[HNW] Crocheted tablecloth photos (but not very historic)

Chris Laning claning at igc.org
Sat Nov 1 10:35:01 PDT 2008

On Oct 30, 2008, at 7:43 PM, Fred Curtis wrote:

> Do the crochet gurus on HN have concrete, earth-shattering evidence
> (or theories) on the origins of crochet that are waiting to explode
> onto CNN?
> I know I should check the HN archives before asking, but HN has
> been quiet lately and there's a chance the question will provoke
> entertaining discussion (or even scandalized outrage).

It's a question that comes up fairly often on many needlework-related  
lists, and the consensus among people who have done the research is  
that the early 1800s is about the right date.

The leading theory, the last time I checked, is that the most likely  
origin of crochet is as a derivative of tambour embroidery. Tambour  
embroidery became popular in the late 1700s and may have been  
imported into Europe from India. It is basically chain stitch, but  
instead of being worked with a threaded needle and cut lengths of  
thread, instead the cloth is stretched in a frame (shaped like the  
top of a little round drum, which is why it's called a "tambour"  
frame) and a small, sharp hook is poked down through the cloth to  
bring up a small loop from a continuous thread held underneath. The  
hook moves a little way along the line of the pattern, goes down  
through the cloth again and pulls up another loop, which is linked  
through the first one.

There is a form of embroidery called "reticella", a type of lace made  
with a threaded needle and buttonhole stitch, where the first step in  
preparing the ground fabric is to baste it to a foundation and then  
remove most of the horizontal and vertical threads, leaving just a  
"skeleton" of threads which are then covered with stitching. Someone  
eventually realized that you could achieve the same effect by merely  
stretching a few threads across the foundation, without all the  
bother of weaving fabric and then removing most of it. This form of  
reticella is called "punto in aria," literally "embroidery in the  
air," i.e. without a foundation.

By analogy, someone may have discovered that you could actually work  
a sort of "tambour embroidery" in the air, without a foundation --  
and presto, you have something that becomes a primitive sort of  
crochet, made mostly from chain stitches, which meander about and  
sometimes attach to other chains. So you will sometimes hear this  
theory of crochet origins summed up as "tambour in aria."

Santina Levey, in "Lace: A History", has a photo of a piece of late  
1700s lace that looks very much like the product of this sort of  
evolution. It's almost entirely chain stitch, which is worked in  
short lengths and attached to other chains at intervals to make a  
sort of outline of leafy motifs.

Converging with this are two other techniques that may have  
contributed to the evolution of crochet. The creation and attaching  
of short lengths of chain stitch also occurs in bobbin lace, where a  
few loops drawn up with a tiny hook (called "stitchings) are  
sometimes used to attach parts of the lace to each other. There is  
also a sort of slip-stitch crochet (sometimes called "pjonting") that  
seems to have been used to make mittens in the early 1800s -- this is  
also constructed by pulling up a loop with a hook from a previous  
stitch or row of stitches. Lis Paludan's book, _Crochet: History &  
Technique_ has more about this -- only about a page's worth and a few  
pictures, but that's more discussion of it than I've seen anywhere else.


O    Chris Laning <claning at igc.org> - Davis, California
+     http://paternoster-row.org - http://paternosters.blogspot.com

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