Crafting through history: The history of crochet

March 20, 2014

Welcome to my new blog series, crafting through history! I thought it would be fun to put together a mini series based on two topics that interest me immensely: history and crafting. Each Thursday in March I’ll be sharing about the history of important crafting tools or techniques that are still used today. Please keep in mind, the information researched on these topics has been gathered from internet sources so anything I say could be inaccurate at anytime. This is mostly for fun!

Week 3: The history of crochet

No one is quite sure when and where crochet got its start. The word comes from croc, or croche, the Middle French word for hook, and the Old Norse word for hook is krokr. According to American crochet expert and world traveler Annie Potter, “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.

Writer/researcher, Lis Paludan of Denmark, says the bottom line is that there is “no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be or where it came from. It was impossible to find evidence of crochet in Europe before 1800. A great many sources state that crochet has been known as far back as the 1500s in Italy under the name of ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace,’ where it was worked by nuns for church textiles,” she says. Her research turned up examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape, many of which have been preserved, but “all indications are that crochet was not known in Italy as far back as the 16th century”- under any name.

Research suggests that crochet probably developed most directly from Chinese needlework, a very ancient form of embroidery known in Turkey, India, Persia and North Africa, which reached Europe in the 1700s and was referred to as “tambouring,” from the French “tambour” or drum. In this technique, a background fabric is stretched taut on a frame. The working thread is held underneath the fabric. A needle with a hook is inserted downward and a loop of the working thread drawn up through the fabric. With the loop still on the hook, the hook is then inserted a little farther along and another loop of the working thread is drawn up and worked through the first loop to form a chain stitch. The tambour hooks were as thin as sewing needles, so the work must have been accomplished with very fine thread.

At the end of the 18th century, tambour evolved into what the French called “crochet in the air,” when the background fabric was discarded and the stitch worked on its own.

Interesting facts:

  • Families who survived the Irish potato famine relied on their earnings from crochet, which gave them the chance to save up enough to emigrate and start a new life abroad, taking their crochet skills with them. Their hooks were made of a needle or a stiff wire inserted into a cork or piece of wood or tree bark, with the end filed down and bent into a little hook.
  • In 16th century Europe, royalty and the wealthy lavished themselves in lace- trimmings, gowns, jackets, headpieces – and the poor folk could only dream of wearing such things. So, it is surmised, crochet was developed as the poor people’s imitation of the rich man’s lace.
  • The earliest crochet patterns known to date were printed in 1824.
  • The earliest patterns were for purses of gold and silver silk thread in colorwork crochet.
  • Knitting can be accomplished by machine, while many crochet stitches can only be crafted by hand.


See Week 1: The Invention of the Sewing Needle
See Week 2: Yarn Spinning

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