Why do the UK and US use different crochet terms, does the ‘murky’ history of crochet offer some clues?

This week I took part in a short radio interview with Simon May on Scala Radio. Apparently a recent question asked by a listener had caused some headaches, and they asked me if I could shed some light on the subject.

You can listen to my suggestions about the genesis of these annoyingly different terms in the interview here on the Planet Radio/Scala Radio Listen Again page. Slide the time slider to 1:40 (it only seems to go in 5 minute increments, (and won’t rewind). Then listen for a minute or two; my interview is just after the chat about Hans Zimmer – between approximately 1:42-1:47.

One point I must make, especially if you plan to listen to interview, is that I did not say that ‘crochet people hate knitting people’, what I said was that people tend to affiliate to one in particular, so there are knitters who do not crochet and crocheters who do not knit. I also pointed out that many people, like me, practise both crafts to lesser or greater extents. I do dislike the way presenters try to make an adversarial situation out of one that is not. Just wanted to clear that up!

As it was a radio interview, time was of course limited, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts that I didn’t have the opportunity to include in the interview. I will be posting some of these over the next few days.

Meanwhile, whilst I found this BBC article about crochet in Brazilian prisons


What I would have liked to have had time to say during my interview with Simon Mayo on Scala Radio. 11:45am 18th March 2019

Crochet: from the French word croc or croche (hook) which originated from the old Norse word krokr which also meant ‘hook’. Variously know as haken (Holland), haekling (Denmark), hekling (Norway) and virkning (Sweden).(1)

Question I was asked: Why are crochet terms different in the UK and US?

Well, this was a biggie, and of course those of you who have done any reading around this will know that there is not definitive answer!

I quite quickly developed a theory that the terms probably diverged around the end of the 19th century. My guess is that this was a hugely significant period – when skilled crochet practitioners took their skills with them when they emigrated from Europe to the US; four million people emigrated there from Ireland alone between 1850-1990.

I decided to begin my explanation with the history of the craft itself, to try to decipher how these might have come about. I started with a bit or reading and found that Lis Paludan, although she addressed this subject from a largely European perspective, theorised that crochet originated in either China, the Middle East or South America. Both Ann Stearns and Clinton MacKenzie discussed the connections between modern day crochet and historical textiles, but MacKenzie cited Mary Thomas as his source. Now this gives us is a pretty wide geographical ballpark, but let’s explore these theories a bit.

There were most likely some crochet and knit-like practises in China and Japan prior to the importation of Western crafts when trade began with the West in the 1800s. Paludan suggests that crochet’s roots may have stemmed from tambour work (chain stitching with a hook through tightly stretched mesh), which came via the Middle East, and Stearns shows her contemporary experiments with this technique.(p72-74) Paludan speculates that latterly the mesh was discarded, so that the chain stitches became a self-supporting fabric. Regarding the Middle Eastern theory, Stearns dedicates a chapter to the 19th century textiles of Turkey, discussing lace, purses and ‘tiğ oyasi’ (headscarf decorations) made with crochet, and from the way in which she describes these as embedded in the culture, it is clear that these practises had a long history in this arguably Middle Eastern country. (p144-153)

MacKenzie writes that Mary Thomas did not give much credence to the suggestions that crochet-type textiles, possibly descended from Pre-Columbian textile practises and used in puberty rites, existed in South America before the Spanish introduced European methods. However, we know that crochet is popular in South America today, with highly skilled practitioners producing varied types from fine white lace to chunkier colourful work.

Many claims are made that crochet was first practised in Italy and France during the 16th century, and cite ‘nun’s lace’, created in religious houses for ecclesiastical textiles, as evidence for this. Ruthie Marks, writing for the Crochet Guild of America, reports that Anne Potter agrees with this, but I sadly don’t have access to this text, so can’t verify this. What I can tell you is that Potter was as mystified as others, and had her own theories, like we all do. However according to Paludan the surviving evidence does not resemble crochet so fails to support this theory.

Like knitting, and other crafts considered ‘domestic’, crochet skills would have been taught informally by being demonstrated and explained verbally in domestic situations, (and indeed this is still often the case, but we now use written patterns as well). This was opposed to the largely male orientated formal craft apprenticeship system that continued for several centuries in which mastering craft skills led to recognition, authority and inclusion in record keeping of the craft guild system.

Knitting and crochet patterns were not written down until the mid-1800s, and even then, this may have been in a form that would be largely unrecognisable today. Many authors assumed the actual skill of making the stitches was already understood (for the reasons discussed above), so did not include the explicit instructions we are accustomed to in modern patterns.  An exception to this was Mlle Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere, who wrote over fifty books of crochet and knitting patterns, (the first one when she was only 18), and so brought crochet to a wide audience. According to Marks, Mlle Branchardiere, who had a French father and an Irish mother, claimed to have invented the form of lace-like crochet later known as ‘Irish crochet’. You can read some of her books on the University of Southampton Knitting library web resource and via the VADS website, or as eBooks via Project Gutenberg.

In Knitting, Crochet and Netting, published in 1946, Branchardiere describes working what in modern UK terms is called a slip stitch as making a ‘Shepherd or Single Crochet’. She writes, ‘Put the needle in the 1st chain, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st’. Although she describes drawing the new loop through the old loops one after the other, rather than both together as we would do today, this is clearly a slip stitch. (p57) She then describes making a modern UK double crochet stitch and designates it as, ‘Plain, Double or French Crochet’. (p57-58) So at this point in history, there is already some confusion; single crochet is being used to describe a slip stitch.  

It seems that Branchardiere was not the first crochet author. I happened upon https://blog.lovecrochet.com/the-history-of-crochet-is-it-as-old-as-the-hills/ which featured an article by Kathryn Senior, The History of Crochet: is it as old as the hills?. In this she writes of an early crochet bag pattern published in 1824 in Amsterdam by Penelope magazine. Sadly there is only an image and no instruction shown which might shine some more light on the terminology in use then.

Irish crochet

Crochet was particularly significant in Ireland in the mid-to late 1800s, because it could provide vital economic support for families that were starving in the terrible famine. This lasted from 1846-1852 and devastated the Irish population leading to mass immigration, and of course those who could crochet went as well, taking their skills to a new land.

Irish crochet comprises very finely worked motifs, sometimes with a relief effect, joined together by a crochet mesh. The thread used is fine cotton, and it is worked with a very small hook. Originally the hooks would have been home-made from steel wire and set into a wooden handle. To learn more about the technique and history of Irish Crochet, I recommend visiting Ann Reillet’s ‘Crochet Thread’.(2)

Nuns were partly responsible for bringing crochet to Ireland. As reported in the Kenmare Times of 2011, in the 1860s Carmelite nuns established a lace school in which they taught Irish crochet amongst other lace-making skills. Other crochet schools were established, but the Kenmare school became famous for its excellent design quality. Through collaboration with two design schools in London and Cork and the establishment of an art programme the quality of design was developed further until their clientele included royalty, which in turn influenced additional fashion interest in lace. Irish lace of various types was highly prized for both wedding dresses, veils, lingerie and ecclesiastical pieces.

Crochet lace and beyond…

The Victorian and Edwardian obsession with lace ensured the continuing popularity of fine crochet, and although this abated by the 1920s, it was replaced by using crochet to make complete garments. The new synthetic rayon yarns draped exceedingly well, and crochet worked in these made elegant, elongated shapes perfect for the ‘flapper’ look.

Through the two World Wars knitting tended to take precedence, possible because it seemed more utilitarian and practical compared to the lacey crochet look.

Come the 1950s crochet grew in popularity and re-entered the fashion scene. Magazines such as Stitchcraft featured patterns for hats and accessories made in the new synthetic yarns coming onto the market, and certainly by the 1960s, crochet was really back. In the 60s all sorts of clothing was made from crochet and in the early 70s fashion embraced the granny-square in bold colours.  The power dressing 1980s saw a slump in popularity, hand crafts were not part of the new look, being relegated to the ‘hippy’ and ‘homely’.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that there was a resurgence of interest in both knitting and crochet, ignited partly by Debbie Stoller’s Stitch’n Bitch movement, but also inspired by a reaction to the fast pace of life. Although part of the technology that might be seen to be encouraging the fast pace, social media is still playing a significant part in maintaining and widening the impact of hand making. The latest in this is of course the popularity of the Japanese Amigurumi style of crochet, making small items from tightly packed stitches.

Now I know I have not answered the question, but the history is important when considering how the terms diverged. I still think it has to do with the influx of immigrants, taking their skills with them to a new land, and the terms drifting apart after that.  We have already seen some ambivalence in Branchardiere’s terminology, so why would this not be perpetuated and terms come to mean different movements/stitches during a century of geographical separation? After all the size designations of the hooks have evolved differently; US are alpha-numeric and old Imperial became larger the smaller the number (and where is the sense in that?), whilst modern European metric hooks work on a direct millimetre diameter measurement.  

Some theories suggest that the UK terms are based on the number of loops left on the hook after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below, whilst US terms refer to the number of movements needed to complete the stitch after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below. This comes a bit unstuck when you get to the half-treble stitches, but it seems reasonable otherwise. There are probably others, but I think we just have to accept, and translate, rather like we do with other linguistic difference such as pavement being called a ‘sidewalk’ in the US, and a car boot being a ‘trunk’.

Most modern books now make it clear which terms they are using (US or UK), but older books and patterns can be a minefield. If you want to check whether a pattern or book is US or UK, the best way is to see if there is any reference to single crochet (sc) in the instructions. If there is, it is definitely a US pattern – as there is no single crochet in UK terms. If there is no reference to single crochet, this doesn’t mean it is a UK pattern, because it may just not include single crochet! So, beware and look for other signs; the hook sizes may give you a clue, and so may the yarns listed in the pattern.

I sometimes write the pattern out again, (if its short), or use a highlighter to mark where I need to be careful. Otherwise, a drop of Tippex works well, (but not on a library book)!

I apologise in advance for any mistakes, and hope that this has been of interest.

 

Bibliography:

Paludan, Lis. Crochet: History and Technique, Interweave Press, 1995

Thomas, Mary. Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, Toggit, ??

Stearns, Ann. The Batsford Book of Crochet, Batsford, 1981

MacKenzie, Clinton. New Design in Crochet, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1972

Lucey, Anne. Fabric of Kenmare: nuns’ role in lace industry celebrate, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/fabric-of-kenmare-nuns-role-in-lace-industry-celebrated-1.630452, 2011.

The Art of Kenmare Lace Making,  https://www.discoveringireland.com/the-art-of-kenmare-lace-making/, 2019.

Codiron, Roxanne. Meet Eleonore Riego de la Branchardière, the Mother of Modern Crochet https://www.marthastewart.com/1527206/meet-eleonore-riego-de-la-branchardiere-mother-modern-crochet

de la Branchardiere, Eleonore Riego. Knitting, Crochet and Netting, S.Knights, 1846. https://vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=133532&sos=0

 

 

Further reading:

Potter, Annie Louise. A living mystery: The international art & history of crochet, A. J. Publishing International, 1990.

 Download a pdf of this article

 

 

 

 

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Futurescan4 conference

The last two days I’ve been at the FTC Futurescan4 conference in Bolton. It was stimulating and inspirational to spend time listening to the presentations and joining in discussions with fellow fashion and textile teachers.

My paper was about using textiles as a medium to raise awareness scabies; not a catchy title, but a fun project. You can read more about this on the project blog.

Here I am wooing my audience

Using Clover Wonder Clips when dressmaking

Today I’ve been sewing a jersey dress, and the fabric is a double-sided tubular jacquard which has very fine yarn loops that are easy to pull. When I was cutting it out I found that the pins points were catching the fine knit threads, even breaking one and making a hole so I had to move the whole pattern around – not much fun! I usually weight the pattern pieces and don’t pin, but this fabric is over stretchy for this, hence the pins.

So now I’m sewing-up the dress, I’m testing out using Clover Wonder Clips rather than pins to hold the seams together. These clips have made joining the seams very easy and seem to be a really good addition to my equipment. They have a flat back and a curved jaw with a ridge at the point that grips the fabric securely. The flat side makes it very easy to slide the clip under the fabric without disturbing it. On this flat side they also have measurement lines marked out to help keep a straight seam.

I’ve already used them to hold knitted pieces together when hand sewing them and they work extremely well for this, there are no pins drop out onto the floor for the dog to tread on!

I also used the little ones to clip long yarn tails (I keep them long to use for sewing-up), to both hand and machine knitting whilst I work. Yes I could use binder clips or bulldog clips or clothes pegs for this, and I still do, but I find the Wonder Clips grip more firmly and they look a lot nicer. They’re also not as heavy as the binder clip so don’t drag the knitting down.

Overall I’m really pleased with the way they work, and now have three sizes to work with. Their bright ‘jelly’ colours cheer me up on a grey day!

Sewing towards the Wonder Clips – I’m using a walking foot in my Bernina 1030 in this photo.

About Translating between Hand and MachineKnitting…

Hi, I’m Barbara from Italy and want to thank you for writing “Translating between hand and machine knitting”. It’s just great, I can now understand the differences between silver reed and brother. I have one of both but got frustrated trying to use the silver reed, so just stopped working with both… now I have the chance

Thank you Barbara, its great to hear your feedback.

Today is beanie day …

OK, I know it’s now mid January and this is a post about a Christmas gift but I’ve only just got around to finishing it off and getting it online. This is the story of knitting the hat worn in this photo.

December 2018…

I’ve started a beanie hat as a Christmas gift. Its in yarn from my stash, a rather nice airforce blue tweed 90% wool 10% acrylic blend Aran weight yarn. I dithered about the acrylic content I have to say, as I believe one’s toil is best rewarded by natural fibres, but the the colour (and having the yarn to hand), won the day.

The brim should work out to be around 7cm (3″) deep, and I’m going to knit it in a 3 row 2×2 cabled rib, with the shaped crown in stocking stitch. The pattern has been designed for a 61cm (24′) head circumference.

Gosh that doesn’t look very blue, more grey, must be the light. The rib shows though.

The cabled rib is worked on a 3.5mm circular needle, and the crown on a 4.5mm circular needle.

I have a set of those lovely interchangeable KnitPro needles, which means the world is my oyster when using circulars, but because the yarn is quite dark I have decided to use a white Prym triangular pointed circular so its easy to see the stitches. These are also comfortable to work with, and have a strange knob on the point that I quite like.

So far I have cast on 80sts (has to be divisible by 4 for the 4 stitch rib repeat) worked 2 rows rib and 6 repeats of the cable, and then 6 rows straight rib. I used the 2×2 alternate rib cast on recommended by Woolly Wormhead. Its not as stretchy as I had hoped, but looks good. Any stretchy one will do though, don’t beat yourself up about it.

How to work the c2b cable on the rib: Either use a cable needle, or work them as follows: slip the two knit stitches one-by-one knitwise, then insert the left needle from the right into the front of these stitches and slip them back to the left needle. This twists the stitches. Knit them one by one.

How I knitted the hat:

Cast on 80sts, using a stretchy cast on.

Join the round securely in your favourite way; for example work the first stitch, and pull the yarn to tighten the join before working the next stitch, or before working the first round slip the first stitch of the cast-on onto the point of the right needle so that it will be knitted at the end of the first round.

Mark the end of the round with a stitch marker.

Round 1 and 2: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 3: (c2b, p2) to end.

Repeat round 1-3, 5 times.

Round 16-20: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 21: purl.

Move the marker up to the current row.

Now you have the option to work all the stocking stitch in purl, and replace the knit decreases with purl versions, or if like me you find knit faster than purl, this is what I did.

Slip the last stitch to the left needle, and take the yarn to the back between the stitches then slip the stitch back so that the yarn is caught around the stitch. Invert the knitting and working in the opposite direction to former rounds, work the rest of the crown as knit stitches.

Round 22: knit

Continue working as Round 22 until the work measures 20.5cm from edge of rib.

Now to do the shaping.

I worked the first and every fourth round as a decrease round as follows.

First round,: k7, k2tog (70)

Second and third round: k all.

Fourth round: k6, k2tog (60)

Fifth and sixth round: k all.

Continue in this sequence, knitting one less stitch between decreases until 50 stitches on needle. Then work decreases on every second round until 20 stitches remain, finishing with a knit round.

Break yarn leaving a 40cm tail. Thread yarn onto a darning needle and slip the open stitches onto the darning needle. Draw the stitches in and secure the yarn end.

The Multipom

The designers of the Multipom have been kind enough to send me one of these little gadgets so that I can try it out.

This is me discussing how I fared following the packet instructions and making 12 tiny pom-poms in DK yarn. I chose acrylic yarn for these test pom-poms, because I thought that would be a good test. In my experience wool yarn, or at least with some wool in it, makes the most luscious pom-poms. They must be steamed though. This opens out the fibres at the cut ends of the yarn, plumping them beautifully.

This was my method, following the instructions that came with the Multipom.

Firstly I wrapped the yarn 40 times, lengthwise around the Multipom. Doing fine so far.

Next it needed to be tied off into 12 equal lengths. Well not equal, as the end tie is closer, which was tricky. Somehow I managed to tie only 11 ties, but couldn’t work out where I had gone wrong. A ruler has been printed on the instruction sheet so it should have been easy. I put it down to me being tired!

Tied yarn on the Multipom

Tying the wrapping threads was challenging. Another pair of hands to hold the knots tight would have been helpful. The advice to use a strong thread is very sensible as you have to tug hard to make a nice ‘waist’ on each pom-pom before cutting.

Tying the knots tight enough was fiddly. Strong yarn needed, and strong fingers.

Anyway I decide to get ahead and cut them anyway. Cutting the end ones was awkward,so that pom-pom was more ragged than the others immediately after cutting.

Getting the scissors in to cut the end folded yarn was a bit awkward.

I rolled each cut pom-pom between my palms to encourage them into balls, and then started to trim them. This is where a pair of curved blade embroidery scissors would be useful.

The pom-poms after cutting but before being rolled between my palms.

Once again, a good tip is given in the instructions, ‘Don’t be afraid to cut too cut off quite a lot’, and thats what they mean Take it a little at a time and turn the pom-pom as you work; there is a lovely nugget of firm roundness inside those straggly monsters.

Trim,turn,trim,turn. And again

It took me at least 10 minutes to trim them all to my satisfaction.

Trimmed and almost done

Then I steamed them by hanging them inside an electric kettle. Do be careful if you do this. Don’t put too much water in the kettle so the pom-poms won’t get wet, and when you take them out be very very careful not to scald yourself with the boiling steam. Use an oven glove and let them cool before handing them. If they do get wet, don’t worry as this can improve their density. It just means you’ll have to wait for them to dry before working on them any further.

After steaming the outer fibres expand and fill in the shape.

So what’s my verdict on the process and result?

Is it quicker than making individual pom-poms on other gadgets?

Yes, although the trimming is a bit more arduous.

I find the yarn management much easier than when wrapping the small, individual pom-pom makers. It also avoids that situation where you are struggling to pop the two parts together, but they always spring apart again, or worse still the hinged bit pops off.

Cutting is a lot easier because you are just slicing straight across rather than inserting the blades between the plastic halves and trying to cut in a narrow space, whilst trying to hold the maker together. When using the Multipom there is the rather fiddly end cuts on the frame to deal with, but that’s only 2 per 12 pom-pom s, so pretty minimal compared to using an individual maker.

Wrapping core yarn is easier on an individual maker, as you seem to be able to get a better cinch around a circular waist, although that may improve with practise.

I haven’t tried larger pom-poms yet, but I suspect the individual pom-pom makers may give better results because trimming becomes more important to the final shape on big pom-poms.

So the Multipom gets my vote if you want to make lots of smaller or mini pom-poms, which after all is what it was designed for. However there is still space in my workshop drawer for the larger, individual pom-pom makers

Thanks once again to the Multipom team, it’s good to see innovative tools being designed to meet the diverse needs of the craft community.

From fair-isle to football boots

This was a talk that I gave at the Textile Institute. In it I discussed seamless knitting technologies, their historical roots in hand knitting methods, and the potential the ‘new’ technolgies are bringing to commerical knitwear and knitted outputs. The audience had the opportunity to handle samples produced on flat-bed Shima Seiki Wholegarment and Santoni circular seamless machinery.

This was in 2014, and since then mass produced knitted footwear of varying degrees of sophistication has become common on the high street (and it is so comfortable).

I recently purchased a pair of hi-top elastic knit trainers, with flechage (short row) shaping on the ankle and other technical knit structures on the upper and toe, for a very moderate sum. In 2014 they were still expensive and quite exclusive – so we can see the impact on footwear without looking further than the high street (or online shopping of course).

I recently heard of a business in the US that knits custom made climbing boot uppers, fascinating!

Follow this link to my media page to read more about the talk.

 

 

What’s inside ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’?

Lace knitting – see more about this on my Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting page, but in brief, yes this is explained in loads of detail, with helpful photos and diagrams, examples and step-by-step instructions.

The book does not include garment patterns, it explains how to knit different stitches by hand and machine, and why some stitches are more suitable for hand and others for machine knitting.

Hand and machine knitting – using a ‘lifeline’ when knitting lace

When hand knitting lace it is so easy to make a mistake or drop stitches, even on the plain rows, (I have a habit of dropping the yarnovers).

To save yourself the hassle of having to unpick and rediscover your pattern, adding a lifeline is a real life-saver; although it may seem tedious at the time.

A lifeline is a piece of thread passing through all the stitches along one row of the pattern so that if a stitch unravels some rows above it cannot drop below this retaining thread.

Decide where you want the lifeline to be, this would usually be at the end of one full vertical repeat of a lace pattern, on a non-patterning row, (usually a purl row). If it’s a short lace pattern repeat that is only two or four rows high, then you might put a lifeline in after every four or five repeats of the pattern.

To prepare and insert a lifeline:

  • Choose a contrast colour that’s no thicker and preferably thinner than your knitting yarn. On fine lace sewing thread is ideal.
  • Cut a length of yarn that is 20 cm longer than the width of your fabric.
  • Thread the yarn into a large eyed bodkin sewing needle. Avoid using a needle with a sharp point as this may split your stitches.
  • Using the sewing needle thread the yarn along the stitches on the needle, making sure the thread goes through each stitch.
  • Pull the lifeline gently so that there is an even length of thread at each side of the knitting.
  • Remove the bodkin sewing needle and knit the row as normal.
  • Once you have threaded another life line in place at your next chosen position you can remove the first one.

You can use a lifeline in exactly the same way when machine knitting, it is just a little bit more fiddly to thread the yarn through the stitches. But believe me, its worth it!

The image below shows a lifeline (yellow yarn), being inserted into lace knitting being worked flat, but using a circular needle. A circular needle has a thin wire in its centre (in this case its a red wire), and sliding the stitches onto the wire before inserting the lifeline creates more space inside each stitch, making it easier to thread the lifeline through.

A lifeline being threaded into lace knitting. Insert the lifeline after working a plain row. This gives you easily recognisable loops to work into.

‘Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting’ – publication date is 31st August

Cover of Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting
The cover features a voluminous and irresistibly tactile 3D knitted textile by Marie-Claire Canning