The word crochet is derived from the Middle French word croc or croche, meaning hook. It describes the process of creating fabric from a length of cord, yarn, or thread with a hooked tool.
Crocheted fabric in the modern sense is begun by placing a loop on the hook, pulling another loop through the first loop, and so on to create a chain. The chain is either turned and worked in rows, or joined end-to-end and worked in rounds. Stitches are made by pulling one or more loops through each loop of the chain. This method distinguishes crochet from other methods of fabric-making as it is composed entirely of loops and is only secured when the free end of the strand is pulled through the final loop.
Some theorize that crochet evolved from traditional practices in Arabia, South America, or China, but there is no decisive evidence of the craft being performed before its popularity in Europe during the 1800s. Many find it likely that crochet was in fact used by early cultures but that a bent forefinger was used in place of a fashioned hook; therefore, there were no artifacts left behind to attest to the practice.
Beginning in the 1800s in Europe, crochet began to be used as a less costly substitute for lace. It required minimal equipment and supplies, all easily accessible to all classes. At this time, thread spun from natural fibers was used without dyeing, and worked with handmade hooks of ivory, brass, or hardwood. Those that survive to this day are often ornately carved or inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Around the world, crochet became a thriving cottage industry, supporting communities whose traditional livelihoods had been displaced by imperialism. The finished items were purchased mainly by the emerging middle class. The introduction of crochet as an imitation of a status symbol, rather than a unique craft in its own right, had stigmatized the practice as common. Those who could afford true lace disdained crochet as a cheap copy. This impression was partially mitigated by Queen Victoria, who conspicuously purchased Irish-made crochet lace and even learned to crochet herself.
From 1800 to 1950, crochet was done almost exclusively in thread. Crochet in the round or filet crochet, worked in rows of 'open' or 'closed' mesh to create patterns, were most common. Mass-produced steel hooks were used to work the thread beginning in about 1900.
In the 1950s, crocheters began to use thicker yarns to create less delicate clothing and home items, though thread crocheting remained more popular until about 1960. The craft remained primarily a homemaker's art until the late 1960s when the younger generation picked up on crochet. Often using granny squares, a motif worked in the round, and incorporating bright colors, these designs became indicative of the era.
Interestingly, crocheting with yarn may not have been a new practice, but a return to an old one; it is thought, but not proven, that prior to 1800 shepherds crocheted with wool to create warm clothing for their families.
Today, crochet has inevitably declined in popularity as both men and women have less free time and more entertainment options. However, it still maintains a loyal following, who continue to create new stitches and innovative methods.
The following types of crochet are derived from the basic method: