What Is Tunisian Crochet and Where Did It Come From?

Some of our favorite projects use the Tunisian crochet technique. If you want to learn more about this interesting crochet method, check out Dora Ohrenstein’s book The New Tunisian Crochet. It’s filled with contemporary designs that use this time-honored technique. So what is Tunisian crochet and where does it come from? Dora explains it all…

Almost everything about Tunisian crochet has come under dispute at some point, including its history, origin, attractiveness, utility, and even its name. Perhaps it’s this very mystery that entices the modern crocheter to explore the technique. So what is this thing called Tunisian crochet?

This method is often considered to be a hybrid between knitting and crochet, and the description is apt. The tool used is a long hook that appears to be a cross between a 14-inch straight knitting needle and a crochet hook—a long, smooth shaft with a hook at one end and a stopper at the other. Unlike standard crochet, where each stitch is worked and finished as you go, in Tunisian crochet, stitches are picked up in one direction, called the forward pass, then finished in the opposite direction, called the return pass.

The resulting fabric is different from both crochet and knitting, displaying unique qualities all its own. Because stitches are linked in both the vertical and horizontal directions, the fabric produced is firm but flexible. It stretches less than standard crochet, particularly in the horizontal direction, but nevertheless has an elastic quality. As with standard crochet, choosing yarns of different weights and fibers will have a significant effect on the finished fabric, as will the choice of stitch pattern.

A Brief History of Tunisian Crochet

I have found absolutely no evidence that Tunisian crochet was ever done in Tunisia, a country of rich textile traditions, especially weaving and embroidery. Some evidence suggests it couldn’t have begun there, as much of the population of the area is Berbers, whose custom actually forbade women to use needles and hooks. In fact, the origins of it are unknown, since no samples of the craft have been found that predate the twentieth century.

Tunisian crochet

Source: Weldon’s Practical Needlework

What is known is that instructions for pieces using the technique appear in Europe around the same time as standard crochet, in the mid-nineteenth century. Not long after, it appeared in U.S. needlework magazines as well. The second half of the nineteenth century saw a huge increase in the publication of instruction books for all the needle arts, and Tunisian crochet was regularly featured along with knitting, crochet, macramé, and other crafts then popular with women.

It was, however, often not referred to as Tunisian at the time, but as any one of several other names.

Curious about the history of Tunisian crochet? Want to work up some incredible Tunisian projects? Pick up a copy of Dora Ohrenstein’s The New Tunisian Crochet to learn more!


New to Tunisian crochet? Give it a try!

 

2 Comments

  1. Jennie G at 10:06 am August 14, 2017

    I read somewhere that one reason it was so useful is that it could be cut like fabric without unraveling. Has anybody tried it? The article (in a crochet “history” book, I believe) said that children could be put to making it without having to follow a pattern, and then the resulting fabric could be cut to shape. anybody know?

  2. Anonymous at 8:31 am August 17, 2017

    Hi Jennie G,

    I’ve asked around, and, unfortunately, no one on the crochet team has tried it. However, we’re all very intrigued, and we would love to read the article if you could let us know where you found it.

    Thank you so much!

    Susanna T

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