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The birth date of crochet has been a controversial issue for years with the question, "When did crochet history begin? Crochet leaped into recorded history in the early 1830’s. The word crochet originates from the French word "croche" or "croc" meaning to hook. It is believed crochet as we know it could have existed as early as 1500A.D. and may have been part of nun’s work or nun’s lace which included needle point lace and bobbin lace for Catholic churches.

Skip to July 2001 Swag Stitch Update

It is theorized that some lace from Egyptian tombs were crocheted by twisting pieces of cotton between the fingers and making the loops by hand. Thread work from Egyptian tombs and depiction’s on vases from antiquity are suspect as crochet. Some ancient fishing nets include finger loop in loop are much like crochet.

Lavish crochet emerged along with other elaborate needlework of the 1800’s. Proceeds from crochet items saved the Irish from starvation in the late 1800’s.

At one time crochet was considered for the wealthy only, for lavish decor in the home and dress. The poor folk were expected to stick with knitting basic needs such as socks and clothing and not dally around with experimental crochet. Angry words were published in magazines from the wealthy stating the lower class should stick to making necessities rather than fancy items that was not their place to wear or display. The poor to middle class lashed back as to their rights to use crochet as they pleased. Can you imagine today, someone telling us we should not use a particular craft because of our financial background? Do they want a crochet hook stuck through their nose? Much of this idea stemmed from fear the servants would be spending time crocheting when they should be working at the employer’s home. Because crochet samples can not be found among the many needlework methods taught in schools of the past, it is surmised crochet was left out because of the danger of experimentation and foolery.

In the 1800’s, bead crocheted bags, clothing and decor were a hit. Bead crochet bag popularity continued through the 1950’s. Fashion trends included bead and thread crochet through the 1970’s but not like the heydays of the 1800’s. The 1980’s through the 1990’s began a renaissance for bead and thread crochet. Today we are entering new millennium with bead crochet becoming ever more popular and combined with many other bead and fiber techniques; using old techniques to create new art.

Knitting with beads was already in fashion when bead crocheted began to appear on the market in the 1830’s. Bead Knitted bag patterns for scenics and other elaborate patterns required planning exact bead stringing. Bead crochet bags could be made without extensive planning and included more freeform techniques. Bead knitted and crocheted items continued in popularity through the early 1900’s. The Roaring ‘20’s brought in a new flood of bead crocheted bags with piles of bead loops hanging all over to go along with flapper attire. Then in the 1980’s bead crochet along with bead knitting had a resurgence along with fiber knitting and crochet. In the early 1990’s bead knitted bags gained popularity which in turn brought excitement to bead crocheted bags.

Today vintage thread crochet samplers of the 1800’s are available for study in various museums. Piecework Magazine continues to be an excellent resource for needlework sampler history including bead and thread crochet.

A variety of crochet and knitting books were published from the mid 1800’s through the 1920’s. Filet crochet became very popular starting in the 1850’s. From 1937 through 1940’s there were crochet contests for workmanship design and speed. Crochet became an accepted art form in the 1960s and more experimentation in textile art took place including international fiber shows. Crochet remained popular through the mid 1970’s and then began to diminish.

Innovative crocheters and knitters of the 1970’s and the books they published set the scene for the magnificent bead crochet being created today. The advancement of glass science and fine needles and hooks also enhanced the bead crochet movement. Today, bead crochet classes have become popular at the Crochet Guild of America annual conferences. People who would never have thought to crochet before are learning because they want to bead crochet and then find they also like crocheting with yarns too. Bead crochet is adding momentum to the crochet momentum today. Crocheting and knitting being combined today with and without beads to create contemporary designs is also gaining popularity. 

Bead Crochet Update - July 2001 - Swag Stitch

Bead crochet history continues to unfold.  Working through books, magazines and brochures of the 1890’s through the 1970’s, we continue to find techniques that had been forgotten.  Crocheters today often think they have invented new crochet stitches, when in fact they are reinventing stitches that have been around for over 150 years.  We designers come up with new ways to use these stitches and our contribution to bead crochet history is a new approach and techniques using these stitches.   The crocheters of the past used the swag stitch to make long bead loops on bags that stayed attached to the bag at the ends of the bead loops.  Floral designs on some bags were chartered and crocheted using small beads, 16/0 and smaller to form complex patterns that would run the length of these bead loops.  Items bead crocheted with this stitch usually run vertical whereas in bead knitting the equivalent stitch usually runs horizontal.  This obscure stitch was apparently used by individual crocheters and not produced in patterns for kits or cottage industry bag production. This is the reason photographs of this type bag are seldom seen in collectible books.   I believe this bead crochet stitch to have been in use since at least 1860, that’s over 140 years ago.   

 I found examples of the swag stitch on purses in A Century of Handbags and  Antique Purses, A History, Identification and Value Guide. Looking at where the bead loops are stitched to the bags, it is evident they are crocheted rather than knitted.  Now we can make new items using this stitch, how exciting! 

Resources for Historical Information

Dooner,Kate, A Century of Handbags, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, Atglen, PA, 1993

Ettinger, Roseann, Handbags, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, West Chester, PA, 1991

Haertig, Evelyn, More Beautiful Purse, Gallery Graphics Press, Carmel, CA, 1990

Haertig, Evelyn, Restoring and Collecting Antique Beaded Purses by, Gallery Graphics Press, Carmel, CA, 2000

Holiner, Richard, Antique Purses, A History, Identification and Value Guide, Second Edition, Collector Books, Paducah, KY, 1987

Potter, Annie Louise, A Living Mystery, The International Art & History of Crochet, 1990, A.J. Publishing International, USA, ISBN 1-879409-00-3

Paludan, Lis, Crochet, History & Technique, 1995, Interweave Press, Loveland, CO, ISBN 1-883010-09-8

Schwartz, Lynell K., Vintage Purses At Their Best, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, Atglen, PA, 1995

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