Early instructions · History · Tunisian crochet

Tunisian crochet in Sweden in the 1860s

In January 1864, a Swedish monthly publication for fashion and fancywork commenced publication with the title Iduna, a Norse goddess associated with femininity and knowledge.

iduna-title.jpg

Iduna,
Journal for the Tasks and Concerns of Women,
with Supplementary Patterns for Counted-Thread and Free Embroidery,
Crochet, and Knitting,
plus Fashion Plates.

It was the latest in a series of similarly oriented publications that changed titles a few times over the decades. There was often some editorial continuity between the final issues of a series and the first ones of its successor. The incarnation that immediately preceded Iduna was Penelope. It first appeared in 1854 with essentially the same subtitle: Album för qvinliga arbeten och moder, med bilagor af tapisseri- broderi- virk- och stickmönster, samt modeplancher (Album for the tasks and concerns of women, with supplementary patterns for tapestry embroidery, free embroidery, crochet, and knitting, plus fashion plates). Its final volume was published in 1863.

The period spanned by the production of these two publications included the interval during which the “Tunisian crochet stitch” made its meteoric spread through the European fancywork press. This began with a description of the stitch itself in 1856, unnamed, with the Tunisian label retrospectively applied to it in 1857. When writing the initial version of the present post, I was unaware of the earliest attested instances being in Penelope and have provided further details about this in two subsequent posts, describing the first published appearance (as far as I have yet been able to determine) of the unnamed stitch in 1856 here, and the instructions from 1857 that label it the Tunisian crochet stitch here.

The first of many instructions for Tunisian crochet that appear in Iduna are found on page 4 of its inaugural issue. They are for a “crocheted pelerine” (wirkad pelerine) in “the ordinary Tunisian crochet” (den wanliga tunesiska wirkningen). This is what we now call the Tunisian simple stitch and it is clear from the text that readers are expected to be familiar with the technique. A repeated reminder in subsequent instructions about a row of Tunisian crochet being counted as a forward and return pass together may indicate that its written description was unfamiliar to a Swedish readership. However, there are no remarks about the stitch itself, which also appears in the traditional Swedish craft repertoire as krokning (hooking). The first attested use of that term is presented below. It does not appear to be a coinage, leaving an open and important question about whether it was taken from an older orally transmitted glossary.

The supplementary illustration of the pelerine is missing from the copy of Iduna that I examined but the same issue includes complete instructions for a child’s dress.iduna-dress

Tunisian crochet and krokning are generally regarded as synonymous in present-day Swedish usage. However, a distinction is made between the two terms in a four-part Handbook of Women’s Handcraft (Handbok i fruntimmers-handarbeten) published by Hedvig Berg in 1873-74. This is where krokning is first attested, as a collective designation for all crochet stitch variants that are worked row-by-row on a long hook. The alternative name Tunisian crochet is again restricted to the simple stitch. However, “almost all crochet known under the name krokning is just a variation of it.”

The chapter on crochet has four sections, of which the last is headed “Crochet with wool yarn” (Virkning med ullgarn). The chapter begins:

“Since crochet is now so widely known and practiced that there is no need for a fundamental description, instructions are only given here for the lesser-know Irish guipure crochet, for which many instructions are provided, together with some more unusual mignardise lace [ganzspetsar], as well as a few crochet stitches or so-called krokningar [hookings] with wool yarn, the latter also with some patterns.”

The section on yarn crochet has six subsections, each for a specific stitch. The first five are labeled as krokning but the sixth is for “axvirking.” An ax is a head of grain and the corresponding German name — Aehren-Häkelstich — as well as a drawing on which the one shown below is clearly based, appear in an 1865 issue of Der Blatt.

The important point is that Berg regards it as a lesser known stitch worth describing in terms of Tunisian crochet, which the German text does not. She doesn’t classify it as krokning because it isn’t worked along the entire length of hook in continuous forward and return passes. However, it does apply the same basic technique repeatedly to a smaller stitch cluster that was apparently presented under the same heading for this reason.

axvirkning

“Take up three loops through three of the foundation chains just as with Tunisian crochet, then pull one loop through all three at once forming a small group of stitches, crochet one chain and repeat with three loops again all drawn through together…”

This Tunisian component and it being the only one not labeled as such, among what are otherwise all proper Tunisian crochet stitches, may indicate that the latter were generally preferred to ordinary crochet for work in yarn. This is reinforced by a text from 1884 by Mathilda Langlet, titled “The Homemaker in the City and in the Country” (Husmodern i staden och på landet). Her chapter on crochet begins:

“This form of handcraft has now become so widespread and developed that commenting on it seems superfluous. However, for the sake of completeness we do not feel that we should exclude it.

Vests, sweaters, and shawls ought these days to be ‘hooked’ (krokas) or knitted (stickas), rather than crocheted (virkas). Crochet with wool yarn is normally restricted to so-called slipper crochet (toffelvirkning), which can be compared approximately with knitting, all plain, or garter stitch (strumpebandstickning) as it is also called. One crochets back and forth but pulls the needle not through the closest loop but the one behind it. This gives the crochet a distinctive striped appearance.”

This is followed by instructions for a slipper and a note that “cuffs are also worked in the same manner.” It is not clear if this ribbing is worked with slip stitch or double crochet (UK) and Langlet also describes it being done with “fine thread…for cuffs and collars.” Given the long-standing association between footwear and slip stitch crochet it may be safe to assume she is prescribing that technique. In either case, ‘BLO slip stitch ribbing’ fashioned in the described manner remains a part of the crocheter’s repertoire.

There are also instructions for a “Crocheted child’s shoe…in Tunisian crochet” in the third issue of Iduna (March 1864).

The cuff is “pineapple crochet” (ananasvirkning), which had previously been described as a “velour” crochet stitch in Der Blatt. One of its repetitive elements is:

* wrap the yarn around the needle four times from back to front and insert the needle into the following stitch, wrap the yarn around the needle as usual and pull it through all the loops at once; make one chain *

In both this stitch and Berg’s axvirkning, the hook is inserted into the chain space between stitch clusters in subsequent rounds. Their primary shared element is the pulling of a single loop through a number of loops that are already on the hook. One of the ways for placing them there can be compared directly with the forward pass in Tunisian crochet. The return loop pulled through the entire sequence on the hook similarly resembles crochet tatting, possibly explaining why Berg includes that craft in her chapter on crochet, in the section immediately preceding the one with the Tunisian and Tunisian-like crochet stitches.

Further variants of this type of hybrid crochet stitch have been found in Swedish mittens and seen as an attempt to mimic the appearance of nalbinding. I’ll take a closer look at them in a separate post.

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