Crochet · History · Knitting · Tools

Frances Lambert’s knitting needle gauge

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”

Crochet · Knitting · Tools

Gauging the needs of knitters and crocheters

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”

Crochet · History · Terminology · Tunisian crochet

What’s French about crochet and what’s Tunisian about Tunisian crochet?

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?”

Crochet · History · Shepherd’s knitting · Terminology

Crochet nomenclature and the reliability of memory

The German references to crochet in the early-19th century, discussed in the preceding few posts, clarify a comment about the craft written at the end of the century that I had long been wondering about. The article on crochet in the Encyclopedia of Needlework, by Thérèse de Dillmont from 1886, categorizes its ordinary form as “German crochet” (as do the French and German editions). This contradicts a pivotal detail in an account of the craft’s history written by Frances Lambert in 1844.

“Crochet—a species of knitting originally practised by the peasants in Scotland, with a small hooked needle called a shepherd’s hook—has within the last seven years, aided by taste and fashion, obtained the preference over all other ornamental work of a similar nature. It derives its present name from the French; the instrument with which it is worked, being by them, from its crooked shape, termed ‘crochet’. This art has attained its highest degree of perfection in England, whence it has been transplanted to France and Germany, and both these countries, although unjustifiably, have claimed the invention.”

This statement about its geographic origin is belied, in turn, by illustrated French instructions from 1785 for the use of a shepherd’s hook for the co-named shepherd’s knitting. A German text from 1800 describes the same tool and “hook knitting” in even greater detail and predicts the impending emergence of crochet, as the term is currently understood. A stream of German references to the new craft began in 1809. Continue reading “Crochet nomenclature and the reliability of memory”

Beadwork · Crochet · History · Knitting · Terminology

Drawing a bead on the arrival of crochet in Germany

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.”

The  comment about the patterns being marketed to embroiderers, as well as the drawings themselves, show that Leidenfrost was referring to charts for Berlin wool work. Here is one of the two Bayle-Mouillard illustrations that she omitted. Continue reading “Drawing a bead on the arrival of crochet in Germany”

Crochet · Instructions · Passementerie · Tools

French crochet and non-crochet in 1826

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.

Leidenfrost begins the preface to her “Small Handbook on Pleasant and Useful Activities for Young Women” (Handbüchlein zur angenehmen und nützlichen Beschäftigung für junge Damen), from 1828, by noting:

“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”

Crochet · Early instructions · History

German crochet instructions from 1828

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).

tambour needle

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.”

About Crochet

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.

Crochet · History · Tools

Flat hooks in Medieval and Neolithic Europe

The History of Knitting Before Mass Production by Irena Turnau, published in 1991 (trans., Historia dziewiarstwa europejskiego do początku XIX wieku, 1979), includes a section headed “Knitwear in the Early Middle Ages.” In it she states that during this period, “in the Baltic countries…knowledge of…both knitting with two needles and crocheting is indisputable.” She supports the dating of crochet with an article from 1953 by Gabriela Mikołajczyk on “The origins of knitting in Poland” (Początki dziewiarstwa w Polsce). This illustrates a dozen flat hooks made of bone and horn that were recovered from 11th- and 12th-century archaeological sites in Poland.


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”

Crochet · Techniques · Terminology · Tools · Tunisian crochet

Very raised round shapes

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 following snippet shows the gestational state of the English terminology, despite the ornate design. Continue reading “Very raised round shapes”

Crochet · History · Structures · Techniques

Braid stitch crochet

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.


Continue reading “Braid stitch crochet”