Crochet · Early instructions

A purse in simple openwork crochet

The 1823 volume of Penélopé is frequently cited as the first document that has yet come to light using the word crochet to designate the craft now commonly known by that name. Preceding occurrences of the term in similar contexts designate a hooked tool. The first mention of the new craft was in a German publication from 1809 where it was named after the tool, Häkeln (literally, “to hook”). The Dutch derivate, hekelen, appears side by side with crochet in Penélopé, as synonyms. Earlier fabric structures that would now be identified as crochet were categorized in the literature of their day as elements of other crafts, typically as varieties of knitting.

The simple openwork crochet purse presented here is the first of three that are crocheted in the sequence of six purse instructions from Penélopé that I’ve been translating. The source text includes a plate illustrating five of them. A comparison between the instructions and the illustrations reveals several errors in the way they are cross referenced. The author confirms and corrects this in a separate note following a later instruction for a knitted purse. This emends the associations between the plate and the instructions, and indicates the one that is not illustrated.

There is a mismatch nonetheless between one of the drawings and the instructions keyed to it. Illustration A, which appears below, is linked with the Louisiana-style purse described in an earlier post. However, that purse is made by simple looping, which produces a horizontal rather than a diagonal mesh, nor do the instructions for it result in anything that otherwise resembles illustration A. The openwork crochet purse was initially keyed to illustration E in obvious error and re-identified in a later footnote as the one that is unillustrated.

The instructions produce a chain mesh that remains a basic form of openwork crochet (and also appears in earlier passementerie). Its appearance is fully consistent with illustration A — matching it far more closely than do any of the other instructions — although the image includes ornamental detail not described in the text. (Illustration E will appear in a later post about the purse to which it properly belongs.)



There appears to be a special knack to working with a crochet or a tambour needle [alternate names for the same implement]. There are young people who manage it very well; others almost never learn to do it with any ease or speed. Works made with it are currently very popular. We want to describe a few, but first a few words to describe the stitch itself, as clearly as possible.

For this you need a tambour needle, with a small hook at the front, which you screw into a handle. This is held in the right hand along with the thread being worked, about as though you were knitting. Now make an ordinary loop in the thread, hold the end firmly in the left hand, insert the needle through the loop, wrap the thread over it with the forefinger, and pull the needle through. Repeat this until there are 180 stitches. Then stitch through the initial stitch to close the purse. Make another 7 stitches, first putting the needle through the loop, as always. Then through the seventh stitch [error: should be ‘fourth’] of the first round from below, lay the thread over the needle and pull it through both stitches. Again crochet 7 stitches, and so onward. When the purse is long enough, make a few rounds of 6 stitches, then of 5, and so forth, until the purse is fully closed. You can make this in bands with silk of two different colors, or with gold and silver wire. If you prefer, you can make the arches 5 stitches long.

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