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.
I am pleased to announce the publication of my article, “Evolution in Early Crochet: From Flat-Hook Knitting to Slip-Stitch Crochet,” in the Winter 2020 issue of PieceWork. The downloadable electronic edition is now available via that link and a printed copy can be ordered there, as well. The newsstand date is 27 October.
Readers of this blog may have noticed that a number of posts with headings related to the title of article were replaced some time ago with the message:
This post is temporarily offline
I’m currently preparing an article for publication about the broader topic covered by this post. When the article has appeared, I’ll place a link to it here, with the initial text of the post edited to provide supplementary information.
It will take a while to follow through on that promise but the link is the one indicated above. I’ll be starting by adding the new article to the list of publications that have been spawned by preliminary essays initially appearing as blog posts here.
The one I had been planning to release today was preempted by the publication of the latest issue of PieceWork and this announcement of it. The next few days will be spent with some of the housekeeping noted above but the displaced post will be back on track a week from now at the latest, and the blog’s fortnightly rhythm will then resume.
Mid-19th-century instruction books for diversionary fancywork often provide general tutorial material under introductory headings. Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin follow this practice in a series of five booklets about Crochet à la Tricoter — now known as Tunisian crochet — that they published between November 1858 and October 1861. The first two are the oldest known such publications devoted to that craft. The initial booklet is prefaced with an “advertisement” signed by Mee alone that states:
“The great advantage of Crochet à la Tricoter is that it combines the firmness of crochet with the lightness of knitting, and can be done in almost any variety of shape, from the ease and neatness with which it is increased and decreased. The edges can always be taken up, so that, if done in small pieces, the work has the appearance of being all worked in one. It is never turned; and every alternate row the stitches are taken up on the needle, and remain on it for the whole row, as in knitting. The variety of useful and ornamental purposes to which it can be applied is almost endless; and in presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter to my numerous patronesses, I feel it will meet with their entire approval. Those who work for amusement will have the pleasure of numbers of new stitches, and those who make it a source of livelihood will find many things that will meet with quick and ready sale.”
It is not clear if “presenting these entirely new and pretty Patterns in Crochet à la Tricoter” to both professional and recreational practitioners implies an established body of Tunisian stitches with which Mee expected her readers to be familiar. The name used for the craft (shortened to “tricoter” elsewhere in the text and commonly reduced further to “tricot”), with the wording of its summary description, suggest that the instructions were intended for both knitters and crocheters.
The first native English instructions for what is now called Tunisian crochet appear in a booklet by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin, titled Crochet à la Tricoter (“Crochet in the Style of Knitting” or “Crochet on a Knitting Needle”). The publication date is not indicated but an advertisement in the 25 November 1858 issue of a weekly newspaper states that it had just appeared. It would therefore have gone into circulation at about the same time as the instructions by Matilda Pullan discussed in the post before last. However, those were taken directly from German instructions published in January of that year and, beyond calling attention to the craft, are not an original contribution to its development.
The relationship between the German instructions and the English clone is discussed in my article on the history of Tunisian crochet in the Summer 2020 issue of the The Journal of Dress History, The Princess Frederick William Stitch. This also includes illustrations of the first four stitches that accompany the Mee and Austin instructions and, as with the previous post about Pullan’s derivative work, I will be providing further details about each of them in separate posts on this blog.
The present one deals with the first of the Mee and Austin instructions. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, they are not for what has since been termed the Tunisian Simple Stitch (TSS). The described structure is often treated as a variant of it but has never acquired a generally recognized name. It is the first of many structurally distinct but unnamed stitches that Mee and Austin present. Continue reading “Cornelia Mee’s simpler Tunisian stitch”→
This post continues the examination of Victorian efforts at converging on a single standard for designating the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks, begun in the post before last. In 1842, one of the initial participants in the discussion of that topic, Frances Lambert, illustrated a gauging tool made according to a French standard based on the millimeter. In contrast, beginning in the same year, her colleagues repeatedly stated that the inch-based Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) — the source of the current UK knitting needle numbers — had been widely adopted in their field.
Lambert persisted in claiming that the SWG was only one of many systems in use and that a “Standard Filière” (wire gauge) of her own invention, tabulated below, was the way to resolve the alleged confusion. This led to a series of contentious exchanges on the subject of gauges — a term used to designate both a measuring tool and the ordered system of numbers and measurements that it incorporates. The debate is reviewed in detail in the earlier post, to which I’ve since added more information about the French system that weighed into Lambert’s work (also correcting an error in the initial version).
The evidence shows that Lambert’s alleged multiplicity of systems was not generally seen as the problem she repeatedly stated it to be. Her colleagues were comfortable indicating the sizes of knitting needles, crochet hooks, and netting meshes with the SWG, which was also employed by the manufacturers of such implements. As noted in 1848 by George Hope, the designer of one of the many alternate formats in which the SWG was produced, it “is a correct measure for the numbers used in every publication, except those of Miss Lambert.” Continue reading “Frances Lambert’s knitting needle gauge”→
The first known German instructions for Tunisian crochet are for an ornate shawl, published in the 9 January 1858 issue of the German publication Der Bazar. They are accompanied by four illustrations, of which the third shows the front of the garment and the fourth is a thumbnail representation of its back.
The first and second illustrations are ostensibly drawn at full scale to indicate the gauges of the stitching and hook. However, the rows are not the same height in both. They appear together on the same page and the difference is not an artifact of the printing. The original objects from which the two drawings were prepared also appear to have been made by different people, one left-handed and the other right-handed, as indicated by the opposite slant of the vertical loops. Continue reading “From grey shawl to pink mantle in 10 months and 14 rows”→
The earliest known description of what is now called Tunisian crochet is found in Swedish instructions published on 1 January 1856 (discussed here). They prescribe “a bone crochet needle, 12 millimeters thick.” This is a surprising unit of measurement since the metric system was not adopted in Sweden until the end of 1878, with a ten year transition period before it was expected to come into widespread use.
This raises a question about other evidence of yarncraft being ahead of official metrication. The reference to the 12 mm crochet hook gainsays accepted notions of knitting needles and crochet hooks not being measured in millimeters until well into the 20th century. Other early indications of metric gauging remain to be located in Swedish sources but are found elsewhere.
The metric system originated in France, where it became legally normative in 1785. A “French gauge” for measuring the diameter of medical catheters came into widespread use during the 1830s. The gauge numbers indicate diameter in 1/3 mm increments — “1” = 1/3 mm, “2” = 2/3 mm, … “30” = 10 mm. Both the numbers and the mm sizes are marked on the one seen here, made by its inventor J.F.B. Charrière. Continue reading “Gauging the needs of knitters and crocheters”→
The issue of Der Bazar from 23 December 1868 is devoted to an article responding to numerous letters from readers asking for information about the way the publication was produced. The editors took this as “necessary justification for writing about the Bazarin the Bazar.” They commemorated the 14th anniversary of the appearance of its first issue with a detailed retrospective about the publication’s development from an initial biweekly “modest octavo” to a “folio upon folio” weekly series.
The French word crochet (hook) triggers a reasonable expectation of the craft it now names having its origins in France. The core term is attested there in regard to fabric production beginning in the 17th century, as a generic name for a tool employed in a variety of crafts. Its use is commonly indicated by including au crochet or à crochet — on a hook — in the specific designation.
A good example of that not always meaning what might first be expected is seen in French instructions from 1826 for purses — bourses au crochet — which are knitted on a peg loom (discussed with illustrations of different types of hooks here). They were published three years after the first documented use of the term crochet in its current sense as the name of a specific craft.
Again counter to expectation, this is not found in a French publication, but in Dutch instructions from 1823 for a “hooked purse, in plain openwork crochet” (een gehekeld beursje, au crochet simple à jour). The first explicit mention of that craft in British publication is in instructions “for making a purse in double-stitch crochet” (pour faire une bourse à crochet à double maille), included in an anonymous compilation of knitting instructions from 1837. Those for the purse are in French but the book they appear in is otherwise entirely in English. Continue reading “What’s French about crochet and what’s Tunisian about Tunisian crochet?”→
The 15 December 1857 issue of the Swedish journal Penelope, includes instructions for a child’s upper-body garment made with a crochet stitch that had been described without a name in instructions for a window shade in the 1 January 1856 issue of that publication. In the 1857 instructions, the same anonymous author retrospectively labels it the Tunisian crochet stitch — the earliest attested use of the term that has yet come to light. The preceding post includes a translation of the instructions for the window shade. The ones for the child’s garment are translated below.
In the 1856 description, the author notes of the stitch:
“Although somewhat awkward to describe…I hope that I have expressed myself tolerably well.”
That goal was reasonably well met in the text it prefaced but the adequacy of the description of the more complex 1857 garment is not as immediately apparent. It omits key procedural details from the text and the accompanying illustration does not accurately reflect the prescribed stitches counts. The need for interpretation and interpolation makes it difficult for a translation both to be faithful to the original and provide a sufficient basis for making the object. The readers of the initial document would, of course, have been addressing the same issues. This raises the equally important matter of the familiarity with crochet techniques that the author can reasonably have expected them to bring to the task. Continue reading “Tunisian crochet in Sweden in the 1850s”→