My name is Cary Karp and I retired a while ago from a career in the museum sector that lasted forty-five years. During its course I acquired a fair amount of experience in the conservation and documentation of utilitarian objects. Significant effort often went into ferreting out contextual information about their origin and use. Now that my time is fully my own, I’ve been using it to acquire hands-on skill with various craft techniques based on looping. I’ve also been investigating details of their history that strike me as unclear — hence the name of this blog. Its purpose is to share information I’ve come across along the way, and to raise questions that may be worth further investigation.
The preceding essay considered differences between the descriptions of crochet by Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (writing as Madame Celnart) and Charlotte Leidenfrost, in their books published respectively in 1826 and 1828. The German text followed the disposition of the earlier French one and used the same illustrations. In her preface, Leidenfrost explained the otherwise extensive substantive differences between them. Going beyond those examined last time, the preface states:
“The French work of Madame Celnart has a few appended patterns for tapestry-stitch embroidery [Tappiseriearbeit] and crochet [Häkeln], which we have omitted here…because the understanding of several descriptions would require other drawings. I also didn’t want this work to be unnecessarily expensive. In any case such patterns, exquisitely executed, are now available to whitework embroiderers in many locations in Germany. It therefore seemed superfluous to increase their number by what might be mediocre ones here.”
A comment on the preceding post about the status of crochet in the 1820s sent me back to revisit Elisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (the second of the early 19th-century authors on whom this blog focused shortly after its inception). The first edition of her “Young Ladies’ Handbook or Arts and Crafts” (Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers) was published in Paris, in 1826, under the pen name of Madame Celnart. The comment notes that this book served as the basis for a German counterpart written by Charlotte Leidenfrost, that appeared two years later and was the source of the text about crochet translated in the previous post.
“The initiative for the present small work was taken when the publisher sent the author the Manuel des Demoiselles ou Arts et Métiers by Madame Celnart with the assignment of preparing a free translation.”
After a few complimentary words about Bayle-Mouillard’s efforts, Leidenfrost becomes rather critical of the stylistic and pedagogical shortcomings of the text she had been presented with. The preface goes on to note that the resulting German publication excludes some sections of the French one, completely rewrites others, and adds extensive new material, Continue reading “French crochet and non-crochet in 1826”→
Several posts during the first months of this blog provide translations of Dutch instructions from 1823 for a number of purses made with different looping techniques. They include three that are crocheted and mark the first use of the word crochet to designate the craft now widely known by that name. That term isn’t attested in English language text until 1840 but its German equivalent — häkeln — began to appear in publication at the end of the first decade of that century. Its literal meaning is “to hook” but early references may designate techniques other than crochet that employ a tambour embroidery needle (shown here in an illustration from 1763).
Despite the uncertain semantics, häkeln had clearly acquired its present sense by the 1820s. The Dutch instructions use the cognate hekelen and the explicitly French crochet synonymously. What may be the first use of crochet (“hook”) in French texts as the name of a craft rather than a tool, denotes loom knitting. It appears in instructions from 1826 by Élisabeth Bayle-Mouillard (writing as Élisabeth Celnart) for another purse discussed and translated here.
It would seem likely that crochet was used in the current sense in French discourse prior to the Dutch publication. However, the first attested occurrence of such usage is in French instructions, yet again for a purse, incongruously embedded in an anonymous compilation of knitting instructions from 1837 that is otherwise entirely in English (seen unaltered in the 2nd ed. from 1838; the 5th ed. from 1840 names the “compiler” as Miss Watts).
The translation presented below is of the chapter “About Crochet” (Vom Häckeln), in a domestic handbook by Elisabeth Klarin from 1829, “The Well-Educated and Self-Taught Housekeeper” (Die wohlunterrichtete und sich selbst lehrende Haushälterin). As Hanna Bäckström (whose PhD dissertation about the developing publication platform for knitting and crochet patterns during the 19th century is forthcoming in Textile Studies at Uppsala University) notes in a comment on the initial posting, it is a verbatim repetition of material published the year before by Charlotte Leidenfrost, in her “Small Handbook on Pleasant and Useful Activities for Young Women” (Handbüchlein zur angenehmen und nützlichen Beschäftigung für junge Damen). I was unaware of the 1828 publication date when giving this post its title and have now changed it accordingly.
The preface to Leidenfrost’s book says that it originated with a request for a free translation of the Bayle-Mouillard manual. Although, the outcome does reflect much of the earlier material, Leidenfrost’s chapter on crochet goes far beyond what Bayle-Mouillard said about it and cannot be seen as a translation, even with the greatest editorial latitude. (I’ll discuss the French text further in a separate post.)
As with the Dutch crochet instructions from 1823, the German ones use a tambour embroidery needle. The earlier instructions change the color of the thread between bands that are each several rounds wide. The later ones include multithread single crochet (US) colorwork in both its intarsia and stranded forms. The instructions for the latter prescribe the use of a mesh gauge, a basic tool of netting.
This is obviously intended to ensure adequate ease in the floats but the orientation of the work is confusingly indicated. It seems that the effect (public) side of the fabric is folded inward over the gauge. However, the instructions go on to state that crochet can only be worked with the effect side toward the worker. This eliminates the option of the piece being turned inside out and stitched from the reverse side but still doesn’t clarify the requisite detail.
I’ve therefore retained the ambiguity in the pivotal sentence (at the end of the sixth paragraph) and avoided other disambiguation where alternate readings are at all possible. The translation is also broken into shorter sentences and paragraphs, and passive instructions in the form of “one makes” are restated declaratively as “make.”
Since this resembles knitting in so many ways, we are only describing it in passing. It is not made with knitting needles but with an ordinary tambour embroidery needle [Tambournadel]. Cordonnet silk is used because no other material is twisted and plied tightly enough. It can be started in different ways, the best of which is as follows:
Take a piece of finger-wide linen tape somewhat longer than the width of what you want to crochet and sew a row of festoon stitches along its edge, matching the intended width and number of [crochet] stitches. This depends somewhat on the size of the thread but a normal purse is about 180 stitches. The festoon stitches are, of course, made with a sewing needle and serve only to provide a start by which the work can be held. As soon as it is completed the festoon stitches are cut off together with the tape.
Insert the tambour needle into the first of these stitches and a pull a loop of the actual working thread through it. Insert the needle in the second stitch and pull another loop through it. Wrap the thread around the hooked tip of the needle and pull it through both of these loops. This forms a new loop that is kept on the needle, which is then inserted into the next stitch and pulls a loop through it. Again wrap the thread around the needle and pull it through both loops, etc.
This creates a chain that easily comes undone, as with tambour embroidery. To prevent that from happening when setting the work aside, secure the loop with a needle or pull the ball of thread through it. When the end of the thread has been reached and a new length is started, crochet it over the end of the old thread by holding the latter in front of the working thread, covering the free end before it is released.
This technique is often applied when crocheting with several different colors. However, it is not always advisable because the colors readily gleam through. Where it is not otherwise a concern, it is therefore preferable to float the threads along the wrong side and only capture them at intervals so that they do not become too long.
If crocheting with more than one thread, the use of a mesh gauge [Brettchen] is absolutely necessary. This is approximately one to two fingers wide and needed because it is almost impossible not to pull [the stitches too closely] together. The work is turned around so that the right side of the fabric rests inward against the gauge, which is then held from below in the left hand with the thread over the index finger, and the crocheting proceeds on the wrong side of the gauge.
When crocheting repeating patterns, whatever they may be, do not forget that the loop just made [and on the needle] is not added to the chain until the following [stitch]. Therefore, when a stitch in one color in the pattern immediately precedes one of another, the color change can obviously not be made right at the end of the pattern segment. Instead, it has to be done one stitch earlier. If, for example, six stitches are to be made with one color, only five are seen as completed because the sixth is still on the needle.
In crochet, a decrease is made by skipping over a stitch. An increase is either done by pulling a [second] loop through one and the same stitch, or by pulling a loop through the one already on the needle before inserting it into the following stitch. At this spot in the following round there will, of course, be one more stitch than there was previously.
Openwork crochet is produced in the same way, by repeatedly pulling a loop through the one on the hook four times [i.e., chain four] before stitching it properly into the fourth stitch [in the preceding round]. The next round is made in the same manner but the small arches are stitched into the middle of the arches in the preceding round. This produces a kind of mesh but it is neither pretty nor durable.
The result is better, especially with shading or alternating stripes, if one crochets four free stitches (as the simple pulling of the thread through a loop is called), and then four in the customary manner. These [arches] can be made diagonal when the next round starts, by shifting them a stitch forward or backward. In this way, crisp serpentine lines are formed, which stand out well with alternating silver and gold thread, and are quickly made.
Crochet can serve all sorts of purposes, such as purses, knitting bags, briefcases, watchbands, etc. However, it is awkward to work other than in the round because it is only possible to crochet from right to left and on the front side of the fabric. Therefore, if you want to make a piece that cannot be worked in the round, for example the flap on a briefcase or the like, the thread has to be cut at the end of a row and started afresh in the next one. For this reason, watchbands are not started from the top or bottom, but lengthwise. They are crocheted to double width and, when finished, the edges are crocheted together by inserting the hook simultaneously into one loop on each side.
Despite their explicit labeling as crochet hooks and Turnau’s acceptance of that ascription, it might be tempting to regard these objects as having been intended for other purposes. However, they withstand direct comparison with later hooks that are known to have been used for that craft. This is readily seen with a Swedish flat hook made of bone for traditional slip stitch crochet (discussed in an an earlier post). Other exemplars of the same type are found in Swedish museum collections. Continue reading “Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe”→
Many of the stitches that crocheters regard as fundamental to their craft were described in non-English publications before the Victorian fancywork press had begun to roll. Naming conventions differed both across and within language boundaries, as is still witnessed by the misalignment of the UK and US glossaries. Diffuse nomenclature also attached to Tunisian crochet when it was added to the documented repertoire in the late 1850s. Stitch clusters didn’t even begin to acquire a differentiated set of labels until the end of that century, in surprising contrast to the structural intricacy of the clusters themselves.
Several aspects of this are seen with instructions for a “Crochet Afghan or Carriage Blanket” in an anonymous booklet titled Knitting and Crocheting, published in Boston in 1884 or 1885. (It is undated but includes an advertisement citing a trademark registered 17 June 1884, and the digitized copy shows the Library of Congress accession stamp, 21 Sept. 1885.)
The preceding post discussed alternate production methods that can have been used for the compound knitting seen in early Egyptian tubes. The same technical considerations figure prominently in discussions about the large knitted carpets that were made in Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries in partial fulfillment of guild requirements for certification as a master knitter. The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London include a frequently illustrated exemplar made in 1781 (museum number T.375-1977). The online database indicates its size as 193 cm high and 174.5 cm wide but other of the museum’s publications state it to be 163 cm square.
The German publication Der Bazar (The Bazaar) figures prominently in a number of posts on this blog. This is due in no small part to the online availability of an almost unbroken series of issues from the outset of its publication through to the end of the 19th century. The inaugural volume appeared in 1855 and is one of the few not to be found in library catalogs but I’ve managed to acquire a printed copy (said with a fair amount bibliophile pride). One of what was to become dozens of competitors, Die Modenwelt (The Fashion World), commenced publication in 1865. As far as I have yet been able to determine, no library has a complete set and relatively few volumes have been digitized.
The business model of Der Bazar included the syndicated parallel appearance of its descriptions and illustrations of fancywork techniques in collaborating publications in several other countries. The same practice was adopted by Die Modenwelt, which listed the international editions on its masthead.
The January 1857 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book includes the first in a series of “Full Instructions for Needle-Work of all Kinds.” It describes the basic elements of crochet and provides a good review of the mid-19th-century state of the craft. Without any indication of it being a recent innovation, a now unfamiliar “double chain-stitch” is included.
“This is a stronger and firmer chain-stitch than the ordinary one; and as it resembles braid, it is sometimes termed braid-stitch. When you have done two ordinary chain-stitches, besides the one on the needle, insert the hook into the first of those two, draw the thread at once through them both: then continue to insert the hook in the stitch just finished, as well as the loop on it already, and draw the thread through both.”
I’m still looking for earlier descriptions of it and am not entirely confident that the following drawing of the “double foundation” (doppelter Anschlag) in the July 1867 issue of Der Bazar is the first to have been published. It appears in an illustrated suite of crochet stitches that was reused in numerous subsequent publications — both in authorized syndication and otherwise — and the double foundation as it appears there can safely be seen as an archetype.
The tools and techniques described in detail in the initial wave of 19th-century publications about diversionary fancywork represent crafts in practice at that time. Although some clues are provided about their histories, little can be deduced about their actual ages and origins. The drawing of purse molds from 1842 that provides this blog’s logo is a good case in point.
The pegged form is a support for knitting called a moule Turc (Turkish mold) in the British publication it is taken from and in French instructions from 1826, with little likelihood of the later text having been derived from the earlier one. The name suggests an eastern origin although it may simply be a fanciful coinage. However, the same label appearing in unrelated printed sources beyond the two just cited, plus contextual remarks about the application of the implement to knitting, clearly indicate that peg looms were in established use for some time before being written about.
When I started this blog I had no idea how much time I would soon be spending in the alternating roles of researcher and wordsmith. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. However, the project has been increasingly beset with need for retrospectively harmonizing earlier posts with recent ones and updating references to source documents that have since been digitized and placed online. More than a few substantive conclusions drawn along the way have been, or still need to be, recontextualized in light of subsequently acquired information.
The round numbers attaching to the present post make it a suitable final entry in Series One of this blog. I had intended to release it on the third anniversary of the inaugural post (19 November) but as noted in the one closest to that date, related commitments interfered with that seemingly simple action. The overdue housekeeping has become even more urgent in the meanwhile. There’s also a formidable and growing backlog of unread articles and books amassed with the intention of fueling future posts that I’m eager to make at least a dent in. Doing this may require easing off what has become a regular schedule of biweekly postings. Continue reading “Three years and 100 posts later”→