Tunisian crochet

Name change in 1861

As discussed in earlier posts, Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin describe a craft they called crochet à tricoter in a series of five booklets published between 1858 and 1861. What I hadn’t either noticed or noted previously is that the first three are titled Crochet à la Tricoter but the authors shorten this to Crochet à Tricoter for the final two, both of which appeared in 1861. All of their writing on the subject from then on uses the more compact name.

Mee and Austin made this change abruptly between May 1861, when they they last use Crochet à la Tricoter in a collected edition of the first three parts, and August 1861, when the fourth part appeared as Crochet à Tricoter. If this was a simple matter of stylistic preference, it’s hard to understand why they bothered only a few months before ending a series that was presumably intended to have a consistent title throughout.

An alternative explanation might be that they intentionally eliminated “crochet in the style of knitting” from the ways the title could be read, clarifying that they were discussing a distinct craft made on a hooked knitting needle or similar implement. Other authors—most notably Mlle. Riego de la Branchardière—had begun writing on the topic in the interim and there was little agreement on the names they gave to one and the same craft. In that context, it would have been reasonable for Mee and Austin to increase the precision of their own designation. (Riego calls it Tricot Ecossais, which will fuel a blog entry or two of its own.)

The most generic of all the names was “long-hook crochet,” first appearing in a publication from 1860 and a satisfactory translation of crochet à tricoter. In fact, since that term has yet to be found in French publication, Mee and Austin may themselves have translated the more prosaic English designation into it. Otherwise, the most commonly encountered names prior to the general acceptance of “Tunisian crochet” are “tricot crochet” or simply “tricot.”

Whatever the derivation of its name may have been, Mee and Austin present crochet à tricoter as something “that has been produced for many years” and only claim to be introducing a number of new stitches and patterns to a pre-existing repertoire. Their instructions prescribe the use of “tricot needles” in various sizes, which they clearly expect to be readily accessible to their readership. Riego also assumes tricot needles to be in common trade in 1859.

It is not clear whether Mee and Austin use the term tricoter to designate a tricot needle as distinct from a hooked knitting needle. There is no direct evidence of such needles being used in England at the time, but Mee uses the term “pin” as a synonym for tricot needle. This is consistent with writing about knitting, whereknitting needle” and “knitting pin” are fully interchangeable. There is a similar equivalence between “crochet hook” and “crochet needle,” but “crochet pin” is not common (if used at all). Mee’s reference to a pin in the present context can therefore be added the list of reasons for seeing no difference between a long crochet hook and a hooked knitting needle. This leaves either “crochet on a knitting needle” or “crochet on a tricot hook” as alternative readings of crochet à tricoter.

The remaining question of how that craft was manifested prior to 1858 has at least a partial answer in a drawing of a long hook being used for some form of crochet in Scotland no later than 1839. This is of additional interest when considering the possible origins of Riego’s Tricot Ecossais. and will be the topic of the next post.

2 thoughts on “Name change in 1861

  1. Very interesting! Wouldn’t it be informative to have a list of all the tools the typical needle woman would have in her kit at this time?

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    1. Needlework boxes are so-called collectables and there are books describing their typical contents. It shouldn’t be hard to find a copy of Mary Andere’s, Old Needlework Boxes and Tools, from 1972, which is a good place to start. Unfortunately, there is certain to have been a significant difference between such fancy packages and the bunch of tools and notions that practitioners—then as now—managed to gather over the years. This can easily include gear Grandma used for something in vogue in her day, was kept for its sentimental value, and still proves useful for an unforseen task or two. I’m kind of guessing that’s how hooked knitting needles may first have been employed for crochet, with the rest being history that remains to be told.

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