Crochet: Potatoes and a Cowl

Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England by William Segar, 1585

Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England,
by William Segar, 1585.
Note the huge lace collar and lace cuffs!

Just how old is the art of Crochet?  ... there is some debate ... Some of the huge lace neck ruff collars ​popular in the 1500s and 1600s may have been crochet . . . or they may not have been.  It's a controversial topic among textile historians ...

The main difference between true lace and crochet is that lace is made with multiple threads while crochet is made by connecting loops of a single thread.  ​Making lace is a slow task, whereas crocheting is much quicker ... and crocheted lace can look so similar to true lace that they can be difficult to tell apart.

Some textile historians argue that crochet was developed as a poor-man's lace, a faster and easier way to copy court fashion. When the fashion for lace ruff collars disappeared, so did crochet ... and no patterns or instructions were left behind.

The first known crochet pattern was printed by the Dutch in 1824, but crochet didn't become popular until the 1840s and 1850s ... and the reason has to do with potatoes, yes, potatoes!

Between 1845 and 1852 the Irish Potato Famine killed about one million people in Ireland. Desperate for survival, many Irish turned to crochet (which they called Shepherd’s Knitting), with men, women and children all selling their beautiful crochet work to support their families. Fortunately for the Irish (or perhaps because of the Irish), lace collars and cuffs were very fashionable in the 1840s and 1850s and since crochet was so much faster than making lace, crocheted lace-like collars were a popular substitute. 

Crochet was treated as a trim, rarely was an entire garment made from crochet in the 19th century.  You could make crochet collars, cuffs or lace trim to sew onto your dress, handkerchief or tablecloth, or knit a shawl and then use crochet to create a fancy lace border.  Many knitters want to learn crochet for the same reason today!  Knowing crochet opens the door to an endless adventure of lacy trims and edgings. 

Like knitting, when learning to crochet you should make a swatch ... (pardon me here ... while I YAWN!)  I hate making swatches!  Apparently, Amanda Mannas (you can call her Mandobug) agrees.  Why make a practice swatch when you can make a cowl?  You can learn crochet along with Mandobug in her "Easy as 1-2-3" CAT (Crochet Along Together).

The project is designed for absolute beginners who want to learn how to crochet.  Crochet along with Amanda on Ravelry and watch her videos to learn the three most commonly used crochet stitches. When you're done you won't have a useless swatch - you'll have an awesome, stylish cowl!

Want some more crochet history?  Check out our "History of Crochet" blog from March 11, 2016 for more details on crochet's fascinating history - and the controversy behind it!

Happy Crocheting! ... Scout

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