Why Learn to Crochet?
Crochet has the great advantage of being very portable, money saving and an immensely satisfying pastime. With a simple hook and yarn you can create fashion items for you and your family or furnishings for your home. Crochet is one of the most versatile and exciting skills to learn. Once you have mastered the basic stitches, it is an easy skill to develop and very quick to work.
The History of Crochet
The craft of crochet as we know it today has been worked for around four hundred years. The name ‘crochet’ is believed to be derived from the French word ‘croche’ meaning hook.
Crochet is a mainly European craft that was known in Italy before the sixteenth century simply as an alternative method of making lace. It developed from tambouring (the craft of working chain stitch over a tightly stretched fabric). For many centuries it was worked almost exclusively by nuns for church vestments and cloths, thus becoming commonly known as ‘Nun’s work’ or ‘Nuns lace’.
After a while nuns began teaching the craft to daughters of upper class families as part of their ‘finishing course’ as it was considered a suitable occupation for genteel young ladies. Gradually crochet spread across Spain and France, eventually being brought to Britain by refugees from the French Revolution. In the mid-nineteenth century crochet became the main source of income for many Irish families during the potato famines.
Madame Eleanore Reigo De La Branchadiere, a Franco/Spanish lady, taught the craft to members of the royal family, and it was she who first collected and devised a system of written instructions for crochet patterns. These were published in a monthly magazine called ‘The Needle’, which she edited from 1852 to 1854. Before then all patterns had been passed on by example.
By the beginning of the twentieth century fashions had again changed and laces in any form were no longer in demand. For almost 50 years there was very little interest in the craft, and it is largely due to the efforts of Mime de La Branchardiere and others that a great deal of detailed knowledge of the craft was retained.
Since the 1960s, crochet has again become a fashionable craft, this time however turning away from fine traditional lace work and being use to produce complete fabrics in today’s modern yarns. It has also developed into an art form in its own right and is used for 3-dimentional sculptures, jewellery, wall hangings and so on.
There is also evidence that sailors and shepherds in medieval Europe fashioned rough fabrics from hand-spun wool. The hooks they used were made of bone or wood and were probably similar to the Tunisian hooks used in the Middle East since pre-Christian times. Tunisian crochet is a cross between knitting and crochet in which a very long hook is used for working the fabric.
Today’s hooks are based on the old tambour hook, which was narrow at the hook and wide at the top end. These were made of wood, bone, tortoiseshell and ivory. Unlike the tambour hook however, today’s hooks remain the same thickness the whole length of the hook, and come in three types. Fine steel hooks are used for delicate lace-work, thicker metal hooks are used for modern knitting type yarns, and long tunisian hooks of metal. Each range comes in graduating sizes.
Crochet hooks are made in a range of sizes from a 0.60 used for fine lace crochet, to a 16.00 used in conjunction with very thick yarns. The size is the metric measurement taken round the body of the shaft. All manufacturers conform to this method of sizing, known as the International Size Range (ISR).
The size of crochet hook will be detailed using one or more sizing definitions. Modern crochet hooks are measured in metric measurements, starting at 2 mm and going up to sizes greater than 15 mm. Some old crochet hooks, however, use a different sizing convention and these were measured in numbers. The higher the number the smaller the hook.
To make the reading of crochet patterns more straightforward, the names of crochet stitches are often abbreviated. Instead of repeating ‘chain stitch’ for instance, the abbreviation ‘ch’ is used. This is helpful and makes patterns easier to follow. Most crochet patterns and books contain a glossary of terms used including any special or unusual abbreviations.
Most crocheted items benefit from being blocked and this is particularly true of lace items. Blocking a finished piece of crochet entails gently wetting the item and then pulling it to shape on a flat surface. The item may need to be pinned to stop it from springing out of shape. A crochet pattern will give any special instructions required for blocking.
Flat or in-the-round
Crochet is either worked flat or in the round. Crochet that is worked flat is worked in rows with the work turned at the end of each row. Crochet that is worked in the round is worked in a constant round without turning the work. Both types of crochet have their own benefits. Crochet that is worked flat is ideal for traditional garment construction. Crochet that is worked in the round starts at a central point and is worked outwards, making it ideal for large items.
Some crochet patterns, particularly motif and lace crochet, are presented using crochet symbols. Each stitch has a unique symbol and this is used to show how a design is created. Many patterns that feature symbols also have a written version. Symbol crochet is useful as it transcends language making a project open to crocheters the world over.
Crochet has a language all of it’s own. When you learn to crochet the first thing you will have to do is become familiar with crochet terms such as single crochet and double treble.
Tension or Gauge
Crochet gauge is very important. This measures the number of stitches and rows to 10 cm. Checking crochet gauge is necessary when making an item that needs to be a set size. If there are too many stitches and rows then the item will be too small and a larger hook should be used. Most crochet patterns will give a stated gauge and before starting the pattern, a test square should be worked to check gauge.
Yarn and wools are grouped together according to thickness. This means that all yarns that are double knitting weight will be the same thickness regardless of brand or manufacturer. This standardisation of yarns is a useful way to ensure that yarns can be substituted in crochet patterns without altering the finished dimensions of a project.
Motif crochet is the creation of small single crochet blocks that are then stitched together to form bigger items. These are typified by the granny square, however motifs can be highly intricate and delicate designs as well as more basic and bulky versions.