Techniques · Tools · Tunisian crochet

The long hook in 1787

A previous post considered documents from 1858 that describe a long crochet hook and the craft for which it was used. The authors, together with others writing about the same craft during the following years, differed in opinion about whether it was a form of crochet or constituted a craft of its own. The first of the names published for it by those in the latter camp was Crochet à la tricoter. The most straightforward of the many alternate designations that were soon to appear were “tricot crochet” or simply “tricot.” When treated as a form of crochet, the generic distinction was between “ordinary crochet” and “long-hook crochet.”

Texts regarding that craft as distinct from crochet and knitting either describe it as displaying properties of both or simply treat the three as peers without comment, as in instructions in 1859 for a pattern suitable for “knitting, tricot, or crochet.” The most common present-day designation for long-hook crochet is “Tunisian crochet,” which is still regularly presented as a fusion of crochet and knitting.

In structural terms, fabric produced in that manner consists of alternating rows of knit-type interlooping and crochet-type interlooping and can therefore not be categorized as either. In procedural terms, however, the use of a long hook to pull one loop through another doesn’t differ from the use of an ordinary crochet hook for the same action. From that perspective, it is reasonable to regard the knit/crochet hybrid as a variant form of crochet.

The long hook itself was most commonly called a “tricot needle” or “tricot hook.” It was effectively identical to a hooked knitting needle, with which it was frequently compared. A text written in 1859 provides instructions for converting a pointed knitting needle into a tricot hook. Additional documents support the conclusion that a hooked implement of that form could as easily have been employed in knitting as for tricot.

Hooked needles have been used for knitting in many regions for longer than has yet been (or likely even can be) determined. Perhaps the most extensively documented contemporary practice is “Portuguese knitting,” which is also characterized by leading the yarn through a ring fastened near the collar to control its tension. An early description of this technique appears in the chapter on “stocking knitting” in the 1787 edition of Johann Beckmann’s Anleitung zur Technologie, oder zur Kentniss der Handwerke, Fabriken und Manufacturen (“Technological Guide to Handicrafts, Industries, and Manufacture”; this is primarily focused on machine knitting but despite explicitly excluding hand knitting from its scope, it did add this one section to the text as it appeared in the 1777 edition.)

It presents the work of a virtuoso Swiss knitter who appears again in a German text from 1800. The latter work goes into greater detail about his use of hooked knitting needles in pairs, mentioning at least one form of stitching that could not be produced on pointed needles. (This and the other documents mentioned summarily here will be covered in greater detail in separate posts.) Here is the initial presentation from 1787.

In 1778 in Hannover, a Swiss national named Dubois taught an improved method that he had devised for knitting with needles. He charged one thaler for an hourlong lesson and in 12 hours many were able to learn that art. The improvement consisted of each needle having a small hook at its one end, which allowed every stitch to be pulled off as soon as it was formed, making the work quicker and easier. The thread from the ball passed through a small ring that was pinned to the left side of the chest.

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