HNW - Crochet

Chris Laning claning at
Mon Sep 13 21:43:38 PDT 1999

>This question came up on another of my we have any
>documentation for a starting date for crochet?

Yup, it comes up every so often on this list, too.

Leaving aside the use of a single loop to attach pieces of bobbin lace
together, here's what I've been able to find.

Briefly, the earliest *physical* evidence of any kind for the thread
technique we now know as crochet dates to about 1800. If crochet was done
earlier, we would expect to find *some* actual examples somewhere -- in old
collections, from tombs, from archaeological digs. I've never heard of any
that have been examined by textile-knowledgeable people that have proved to
actually be crochet -- they are all something else. (Usually naalbinding, a
completely different technique.)

You do fairly often see claims that such-and-such a piece from an Egyptian
tomb (usually) is "exactly like" crochet. So far all the ones I've seen and
heard of have turned out to bear only a superficial resemblance. When you
follow the path of the thread, it is quite different.

You also hear claims that "nun's work," done for centuries to ornament
church linens, is crochet. Again, if that's what "nun's work" was, we'd
expect to see some examples, since there are certainly examples of many
other types of work (needle lace, bobbin lace, knitting) from those same
centuries. Still no crochet examples, though. (And church textiles seem to
stand a better-than-average chance of being preserved.) It appears likely
that the idea that "nun's work" means "crochet" arose sometime in the 19th
century and has been uncritically copied from older books by later authors.

Hooked needles do not necessarily have anything to do with crochet. There
is often a hook at the top of the shaft of a drop spindle, for instance, to
hold the working thread. Knitting needles have often been hooked, and in
some cultures still commonly are.

It's often argued that crochet is a "simple" technique and "surely must"
have been discovered earlier. I'm sympathetic to this attitude, because
it's usually put forth by people who love crochet and its many
possibilities, and who wish for an earlier origin.

But the fact remains: no pieces at all survive. Considering how much we
have in the way of surviving examples of other techniques from the same
time periods, this seems to most textile historians to be a very strong
argument that crochet did not exist before about 1800.

The best reference I've found on the history of crochet is Lis Paludan's
_Crochet: History and Technique_ (Interweave Press). She only has a few
pages on early history, but it's more than anyone else has.

O   Chris Laning
|   <claning at>
+    Davis, California

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