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There's almost a veil of mystery shrouding the true origins of crochet. Whereas other forms of needlecraft, like embroidery, cross stitch and knitting, can be sourced back through history with pictorial evidence, archaeological findings and written records, crochet somewhat comes up short in those departments.
The word 'crochet' derives from the French term, 'croche' - meaning 'hook'. This little linguistic insight may suggest that the French played a huge role in its invention, however there is little known evidence to back this up. Instead, historic researchers and crochet enthusiasts have compiled lists of potential theories, offering various suggestions for how this technique may have originally come to life.
Danish author, Lis Paludan, suggests that there are three plausible historical possibilities. Firstly, crochet could've originated in Arabia, gradually spreading eastward to Tibet, westward to Spain, and then to other Mediterranean countries following Arab trade routes. Secondly, it could've originated in South America - where it's thought that a primitive tribe crocheted decorations for puberty rites. Thirdly, the origin could've been China, where it's known that dolls were regularly worked in crochet.
Still, it's important to remember that these are merely theories. Ultimately, there's no real evidence to suggest that crochet came from any of these places, or that it originated at any specific time period. However, its history becomes a little less foggy as we get closer the 18th century.
It's probable that crochet actually evolved from an ancient form of Chinese needlework called 'tambouring' – holding similarities to modern-day crochet. Unlike crochet, tambour was worked on fabric with a fine thread and a hooked needle. It's thought that when this needlecraft reached Europe in the 18th century, they realised that threaded chains would still hang together without backing fabric - so crochet came into being!
This pioneering realisation happened just in the nick of time - in the 1840s, Ireland was inflicted with the detrimental potato famine, propelling the country into poverty. Many Irish families relied on potato crops for income, most of which were infected with potato blight, so an alternative source of income was desperately needed. Crochet expert, Mademoiselle Riego de la Blanchardiere, saw this destruction spreading across the country and decided that she needed to do something to help.
Best known for her production of crochet patterns, Mademoiselle Riego introduced this newfound craft to the people of Ireland, offering the country a brand new trade. Crochet seemed to have all the ideal requirements. Not only were the materials easily accessible, but it could also be worked on in the daylight and by candlelight - whatever the weather conditions! Crochet provided a way for Irish workers to learn a new skill, bring in money, and, fundamentally, feed their families. As Irish dwellers began to emigrate to the UK and America, the art of crochet soon spread worldwide.
To this day, crochet has only continued to evolve - dividing up into many different forms. 'Granny squares' derive from World War II times, when poor grandmothers would keep every last scrap of yarn so that they could eventually crochet them into larger pieces, or 'granny squares' as we know them today. Afghan crochet seems to feature a combination of crochet and knitting methods, while Japan practises Amigurumi - literally translating as 'crochet stuffed toy'. Today, crocheters like to incorporate beads, wires and other notions into their crochet projects, thus continuing to develop the technique even further.
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