is hard to find, allowing many myths to circulate. Here is the best information available to date about how and where important crochet developments occurred. This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Winter 2019.

MEDIEVAL PERIOD

SLIP STITCHES

Slip stitching (or shepherd’s knitting, if you’re from Scotland) is older than crochet and was once considered a special kind of knitting. It involved looping one stitch to another and is a precursor to crochet. Try your hand at slip-stitch crochet with the Acorn Cap from Interweave Crochet Fall 2010.

Acorn Cap from Interweave Crochet Fall 2010. Photo by Joe Coca

1822

FIRST PUBLISHED CROCHET PATTERN

In 1822, Dutch needle arts magazine Penelope was the first to refer to crochet as a craft, and a quite difficult craft at that. Why so hard? Probably because the tools used at that time— tambour hooks intended for embroidery—were not designed specifically for crochet. See more tambour hooks in PieceWork March/April 2012.

Robert Haven’s tambour hook with a mother-of-pearl handle from PieceWork March/April 2012. Photo by Joe Coca

1820s

TAPESTRY CROCHET

Tapestry crochet evolved in northern Europe, where Scandinavian crocheters might have been the first to develop the single crochet stitch, allowing a second color to be carried within the stitch. Try out tapestry crochet with the Nordic Tapestry Pouch in Interweave Crochet Winter 2019.

Nordic Tapestry Pouch, Interweave Crochet Winter 2019. Photo by Harper Point Photography

1845

CROCHET HELPS SAVE THE IRISH POOR

In 1845, a terrible plague hit Ireland’s potato crops, causing widespread famine. Some families were able to avoid starvation by establishing cottage industries in lacemaking. From this tragedy, the stunning art of Irish crochet developed rapidly and proved to have enduring appeal. Learn to make Irish crochet buttons in PieceWork May/June 2018.

Irish Crochet Buttons to Make from PieceWork May/June 2018. Photo by George Boe

1847

FIRST CROCHET HOOK PATENTED

According to Nancy Nehring, who has studied the evolution of crochet hooks in western Europe, the first patent for a “crochet needle” was in 1847 by G. Chambers & Co. To learn more about the history of the crochet hook, check out Nancy’s article in PieceWork November/December 2017.

British crochet hooks made from 1847 to 1900 differed mostly in the handles used to hold the crochet needles. All objects are from the collection of Nancy Nehring. (PieceWork November/December 2017) Photo courtesy of Nancy Nehring

1851

FIRST CROCHET AWARD

Renowned British needle artist Mlle. Eléonore Riego de la Branchardière was among the early publishers of crochet patterns, and in 1851 her pattern for a spectacular children’s lace dress was awarded a prize at the Great Exhibition in London, the first-ever award in crochet.

1858

TUNISIAN CROCHET

Hooked knitting needles were used in Europe and elsewhere, and experts incorporated slip stitching with a hooked needle into their knitting. These clever artisans developed the hybrid we now call Tunisian crochet (then called the Princess William Frederick Stitch), and the first Tunisian crochet pattern appeared in print in 1858. Try your hand at Tunisian with the Tunisian Crescent Shawlette in Interweave Crochet Winter 2019.

Tunisian Crescent Shawlette, Interweave Crochet Winter 2019. Photo by Harper Point Photography

1880s

GRANNY SQUARES

Caulfeild and Saward’s Dictionary of Needlework, published in 1882, includes an illustration for a square shawl that is very similar to today’s granny square. Perhaps we should call it the great-granny stitch in honor of its age? Try out a similar stitch in the Granny Hexagon Bag from Interweave Crochet Winter 2019.

Granny Hexagon Bag, Interweave Crochet Winter 2019. Photo by Harper Point Photography

1900–1920

HAUTE COUTURE CROCHET

Irish crochet inspired high-fashion designers in Paris, London, and Vienna. Luxury garments based on Irish crochet techniques can be found in museums today; they were the first high-fashion garments to use crochet.

1951

AMIGURUMI

Japan was among the countries where crochet was taught by Westerners in the 1870s. A study by Dai Watanabe found Japanese crochet patterns for small stuffed animals published in 1927, but the term amigurumi was not used until 1951. Make your own with the Little Llama Amigurumi from Interweave Crochet Winter 2019.

Little Llama Amigurumi, Interweave Crochet Winter 2019. Photo by Harper Point Photography

1970s

FREEFORM CROCHET

The cultural upheavals of the 1960s—when every type of convention was challenged—affected all the arts, crochet included. Crochet broke free from traditional patterns in numerous ways, most notably in the development of what we now call freeform crochet. Read more about it in Interweave Crochet Spring 2006 and try a version of freeform crochet with the Dogwood Scarf from Interweave Crochet Spring 2015.

The Dogwood Scarf from Interweave Crochet Spring 2015. Photo by Harper Point Photography

1994

FOUNDING OF CROCHET GUILD OF AMERICA

Designer and writer Gwen Blakely Kinsler founded the first American guild dedicated to crochet in 1994, to “create an environment which provides education, networking, resources, and a national standard for the quality, art and skill of crochet through creative endeavors which preserve the heritage of crochet.” The guild is still going strong!

Northern IL Chapter of CGOA Conference Committee for Chain Link Conference in Chicago, 1997. Photo courtesy of Crochet Guild of America

2004

FIRST ISSUE OF INTERWEAVE CROCHET

Interweave Crochet magazine started as a special supplement within its sister magazine, Interweave Knits. In 2004, it was printed as a special issue titled “Interweave Knits Crochet.” The second issue of Interweave Knits Crochet was released in 2005; by 2006, Interweave had released two issues of Interweave Crochet, and by 2007, it had been transformed into the quarterly magazine you get today! Get the earliest issues in this pattern collection.

The first issue from Interweave devoted entirely to crochet! Cover photo by Chris Hartlove

2005

YARN BOMBING

Public displays of yarn art may have started with Texas knitter Magda Sayeg in 2005. Inspired by graffiti artists, Magda began to “tag” various objects in Houston with her knitted cozies. The movement has grown exponentially since that time, and there are now craftivists (groups that practice activism through crafting) around the globe.

A yarn-bombed tree. Photo courtesy of Pixabay user Denise Litchfield

2016

RECORD-BREAKING CROCHET

In 2016, a Facebook group called Mother India’s Crochet Queens created a blanket measuring more than 120,000 square feet—the size of two football fields. This is an official Guinness World Record.


DORA OHRENSTEIN, a crochet designer and author, has written several articles on crochet around the world as part of her ongoing quest to uncover the history of crochet.

(Featured Image Credit: Harper Point Photography)


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