WEFT Focus – The History of Crochet

With the West of England Festival of Textiles (WEFT) in full swing we decided it would be helpful to give you a bit of the history behind the crafts we will be holding workshops for. Today we will examining the history of crochet.

Telling the story of crochet is actually much trickier that you would think. The exact origin of the craft is a mystery though the first definitive evidence of the craft as we know it was in 1824 in Amsterdam when an early women’s magazine published the pattern for a crocheted bag. The pattern was lacy and made using a tambour hook which may suggest the origins of the craft lie in tambour lace making. Tambour lace was a specialised technique worked using very fine threads of silk hooked in and out of the fibres of a background mesh. The fabric mesh was stretched over a circular frame – a non-musical tambourine (“tambour” is French for drum), this is where the technique gets its name.

Image of a very fine white mesh fabric with finely embroidered flowers worked on to it
Example of tambour lace from our Morrison collection

The tambour lace theory is just one of many surrounding the origins of crochet, some of which seem truly ancient! One of these ancient theories originates in China where archaeologists have discovered stuffed animal toys that look shockingly similar to crocheted toys which dates all the way back to the Shang Dynasty 1600-1046 B.C.E! This theory is validated by the discovery of Japanese ‘crocheted’ animals dating to the 1600’s. It is well known that Japanese art and culture was often influenced by those of China, so the development of this technique known now as amigurumi, would fit nicely with this theory.

Another theory suggests that the technique developed from Turkish lace or oya lace as it is known in the region of Anatolia where it originated. This form of needlework is thought to date back as far as the 8th century BC. Oya lace can made using a variety of tools such as needle, crochet hook, shuttle, hairpin, bead, tassel and many more. This style of lace is very often used for floral designs which are very common themes found in crochet.

an ecru coloured crocheted lace flower
This crocheted flower from our collection shows many commonalities with Turkish lace.

Despite not knowing where the craft came from originally, we can pin point its modern popularity very firmly to the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Bold colours, big flowers and frankly rather tiny swimwear – these describe the crochet revolution in a nutshell! Modern filet crochet techniques were popularised creating pictures in yarn like in the image below.

stork pattern created in white cotton using filet crochet
Stork image created with filet crochet from our collection

Crochet dipped in popularity for several decades and became known as ‘something only old women do’.  With the development of social media crochet is making a comeback. Amigurumi has grown very popular with patterns easily shared only and pictures of the cute creations being shared over and over on various social media platforms. Social media influencers have help to make this craft popular and mainstream once again with men and younger generations getting involved where previously it had been restricted to a mainly female craft.

In celebration of this brilliant craft we have included a beginners level crochet workshop to our roster for WEFT. Head over to our What’s On page to read about it or go to our Ticketsource page to book your place!

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