The Origin of Crochet

the origin of crochet

Table of Contents

During one of my thinking tangents the other day, I got to thinking that I never really knew the origin of crochet. Of course, I had to dive into some research and then share that with all of you. So, here we are. Dive in with me, will you?

Where does the word “crochet” come from?

In the United States, we refer to it as crochet. This is also the case in France, Belgium Italy, and Spanish-speaking countries. However, there are different terms in different countries. For example, Sweden refers to it as virkning, Holland as haken, and Denmark as haekling. The word “crochet” comes from croc, or croche, which is a Middle French word for hook.

When and where did crochet start?

Basically, nobody knows the exact where, when, and how of the origin of crochet. There is not a specific date, time or explanation of the start of crochet. However, the modern crochet we know seems to have developed around the 16th century. At that time, however, it may not have been called “crochet”. It may have been referred to things such as “nun’s work” or “nun’s lace”, “chain lace”, or “crochet lace”.

There are a few different theories of the geographical origin of crochet, but nobody can say for certain whether it started in South America, China, or somewhere else entirely.

However, it is believed that crochet originated from a mix of Chinese needlework and a type of embroidery referred to as “tambour”.

origin of crochet

“Crochet in the Air”

Umm, what? That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard this term. However, it’s part of the story of crochet, so play along with me for a minute. Let’s go back to tambour for a minute.

So, what is tambour? Tambour was worked on a tight background fabric attached to a frame. The thread used is underneath of the fabric. Then, a needle with a hook is inserted through the fabric. The thread is then drawn up through the fabric on the hook, leaving a loop on the hook. The hook is then moved further down the work and inserted again to draw up another of thread. This loop is pulled through the first loop on the hook, creating a chain and once again leaving one loop on the hook.

Okay, now, let’s bring “crochet in the air” back into this. Crochet in the air evolved from tambour when the thread was worked on its own without the fabric background used in tambour.

More than a Hobby

The Irish Potato Famine lasted from 1845 to 1850 and crochet was a welcome distraction during that time. However, it turned into more than just a hobby. Those who lived in poverty spent the little spare time they had making crochet items to be sold to the wealthy.

There were even schools formed to teach the art and skill of crochet, and not just to women! Men, women, and children were taught to crochet and create their very own patterns.

Then, when the Irish saved up enough earnings, they were able to emigrate to America. It is believed this is how crochet made its way to America.

wooden crochet hooks

Tools & Materials

Okay, so most crochet items and patterns were created and sold by those living in poverty, so how did we get where we are today with expensive tools and yarn? And what tools and materials did they use then?

Well, you’ve seen those huge skeins of yarn and the blankets people make with them, right? People have made those with their hands and arms. During times when supplies were limited, sometimes it was as simple as using fingers for crocheting. Other supplies used for hooks were things like metal, wood, animal bones, old spoons, teeth from discarded combs, brass, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, ivory, and more. In regards to materials, anything from grass to hair was used.

the origin of crochet

It’s so interesting to see the origin of crochet and how far we have come with the tools and materials used, what we make things for, and how we make them. In many ways, crochet is the same. We are still creating, writing new patterns, and many have started their own crochet businesses. If you’re interested in learning to crochet, or starting a business with your crochet skills, I’d love to chat with you!

Come on over to The Crafty Cabin and hang out with us, or feel free to message me any time on my Facebook Page or Instagram. Find some crochet inspiration over on Pinterest.


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