Maggie's Essay Contest: Third Place Winner

Congratulations to Malorie Townsend of Asheville, our third place winner! Maggie’s Crochet Needlework & Crafts received many great entries, and, while special prizes go to first, second, and third place winners, anyone with two accepted entries wins their pick of a Maggie Weldon pattern.


A Historical View Into The Art and Practical

Uses of Crochet: Past and Present

by Malorie Townsend

     Crocheting is an art form that’s origins are not completely known but are speculated. It began out of necessity and was transformed into a fashionable even elite art form. In the present time it is practiced as a craft and fun activity and is often passed down by Aunts and Grandmothers. Crocheting is much like hunting in that it was begun as a means for more comfortable living (hunting for food and crocheted clothing for warmth and protection), but is now mostly practiced as a hobby. Not only is crocheting used to make clothing items but it has significant ties into our ever evolving mathematics and scientific education.

The use of crocheting to produce clothing items is thought to have begun in areas such as Arabia and South America before its definitive appearance in the 1800’s. According to an article in Wikipedia (2010), there is no evidence of any crocheted product in any archaeological record pre-19th century but the art form was highly evolved when it first made its appearance in literature in Elizabeth Grant’s The Memoirs of a Highland Lady in 1812. This first known mention of the craft leads scholars to believe it has been around for decades if not centuries. Another indicator that leads people to believe that crocheting is an archaic craft is that it can be done simply with a bent finger instead of a crochet hook making it extremely easy for older cultures to complete this task without the use of tools. According to Ruthie Marks (2010) from the Crochet Guild of America, crocheting began in China and spread to Europe by 1700. It is known that the Irish could not afford to buy their own clothing during a famine from 1845-1849 so they crocheted out of necessity. Irish nun’s taught women to crochet clothing from basic yarns and wools to provide for their families. Soon the idea caught on not as just a way to keep clothing on the backs of individuals but as something pretty and valuable which allowed them to create a surplus of garments and accessories such as lace, that were then shipped all over Europe and sold. Needless to say, crocheting played a great part in Irish history by helping the population to survive the famine in the late 1840’s. Crocheting not only helped the Irish but the Northern French as well during war time, economical down falls, and farming changes.

During bleaker times in European history, surprisingly crocheted Irish lace became a huge status symbol for middle and upper class Europeans such as Queen Victoria. The Queen herself bought Irish crocheted lace continuously and actually learned the art herself. Through this publicity crocheting became an activity that all of the social classes partook in. Even though all classes began to crochet there were still class distinctions made by what type of hook was used. Poor Irish women used crochet needles that were crafted from bending a regular sewing needle and set in a cork handle while the elite used needles made from elaborately carved ivory, wood, brass and other expensive elements. Crocheting became an activity that was also a way to show off the better features of a woman during that time period. The hands were considered a desirable feature and crocheting drew out this feature through the use of threading and hooks. Crochet hooks were even customized to suit the individual in order to better accentuate the hands. The craft was given even more publicity through the publication of patterns and ideas by individuals, most notably Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere during the early 1800’s. According to Ruthie Marks (2010), Mlle. Riego de la Branchardiere is credited with having invented the lacey patterns that evolved into Irish crochet.

Crocheting took off in the 19th century but began declining in popularity in the early part of the 20th century. Fashion changed from the Edwardian to the more 1920’s style which favored calmer colored yarns and simplistic styles. Crochet did not completely die out but made a comeback in the 1960’s when housewives took up the craft and began crocheting everything from blankets to tissue box covers. Dramatic color changes occurred going from calm colors to bright vibrant colors fondly associated with the 1960’s and 1970’s. Yarn also became thicker and less lace-like making household items more durable. From the 1960’s onward crocheting has become a craft made for pleasure and adornment instead of out of economical necessity. In modern times, there is an ever growing number of thousands of patterns for objects and tools used to create items with. Yarns now come in all kinds of colors and thickness and even shape. Crocheting is now not just passed down from generation to generation it is also taught in stores devoted strictly to yarns and the needle crafts. Even though there are thousands of patterns and tools used to crochet, the craft is taking a decline due to changing economic and social factors. The young generation of today is so busy with school, work, and other commitments that there is no time to sit down and learn an age old tradition. Those that do are either held in high regard or teased for doing something a “granny” would do. The majority of crocheter’s now are between the ages of 30 and 80+ with most learning on their own and less and less learning from family members. Those that have learned from their Grandmothers, Aunts, and the like, hold crocheting as a special and meaningful activity that they could share with their families and friends. The face of crocheting is changing instead of completely dying out due to the market of essential items such as yarn and needles. Craft sections, specifically yarn sections, in popular stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart are slowly eliminating their needle craft sections because of the declining interest in these crafts. For proof all you have to do is walk into one of these stores and you will see the tiny section or none at all. Instead of these generic stores catering to the everyday shopper who happens to enjoy crafts, specialty stores such as AC Moore and even fancier establishments marketing on the internet now sell the yarns and needles used to crochet. It is simply not the item you can casually walk by and pick up at the store anymore as you grocery shop causing individuals to have to purposefully seek out the supplies to create crafts. Crocheting and yarn crafting in general is becoming a more specialized art with a very specific clientele and is not as mainstream as knitting. Local yarn stores, often referred to as “LYS”, are becoming more common, especially internet sites such as Maggie’s Crochet where you can purchase patterns and materials.

Crocheting is not only used to make garments and household items, it is also used in areas most people would never think of. Teachers in physics, mathematics, and other sciences use crocheting to illustrate models and dimensional ideas that cannot be fully expressed on paper. According to an article about crocheting by Wikipedia (2010), a mathematician named Daina Taimina crocheted a complete model to illustrate a hyperbolic plane that was used by the Institute of Figuring. The benefits of using crochet to illustrate a mathematical idea as Taimina did are that it creates an object (the model) that is durable, portable, and malleable making it an excellent choice of material and intelligent use of an age old craft to illustrate new and exciting concepts of today’s world. Biology teachers have crocheted “DNA” to help students understand the three dimensionality of DNA, and even things you would not always think of such as coral found in oceans, and much more. Not only do mathematicians use crocheting to illustrate concepts but artists now use it to decorate or accentuate already existing environments. This process is called “yarn bombing” and entails crocheting objects or covers of artistic value to adorn indoor spectacles and even outdoor themes.

Crocheting has evolved into something that can touch virtually all aspect of life that began from the simple use of yarn to create essential clothing and other adornments needed in early society. It is an age old tradition passed down through generations through the use of books and one-on-one instruction. Not only does it help the communication and bonding between two individuals but it helps people feel that they have accomplished something good and can make something nice for someone they care about. Although this necessity, craft, and art form still exists today thanks to groups such as the Crochet Guild of America and many others, it still takes its ups and downs in our society and people still continue to learn it every day.

Works Cited

Crochet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2010, November 28). Wikipedia, the free

encyclopedia. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crochet

Marks, R. (n.d.). Crochet Guild Newsletter History of Crochet. Crochet Guild of America.

Retrieved November 29, 2010, from http://www.crochet.org/newslet/n10997a.html

Thanks for reading,

Hugs, Maggie

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