NOTE: The following text is pending modification to reflect subsequently noted references to the simple Tunisian crochet stitch before its first appearance in the British press.
The first description in British publication of what is now commonly called ‘Tunisian crochet’ is generally attributed to Matilda Marian Pullan, who illustrated a long hook used to form a “new stitch in crochet” in two complementary publications dated October 1858. However, it is not known if either went into circulation prior to the release of the first booklet in a series titled Crochet à la Tricoter by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin, which also illustrates stitches made on a long hook. That text does not indicate its publication date but Mee advertised it as having been “just published” in November 1858. (Technical and bibliographical details of them all will be provided in separate posts.)
Mee and Austin describe Crochet à la Tricoter as a craft of its own.
“The great advantage of Crochet à la Tricoter is, that it combines the firmness of crochet with the lightness of knitting, and can be done in almost any variety of shape, from the ease and neatness with which it is increased and decreased. The edges can always be taken up, so that, if done in small pieces, the work has the appearance of being all worked in one. It is never turned; and every alternate row the stitches are taken up on the needle, and remain on it for the whole row, as in knitting. The variety of useful and ornamental purposes to which it can be applied is almost endless; and in presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter to my numerous patronesses, I feel it will meet with their entire approval. Those who work for amusement will have the pleasure of numbers of new stitches, and those who make it a source of livelihood will find many things that will meet with quick and ready sale. It is important to obtain the cottons directed; those mentioned are the Knitting, Boar’s Head, and Ingrain Turkey Red Cotton of Messrs. Walter Evans and Co., of Derby, which for many years I have considered the best produced.”
In addition to the directions for the cotton, many of the subsequent instructions specify the hook with a terse reference to what would necessarily have been a readily available item at the time of publication. This indicates that the craft was already in established practice, as is supported otherwise by the wording of the instructions and an anonymous document written in the following year (which will be considered in a separate post about the state of the art in 1859). These are for a range of unnamed stitches and patterns, and many of the accompanying illustrations are intricate enough that even a skilled eye might not immediately recognize them as long-hook crochet (using a generic term that heads a text from 1860, in what appears to have been an attempt at bringing order to a proliferation of more or less fanciful designations that was rapidly developing.
The 1858 Mee and Austin publication was intended to add a number of new stitches to a pre-existing repertoire. What is now called the Tunisian simple stitch appears in a few of the twenty instructions but is not ascribed any particular significance nor is it clear if it is among those that are new. In contrast, the purpose of Pullan’s texts was to present that one stitch, naming it the “Princess Frederick William Stitch.” She makes no claim of having created it and presents it as “a new stitch in crochet [that] has recently been given to the world,” without mentioning long-hook crochet as a distinct craft under any of its various names.
Mee and Austin were Pullan’s competitors. Assuming that they were all aware of each others doings, it seems likely that if Pullan had devised the simple stitch rather than simply calling attention to it, she would have claimed full credit. Similarly, if Mee and Austin had devised it, they might have been clearer in indicating which of their new stitches were original creations, and which were simply appearing in print for the first time.
There is nothing contradictory in the wording of their texts but they still leave an open question about the actual source of what was to resonate in the literature as the New Stitch. In any case, it is clear that long-hook crochet as practiced in 1858 included a number of stitches and was not characterized by any single one of them. Although the New Stitch may have flagged a wave of popularity for long-hook crochet, it did not mark the appearance of the genre itself.
It seems possible that Pullan was deliberately highlighting a single versatile and easily made stitch with the intention of capturing the interest of a broader group of potential practitioners, while Mee and Austin were also explicitly addressing a professional clientele. Either way, the fancywork literature — which devoted no attention to long-hook crochet prior to 1858 — developed an interest in it after that date which then spread at a wildfire pace with many of the major authors of the day joining in.