crochet - where did it come from?

You’ve probably been exposed to crochet lately, whether you’re an avid crocheter or taking your first steps into this rewarding hobby. And if you’re anything like us at Happily Hooked, you love all of it!

Crochet pops up on social media, you see it in stores, and even some notable people from the past and present do it! We’re talking Katy Perry, Cher, Kurt Cobain, and George Washington Carver, to name a few.

It’s no surprise; crochet is taking over!

Crochet is big with celebrities like Katy Perry

Crochet is everywhere …

When you hear the word “crochet,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? It might be the mismatched granny square blanket that’s been draped over your grandma’s couch since before you were born. Maybe it’s the warm and cozy shawl you grab as you walk out the door on a chilly morning. Wait a minute. You saw an adorable amigurumi dog keychain hanging from someone’s purse at the store the other day. Was that crochet? You betcha!

crochet amigurumi back to school treats

From these few examples, you might have gathered that there’s really not just one thing that screams crochet these days. Some people might prefer to work on functional, practical projects such as blankets, hats, or scarves. And others might love how they can crochet their own home decor. Pillowcases, wall hangings, cute little stuffed critters … you name it, you can crochet it!

… And it’s for everyone!

No matter who you are, no matter your interests, where you live, your background, or anything really, crochet IS for you! That’s really one of the coolest things about crochet. And if you’re feeling a little unconvinced, check out this stat: In 2016, the Association For Creative Industries (AFCI) conducted a study to see just how many Americans were yarn-loving crocheters like we are. The number? 28.8 MILLION.

Now, that number was crocheters and/or knitters. And yes, that’s just in the United States. But … there’s no way 28.8 million people all have the same interests, background, or skill levels. So, what’s the takeaway? Even though this study doesn’t represent just crocheters, and it only focuses on one country, it is something that appeals to many people.

But where did it even come from? And how has it become so popular that millions of people secretly, or not-so-secretly, have a huge yarn stash or hook collection they’re quite proud of?

It’s time to dig in!

Hey, crochet, where are you from?

As with many things from the past, there’s some mystery around the true origin of this craft. There are a lot of unknowns because … well, it’s history! But poking around the internet and going down a couple of rabbit holes is always sure to bring up some interesting information.

Household arts

Where were you born?

It seems that crochet dates back to the 16th century, developing from a particular technique called tambouring (an ancient form of embroidery). Tambouring required a piece of fabric to be stretched taut within a frame.

If you're familiar with embroidery, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, this sounds a little familiar!” While the foundation is a bit different, there are some similarities. However, tambouring required the crafter to create loops by using thread and a hook. Ah, now that sounds more like crochet!

Some people think crocheting came from Arabia, others believe it originated in South America, and many think China. While the place of origin is up for discussion, the fact is that crochet as we know it was developed once it became established in parts of France and England. Eventually, the fabric used in tambouring was removed, and a new style of textile crafting emerged in the late 18th century, referred to as “crochet in the air” by the French.

Irish crochet book and example

Where did you grow up?

From here, crochet takes an interesting and lifesaving turn! Mademoiselle Riego de Blanchardiere was a respected woman credited with creating the first crochet pattern and many books, which undoubtedly put crochet into the hands of thousands, maybe even millions, of people! It’s said she invented “lace-like” crochet, better known as Irish Crochet, which is where this goes into lifesaving mode!

During the Potato Famine in Ireland, families struggled to survive with next to nothing. They needed to find ways to make money in hopes of immigrating to a new country for a better life. And crochet was the answer. Irish Crochet possessed the same beauty as expensive, luxury Venetian lace but was a lot cheaper to produce and buy. The Irish saw this as the perfect opportunity to bring some income to their family.

Soon, schools and cooperatives were established to teach the craft, and by 1847, over 15,000 people were using Irish Crochet to help their families out of hunger. How amazing is that?

Queen Victoria's lace

One minor problem: even though Irish Crochet was intricate, detailed, and beautiful, the wealthy were convinced it was not good enough for them. After all, they could afford Venetian lace! But Queen Victoria didn’t agree. She helped Irish Crochet get the attention it deserved, promoting the delicate craft and wearing it herself. She also decided to learn crochet as well!

As the Irish started their journeys to the United States, they brought their craft with them. And as people do with the things they love, they shared their craft with friends and neighbors. So soon, Americans were enjoying crochet alongside their Irish neighbors, and the rest? Well, perhaps that’s why crochet spread so widely to what it is today!

Crochet’s journey to the US

When the Irish first began teaching their neighbors, they weren’t using the hooks we know today. Before the Industrial Revolution, things had to be handmade using readily available materials. Needles or stiff wire would be carefully bent to create the hook used for pulling loops on the thread. The handle would be crafted from tree bark, cork, or other softer materials. After the Industrial Revolution really began to catch momentum, however, crochet hooks were one of the many things that eventually became mass-produced. Which meant hooks were easier to use and easier to get their hands on.

Then, crochet really began to take off and was often practiced by middle- and upper-class women (since they typically were the ones with more free time). Speaking of middle- and upper-class women, in 1867, Harper’s Bazaar was founded as a weekly fashion newspaper to showcase European fashions to the wealthier American women. During the earlier years, it often included garments that contained the delicate Irish Crochet, which further added to its rise in popularity.

WWI crochet Balaclava hat

Crochet for a reason

Soon, women were finding other purposes for crochet, especially as World War I began. They were asked to make “crochet comforts” for the men at war, including things like blankets, fingerless gloves, socks, and Balaclava helmets. There was such an influx of people crafting items for the soldiers. Some say they almost had TOO much and needed to redirect efforts into more specific items. Blankets are amazing and all, but you only have room for so many! 😉

After the war, however, it seems there was a slight downfall in the popularity of crochet, which didn’t get its “resurrection” until after World War II.

As things picked up into the “Hippie Years,” crochet was back in full swing with the other fiber arts that took the subculture by storm. In addition to clothes, people made home decor, various homewares, and accessories. That granny square blanket draped over your grandma’s couch? Yeah, this is when those became popular!

Stella McCartney Spring 2020 Crochet Dress, Photo by Imaxtree

And now, crochet, you’re here to stay.

Since the crochet boom in the 60s and 70s, crochet has never really disappeared. But as with many trends, there’s a constant ebb and flow depending on what’s trendy or stylish. So, while it may not have been at the forefront of what designers and fashion-forward people were thinking, there were still a LOT of people taking up the craft they grew to love in their younger years.

Fast forward a few decades, and we arrive in 2020. Without getting into too much detail, the couple of challenging years that followed are ones we’ll never forget. But in the interest of keeping things positive and related to crochet … the craft REALLY took off.

Time is on our hands

Suddenly, people found themselves with way more time on their hands. Whether they were temporarily quarantined, sent home to work remotely, or ended up with a different career path, the fact is that for many, free time was abundant. And in looking for ways to beat boredom, feel productive, or combat the stress of the world around them, many also turned to crochet!

And that’s exactly what we noticed in our Happily Hooked community as well! Crochet was one thing that kept people’s minds occupied with positive things. Avid crocheters and complete beginners alike realized how much of a difference crochet really makes in their lives!

Interestingly, it seems more people are appreciating the textile, hands-on experience, especially now when so much of the day is digital or spent on some sort of device. While the world is pushing for advancements in technology, our minds and hearts are telling us that we need to create.

Crochet, you’re not going anywhere.

Crochet Cat Sombrero

So, what can you crochet anyway?

The crochet projects and patterns that pop up on social media, store shelves, and the woman standing in front of you in line are definitely not the same as when it all began.

Early crochet focused on lace-like, detailed work mainly used on garments. It was a way to get that “fancy” look without having the money to afford real lace! As crochet got into the hands of more people and crochet patterns were written, the variety of projects started to grow. There were patterns for things like purses, tablecloths, tobacco pouches, and flower pot holders. In the early 1900s, blankets gained popularity along with items such as rugs and cozies for hot cups.

The 60s, as stated before, is when crochet really began to take on the form we’re used to today. Obsessed with freedom, individuality, and self-expression, crochet became another way to create and express oneself. In addition to garments and blankets, crocheters were making anything they could think of. And the same is true today!

With the internet and information so readily available, crocheters now have instant access to anything they would ever need to excel in their craft. Patterns, different kinds of yarn, inspiration, ideas … you name it, it’s there. People are always looking for fun and useful things to crochet as well. There are all sorts of unique blanket designs, amigurumi and other cute stuffed plushies, pillows, any type of clothing you can imagine, wall decor … the list goes on.

Join the Community of Crocheters!

It’s pretty incredible to see how something that seems so ordinary actually had some meaningful purposes in the past. For example, crochet helped people survive a famine and provided comfort to soldiers at war! How cool is that?

And now, it’s easier than ever to pick up this hobby and begin contributing your own little piece of history. You actually have a lot of caring crochet-lovers that would love to help you, right at your fingertips! Happily Hooked’s crochet community is geared toward providing support to everyone, regardless of skill level, experience, age, or background … we’re literally here for you!

Reach out to us at [email protected] with any questions on how you can get started in your crochet journey, and we’ll help guide you in the right direction.

Happy crocheting, friends!

 

Helpful References

https://www.crochet.org/page/CrochetHistory

https://crochetpenguin.com/history-of-crochet/