Looped Fabric

New article on the history of Tunisian crochet, and what Penelope really said

I am pleased to announce the publication of my article, “The Princess Frederick William Stitch: The Parallel Emergence of Long–Hook Crochet in Prussia and England in 1858,” in the Summer 2020 issue of The Journal of Dress History.

JDH Summer 2020 Cover

The article presents the various names given to the Tunisian crochet simple stitch during the course of that craft’s development, primarily as seen in the anglophone fancywork press, but citing selected sources in other languages. Introductory descriptions appeared from country to country in Europe starting in the latter half of the 1850s and into the following decade. Its initial local presentations share some curious attributes. None makes any claim of its invention, few give it a name on its first mention, and they all seem as though they are introducing an older craft into the fancywork press.

In a previous post about Swedish publications from the 1860s (here), I noted that the wording of instructions for Tunisian crochet in the inaugural issue of the periodical Iduna, on 1 January 1864, implied its prior description in an earlier publication. The obvious alternative is Penelope, which was produced from 1854 to 1863. I’ve since harmonized the earlier post with the present one but it initially reported my unsuccessful attempts at locating mention of Tunisian crochet in Penelope.

As it turned out, I had overlooked two instructions for it that, indeed, did appear there. The first was published in 1856 without naming the stitch, and the second in 1857 where it was retrospectively labeled the Tunisian crochet stitch. The latter text refers to the earlier one for details of how to make the stitch without repeating them but the accompanying illustration clearly shows what is currently known as the Tunisian simple stitch.

The initially posted version of the following translation of the 1856 instructions omitted a pivotal directive — “in the third and following rounds work into the stitch at the top” — that can be read alternatively as describing a variant form of the simple stitch and not the one shown in 1857. I recognized that possibility, and the editorial oversight, when preparing a post about another document of key significance in the early history of Tunisian crochet, where the variant form is described unequivocally.

It never acquired a generally recognized name and differs from the primary form in that a new loop in the forward pass (other than in the foundation row) is worked into the adjacent return chain rather than into the corresponding vertical loop in the preceding forward pass. There are no earlier instructions for comparison and the crucial word “top” might denote either the face of the fabric closest to the worker or the chain. That question is resolved in the illustration accompanying the instructions from 1857 but the hunt is still on for the correspondingly decisive illustration from 1856.

As a stroke of pure good fortune, a few hours after signing off on the final version of the article in the Journal of Dress History, I was contacted by my friend Hanna Bäckström. As noted in a previous post for a similar reason, she is finalizing a PhD dissertation about the developing publication platform for knitting and crochet patterns during the 19th century, in Textile Studies at Uppsala University. She called my attention to the instructions in Penelope that I hadn’t spotted, knowing that I was working on the article but unaware of its production schedule.

My luck extended to the journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Jennifer Daley, kindly allowing me an extra few hours to work that information into the article. Unfortunately, in the ensuing haste, two typographic errors slipped into the text that I didn’t spot until it really was too late to do anything about them. The errata sheet is available here.

The article doesn’t include extensive translations of any of the instructions that it cites and I’ve been using this blog for such purposes. The full title of the publication where the Swedish instructions from 1856 and 1857 appear is Penelope: Nyaste journal för damer. Album för qvinliga arbeten och moder, med bilagor af tapisseri- broderi- virk- och stickmönster, samt modeplancher (Penelope: The latest journal for women. Album for feminine activities and concerns with supplementary patterns for tapestry embroidery, free embroidery, crochet, and knitting, plus fashion plates). As already noted, it appeared from 1854 to 1863 and Iduna commenced publication in 1864. There is an overlap between the two in the labeling of the fold-out supplements where the illustrated patterns are presented, suggesting the possibility of a transitional relationship in other editorial regards.


Tunisian crochet appeared in the first issue of Iduna and its readers were clearly expected to be familiar with “the ordinary Tunisian crochet.” Under normal circumstances, I would have followed the realization of my oversight by an immediate visit to the library holding the copies of Penelope that I had previously seen. However, it closed to the public at the end of March and is unlikely to reopen until the autumn. Although I have photographs of what I saw as key pages in that publication, they don’t include the ones that Hanna Bäckström sent me, taken from a copy in another library, and on which I’m basing the following material with her kind permission. (ADDED NOTE: The library I had visited since reopened for a brief interval and a re-examination of the pivotal volumes showed them to be missing the fold-out supplements, with the illustrations that would more clearly have signaled need for attention to the corresponding instructions.)

The issue of Penelope from 1 January 1856 includes instructions for a window shade made with the unnamed crochet stitch noted above. Nothing is said about the need for a special crochet hook, and a second description in the issue from 15 December 1857 only does so indirectly. This may seem surprising but is consistent with ample other evidence of long cylindrical hooks being used for ordinary crochet (also to be the topic of a separate post).

As with the ostensibly initial presentations of Tunisian crochet in other languages, the Swedish wording asserts novelty but not invention. Perhaps unlike the situation elsewhere, however, there is a traditional Swedish manifestation of Tunisian crochet called krokning [hooking] that may predate rather than derive from the craft described in 1856.

The instructions for the window shade were paired with an illustration on a supplementary pattern sheet of the type shown above. However, as already noted, a copy of the 1856 volume of Penelope that includes it has yet to be located. Here is a translation of the text. (The instructions in the 15 December 1857 issue, written by the same anonymous author, are discussed and translated in the next post.)

Window shade [Jalusie]. I am pleased to be able to tell you about something new and beautiful with this piece.

The window shade consists of individual squares crocheted with thick wool yarn in two or more colors, each square using one. Although somewhat awkward to describe, the work is extremely pleasant and rapid, and I hope that I have expressed myself tolerably well.

This work requires a bone crochet needle [ben-virknål], 12 millimeters thick. Make the desired number of chain stitches [kedjemaskor] with this crochet needle; about 40 gives a medium-size square. Insert the needle into the 2nd stitch and pull the wool yarn through it as for a normal crochet stitch, but don’t complete this stitch, leaving it as a loop [ögla] on the needle. Now take the following stitch and do the same with it, repeating this until all 40 stitches are on the needle.

Then work back by wrapping the wool yarn around the hook [kroken] and pulling it through two stitches; wrap around the needle again pulling through the stitch just formed and the nearest one. Repeat through 2 stitches crocheting in the same way through the entire row of stitches, until there is only one stitch on the needle and one completed round of crochet stitches. In the third and following rounds work into the stitch at the top.

Take extreme care not to lose a stitch at the beginning or end of the row, which is otherwise immediately apparent since the pattern will show clear signs of it. A square is completed when it is as tall as it is wide, and another is started. When all the squares are finished they are crocheted together in a two-color checkerboard, or if there are more colors, according to individual preference and design. Attach fringes to three sides of the window shade. There are two or three loops along the top, from which it is hung.

I hardly need to mention that this work can be used for many other objects. For example, in the manner just described for wall coverings or floor rugs; worked in stripes with heavier cotton yarn that are crocheted together with red Turkish yarn, for bed covers; crocheted with fine wool in squares, for stools and cushions.”

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