Little is known of crochet’s early history. It seems likely that the earliest crochet was made using fingers, rather than the hooks used today. There are theories that crochet could have existed as early as 1500 BC, as part of nun’s work, which included needlepoint lace and bobbin lace.
There are three main theories for the origin of crochet. Some believe that it originated in Arabia and spread eastward to Tibet and then westward to Spain, finally following the Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries. Alternatively, it’s thought to have originated in South America, where a primitive tribe used crochet adornments in puberty rites. Another alternative stems from the fact that in China, early examples were known of dolls worked in crochet.
However, there is no solid evidence as to how old crochet is or where it originated. The evidence of it appearing in the sixteenth century is slight, and hotly disputed. There are references to a type of “chained trimming” made around 1580. However this appears to have been a type of cord, sewn onto fabric like an ornamental braid.
During the Renaissance, women crocheted several strands of thread producing fabrics similar to lace.
The earliest evidence of crochet, as we know it, is first commonly seen in the second half of the eighteenth century. Crochet may have developed from Chinese needlework, an ancient form of embroidery known in Turkey, India, Persia and North Africa, which reached Europe in the eighteenth century, and was referred to as tambouring. The main theory behind the origin of crochet seems to be that it began when it was realized that chains worked in a pattern would hang together without background fabric. At the end of the eighteenth century, tambour evolved into what the French called crochet in the air, when the background fabric was discarded and the stitch worked on its own. Tambour hooks were as thin as sewing needles, and therefore the work must have been done with very fine thread.
Crochet began to emerge in Europe in the early nineteenth century, boosted by Mlle Riego de la Branchardiere, well known for her ability to take needle and bobbin lace designs and turn them into crochet patterns that could be duplicated. She published numerous patterns and also claimed to have invented lace-like crochet, today called Irish crochet.
A type of lace called cheyne lace was made with a hook from the late eighteenth century and a primitive form of crochet called pjonting can be found from about 1820.