|The History of Victorian Crochet
The exact origin and date of crochet is in great doubt. Some believe it goes back to before the time of Christ, but there is no record of this form of needle art before the 1800's and it was not until the 1840's that written instructions began to be published. Crochet has been handed down from generation to generation through family and friends and from what I understand in the early years, without written patterns. It was very common to work directly from a picture of the finished work or from a sample of crochet. Have you ever tried to crochet a pattern from the 1800 or 1900's and found that most of the directions seem to be missing? Needlework was taught to the young women in school from the early 1800's through the early 1900's. The women of that time knew what the publishers meant because they were all too familiar with crochet instructions from their needlework classes. Thus, publishers didn't think they needed to put all that extraneous stuff in the written instructions. Have you ever wondered why most crocheters hold their hook like a pencil? At that time it was thought that it gave the lines of the hand a more feminine and graceful look. Now they are discovering that if you hold your hook in the palm of the hand it cuts down on carpal tunnel problems.
Did you know that if the piece being crocheted was not worked in the round in other words worked from row to row, that at the end of each row the thread was broken and retied to the beginning of the row? The backs of the stitches were never meant to be seen and were viewed as crude. In some of the old Victorian patterns you might find directions that tell you to work one pattern using loose crochet and another pattern using tight crochet. Now days all patterns come with a specific tension requirement and are largely dependent upon the crochet hook if done properly. Stitches in that time were generally crocheted into the back loop of the stitch. It was a method that was taken for granted during that time period. Now it is the accepted practice to crochet a stitch using the front and the back loop of each stitch.
Crochet began as a cottage industry in Ireland with a lace called Irish crochet or guipure lace. In the mid 1800's it became a large industry because of the need of the people to supplement their income due to the great potato famine of that time. It has been suggested that four Irish nuns who were trained in a French convent introduced crochet to Ireland. It was a common practice in that time for each person to become skilled in making one thing and one thing only, such as a leaf or a flower. Another person would then crochet the different motifs together using a background stitch. If you have ever tried to crochet an Irish crochet pattern you can understand why it becomes such a difficult and tedious a project. The people who crocheted the Irish laces were truly masters of their craft. They didn't have radio, television, or even access to very many books during this time in history. This contributed to their ability and desire to focus on such an intricate and elaborate art and create such finely detailed work.
It is still a cottage industry in some countries such as India, Greece, Italy, and some Asian countries.
For a more detailed history please read "Crochet History & Technique" by Lis Paludan.
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Updated on Thursday, June 20th, 2013