Friday, November 22, 2013

A Little Bit of History

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Being almost 30 weeks pregnant I'm obviously looking forward to the holiday! That aside, Thanksgiving is a holiday rich in history. So I thought it appropriate to give everyone here a little history lesson - on crochet, that is!

The word "crochet" originates from the root word "croc" or "croche" in Middle French, which is the word for hook. Now, other crafts such as knitting, embroidery, and weaving can be traced far far back in time thanks to archaeological research, written records, and many pictures portraying the art forms, but the ability to pin point a place in history and say, "This is the beginning of crochet!" has continued to elude historians. One American crochet expert named Annie Potter stated, "The modem art of true crochet as we know it today was developed during the 16th century. It became known as 'crochet lace' in France and 'chain lace' in England." She as also stated that Walter Edmund Roth found some examples of true crochet when he visited descendants of the Guiana Indians in 1916. There have been some sources that say crochet comes from as far back as the 1500's, popping up in Italy. They called it "nun's work" or "nun's lace" where it was performed to create textiles for the churches there. All speculation aside, the general consensus is this: We really just don't know, but there are theories!

The most widely accepted theory is that crochet probably developed most directly from China in the way of an ancient form of embroidery known as "tambouring" from the French word "tambour" or drum. (You music junkies should appreciate that one!). They stretched a piece of fabric out on a frame and used a hooked needle to work a thread through the fabric and then creating a chain to continue the work, what we now call "the chain stitch". This method was much more meticulous - (I know, right? MORE meticulous??) - because it was performed with a hook the size of a sewing needle and therefore a small thin thread. Now this speculation gives that crochet came around somewhere in the 1700's. By the end of the 18th century, the French had renovated tambour and began calling it "crochet in the air" when they discarded the background fabric and began working with just the stitches.

Are you familiar with the potato famine that darkened Ireland's doorstep from 1845 -1852? (If not, check this out.) Well, if it hadn't been for crochet, the jolly ol' Irish might not have made it! Men and women and children were all gathered together to form crochet cooperatives. It was taught in school, and teachers were trained and sent all over The Emerald Isle to make sure everyone knew the craft. Soon the red-haired green-eyed lovelies were creating their own beautiful patterns. Unfortunately, over a million were still lost over a period of 10 years, but they still survived the famine. Many families saved the money they made from their crochet to move abroad. My mother and I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for the immigrants. *wink* Can we get a toast? 
Miss Annie Potter tells us that two million Irish immigrants came to the Americas between 1845 and 1859, and the women in America who were already quilting, weaving, spinning, knitting, picked up crochet out of pure fascination allowing it to move forward as an art form. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? See, hubbies, it isn't just us! It's in our jeans - I mean! Genes!
To touch back on our weapon of choice, our crochet hook, what else was used? Well, anything at their disposal. Wal-Mart didn't exist back then, so they used their fingers at first. Then they moved on to creating the hook. They made them out of bones from fish and other animals. Some were made from wood or metal. They even made them from teeth broken from a comb and old spoons. And if you think that buying hooks now has the potential to put a dent in your wallet, imagine if you were buying them made from silver! (If you have silver crochet hooks, please post a picture. I bet they're beautiful.)
Finally, what we all turn to for inspiration and teaching: patterns. Patterns used to be samples of another person's work that were often bound together in a fashion similar to a book.  In the early 1800's a woman by the name of Mile Riego de la Branchardiere became best known for her ability to take old-style needle and bobbin lace designs and form them into crochet patterns that could easily be duplicated which she published into books for other women to read. She claimed to have invented "lace-like crochet" which is called Irish Crochet today. Books from the 1800's were 4x6 inches. They were small and had wooden illustrations. There have been several crochet books found in a multitude of countries, and they were often translated between languages. Starting in 1916 you could have bought small samples of yarn that demonstrated a stitch in a narrow band.
I hope you're still with me. I also hope that all of this has been interesting enough that you want to do your own research and maybe come up with your own theory on the origins of crochet. Most of all, I hope you are thankful for all things this holiday season.

I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving from Kat Knap!

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