The word “crochet” designates both a tool with a hooked tip and a family of looped structures made with that tool. It additionally names the craft of producing fabric consisting of those structures, the fabric itself, and the objects into which it is worked. Each sense of the term has its own history and its appearance in an older text does not in itself indicate either a technique or a craft, even if the topic clearly relates to fabric production. Care is therefore needed to avoid conflating usage at one time and place with that of another.
The modern form of the craft can be traced back to the early 1800s and is commonly referred to simply as crochet. It didn’t initially span the full range of structural detail and techniques that were to develop (with a few also dropped along the way) but the aggregate has borne the name in English-language publication since the late 1830s. Nonetheless, its most basic structures — chains and the slip stitch — are verifiably older. Their position on the timeline of hook-based loopcraft has been indicated in various ways.
My personal preference has been to use labels taken either from contemporaneous documents or, if none are to be found, the oldest known corresponding designations. Examples of this are “cheyne lace” (also “chayne” or “chain”) for the openwork crochet mesh first attested in 1580, and “shepherd’s knitting” (aka “Scottish knitting”) for the slip stitch crochet thus named in several sources beginning in 1812 but explicitly designating an older craft.
Some of the candidate vocabulary is used heterogeneously in different languages, adding further complexity to the terminological facet of the history of crochet. The English word was loaned from French, in any case, and the pre-19th-century documents I had examined before noting the one reported in this post use it to designate a tool but not a craft.Continue reading “Scottish crochet in 1567”