Crochet · Early instructions · Terminology

Mrs. Gaugain’s combined crochet

The first tutorial text about crochet written entirely in English was published in 1840 by Jane Gaugain, in The Lady’s Assistant for Executing Useful and Fancy Designs in Knitting, Netting and Crotchet Work. She uses the French loanword (alternating between the spelling in the title and the native one) to designate the craft but not the individual stitches that it comprises. Each is labeled a “tambour” and the action of their production is “tambouring,” without any reference to crochet in the instructions. She settled on the now standard spelling in subsequent texts but left the substantive presentation of the craft unchanged in the enlarged 1847 edition of The Lady’s Assistant, despite the different nomenclature her colleagues had begun to apply in similar presentations starting in 1842.

This strongly suggests that Gaugain took tambour embroidery to be the sole point of departure for the new craft. Other authors saw tambour embroidery as having contributed elements that were merged with the older Scottish shepherd’s knitting, which they incorporated into the new stitch repertoire as single crochet (later aka slip stitch crochet). Gaugain was also the only one who placed the elemental chain stitch in the ordered sequence that extended to double and treble crochet.

SINGLE TAMBOUR, OR CHAIN STITCH

This is worked by drawing one loop through the other; it is seldom used save for open purses, and sometime for muffattees, shoes, &c. &c.

The etceteras make this somewhat self-contradictory. The narrow focus of the stitch’s application is gainsaid further by its appearance in every subsequent instruction, beginning with a “Long Purse of Open Stitch of Single Tambour” — a classic diamond mesh consisting of nothing other than chains. The next stitch Gaugain describes is what her peers also label plain or double crochet.

PLAIN FRENCH TAMBOUR LONG PURSE
(sometimes called Double Tambour)

Cast on 100 loops in single chain stitch, having the last of the cast-on loops on the needle. 2d row, insert the needle in the first loop, and catch the silk from behind; pull it through the loop. You now have 2 loops on the needle, then catch the thread, and pull it through the two loops; this forms one stitch.

“Catching the silk from behind” means that the thread is placed under the hook (now termed “yarn under” — YU) before pulling the new loop through the one the hook is inserted into. This was the primary procedure in 18th-century descriptions of shepherd’s knitting, with the alternative of placing the yarn over the hook (YO) mentioned as an option “for different effect.” As noted, this was subsumed as single crochet in the developing UK glossary (used here throughout and discussed in further detail in the post before last) but Gaugain made no mention of the designated structure before her Crochet D’Oyley Book, published in 1846. There she overlaps her initial terminology with what was becoming common usage, removing the chain stitch from the numbered sequence, dropping all reference to single tambour, and defining single crochet as her peers use the term.

Gaugain uses both YU and YO in two other stitches in the 1840 series. The YO is presented as a directive for “casting the thread over the needle.” It is first called for in instructions for an “Open Tambour Purse” in treble crochet, without giving the stitch a name. The instructions immediately thereafter are headed “Open Tambour Stitch for a Purse,” describing half-treble crochet but unclearly referring to each such stitch as “two double stitches.”

OPEN TAMBOUR PURSE

1st Row, begin with one of the cast-on stitches on the needle, throw on a stitch on your needle, by casting the thread over it; insert the needle into the third loop, catching the silk in from behind, and pull through; you now have three loops on the needle, again cast on a stitch, pull it through the first two on the point of the needle; there are now two loops on it, again cast on another, pull it through the two; you now have only one loop, cast on one, pull it through the one; having one now on the needle, commence as before described. This stitch is worked on every other loop only, thereby leaving one unworked, which forms the open part of the stitch.

The crochet instructions in The Handbook of Needlework by Frances Lambert, published in 1842, also refer to “catching the silk” when describing plain crochet, with a separate “bring the silk round the needle” — equivalent to YO — for the treble crochet she terms “the open crochet stitch.” In A Manual of Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, published in the same year, Cornelia Mee prescribes YO as the default for all stitches: “the point of the crochet must always be put under the silk or wool before drawing it through.” Gaugain also published in 1842, releasing both a new edition of her 1840 text and extending it into a similarly titled three-volume The lady’s assistant in knitting, netting, and crochet work. This uses the initial stitch definitions but adds numerous detailed illustrated instructions that witness thorough familiarity with the procedural and structural nuance of crochet (and is the source of this post’s featured image).

Gaugain indicates elsewhere that she is writing from the perspective of a right-handed worker. This leaves a new YU loop seated on the hook with its leading leg (the one closest to the tip) at the back of the hook, with YO placing the leading leg on the front of the hook. In the current knitter’s parlance, the YU seating (prescribed with no mention of YO in the first Victorian instructions for knitting — The Workman’s Guide from 1838) is referred to as a “Western mount,” in contrast to YO which results in an “Eastern mount.” Knitting styles that make predominant use of one or the other are correspondingly (albeit geographically misleadingly) named Western and Eastern. A “combined” (aka combination) method uses YO and YU mounts in more equal proportion. Among other things, this offsets the effect of unvaried unidirectional wrapping on the twist of the yarn. (The way that twist is designated can also be applied to the mount, replacing YO/YU or Eastern/Western, with YS/YZ as discussed here.)

Slip stitch crochet entails the deliberate selection between the two mounts. Since it had ceased to be a recognized means for fabric production by the mid-20-century for other than its traditional practitioners, it is often seen as a revival practice. However, as typified by the differing approaches to double crochet and Gaugain’s alternating use of YU and YO in half-treble and treble crochet, correctly tracking the prescribed wrap direction is also a consideration when reproducing other forms of period crochet.

Its persisting significance is highlighted by the slanting variant of double crochet described in the post before last, which wraps the first loop YU and the second YO. The cited instructions are from 1867 and both note that YO is “the usual manner” and provide an illustrated description of YU. The same “slanting stitch” appears toward the end of the century in the Encyclopedia of Needlework, by Thérèse de Dillmont. Her instructions for the YU/YO combination are to “take hold of the crochet thread without turning it round the needle and draw it through in a loop, and then finish the stitch like a plain stitch.”

This attests three of the four possible wrap combinations for double crochet from its first description through to the end of the 19th-century: Gaugain’s “French” YU/YU, “slanting” YU/YO, and “usual” YO/YO. A larger number of combinations can be applied to treble crochet, of which two are attested: Gaugain’s combined YO and YU, and YO-only. Whenever the latter may have become the default, different juxtapositions of YO and YU were clearly part of the repertoire described in the early 1840s and were still being tested for decades to come.

Another detail that differs significantly in 19th- and 20th-century practice is the default point where the hook is inserted into the fabric prior to pulling a new loop through it. The current standard for double and treble crochet is to insert the hook under both legs of the chain loop at the top of the stitch to which the new one is being anchored. In 19th-century instructions the point of insertion, unless otherwise specified, was into the chain loop as what is now termed “back loop only” (BLO — more correctly “back leg of the loop”).

The third available insertion point is the front leg of the loop (FLO). Both this and under both legs (which has no generally recognized abbreviation) are attested nearly from the outset but always explicitly prescribed. The 19th-century presentations of variant forms of double crochet illustrate the differences resulting not just from the controlled alternation of YU and YO, but also from the selection among the three insertion points.

Both YU/YO and BLO/FLO distinctions are regularly weighed into slip stitch crochet but are also relevant to other forms in the historical repertoire. The slanting variant of double crochet mentioned above — BLO and combined YU/YO — was also worked under both legs of the chain loop as a “crossed stitch.” The following woodcut appears in the same 1867 array and Dillmont also describes the stitch but doesn’t illustrate it.

Another salient attribute of combined knitting is that its practitioners are poised to read each loop as they come to it without a rote expectation about its orientation, then working it as needed to attain the desired result. In light of the significant and often unfamiliar structural variation in crochet across its history, there may be some utility in a similarly founded combined approach both to the (re)production of crocheted fabric and the analysis of older objects.

7 thoughts on “Mrs. Gaugain’s combined crochet

  1. Hello, I’m currently researching the history of Amigurumi. I was wondering what are your thoughts on this new (1990s) branch of crocheted expression. Or if this genre ever came across your desk in your career. any tips for navigating internet research will be greatly appreciated. thank you

    1. I’ve spent a fair amount of enjoyable time making Amigurumi but haven’t been able to locate any detailed information about the origin of the genre. This is largely because I can’t read Japanese and there may well be relevant material in books in that language on my own shelves — acquired for their detailed charting. I’ve also tried fanning out from the Japanese Wikipedia article on Amigurumi, relying on Google translate, but have yet to find a path into any discussion about history.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help. If you’d like to pursue the same approach, try starting here. If you’re using Chrome, you can then simply right-click with the cursor anywhere on the page to get the translation option.

  2. I found this blog by accident, and it’s so insightful. Thanks for sharing your knowledges!

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