Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Little History on Crochet

Crochet was once an embellishment exclusively for the garments of the upper echelons and the elite.

Crocheted laces have a long history that begins in the early 1820’s, with the earliest known printed examples of crochet patterns from a Dutch magazine called Penelope circa 1824.

Some years earlier there is a descriptive narrative from 1812 that describes “shepherd’s knitting” as a method of making garments from hand-spun wool. This yarn was likely made by collecting tufts of wool that had snagged on bushes or might have been in the animal’s sleeping area, combing it, and using the hands to pull the fibers apart and twist them together. A hook made from a comb, or carved from a stick would then be used to work the loops to form the fabric.

Crochet began to solidify itself as a ladies fine work in the mid 1800’s, and purses and handbags were some of the first articles crocheted with published patterns made regularly as a demonstration of one’s fine workman ship and wealth. Stitched from silk, gold and linen threads, these elegant satchels would speak volumes about a ladies status without her having to utter a word.

Brittan's Queen Victoria pictured crocheting.
She was also a prolific knitter and needle worker of all sorts. She taught her daughters to stitch as well

Some of the most identifiable crocheted articles begin to emerge in circa 1845 when Ursuline Nuns at the Presentation Convent in Blackrock, County Cork Ireland. As the infamous potato famine left families perishing, a school was established to teach the art of making crocheted lace to help relieve economic distress.

Known as Irish Lace, this unique and often easily identified lace technique is lavishly embellished with individually crocheted flowers, roses and vines, on a crocheted lace mesh. Often these pieces were made by many hands, as one person might make flowers, and another leaves, and another would have the task of joining the piece work to create the final product.

While the world of lace was revolutionized with the development of Irish Lace, American Pioneers made crochet a useful pastime. The adaptability and portability of crochet found it everywhere across the growing nation. While sewing and knitting were constant necessities, crochet became a beautiful pastime which allowed women mostly, of all ages, to create beautiful items for no other purpose than to beautify an otherwise utilitarian environment. Lovely window coverings and lace garment edgings were common in women’s magazines.

Community knitting of socks became a Patriotic necessity during any war, but in particular WWI we so even children pitching in, and there is still quite a bit of evidence in antique propaganda that can be found. But as the war came to its end, leisure work began to make its appearance once more. Women had become more businesslike in their attire as materials and the industry to make them were directed to supporting the war efforts. As lace making began to make its appearance again, it’s output did not, and another element of women’s fashion developed as these laces were more and more frequently applied and made for undergarments. As the Roaring 20’s blossomed, and racy was becoming more the fashion, enticed young women turned their hands toward the making of scandalous “scanties”. Crochet designers published pattern books of boudoir items that were delicate, lacy and feminine.

Crochet remained a pastime of creating finery, until the rebellious children of the 1960’s picked up rope, yarn, wire and anything else they could get a hook on and went on tangents that no one ever thought existed. Men and women created baskets, turned Granny’s Square into and octagon, created three dimensional shapes and utilized colors that had never been explored before.

Our fashion pattern magazines and books now explore even further, and yet still the foundational beautification of domestic necessities still has a strong place in today’s crochet.

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