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Hook and Thread: Crochet!

10/1/2010


Our client opened the wood and metal leather strapped trunk and folded neatly wrapped in tissue paper was layer upon layer of crocheted and embroidered handwork done by her grandmother and three aunts.  It was a trove containing hours of work, hours of devotion to the hook and the needle, and to a symbol of a bygone era.  Most homes we enter have a drawer, a box, or a bag of needlework hidden from view as if longing for a return to simpler times. Such pieces are worth millions to their owners, but have marginal value in today's market.


In the scope of time, crocheting is a relative newcomer.  Its growth began in the 1840's in France and England when Riego de la Branchardiere, a seamstress, created pattern books that taught crocheted thread lace making and other elaborate needle work designs.  She published a book of patterns that was widely circulated in Ireland during the "Great Irish Famine".  It was then that Irish nuns began to teach local women and children to thread crochet to make "lace" which was cheaper than the traditional bobbin variety.  These elaborate works were then shipped all across Europe and America and purchased as "Irish lace".  The industry was born, and the popularity of the art spread.


The history of crocheting and needle work has a greater interest than its monetary value.  The doilies, centerpieces, dresser and table scarves adorned the home of the rich.  Ladies of leisure claimed the handicraft and resented "the poor folk" who tried to tackle the art.  During the middle 1800's, crocheting was considered a craft only for the wealthy which caused a rather serious battle between the classes. In fact, all methods of needlework were taught in schools but not crocheting.

Crocheting was considered to be so important that a bride to be was expected to have a minimum of ten crocheted pieces stored in her hope-chest to be used when she set up her household. Such pieces were used to protect table and dresser tops, upholstered backs of chairs and chair arms which was to add that bit of elegance so necessary to the Victorian home. Of course, the art grew.  Bags, clothing, beaded crochet, and artistic and complicated designs emerged during the late 1800's through the 1950's.

Vintage doilies and embroidered scarves are worth more to a family's history than they are in today's market.  The maker was not laboring over the cherished piece to make money, but just the opposite.  It was a labor of love.  Our advice to our clients is to select the best piece and place it in a shadowbox frame and write on the back of the frame using the following information as an example:  "the doily or centerpiece was made in 1915 by my grandmother (name).  It is 8" in diameter, made from cotton thread.  It was passed to my mother (name) in 1971 and to me (name) in 2006."   You have just added provenance or history to the item which now makes it a genealogical artifact that can be treasured.


Many memories lay in that leather bound trunk, but sadly, the history and those memories were lost in the sea of time.  It is time to tackle "your trunk" and to begin "shadow boxing" the best and to give them away to selected family members as this year's special occasion gift.  Start today. 


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