May 29th, 2021
By Ananya Milak and Aishwarya Raviganesh
The word crochet is derived from the Middle French word croc or croche, meaning hook. It describes the process of creating fabric from a length of cord, yarn, or thread with a hooked tool.
Some theorize that crochet evolved from traditional practices in Arabia, South America, or China, but there is no decisive evidence of the craft being performed before its popularity in Europe during the 1800s.
Beginning in the 1800s in Europe, crochet began to be used as a less costly substitute for lace. It required minimal equipment and supplies, all easily accessible to all classes.
Around the world, crochet became a thriving cottage industry, supporting communities whose traditional livelihoods had been displaced by imperialism. The finished items were purchased mainly by the emerging middle class.
We wanted to take our readers through the evolution of crochet and other wool arts, threading through history to create a Wool Arts Timeline. This is our first era. Let’s take a trip back to the 1920s!
Crochet in the 20s and 30s was all about mercerized cotton and tiny, tiny crochet hooks. Lace was still a big hit and filet crochet was starting to rise in popularity.
Textured stitches like popcorns and bobbles began to appear occasionally, starting in 1937. Crochet started being seen as not just a decorative embellishment but as a way to make actual clothing and accessories.
Some of the most popular things to crochet (although certainly not the only things) were:
1. Edgings 2. Home decor items like doilies and table runners 3. Children’s wearables 4. College-age women’s garments 5. Garments that combine knitting and crochet 6. Accessories sets, such as a matching hat and purse 7. Religious crochet patterns (although these only emerged in 1939)
Irish crochet inspired high-fashion designers in Paris, London, and Vienna. Luxury garments based on Irish crochet techniques can be found in museums today; they were the first high-fashion garments to use crochet.
Several books about crocheting were published in this era; some being ‘Colourful Afghans in Crochet’ (reproduced by Bear Brand, ‘New Afghans for Summer and Winter’ by designer Anne Orr, ‘Colourful Accessories To Crochet and Knit’ and ‘Taste And Fashion’ which had quite a few mentions of it. A novel too was released with crochet being the main element of magic!
‘The Crochet Woman: A Novel’ was published by Ruth Manning-Sanders, a British author/poet, in 1930. The book describes the journey of ‘The Crochet Woman’ who is an evil queen who uses her crochet work to cast spells!
Crochet was mentioned in passing in a variety of fiction stories published in newspapers and magazines throughout the 1930s and it was also mentioned in the diaries of Anais Nin(essayist, novelist and short stories writer), but this was the only novel which had it as the main element.
Another incredulous find was a short mention listed in several newspapers about a woman who had started using crossword puzzles to design her own unique crochet patterns:
Some of the popular crochet designers of this time included Mary Card and Anna Valerie. They were submitting designs around this time to various places such as Ladies Home Journal magazine. However, it’s difficult to know if the names that we see on old vintage crochet patterns are actually really names since it was apparently common to use just a few pen names for patterns that were actually produced by dozens of different anonymous crochet designers. Anne Champe Orr, another designer, who started producing various needlework designs in 1915. She didn’t limit herself to crochet designs; she created designs in knitting, embroidery, cross-stitch, lacemaking (including tatting), quilting and rug making. She actually originally started by self-publishing these patterns and then eventually she got hired by a number of different companies and publications. Fun fact about Ms.Orr – she wasn’t a needleworker herself!
The 1920s and 30s started off a wave that rippled through the forthcoming years and boosted crochet into further popularity. The 1940s were a time when crochet became far more than fashion or sustenance, but a tool for empowerment and self-sufficiency. Our next post will delve into the 40s and 50s in all their glory. Stay tuned and until then,
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