Crochet · Early instructions · Structures · Techniques

Twists and turns in the development of crochet — Part 1

Instructions for crochet began to appear in the Victorian fancywork press in 1840, presenting it as a more elaborate and fashionable successor to the long-practiced shepherd’s knitting — the slip-stitch fabric made on a flat hook discussed in several previous posts. That stitch appeared in instructions for the new craft but opinions about its utility varied and its role at the urban worktable began to shift from the production of fabric to an adjunct technique.

The double crochet (UK) supplanted the slip stitch (aka single crochet) as the workhorse for closed work. However, in contrast to present-day practice where a new stitch is normally worked under both legs of the chained loop that caps the corresponding stitch in the preceding row, the Victorian instructions prescribe working through only one leg of that loop. (The current terms “front loop” and “back loop” refer to the respective legs and are better read as “front leg of the loop” and “back leg of the loop.”)

Another difference between early Victorian and current practice is that fabric worked flat was not commonly turned at the end of each row. This technique does appear in the first published instructions (discussed in Part 2) but the alternative of cutting the yarn at the end of each row and starting all new rows from the same edge was generally preferred. The further option of crocheting in alternating directions without turning the work was also described.

I’m going to proceed by discussing such aspects of Victorian crochet and then move back to details of shepherd’s knitting that have long since disappeared from mainstream practice. Beyond the obvious purpose of describing procedures that have come and gone during the technical development of the craft, I want to call attention to crocheted structures that might not be recognized as such when assessing the method of production of non-woven fabric with an unfamiliar appearance. There are probable instances of this having happened during the analysis of some objects published in the archaeological literature, which I will also go into in detail.

In order to provide an easy path into unaccustomed terminology, I’m going to begin where the current glossary has its clearest roots and work backward from there. Two relevant texts are covered below and others will be considered in the following post.

In her Knitting, crochet, and netting from 1846, Mme. Riego issues the general instruction that:

In crochet that is worked square, at the end of a row, cut the wool off, and draw it through to fasten it; begin at the other end.

The first of the following stitch descriptions is for:

Shepherd or Single Crochet.
This stitch is usually worked round, for Cuffs,
Mufatees, Boots, &c. &c

Make a chain, join it, keep the loop on the needle.
1st round — Put the needle in the 1st chain stitch, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st.
In the 2nd and following rounds, take the 1st part of the chain on the needle.

Riego continues with “Plain, Double, or French Crochet” and then “Treble Crochet.” Despite the familiar labels, there are two significant differences between her single, double, and treble crochet fabrics and their contemporary counterparts. These were discussed above and are the cutting of the yarn at the end of each row worked flat, and routinely crocheting each stitch through only one leg of the loop in the chain along the top of the preceding row — i.e., into the loop and not under it.

The latter structure was described with a name of its own by Frances Lambert in The Handbook of Needlework from 1842.

Double stitch crochet.—In this, both meshes of the chain are taken. It is principally employed for the soles of shoes, and where extra thickness is required, but it is not suitable for working patterns.

Lambert uses the term plain crochet or plain single crochet to designate a slip stitch, and plain double crochet for what became the familiar double crochet. She notes of it that:

This is the crochet stitch generally practised, and that used for working table-covers, etc.

She then describes rows of both the single and double forms of plain crochet being worked in two directions using yet another term that was not taken into common usage.

Plain stitch elastic crochet—is worked alternately in rows backwards and forwards, first taking the upper, and then the under mesh of the chain.n

Both this and the following descriptions of that process can be read as reversing the direction of the crocheting at the end of each row without turning the work. However, the indications of direction may also be relative to the front side of the fabric, facing toward and away from the worker in alternate rows (as in contemporary knitting charts).

…a chain of sufficient length is made to serve as the foundation for the article it is intended to make. Pass the needle through the last made loop of this foundation, and, catching the silk, draw it through, repeating the same at every successive loop; then returning along this row, repeat the same to form a second. A repetition of which, alternately backwards and forwards, from right to left, and from left to right, will give the first and easiest lesson.

Lambert abandons working in two directions (however it was executed) in the immediately following first complete instruction, for “a sofa pillow or table cover,” and all others in the same section.

This pattern, be it understood, is merely given as the first and easiest pattern in crochet, for the purpose of teaching the stitch… Instead of working the rows backwards and forwards, as before described, begin each row separately at the same end. When the last stitch of each row is finished, draw the wool through, and cut it off, leaving an end of three or four inches.

There is similar ambiguity in an instruction under a later heading. This indicates that cutting the yarn at the end of every row is the ordinary method. It therefore seems likely that the following snippet should end with a reference to “plain stitch elastic crochet” (as presented above) and not the contradictory “plain crochet.”

Raised, or ribbed crochet is worked in rows from right to left, according to the ordinary method; but the side of the work is reversed at every alternate row, as in plain [ribbed] crochet.

Lambert also recognizes the significance of what is now termed a turning chain.

To make a stitch — at the commencement and end of a row, is to make one stitch of a chain before the first stitch, and after the last, which in the next row are to be crocheted.

This is described in greater detail as an “edge stitch” in another text from 1842 and will be considered further in the next installment.

Early instructions · History · Knitting · Terminology

More knitting geography

As discussed in a previous post, there is no demonstrable geographic or historical basis for categorizing the knitting of fabric primarily with twisted stitches as “Eastern,” or knitting with predominantly open stitches as “Western.” Similar conditions apply to the terms “English” and “continental” when used to designate the two most widespread methods for holding yarn.

Most early writing about that aspect of knitting technique treats the predominant local approach as the ordinary one. Where alternative methods are described, it is in procedural terms that may or may not be identified with the name of another region.

This can be illustrated starting with The Workwoman’s Guide written anonymously by “A Lady” in 1838. This describes what is now called the English method.

The Common Knitting Stitch

Hold the pin with the stitches on, in the left hand; with the right hand, put the other pin under the first loop, making the pin lie across behind the left-hand pin, while with the first finger, the worsted is drawn in front between the pins. Then with the end of the right pin, press this worsted till it is brought through the stitch in the form of a loop upon the right hand pin.

The author follows this with a description of the continental method.

Dutch Common Knitting

This is another mode of knitting the common stitch, and is more simple, and more quickly done than the usual way. Hold the pin-ful of stitches in the left hand, as also the worsted, which should be wound once or twice around the little finger, to keep it firm, and allowed to pass over the first finger to the pins. The right hand pin is then simply passed through the stitch, and catching the worsted outside, draws it through, and forms the loop on the right pin, an so on.

With the exception of the way the two methods are labeled, the difference between them is presented in essentially the same way it still is. In fact, in British writing the left-hand method was commonly called Dutch or German until World War I, when the latter term was supplanted by a geopolitically neutral alternative.

The effort to promote holding yarn in the left hand continued in the Victorian fancywork literature. This is typified in the 1842 edition of Jane Gaugain’s The Lady’s Assistant in knitting, netting, and crochet work, emphasized there with a pointing finger and italics.

In teaching any person to knit, they should be instructed, as the more elegant mode, to hold the thread over the forefinger of the left hand, and not the right as most people do.

A Dutch text published by Anna Barbara van Meerten in 1823 (discussed in detail in a previous post) describes the way yarn is held for crochet by comparing it to the ordinary method of knitting in Holland at that time.

This is held in the right hand, along with the thread being worked, about as though one were knitting.

In light of the 1838 English description of the Dutch method it might seem that the practice there had changed in the interim. However, van Meerten describes the local technique again in 1835, in a Dutch translation of a German Encyclopedia for Women and Girls.

The thread is placed over the right forefinger and held by the fourth finger and the little finger, while the other fingers hold the needles… Some people wrap the thread around the left index finger, which is the same.

The translator’s preface says that she adapted some of the instructions to local conditions, so it is safe to regard wrapping the yarn around the right index finger as the preferential Dutch practice. I haven’t been able to locate the original German version and don’t know if this is one of the modified passages.

Another German text on knitting from 1826 (echoing yet another from 1801) otherwise leaves the entire matter of how the yarn is held to the reader’s own understanding.

The rules and techniques of ordinary knitting are widely known.

These documents almost certainly do not reflect the full variation of local practice in the countries of their publication and obviously say nothing about subsequent trends. Skipping forward to the 1880s as described by Thérèse de Dillmont in her Encyclopedia of Needlework, the yarn-right method is presented as “the one usually practiced in England and France.”

The Germans on the contrary, lay the thread over the left hand, and can move the hands more quickly, in consequence. There are some ways of casting on, which can only be done in the German fashion.

The French edition of the same text makes no reference to England or France and implicitly describes the yarn-right hand position as the established method for a Francophone reader. It then contrasts it with the German yarn-left as just described.

Recent pedagogical material often recommends avoiding the imprecision inherent in all this by eliminating any reference to geographic location when describing the yarn-held-left and yarn-held-right methods. Doing so also facilitates comparison with the yarn-around-neck method that leads the yarn to the front of the work and differs from the other two in equal measure.

Early instructions · History · Knitting · Techniques

Double knitting in 1800

A while ago I posted the first of what was intended to be a series of descriptions of various aspects of knitting, translated from the first textbook dedicated to the topic yet noted. This is “The art of knitting in its full extent” —  Die Kunst zu stricken in ihrem ganzen Umfange — published in 1800 by Johann Friedrich Netto and Friedrich Leonhard Lehmann. (More details are given in the earlier post.)

This blog then moved into a range of topics, including early Arabic tubular knitting, with another earlier post suggesting that double knitting could be placed on the list of plausible techniques for its production. I had already tacitly noted that the Netto-Lehmann book includes a chapter on double knitting, albeit of an entirely different variety, and therefore left their description of it for use when focusing more broadly on early presentations of double knitting.

The first mention of that technique in English was published in 1838. This includes instructions for the tubular variety, which regularly appears in subsequent texts (to be detailed in separate posts). Netto’s and Lehmann’s description of the double knitting of two socks on the same needles indicates that the underlying technique was commonplace by their day. Here is my translation of that text.

Seventh Chapter

Two socks knitted at the same time, one inside the other, on five knitting needles.


The invention of knitting two socks at the same time, one inside the other, is a nice demonstration of human ingenuity. However, it is more an indication of artfulness than of utility, since two socks can be finished just as quickly when knitted individually as they can inside each other. Nonetheless, both as a curiosity and for the sake of completeness, we found it necessary to dedicate a chapter to this method of knitting. It requires a lot of attention but no particular skill. One takes two balls of yarn — at the outset before one has become proficient, one white and one gray — and casts them alternately on the needle as usual, first taking a white thread and then a gray one until one has as many stitches as are needed for two socks. The first stitch now belongs to the first sock, the second stitch to the second sock, the third again to the first, the fourth to the second, and so forth. Each stitch needs to be made carefully using the proper thread, that is, the white stitches are knitted with the white thread and the gray stitches with the gray thread. If the thread is switched even once, the two socks will be joined, need to be cut apart, and left with holes. Two seams are purled on the back, one white and one gray, and all decreasing is also done at the same time.

This knitting first requires very long thin needles and then a knitter who pulls tightly and knits densely. This is because the stitches in the one sock are stretched over those in the other, and otherwise produce a loose and flimsy knitted fabric. One must practice this double knitting using two differently colored threads for as long as it takes to acquire sufficient skill to work with two entirely white, or other uniformly colored threads without confusing them. Since all increasing and decreasing is done at the same time, two socks knitted in this manner will be exactly the same, which is not always the case when they are knitted individually. However, there are knitters who can knit two socks separately with equal accuracy and beauty, and again others who can knit two socks together with such skill and rapidity that both are completed sooner than if knitted one at a time.

Gloves can also be knitted in this manner, in fact even more easily, since one is not slowed or impeded by clocking and similar details.

Cross-knit looping · Early instructions · Knitting loom · Techniques

Methods for looping wire

Instructions for knitting tubes of thin metal wire on a small peg loom were published in 1822 in the Dutch periodical Penélopé. They describe a technique that is referred to in instructions for a loom-knitted purse that appeared in an 1823 issue of the same publication.

I’ll translate the wirework instructions extensively in a separate post but will note for now that they are for twisted-stitch knitting. There is no reference to the open-stitch alternative that appears in the later purse instructions, but those do say that the technique (currently termed flat stitching) works best with “gold or silver thread.” Such metallic thread was made by wrapping a thin ribbon of metal spirally around a core of silk thread. This had the appearance of metal but with the tensile properties of silk thread, and flexibility largely determined by the core.

The earlier wirework instructions also illustrate the pegged end of what appears to be a narrow cylindrical loom, specifically for making chains in fine gold wire. The technique described in 1822 remains in common practice and an array of tutorial videos can be found by searching on “spool knitting with wire” (using a common designation for a small peg loom). These show some variation in spool shapes and the way stitches are formed on them.

Having just conducted that exercise to make sure that it gives the intended result, I did find flat-stitching among the illustrated techniques, but also noted that it was knitted far more loosely than any of the Viking work discussed thus far. This doesn’t quite eliminate my concern about the potential risk of silver wire being damaged by the high intrinsic strain of open-stitch knitting on a peg loom, but it clearly does demonstrate the viability of at least looser forms of such work. The safest way to deal with this is by stipulating that a skilled loom worker can also knit wire into tighter open-stitch structures (but still reserving judgment about whether that extends to compound knitting).

The videos illustrate two ways of using a spool. In addition to lifting the stitches off the pegs into the hollow inside of the spool, it is also possible to form a wire tube along the outside of a cylindrical spool. The pegs then only serve as an initial anchor for the work, which is subsequently detached from them. The spool is repositioned along the tube as its length increases, to ensure that it maintains a consistent diameter.

The fundamental difference between the conventional use of a peg loom and that of an enclosed spool is that a fixed length of wire is worked around the latter by inserting its leading end into every successive stitch, and pulling the entire length of the working wire through it. This results in a twisted-stitch structure that is properly classified as looping, not knitting. Nonetheless, one name commonly given to such work is “Viking knitting.” Whatever significance the distinction between looping and knitting may have to the practitioners of these crafts, if any, it is fundamental to dating the advent of the latter technology.

An earlier set of instructions for looping wire without a supporting device appears in an issue of Penélopé from 1821. As with the invisible spool knitting seen in the preceding post, wire can be cross-knit looped into carefully controlled shapes without need for a support. Dramatic illustrations of this are seen in the work of Ruth Asawa, as here, here, and here.

Objects made with the same basic technique, albeit on a far smaller scale, were found in graves at the Viking settlement at Birka, active from the 8th through the 10th centuries CE near present-day Stockholm. This photo shows a fragment of one such piece.


Another illustrates the compound structure that appears in many of the objects previously discussed here.


They are described by Agnes Geijer in a chapter on embroidery in the site documentation from 1938. This identifies six variants of cross-knit looping, four of which are illustrated with a needle pulling metal thread through an implied cloth support. Each of the other two variants is described as a length of wire worked into a simple or compound cross-knit structure by pulling its free end through each loop.


One of the important points Geijer makes is that archaeologically recovered wirework which appears to have been made to stand alone can initially have been worked into a textile support that has subsequently decayed. She does not discuss the possibility of objects with a cross-knit structure made free from a substrate being fashioned in any manner other than by looping. Nonetheless, it is clear from the open-stitch stockinette chains seen in previous posts — a structure that cannot be made by looping — that both knitting and looping were practiced by Viking wire workers.


Crochet · Early instructions · Tools

Flat-hook crochet in 1833

The instructions for the three crocheted purses in the 1823 volume of Penélopé provide the first known written description of crochet in its modern form. The 1833 volume of the same periodical includes a section headed “Something more about crochet” with no comparable document having appeared in the interim (again, that has yet come to light). This provides a number of instructions that introduce additional techniques, all of which will be considered in detail in later posts. For now, though, I’m going to continue with forms of crochet that are generically associated with the type of hook used to make them.

I started this in the preceding post by leaping forward to the 1858 descriptions of the long hook that was fundamental to what was eventually called Tunisian crochet. Those references were the first to associate the long hook explicitly with crochet, but the same tool had a prior link with knitting that is described in earlier documents — and was generally termed a ‘tricot hook’ or ‘tricot needle’ in the one context, and a ‘hooked knitting needle’ in the other.

Similarly, one of the details about crochet added to the 1833 Penélopé text was the recommended use of a flat hook for work in heavier yarn, as an alternative to the tambour needle that was preferable for finer silk:

For coarse work in yarn or thick knitting cotton, one uses a copper hook of this formpenelope-flat-hookwhich must be very smooth and, from above, must be very thin.

This tool — which is still used in the illustrated form — was commonly termed a ‘shepherd’s hook’ and had an eponymous association with ‘shepherd’s knitting.’ That genre is now more frequently referred to as slip stitch crochet, with an imprecise range of terms taken from ongoing (or imagined) regional slip-stitch traditions applied to the hook. I’m going stay on the safe side and use the generic designation ‘flat hook,’ as I’m also doing with the long hook.

A significant amount of confusion about shepherd’s knitting has resulted from the plethora of names applied to both slip stitch and Tunisian crochet, and the quite different tools used for them. Since the earliest instructions for any form of crochet illustrate flat hooks, clarifying the distinction between the slip stitching they were used for and the altogether different structure produced on long hooks is a matter that will be discussed at length on this blog.

Early instructions · Tunisian crochet

Long-hook crochet in 1858

NOTE: The following text is pending modification to reflect subsequently noted references to the simple Tunisian crochet stitch before its first appearance in the British press.

The first description in British publication of what is now commonly called ‘Tunisian crochet’ is generally attributed to Matilda Marian Pullan, who illustrated a long hook used to form a “new stitch in crochet” in two complementary publications dated October 1858. However, it is not known if either went into circulation prior to the release of the first booklet in a series titled Crochet à la Tricoter by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin, which also illustrates stitches made on a long hook. That text does not indicate its publication date but Mee advertised it as having been “just published” in November 1858. (Technical and bibliographical details of them all will be provided in separate posts.)

Mee and Austin describe Crochet à la Tricoter as a craft of its own.

“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 important to obtain the cottons directed; those mentioned are the Knitting, Boar’s Head, and Ingrain Turkey Red Cotton of Messrs. Walter Evans and Co., of Derby, which for many years I have considered the best produced.”

In addition to the directions for the cotton, many of the subsequent instructions specify the hook with a terse reference to what would necessarily have been a readily available item at the time of publication. This indicates that the craft was already in established practice, as is supported otherwise by the wording of the instructions and an anonymous document written in the following year (which will be considered in a separate post about the state of the art in 1859). These are for a range of unnamed stitches and patterns, and many of the accompanying illustrations are intricate enough that even a skilled eye might not immediately recognize them as long-hook crochet (using a generic term that heads a text from 1860, in what appears to have been an attempt at bringing order to a proliferation of more or less fanciful designations that was rapidly developing.

The 1858 Mee and Austin publication was intended to add a number of new stitches to a pre-existing repertoire. What is now called the Tunisian simple stitch appears in a few of the twenty instructions but is not ascribed any particular significance nor is it clear if it is among those that are new. In contrast, the purpose of Pullan’s texts was to present that one stitch, naming it the “Princess Frederick William Stitch.” She makes no claim of having created it and presents it as “a new stitch in crochet [that] has recently been given to the world,” without mentioning long-hook crochet as a distinct craft under any of its various names.

Mee and Austin were Pullan’s competitors. Assuming that they were all aware of each others doings, it seems likely that if Pullan had devised the simple stitch rather than simply calling attention to it, she would have claimed full credit. Similarly, if Mee and Austin had devised it, they might have been clearer in indicating which of their new stitches were original creations, and which were simply appearing in print for the first time.

There is nothing contradictory in the wording of their texts but they still leave an open question about the actual source of what was to resonate in the literature as the New Stitch. In any case, it is clear that long-hook crochet as practiced in 1858 included a number of stitches and was not characterized by any single one of them. Although the New Stitch may have flagged a wave of popularity for long-hook crochet, it did not mark the appearance of the genre itself.

It seems possible that Pullan was deliberately highlighting a single versatile and easily made stitch with the intention of capturing the interest of a broader group of potential practitioners, while Mee and Austin were also explicitly addressing a professional clientele. Either way, the fancywork literature — which devoted no attention to long-hook crochet prior to 1858 — developed an interest in it after that date which then spread at a wildfire pace with many of the major authors of the day joining in.

Crochet · Early instructions

A Cinderella-style purse

The last of the three instructions for crocheted purses in the 1823 volume of Penélopé — a Cinderella-style purse — introduces crochet that is worked in a flat spiral. This is in contrast to the cylindrical construction of the other purses considered here thus far. A disc crocheted in this manner requires regular increases in the number of stitches in successive rounds in order to be kept flat. If these increases are placed at the same points in each round, as the following instructions specify and has since become the prevalent technique, they form a star-shaped pattern. For this reason, early descriptions often refer to this pattern and the disc itself as a star. The “half star” in the following text is one of two needed for the purse.



This is round and consists of two half stars made with the double stitch. It creates a beautiful effect in white silk with a garlanded star of silver, steel, or gold thread. Crochet 9 stitches in silver thread and close the round. In the second round, stitch through each stitch twice. In the third, increase again at every point [of the star]; and proceed in this manner until there are 9 rounds, or 12 if the thread is fine. Now the silver points are narrowed again with the white silk filling the spaces between them. After the [silver] star is finished, continue the increases from the second round, and frequently spread the purse out to test if it lies flat. Now work in a garland of silver thread, and a few straight lines, or dots at the very end. You must also carefully remember how many stitches you have increased, so that both sides can be made the same. When the purse is wide enough, divide it into 5 even segments, preferably marked with needles, of which 2 are enough for the opening. Make holes in them to stitch the cord through, or sew a cord onto them as with the Charlotte purse, or crochet a few semi-open rows through them. The rest of the two parts are crocheted together.

Crochet · Early instructions

A purse in semi-openwork crochet

The second of the three instructions for crocheted purses in the 1823 volume of Penélopé — a Charlotte-style purse in semi-openwork — includes structural elements that are not shared with any other craft. It therefore documents crochet in its present-day form without the latitude for discussion about classification that attaches to chain stitch mesh. That is the only structure in the preceding openwork purse but also appears earlier in other crafts.



Sew the ends of a waistband together, of the width desired for the purse. Then sew 204 chain stitches along one side of it by stitching through the band with the needle from below to above and pulling the thread into a knot against it. Now hold the thread under your left thumb and stitch through the loop, forming two further threads (in the band), and pull the thread through. This forms a loop on the band, and repeating this forms a kind of chain. These 204 stitches are the start of the purse. Now insert your left hand into it and hold the working thread in the right. Take a light shade of red for this. Make 6 à jour [chain] stitches, just as with the previous purse. However, the 7th stitch is made into the chain stitches, pulling the thread through that stitch and the newly formed loop. Proceed like this until the 12th stitch, continuing through the entire round, alternating 6 stitches crocheted loosely (à jour), and the following 6 crocheted firmly into the preceding round. This creates work that is half open and half closed. Do four rounds of this with a very light shade, followed by another 4 with a second, 4 more with a third, and finally a further 4 with a very dark red or fourth shade. Crochet 6 rounds over this with silver thread (always à demi jour, half open and half closed) and repeat it all again. Then begin the star. However, this requires another stitch consisting of two colors that are alternately exposed and hidden. In the red areas the silver must not be visible, nor the red in the silver. For this one uses:


As with the closed stitch just described, insert the needle through the previous round and wrap the thread around the needle. But instead of leaving two loops around the needle as with the simple stitch (the loop from the previous round, and the loop that is now on the needle) first draw the thread through the stitch in the previous round. Then wrap another around the needle and draw that through the two loops that are on the needle.

The thread you want to conceal is held straight out by the left hand, whereby it is worked under [the other thread] and thus becomes invisible. I am very much afraid here, that those who are entirely unfamiliar with this work will best understand it if they, as I myself who is making this description with a pen in the one hand and the work in the other, would also have the work in hand with the description in front of them, following it step by step.

Decreasing is self-apparent. Starting each time from one point in the star, work through two stitches instead of through one. For greater stiffness, sew a cord along the top edge of the purse, and so that there is no cupping, balance it with another into which you work eyelets through which the cord is drawn.

Crochet · Early instructions

A purse in simple openwork crochet

The 1823 volume of Penélopé is frequently cited as the first document that has yet come to light using the word crochet to designate the craft now commonly known by that name. Preceding occurrences of the term in similar contexts designate a hooked tool. Earlier fabric structures that would now be identified as crochet were categorized in the literature of their day as elements of other crafts, typically as varieties of knitting.

The simple openwork crochet purse presented here is the first of three that are crocheted in the sequence of six purse instructions from Penélopé that I’ve been translating. The source text includes a plate illustrating five of them. A comparison between the instructions and the illustrations reveals several errors in the way they are cross referenced. The author confirms and corrects this in a separate note following a later instruction for a knitted purse. This emends the associations between the plate and the instructions, and indicates the one that is not illustrated.

There is a mismatch nonetheless between one of the drawings and the instructions keyed to it. Illustration A, which appears below, is linked with the Louisiana-style purse described in an earlier post. However, that purse is made by simple looping, which produces a horizontal rather than a diagonal mesh, nor do the instructions for it result in anything that otherwise resembles illustration A. The openwork crochet purse was initially keyed to illustration E in obvious error and subsequently re-identified as the one that is unillustrated. The instructions produce a chain mesh that remains a basic form of openwork crochet (and also appears in earlier passementerie). Its appearance is fully consistent with illustration A — matching it far more closely than do any of the other instructions — although the image includes ornamental detail not described in the text. (Illustration E will appear in a later post about the purse to which it belongs.)



There appears to be a special knack to working with a crochet or a tambour needle [alternate names for the same implement]. There are young people who manage it very well; others almost never learn to do it with any ease or speed. Works made with it are currently very popular. We want to describe a few, but first a few words to describe the stitch itself, as clearly as possible.

For this you need a tambour needle, with a small hook at the front, which you screw into a handle. This is held in the right hand along with the thread being worked, about as though you were knitting. Now make an ordinary loop in the thread, hold the end firmly in the left hand, insert the needle through the loop, wrap the thread over it with the forefinger, and pull the needle through. Repeat this until there are 180 stitches. Then stitch through the initial stitch to close the purse. Make another 7 stitches, first putting the needle through the loop, as always. Then through the seventh stitch [error: should be ‘fourth’] of the first round from below, lay the thread over the needle and pull it through both stitches. Again crochet 7 stitches, and so onward. When the purse is long enough, make a few rounds of 6 stitches, then of 5, and so forth, until the purse is fully closed. You can make this in bands with silk of two different colors, or with gold and silver wire. If you prefer, you can make the arches 5 stitches long.