By Sally Pederson
No one really knows when or how crochet actually came into being. This is because crochet, unlike knitting, was more a needle craft of the people - as opposed to the intricate lace knitting that was fashioned for royalty and the upper-class - then later preserved for museums and historians to study.
Throughout the centuries, crochet has stayed true to its roots and has always been a more accessible needle craft than knitting, as well as more versatile when it comes to the freedom of being able to create more imaginative and artistic garments, accessories, afghans, and other projects.
Historians agree that it was the lower classes who invented crochet. It's hard to believe now, but in the early history of the world, knitting needles and fine yarns and threads were only accessible to the very wealthy. That left anyone who was poor and wanted a hobby out of luck. Even when these materials became available to an emerging European middle class, it was only for the purpose of knitting to darn socks.
So an unrecorded and underground crochet movement simply began with people who found whatever kind of strands or threads they could and then used their fingers to make decorative knots and chains. This initial effort may have been closer to macramé than crochet, but it still became an affordable and creative craft for the masses.
Probably around the 1300's, people in Turkey, Persia, North Africa, China, and India began fashioning hooks out of either brass, bone, ivory, or wood. However, before people actually began "crocheting in the air" as it was called in France later on in the 1800's, another way of knotting and looping threads developed first.
Since no one knew that the crochet stitch could make a garment on its own, they turned to a method called "tambouring." This method was first developed in China and involves crochet-like stitches worked into fabric. It was around 1700 when garment makers would stretch a background fabric taught to a frame and then use a needle with a hook to push a loop of thread through the fabric. As the next loop was created, the hook was used join the loops together, thus creating the first chain stitch.
By the mid to late 1700's, enough of the original tambourine pieces had reached Europe from the orient to prompt Europeans to began to learn the craft of tambouring for themselves. Eventually, the fabric was eliminated and the upper class Europeans who had mastered the art of tambouring began using hooks made of silver, brass or steel to start creating the first modern crochet. Of course, once again, because it was only the upper class only who were allowed to crochet, the masses were left to continue to darn socks and dream of more creative outlets.
However, it was only a matter of time before the people learned to fashion their own hooks and get a hold of the odds and ends of thread needed to create ornamentation for their own garments. (When first evolving in Europe, it wasn't so much that crochet was being used to create whole garments as it was being used to decorate existing garments.)
The upper class, which made crochet fashionable, saw the emerging middle class and their new crochet and immediately declared it out of fashion. They promptly returned to the knitting that the lower classes could not afford and didn't return to crochet until Queen Victoria took up crochet herself and made it fashionable again.
While a more modern version of crochet originated from Italy and Spain, it was in the late 1700's that the French standardized crochet themselves and named it from the Middle French word 'croc' or 'croche' meaning 'hook.' The French also came out with the first patterns for garments by the year 1842. It was around this time that crocheted lace was also developed.
Later, standardized patterns that were easy to follow were then distributed. Although it would take some time to develop standardized needles, by the mid 1800's crochet had taken a firm hold as the most accessible way for the emerging middle class to pass the time in front of the fire while at the same time creating unique garments, accessories and home decorations.
Modern crochet still remains the needle-based craft of the people to this day. It is easy to learn, fun to do, and is much less restrictive than its stuffier knitting relative. In fact, one of the pursuits of more experienced crocheters is something called 'random crocheting.'
Random crocheting is the art of taking a pattern and altering it to make your own original creation. You can even start crocheting with an idea and simply see what happens. That's the beauty of crochet and what still makes it such a wonderful, satisfying and relaxing pursuit in this very modern and fast-paced world.
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