Crochet · History · Illustration · Terminology

Mlle. Riego’s crochet stitch atlas

In 1847, Eleanore Riego de la Branchardière published the first series of instructions for crochet lace in a planned multipart production titled The Crochet Book. The preface to the second series is dated 1 January 1848 and its preparation was likely coordinated with that of the first. The two series define basic concepts and techniques of the craft separately from the instructions to which they are applied and illustrate a number of crochet stitches with unprecedented clarity. Written stitch descriptions appear in a few of the subsequent series but only the first two include tutorial drawings.

Those in the first volume begin with how “To Make a Chain,” calling each element of the aggregate structure a “chain stitch.” They continue with the “Plain Stitch called French or Double Crochet” (US single) and then a “Treble Stitch” (US double). The intermediate “Single Crochet, or Shepherd’s Knitting” (slip stitch) is deferred until the second series. In that one, Riego drops the alternative designations for the plain stitch and redefines “Double Crochet” as discussed below.

The third series also appeared in 1848, referring the reader to the first two for basic definitions with one exception — “For Long stitch, see ‘Winter Book,’ page 18, in Mary Stuart Hood.” That was yet another of Riego’s publications from 1848. It only provides a written description of the long stitch but this unambiguously details what she might have called a quadruple stitch (US treble) if she had left double crochet with its initial meaning.

Riego uses a more rigorous terminology in The Crochet Book than she does in her earlier writing, where the word crochet is a generic synonym for stitch made with a hook. Here a “stitch” is an attribute of the fabric. A “loop” is something initially found on the tool and then worked into other loops to produce a stitch, which is further specified by parts of the component loops. The illustration of single crochet provides a useful introduction to her descriptive methodology (and commercial prowess; the Taylor named on the spool was one of her sponsors).

single crochet

“After making a chain, the loop E being on the needle, put the needle in a stitch as F, draw the thread through, forming a loop, and also through the loop on the needle E.”

The same technique is readily adapted to the plain crochet stitch.

“After making a chain, keep the loop A on the needle; put the needle into the last chain stitch, and draw the thread through; there will now be two loops (A B) on the needle; take up the thread C and draw it through the two, this forms one stitch.”

The loop pulled through F in the first drawing is identical to B in the second and, as shown, remains on the hook after the single crochet is completed. With the plain crochet stitch, the nascent loop C has that function. This extends into a general definitive attribute of crochet. Regardless of the number of loops that are worked into a stitch, and through whichever points in the preexisting fabric they are drawn, all stitches begin with a single loop on the hook.

The loops added to it are ultimately reduced to a single loop that is chained through the one remaining on the hook after the completion of the preceding stitch. Loops A and C therefore become chain loops along the top of a row of plain crochet stitches, with B embedded in the vertical component of each stitch, adding height to it.

In both illustrations the hook is inserted into what is now termed the “back loop only” (BLO) of the chain stitch. This was the assumed point of insertion for crochet stitches in the 1840s unless otherwise specified. It took decades before the default shifted to being under both legs of the loop as is now common practice. Riego was ahead of that trend with the following general prescription in the third series of The Crochet Book, although she was referring specifically to making lace with fine thread.

“All single, plain, treble, and long stitches are to be worked in Double Crochet — that is, by taking both sides of the previous stitch on the needle, except when they are worked ‘in the Chain.’” 

The actual (re)description of the double crochet notes that working under both legs of the loop is not the usual method and produces firmer fabric. Contemporaneous authors generally treat that attribute as undesirable when working with yarn — which is not the topic of the series.

Riego’s double crochet stitch

“Double Crochet is a variation of plain crochet; and formed by taking up both sides of the stitch in the previous row as H, instead of the usual method of putting it in the stitch; this makes the work stronger, and is suited for fine thread.” 

The various references thus far to parts of loops and stitches can be normalized through the more precise description of a chain.

chain

The descending part of each each of the four repeated elements is commonly called a “back bump.” This is an apt descriptor when the chain is not tethered to the fabric. However, the back bump is a common point of insertion for the hook when working stitches into the foundation chain, thereby opening it into a loop. Although not usually conceptualized as such, the hook is inserted into that loop at H in the illustration of double crochet.

A “chain stitch” therefore needs to be divided into two loops in analytic contexts. The obvious label for the one corresponding to the back bump is “back loop” but that collides with the BLO naming convention — even when the abbreviation is read to mean the “back leg of the loop.” The same loop also has a front leg that is a common point of insertion in slip stitch crochet, designated as FLO.

It is additionally unclear whether the primary loop in a chain stitch is better labeled just that, or as the “top loop.” The further alternative of “chain loop” is somewhat ambiguous but permits alternate reference to inserting the hook into or under the chain loop. Where further specification is needed when working into that loop the abbreviations BLO and FLO can be retained. If it is clarified that the L means “leg of the loop” and that “back loop” is what the back bump becomes when a stitch is worked into the chain, reference can be made to the back loop in contexts where it is a more appropriate focal point.

Returning to the sequence of stitches Riego works into the chain loop prior to the third series, the A and D in her drawing of a “Treble Stitch” become elements of the top chain, with B and C intermeshing to form a more intricate vertical structure.

“Keep the loop on the needle as A, then take the thread on the needle B, put the needle in a stitch, draw the thread through, this makes three loops as A B C; take up the thread D and draw it through the two loops C and B, take it up again and draw it through the two loops formed by D and A; this finishes one stitch.”

The directive to “take the thread on the needle” calls for what is now termed a “yarn over.” That is what B is on the hook and when worked into the completed stitch can still be termed the yarn over.

Loops A and C are regular loops, in the sense that both legs are contained within the loop to which they are anchored. The legs of B are anchored to separate loops and at no point in the production of the stitch is B worked through any loop. However, the other loops are worked through B, girdling it around their legs. This adds even more substance to the vertical structure of the fabric but the path the yarn over takes through it cannot be described entirely in terms of regular loops.

The instructions for the long stitch in The Winter Book were published before the third series of The Crochet Book, and are for solid-work crochet in wool, not lace. They are illustrated here with an engraving in a stitch atlas from the 1860s, where its production is described in the same effective terms as Riego’s.

long crochet stitch

“…the long stitch is worked thus: — turn the wool twice around the needle, put the needle in the stitch of the work, bring the wool through it, there will now be 4 loops on the needle, take up the wool, draw it through 2 loops, there will now be 3 loops on the needle, take up the wool and bring it through 2 of the loops, then take up the wool and bring it through the remaining 2 loops.”

The loops shown on the hook correspond directly to those in the treble stitch. The yarn takes an additional turn around the hook in the correlate to B but still has just two points of anchorage in the fabric. The yarn can be wrapped around the hook an arbitrary number of additional times, resulting in increasingly taller stitches that otherwise share the same basic structure.

When worked into the fabric, these yarn overs take a spiral path around, and through the back loops of, what are otherwise ordinary chain stitches. There are common yarn-over techniques in knitting that would place what might be termed “yarn-over loops” along that path but Riego neither mentions nor applies them in The Crochet Book.

I’ll devote the next post to the early documentation of the yarn over as a knitting technique and the possibility of it having influenced the development of crochet. For readers with an interest in the broader design potential of tall crochet stitches, Vashti Braha provides a lot of worthwhile information about it on her blog.

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