A Little History
Crochet is one of the youngest of the fiber arts. Textiles are easily traced back to the Stone Age, but the first written reference to crochet (or crotchet as it was sometimes spelled) wasn’t until 1812. The early patterns (of the 1840’s) gave detailed instructions on the use of the hook, possibly implying that crochet was not a needle craft familiar to the ladies of the day. We know that fine lace was tremendously popular during the Elizabethan Period (1558-1603). These early laces were made using needles or bobbins of thread that were woven into intricate patterns. They were very expensive and took a long time to produce making it available only to the wealthy nobility.
Even though the art of crochet is a relative newbie its history is quite impressive. In 1846 & ‘47 crocheted lace helped save many Irish from starvation during the Great Potato Famine. How? A group of nuns taught men, women and children the art of making lace. When Queen Victoria accepted the laces as a gift and started wearing them they became instantly fashionable. With their work in such high demand, many families were able to earn enough money to survive the famine and even immigrate to America.
Irish Lace was all the rage and its popularity continued to grow as patterns became available. Mlle. Elanore Rigeo de le Branchardiere, one of the most gifted artists/designers of the time, published numerous books of thread crochet techniques and lace patterns from 1846 - 1887. She was best known for her ability to write clear and precise instructions allowing anyone who could afford her books to produce the intricate designs of the Irish style.
In America, crochet was a past time that proved as versatile and adaptive as the pioneers who settled this new nation. Along with the Irish Lace techniques, Filet crochet became a staple. This method of creating designs worked in a grid pattern was quite possibly adapted from techniques used by the Berlin Wool Works (in the 1840s). Wall decorations depicting inspirational Bible verses or the sentiment ‘Home Sweet Home’ were common in the most rustic dwellings. Across the new territories of the Great Plains and the Wild West thread crochet was used to bring a little beauty and refinement to the harsh, untamed lands.
A small bit of thread was affordable and went a long way in creating something lovely. Early crocheters produced yards and yards of lace trim. Everything from petticoats to bed and table linens were adorned with lace.
At a time when resources were limited and ingenuity was necessary, other forms of crochet proved indispensable. Of course I’m referring to the granny square. This simple motif (that may have originated as a thread pattern) when worked with scraps of yarns left over from other projects or recycled from old garments became a favorite for crocheters allowing blankets and throws to be fashioned from otherwise useless materials.
Thread crochet in the 20th century adapted to the ever changing conditions of our economy. Like all of the leisure arts, in times of moderation projects would take on a utilitarian style. Crocheters would focus on making items that were relevant because of their function and affordability. During times of prosperity function could become secondary and crocheters would create exquisitely frivolous projects purely for pleasure. However, thread crochet projects nearly always have the ability to look good! Even the simplest washcloth is easily adorned with a little lace border turning it into something special without adding much to the overall cost.
Thread Crochet Today
In the 200 years since the first mention in print, thread crochet has moved in and out of fashion. Proficiency in needle work was once necessary for ladies as part of their education. As women’s roles have changed so has our relationship with fiber. What we were once expected and even required to do we now must choose to learn. However, fiber arts such as crochet, knitting, spinning and weaving have experienced a resurgence and they are now more popular than ever. Many of the patterns that were originally written by our foremothers have a timeless quality that makes them just as relevant today as when they were published. So what’s changed?
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Traditional thread crochet is done in white and ecru (off white). That’s it. Studying pictures of vintage designs you very rarely see colors. Occasionally you might find a flower in blue or yellow, but it’s unusual. Until fairly recently you could only buy thread in a limited assortment of colors. Today, quality thread is available in a huge variety of colors and weights. Jewel tones, pastels, primary colors and variegated combinations are commercially produced and available on-line. If you’re looking for something unique, fiber artist create breathtaking hand painted threads in stunning colors that rival those found in nature.
What We're Making
With the colors that are available and the adventurous spirit of the latest generation of crocheters there’s nothing old fashioned about thread today. Of course there will always be a place for doilies and lace edging, it just might look different than you expect! Here's a glimpse at what we're making today:
· Jar Toppers
· Head Bands
· Picture Frames
· Pot Holders
· Table Runners
· Headphone Cord Cover
· Baby Hats
· Hair Scrunchies
· Phone / I Pod Covers
· Table Cloths
· Wall Hangings
· Place Mats
· Trim / Edging
· Pillows/ Bolsters
· Laptop / Tablet Covers
· Gloves (fingerless too!)
· Book Marks
· Stuffed Animals
· Christening Sets
Who's Doing It?
Everyone! Young, old and in between! Let’s just say that the image of gray hair and rocking chairs has been replaced by tattoos and pink hair. Okay, maybe not everyone has pink hair, but today's crocheter is young (no matter how old, we’re young at heart!), hip and through various electronic devises virtually connected to other fiber enthusiasts. And it’s definitely not just for the ladies. In fact some of today’s top designers are men!
I think that we’re at something of a crochet crossroads. Historically we’ve seen that what we make and how much time we spend making it has been influenced by what’s going on in the world. Given our current climate, history would dictate that we’re making utilitarian projects and not spending a lot of time enjoying the leisure arts. But that’s not what we’re doing. Sure, we’re making (pretty, colorful) things you can use, but we’ve discovered that crochet is a great way to relax and unwind. Our lives our hectic and busy, we’ve got lots to do, and our resources are limited. We’ve learned that we have to take care of ourselves and that we need economical outlets that help us to decompress when dealing with tough situations. Thread crochet fits the bill perfectly. For a minimal investment you can purchase several balls of thread and a set of steel hooks that will keep you stitching for months! It’s portable, easy to learn, and convenient. There’s also the added bonus of the on-line fiber community. Not only can you find groups dedicated to crochet on social networks like Facebook
, we have our very own network in Ravelry
! It’s like the modern version of the quilting bee where like-minded fiber enthusiast get together to share friendship, tips and encouragement!
Are you Inspired?
Are you ready to grab your steel hook and get started creating something exciting? If you’re worried that it’s too hard or too small, don’t be. The stitches and techniques are the same whether you make them with yarn or thread. Yes it does take some time to get your tension right and to feel comfortable with the hook. But, with a few helpful hints and a little practice you’ll be amazed at what you can do!
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look at the evolution of crochet. We are the new generation and it’s up to us to carry on the traditions while continuing to expand our craft. We have the opportunity to make our mark on history by ensuring that the designs we create today are available to the crocheters of tomorrow.
Be sure to come back for Part II of my series on Thread Crochet. Next up is a pattern and tutorial for a project that’s perfect for all skill levels. If you’re looking for more information on the history of crochet The Encyclopedia of Crochet
by Donna Kooler is an excellent resource. Or you can check out The Granny Square Project
. It’s a 5 part series all about crochet's most popular motif, and you'll find the links at the top of blog in the sidebar!
Thanks so much for stopping by and spending a bit of your day with me.Until next time friends,Be Blessed and Stitch & Read with Love!