Crochet · History · Techniques · Tools · Tunisian crochet

The shepherd’s hook in mid-19th-century fancywork

The 1 January 1864 issue of the German biweekly magazine Der Bazar (discussed at length in the post before last) includes instructions that prescribe the use of a flat crochet hook in a form that is essentially identical to the one shown in the earliest known description of that tool, published in 1785. It is called a “shepherd’s hook” in numerous texts from the early 19th century.

bazar-flat-hook

The 1864 instructions present it for use with a “velour crochet stitch” (Velours-Häkelstich) that had previously been described in the issue of Der Bazar from 8 Jan 1861. Quoting from the initial wording, the stitch is:

“…made primarily in wool…using an ordinary crochet hook of a gauge appropriate to the material. However, the hook has to taper towards its tip, which must be narrower than the shaft.

Make a normal foundation and crochet as follows: Wrap the yarn four times around the hook as for a quadruple crochet stitch, push the spiral tightly together and a bit further back on the hook. Insert the hook into the next stitch and pull a new loop both through it and the entire spiral… Repeat this along the entire length of the work, stitch by stitch.”

It is illustrated as part of a belt.

bazar-velour-stitch

The ordinary tapered hook in use at that time is illustrated in a potpourri of crochet stitches in the 15 June 1867 issue (and reproduced in numerous unaffiliated later publications). One of them is a (UK) double-crochet-based “solid shell” (feste Muschen) that also requires the yarn to be pulled through four loops in a single motion.

bazar-bobble-1867

The 1864 instructions for the velour stitch, which describe its central element “appearing as a loosely knit shell” (lose gestrickt erscheinenden erhabenen Muschen), are effectively identical to those from 1861 (where the shell is a “bulge” — Bäuchen). However, they also specify how the taper is utilized on a flat hook.

“With the right index finger, push the spiral about 1.5 cm back on the hook and hold it firmly there.”

The structural detail of the flat hook is explained in a manner that indicates continuity with the 1800 and 1833 descriptions cited above.

“The velour crochet stitch is most easily made using a wedge-shaped pointed crochet hook as shown in the illustration. This hook is completely flat, only as thick as the back of a knife, and where it is not to be had in steel, is made from hard wood or ivory.”

Its application is shown with a woman’s shoe.

bazar-velour-shoe

The velour stitch and flat hook are illustrated again in the 15 Jan 1865 issue with another woman’s shoe (also showing the floats between the elements made in the light-colored yarn on the reverse side of the fabric).

bazar-velour-shoe-two

The range of materials in which flat hooks were produced, listed in the 1864 text, indicates that they were not simply a niche curiosity. The same illustration of the hook appears in 1865. The copy available online has a pencil sketch of a more pointed tip under the original illustration. This demonstrates reader awareness of the importance of its precise shaping and an interest in calling the attention of others to it.

bazar-sketch-hook-1.jpg

The instructions from 1864 also make reference to a “spiral post stitch” (Spiral-Stäbchenstich) illustrated in the same issue. The differences between it and the velour stitch are described and immediately visible in the illustration. The fabric is worked with a Tunisian crochet hook, anchoring the stitches to the return chain rather than directly to each other, giving a more open structure. The yarn is wrapped around the hook five times, rather than four, adding additional flexibility.

bazar-spiral-post

The spiral post stitch is presented as a “very original variant of the Tunisian stitch.” Since it is produced using a cylindrical hook, there is reason to wonder why the four-wrap form requires a tapered one. Need for offsetting the additional tightness of the velour stitch provides at least a partial answer, and the shell stitch from 1867 is also intrinsically looser. (Four-wrap and longer spirals are otherwise a definitive attribute of what is now termed bullion crochet, and even longer spirals are a mainstay of crocheted tatting — all made using a long cylindrical metal ‘bullion hook.’)

However, the velour stitch also appears in instructions for a child’s shoe in the 1March 1864 issue of the Swedish women’s magazine Iduna, where it is called a “pineapple stitch.” It is likely to have been inspired by the earlier shoe in Der Bazar (and may even reflect an editorial relationship between the two publications) but is primarily made with the Tunisian simple stitch.

iduna-slipper

The instructions explicitly prescribe the use of the same cylindrical wooden hook for both the Tunisian and pineapple stitches, using an illustration of the hook taken directly from Der Bazar (highlighting that it is made of wood by showing its cross-section).

iduna-hook

A separate hook is used for the sole, which is “crocheted with a heavy steel hook, back and forth with ordinary stitches.” The German description from 1800 of the mid-18th-century industrial use of a flat hook for slip stitch crochet footwear raises a question about whether the steel hook might have been a flat hook. Either way, there is contemporaneous documentation of that tool in Sweden and it is likely that the designer of the shoe was aware of it as an option for the pineapple stitch.

This gives three different implements attested for making the velour/pineapple stitch: an ordinary tapered crochet hook, a cylindrical Tunisian crochet hook, and a flat shepherd’s hook. The choice among them would have been a straightforward matter of individual preference. As a Tunisian stitch, the five-wrap spiral post is obviously restricted to a long cylindrical hook. There is also an upper limit to the number of equally sized wraps that can be effected with a tapered hook, varying with the degree of the taper.

The designs in Der Blatt treat the flat hook as advantageous when yarn is pulled through up to four loops or wraps at the same time. This extends the documented use of such tools beyond the realm of slip stitch crochet. In light of the flat hook’s long-standing Swedish nexus, it seems a fair guess that it was at times used for the stitches presented in the preceding post. If so, the distinction between urban and rural flat hook crochet becomes all the more diffuse.

The initial categorization of the use of a shepherd’s hook as a form of knitting also extends to Tunisian crochet. Both the Tunisian crochet stitch and the long hook are described in terms of knitting in the 23 January 1861 issue of Der Blatt (where the method was introduced three year earlier).

“The Tunisian crochet stitch, [is] widely known as a form of knitting [Strickerei] with a…so-called ‘knitting hook’ [Strickhaken] (a long crochet hook with an even diameter and a knob affixed to its one end).”

The additional description of the shell as a knitted construct, alternatively produced on a knitting hook or a shepherd’s hook, further highlights the discrepancy between 19th-century notions of both procedural and structural classification and those of the present day. It is often pointed out that the conceptual framework is language dependent, and that several languages other than English do not have separate words for crochet and knitting. In that light, it may be of more than coincidental interest that the Oxford English Dictionary defines crochet as “A kind of knitting done with a hooked needle; material so made.”