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”→
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 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”→
The article has its roots in an unpublished presentation I made at the Knitting History Forum conference in London in November 2018 but is significantly expanded. In keeping with one of the primary purposes of this blog, the present post and one or two more will go into further depth on selected topics covered in the article. The material presented below discusses a biographical detail about Matilda Marian Pullan, who coined the name Princess Frederick William Stitch. Continue reading “The Princess Frederick William Stitch and Matilda Marian Pullan”→
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.)
One of the recurring topics in the discussion of Tunisian crochet is whether fabric produced with a double-ended hook should be regarded as a variant form of ordinary Tunisian crochet or as an entity of its own. The earliest instructions calling for that tool that I have been able to locate so far are in the 10 February 1896 issue of the German craft periodical Der Bazar. This is eight years before similar instructions appeared in the US publication Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, detailed in a previous post.
“Wind the yarn into 2 balls, as 1 ball is used at each end of the work. Make a chain the desired length, take up each stitch as in afghan stitch, retaining the stitches on the needle. Turn the work (fasten the other ball of yarn to the other end of the work), take the stitches off the needle with the other hook.
Third Row—With the same hook take the stitches up again.
Fourth Row—Turn the work, taking them off with the other hook. Repeat 3d and 4th rows alternately for all the work.”
With the exception of the hook and fabric being turned at the end of each forward pass, with a resulting need for a second strand of yarn, this stitch is worked the same way the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS) is. Both strands can also be taken from the opposite ends of a single ball of yarn (as done in twined knitting), just as the two hooks are on opposite ends of the same shaft. Using separate yarn sources additionally enables colorwork but that is also true of single-hook TSS.
The appearance and texture of the ribbed double-hook fabric differ markedly from ordinary TSS. The prominent horizontal chains characteristic of the latter are concealed entirely, although again, the same applies to many single-hook variants. There are additional double-hook variants that relate similarly to other single-hook forms. If a categorical distinction is to be made between them, the double-hook qualifier first noted in the 1907 pattern provides a good basis for it.
The double hook also makes it possible to work TSS in the round. Here, the ends of a foundation chain are joined and a new loop is worked into each of the loops in that chain for as long as the straight hook comfortably permits. The work is then turned and the other end of the hook used to return a chain through all but the last few of the pending stitches, using a separate strand of yarn. The work is turned again and the forward round is resumed.
The enclosed chains are oriented in the opposite direction from those in flatwork TSS but the two forms are structurally identical. The details of the loops in a TSS chain that indicate the direction in which it was worked are often obscured by the vertical loops, with the exposed edges of the chain loops appearing as parallel horizontal lines in both cases. The difference can be seen on closer examination, but whatever significance it may have, it provides little justification for a categorical distinction between chained-toward-the-right and chained-toward-the-left TSS variants. Since Tunisian crochet stitches can only be worked in the round with a double-ended hook, the single/double hook attribute is superfluous in the labeling of such fabric.
There is an intermediate aspect to the instructions for producing the Tunisian stitch variant using two separate hooks that appeared in Der Bazar in 1862 (discussed here). Taken with the earliest mention of any form of Tunisian crochet being from 1858, it seems unlikely that references to the double hook before the final decade or two of the 19th century remain to be discovered in the fancywork literature.
This still leaves a question about when in the 20th century (assuming no surprises) the first instructions for using that tool for work in the round appeared. The Columbia Yarn Company added celluloid to the materials in their listing of hooks and needles in 1908, also offering double-ended crochet hooks under their own heading for the first time.
However, the 1904 instructions linked to above explicitly prescribe a “Wooden Double End Crochet Hook, 20 in., No. 13.” The industrial production of such tools had therefore commenced prior to their availability in celluloid. Nonetheless, as of the 19th ed. from 1918, where the Double Hook Afghan Stitch also appears, the Columbia Book still only uses the requisite hook for flatwork.
Although this suggests a later advent of TSS worked in the round, countless similar publications remain to be examined before any date can safely be placed on its first appearance in print. Present-day Tunisian crocheters are familiar with its comparatively recent proprietary manifestations but the initial use of the double hook is not part of the general craft lore.
The 10 February 1896 issue of Der Bazar includes instructions for a child’s cradle cover made in alternating bands of shell stitch (Muschenstreifen) in ordinary crochet and TSS ribbing (Rippenstreifen). Both are worked with the same double-ended hook, as is the elaborate border. The ribbing has a more complex form than that discussed above, and uses different color yarns to good effect. (Fabric worked entirely with it is also fully reversible.)
The illustration is presented in the immaculate detail that is a hallmark of Der Bazar (where the first explicit reference to the “Tunisian crochet stitch” appeared, as discussed here.) The written instructions, however, are atypically difficult to follow. Those for the ribbing are clear enough and describe a variant that remains in the current repertoire. The instructions for the shell stitching are more opaque and I haven’t quite puzzled out how they lead to the illustrated structure well enough to be able to provide a useful but objective translation. In any case, these shells are not intrinsically dependent on a long hook, much less a double-ended one, and lie outside the scope of the present post anyway. The following text therefore stops at the end of the instructions for the ribbing.
Part of a crocheted cover for a child’s cradle
“The pretty cover is made with white and blue woolen yarn singles [Dochtwolle] in a variant of the Tunisian crochet stitch, together with a shell pattern, using a heavy wooden needle that has a hook at both ends. It is worked on a white foundation row of appropriate length and an even number of stitches, as follows:
1st pattern row: forward. With a loop of the blue yarn around the hook, skip the first chain and draw one loop through each of the remaining chains. Turn the work and return using the other end of the hook with the white yarn to close the stitches one after the other.
2nd pattern row: forward. With the blue yarn (the active yarn is always led through the first loop) skip over a stitch and draw a loop through both the next vertical bar and horizontal chain together. Having worked through each stitch in this manner, return as in the first pattern row.”
The use of a long double-ended hook both for stitches that require one, and those that could as easily be worked on a conventional short crochet hook, is interesting in itself. There is a surprising amount of additional evidence of the mid-19th-century use of long hooks for ordinary crochet. Such hooks were manufactured with both cylindrical and tapered shafts, so there was more to it than a simple matter of some workers preferring Tunisian hooks where they were not a necessity.
The entire discussion here is restricted to evidence found in the context of fancywork. An earlier post considered the relationship between Tunisian crochet as an urban practice in Sweden and its rural counterpart krokning (hooking). It remains unclear whether this is just a matter of alternate nomenclature or if krokning has roots that predate the emergence of Tunisian crochet in the craft literature. For now, it is sufficient to note that the use of a double-ended hook for TSS in the round is a mainstay of the former craft as it is currently practiced.
The German periodical Der Blatt had a leading role in the publication of variant forms of the “ordinary Tunisian crochet stitch.” The first two appearing there are described in the post before last and depart markedly from what is now known as the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS). A variant presented in the 1 January 1862 issue differs from it so extremely that it would likely not be seen as derived from the TSS if the instructions didn’t say so.
It requires two long cylindrical hook-tipped tools. One is an ordinary Tunisian crochet hook, characterized by a ‘ball’ at its non-hooked end, and identical to the type of hook-tipped knitting needle used in pairs for flatwork knitting. The other is hooked at one end and tapered at the other to match the smooth tip of an ordinary knitting needle. This is identical to the hook-tipped needle used in sets for knitting in the round.
The designers at Der Blatt would have had a reasonable expectation of their readers being able to obtain the prescribed tools. However, if hook-tipped knitting needles were commonly available to the target audience or in trade under another designation, the instructions would presumably have named them directly. Later instructions also specify a form with hooks at both ends, indicating that the need for altering stock Tunisian hooks or knitting needles was not an impediment.
The 1862 instructions use the hook/point and hook/ball needles together to make a “shell stitch” (Panzerstich) that was published with three other “new crochet stitches,” all modifying the TSS by varying the structure of the return chain. They significantly alter the standard form of that chain in different ways but the shell stitch is alone in the extent of its proximity to knitting. As was frequently the case with newly devised variations of the Tunisian stitch, it is only illustrated with a swatch.
Because of its unfamiliarity, a second illustration shows the fabric stretched open and the juxtaposition of the two hooks.
Here are the instructions:
“This stitch differs from the other Tunisian crochet stitches in two significant ways. Namely, it consists of pattern rows that alternate between one and two passes, and is made with two different wooden hooked needles. The one of these two crochet needles, which should be on the heavier side, cannot have a knob at its lower end, which has to be pointed like a knitting needle. The other needle is a wooden crochet needle with a knob at its lower end to prevent the stitches from gliding off, but has to be smaller than the needle without the knob by almost half. In order to highlight the distinction between the individual pattern rows, they are worked in two contrasting colors [here blue and white]. The pattern row that is worked in one pass only is always crocheted from right to left with a double strand of yarn and the hook without a knob. The following pattern row, which includes two passes, is made with the thinner hook and a single strand of yarn. The forward pass in this pattern row is also worked from right to left, as with knitting, using both needles…
1st pattern row. After making a foundation chain with the blue yarn and without cutting it, use the hook without the knob to pull a loop of the doubled white yarn through each stitch in the foundation chain. These loops remain on the hook to form new stitches. At the end of this pass, cut the double yarn and work the,
2nd pattern row with the blue yarn that was left hanging at the starting edge of the fabric, using the thinner hook. In the first pass a loop is pulled through each of the double stitches in the white yarn in the preceding pattern row, by inserting the hook into the back of the stitch as is clearly shown in the illustration, and removing the stitch from the hook so that the double strands on either side of that stitch cross over each other as shown in the completed rows of those stitches. The second pass is crocheted from left to right just as with the second pass in a pattern row of the ordinary Tunisian crochet stitch, and the blue yarn is left hanging until the next pattern row that uses it.
3rd pattern row. Again place the double white strand on the hook without the knob and crochet from right to left, by pulling a new loop through the opening between the vertical parts of each stitch in the preceding row. These loops remain on the hook to form new stitches.
4th pattern row as the 2nd, 5th pattern row as the 3rd, and so forth.”
The tip of the heavier hook is not illustrated but the direction in which the loops of double white yarn cross over it follows from the customary crocheter’s practice of beginning a stitch by wrapping the yarn over the hook from back to front (YO). In contrast, the thinner hook is shown ‘grabbing’ the blue yarn from above without a YO. This is equivalent to wrapping the yarn under the hook (YU), and seats the loops on it in the opposite direction.
However, as drawn, the paths taken by both the blue and white yarn around their respective hooks are the same, also consistent with the orientation of the blue stitches in the fabric. Since the white loops are twisted as they are worked into stitches, their orientation in the fabric is the opposite of that on the hook.
The instructions emphasize that the use of the hook to twist the white stitches “is clearly shown in the illustration.” However, if the YU is correctly represented, the leg of the blue loop moving toward the tip of the hook should be on the back of the hook rather than on the front. The express statement of accuracy makes it difficult to dismiss the inconsistency in the path of the blue yarn as the result of an initial YU being drawn where a YO is intended. That would be the most straightforward explanation, nonetheless, and is also supported by the orientation of the blue stitches in the fabric. However, the illustrated fabric structure can also be produced in a manner that applies both the YO and the YU techniques.
The instructions twist the loops in the white yarn by inserting the righthand hook into each of them from behind. However, if the white loops are YU rather than YO, they will be twisted by inserting the righthand hook into them from the front. The inconsistency in the drawing can therefore be resolved by swapping the illustrated YU forward pass from the blue to the white yarn, and the YO forward pass from the white yarn to the blue. A proof-of-concept swatch made in that manner can be compared with the initial woodcut.
Another detail of the described procedure requires comment. Cutting the yarn at the end of each row worked flat, and starting the next row with a new length of yarn, was a common attribute of flatwork crochet throughout the 19th century (readily seen in an array of stitches in the 15 June 1867 issue of Der Bazar). However, one feature of the Tunisian crochet stitch is that it permits flatwork without need either for cutting the yarn or turning the fabric. The illustrated shell stitch discards that advantage and the doubled white yarn leaves twice the usual number of dangling yarn ends to be dealt with.
Given the numerous variant Tunisian stitches that were otherwise available, it would be reasonable for readers of Der Blatt to wonder what the one that required a special second hook and additional finishing was good for. In direct response to numerous queries received from readers who posed that very question, the illustrations and narrative explanation were reprinted in the 14 November issue of the same annual volume. Nothing was added about its visual effect but its heading was extended.
“Panzerstich for application in men’s shawls, jackets, carriage blankets, etc.
Despite this, Der Blatt never published instructions for any garments using it (that I’ve managed to spot). Their designers continued to explore special-tool variants of the TSS, producing instructions (to be discussed separately) that call for the now familiar double-ended Tunisian hook before the end the century.
Anyone following this discussion with tools in hand will soon note that the hook on the tip of the righthand needle makes it trivially easy to slip an unworked loop onto it from the lefthand needle and then knit it into a stitch, crochet style (ambiguity intended). It may therefore be simpler to separate the actions that overlap in the illustration, first moving the loop of white yarn onto the righthand needle, and then working the loop of blue yarn into it.