Born of Necessity, Raised to an Icon
A Crochet Timeline
Early Centuries: Man creates handwork for practical purposes using materials like strands of woven fiber, cords or strips of cloth. Hunters and fishermen make knotted fishnets, openwork cooking utensils, knotted game bags and animal traps. Handwork is expanded to include decorations for ceremonial costumes, religious rites, celebrations, marriages and funerals.
1500s: European royalty and the wealthy lavish themselves in lace made with a needle and/or bobbin.
Some believe that in Italy Nuns are doing a form of crochet called “nun’s work” or “nun’s lace” making textiles for the church.
1700s: It is accepted by many that crochet developed from a type of Chinese needlework; an ancient form of embroidery that reached Europe in the 1700s and became known as Tambour. By the end of the 1700s Tambour evolves into what the French call “crochet in the air”. (“Croche” is Middle French for hook).
Early 1800s: Crochet becomes “the poor man’s lace” and experiences a surge in popularity thanks to Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere who turns old style needle and bobbin patterns into crochet patterns. In 1824 the first pattern is published and Mlle. de la Branchardiere joins in publishing many pattern books making them available to legions of women. One of her books, Knitting, Crochet and Netting with 12 Illustrations originally published in 1846 is available today as a free e-book, as is The Ladies Work-Book.
1845-1850: Irish workers (men, women and children) are organized into crochet cooperatives during the potato famine making fine lace for the wealthy. They rely on the earnings to survive and emigrate from Ireland.
1845-1859: Two million Irish immigrate to America (four million by 1890) bringing with them their vast experience with crochet. American women who are already adept at spinning, weaving, knitting and quilting add crochet to their repertoire.
1897: A pattern called “Patchwork Square” is printed in Weldon’s Practical Needlework, published by The Weldon Company of London. The description indicates that it is good way to use up scrap and leftover bits of yarn which can then be sewn together into an afghan, rug or baby blanket. A look at the picture shows what we know today as the Traditional Granny Square!!
It is my belief that creative women were already making grannies, but this has come to be accepted (by many) as the first time we see the pattern in print.
Up to this time we see many patterns for lace accents, lamp mats and shades, doilies, antimacassars and even bird cage covers! But, crochet is changing, and it’s no longer just the poor man’s lace. As we enter the 1900s – 1930 we see women crocheting afghans, slumber rugs, travel rugs, sleigh rugs, tea cozies and water bottle covers, as well as the now standard dishcloths and potholders. In The Handbook of Wool Knitting and Crochet (also available as a free e-book), originally published in 1918 you'll find a well rounded selection of these patterns.
Following the stock market crash in 1929 and the resulting economic depression, resources and goods are limited and women are forced to find new and creative ways to meet the needs of their families. Old and worn sweaters are ripped apart and the yarn is steamed for reuse. Every bit of fiber is saved, and it is here that we see the matriarch (Granny) leading the way and turning the otherwise useless bit and scraps into squares to be stitched together making blankets and other necessary items for her family. We don’t know who coined the name Granny Square, but we do know that what was once made out of necessity is made today because of its timeless versatility and style.
Granny becomes an Icon?
The granny square has come so far that you can find them in the Smithsonian Museum, in the afghan that graced the back of the couch on the sit-com Rosanne (1988 – 1997). They can even be found in high fashion making their way down the catwalks as designers Henry Holland and Christopher Kane made them the focal point of their collections last year.
I venture to say that the granny square is an iconic symbol of crochet. Most everyone (of a certain age) had a granny square afghan, or knew a family member or friend who did. Ask anyone what crochet is and I bet they’ll think of a granny square – even if they don’t know what it’s called. I once had a knitter friend tell me that until she met me and saw all the things I made, when she thought of crochet she only thought of the granny square!
When I asked for your help in choosing my next project I had no idea what I was getting into! As I started looking at patterns I realized how diverse and plentiful they are. However, the history of crochet and in turn the granny is vague at best. Through interviews, books and reputable websites I’ve created this timeline. I’ve done my best to present accurate, factual information. Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine.
Now that I’ve taken a look at where granny comes from, I’m ready to see what she’s made of. From the traditional pattern to the mulitlayered, the bobbled to the hexagon. Whatever stitch combinations you can imagine, someone has made it into a granny square! Please join me next week for Part II. Who knows what I’ll discover next!
Thanks for stopping by friends! Until next time,
Be blessed and stitch & read with love!
Did you have a granny afghan on your couch? How about a vest or poncho? Was there a granny maker in your life? Do you know who gave granny her name or about her origin? Please share your story with us in the comment section.