Where does Tunisian crochet (and its name) come from, exactly? Let’s examine a bit of the history of this fascinating yet mysterious technique.
Let’s start with this: in history, there’s no proof of a connection between Tunisian crochet and the country of Tunisia.
According to some, Tunisian crochet could derive from a technique which uses two long needles with a hooked point, apparently well known in Africa and Central Asia, named hooked knitting. It’s possible that, to simplify the work, this technique evolved in one which uses only one needle, as we do now.
Are there written resources who deal with Tunisian crochet?
Tunisian crochet Victorian cape
Indeed there are! One of the first traces of this technique is a an English magazine from 1858, Belle Assemble. There we can see a cape made with a brand new stitch, named Princess Frederick William stitch.
This was presented as a new stitch, fun and easy to make. The cape’s designer used her nom de plume, Aiguilette. Once again by Aiguilette, the stitch was used in 1860 in Ladies Home Companion magazine. There were included instructions to make your own hook; the absence of pre-made tools might indicate that the technique was really new at the time.
Scholar Richard Rutt (A History of Hand Knitting) concluded that the origin of the technique is uncertain, too. According to his studies, it appeared in England areound 1860. Rutt found it introduced as an invention by Cornelia Mee and Mary Austin. These authors called it crochet à tricoter. It’s possible, though there’s no proof in this sense, that Mee and Austin got their inspiration by Aiguilette’s Princess Frederick William stitch.
Crossed stitch by Thérèse De Dillmont
Around the second half of XIX century, Tunisian crochet was pretty popular and had various names. Besides the ones I already mentioned, Mademoiselle Riego called it tricot écossais. This might be the origin of another name, shepherd’s knitting. If you’re curious, here you can see a Tunisian pattern by Mademoiselle Riego from 1861, a pair of carriage boots.
Where does the definition Tunisian crochet come from?
In 1882 the term Tunisian crochet makes its appearance. In Dictionary of Needlework by Sophia F.A. Caulfeild it’s listed as a synonym of Tricot Stitch: “also known as Tunisian Crochet, Railway, Fool’s and Idiot Stitch“.
In Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont (1884) it’s presented as a different kind of crochet. “Crochet work may (…) be divided into two kinds, German crochet, and Victoria or Tunisian crochet; the latter is known also under the name of tricot-crochet“.
Quite a few names for a single technique!
Well, indeed – and there are more! Here’s some other names that were used in the past: German/Russian work, fool’s/idiot’s stitch, Railway stitch, Railway knitting, Tricot work, Royal Princess Knitting.
Why, among all these names, Tunisian crochet remained?
In fact, nobody knows for sure.
What we know is that during the first half of XX century Tunisian crochet started to become less and less popular. It got big again in the USA during the 60s and the 70s, as Tunisian or Afghan crochet. The simple stitch was often called Afghan stitch, probably because it was recommended for blankets – or afghans. Between these two definitions, the one that remained is Tunisian crochet, which is the name we use nowadays.
What about Tunisian crochet in Italy?
In 1922 Dillmont’s book was translated as Enciclopedia dei lavori femminili. Here, we see: “l’uncinetto tunisino è pure chiamato ‘uncinetto a maglia’ perché, come nei lavori a maglia, bisogna avviare sopra un ferro tutte le maglie di un giro”. Translation: “Tunisian crochet is also called uncinetto a maglia (approximately “knitting crochet”) because, as for knitting, you have to cast on a needle all the stitches of a row”.
This book contains 4 stitches and instructions for increasing and decreasing.
Round pillow from Afghan-Stitch Designs, 1965
Moving forward 40 years, in a 1965 booklet named Uncinetto e Jacquard, I found three pages dedicated to punti tunisi (Tunisian stitches), with a total of 13 stitches. Here Tunisian crochet wasn’t presented as a technique, but rather as an ensemble of stitches. To make ’em, the reader should have used a different hook, “long as a knitting needle and finishing with a stopper”.
In a 1978 stitchionary by Mon Tricot, 880 Punti, there’s a long chapter showing more than 50 stitches of uncinetto tunisino (Tunisian crochet). This text also includes some patterns for accessories made “a punto tunisino” (in Tunisian simple stitch) even though they use many different stitches.
Nowadays, in Italy the technique is mainly known as uncinetto tunisino (Tunisian crochet), and older names are no longer used.
So, as you may have noticed, this technique’s history is rather nebulous.
Of course, besides our personal curiosity, what matters most is that we enjoy ourselves whenever we hold our long hooks. Since I’m very curious and passionate on the subject, though, if you know more about the history of Tunisian crochet don’t hesitate to contact me!