Pauline Turner: Way Ahead of Her Time

Back in the day: with James Walters and Sylvia Cosh.  Pauline's crochet neglige is in the glass showcase.

Back in the day: with James Walters and Sylvia Cosh. Pauline's crochet neglige is in the glass showcase.

Crochet inserts in suede dress

Crochet inserts in suede dress

Autumnal scrumble

Autumnal scrumble

Crocheting around a ring; design can be viewed from both sides

Crocheting around a ring; design can be viewed from both sides

Polish style design

Polish style design

Another artful scrumble

Another artful scrumble

Pauline's desing for a basic vest

Pauline's desing for a basic vest

Tunisian fashion

Tunisian fashion


Pauline Turner,, has developed numerous courses in crochet and design, published widely on crochet history and design, and brought together that immortal team of scrumblers, Sylvia Cosh and James Walters. Thanks for your marvelous contributions Pauline, and keep at it! 





I began crocheting with the greatest reluctance.  I was a qualified teacher working full time in at Lancaster and Morecambe College of Further and Continuing Education.  I taught 41 craft subjects related to the home, having taken numerous City and Guild Courses previously.   These included cookery, dressmaking, and furniture re-upholstery.   I was also qualified to teach education training people to teach adults for both vocational and non-vocational classes. My title was “Lecturer of Crafts and allied subjects” – it covered almost everything.


With such a large remit, the last thing I wanted was, as a (then) single parent, to be informed by my Head of Faculty to teach yet another subject.  However, crochet was being asked for in the Lancaster and Morecambe district and there were no teachers available. I was informed in April that I would be teaching crochet in the new term which was mid-September of the same year.  I was very unhappy with this but my contract demanded I comply.


The irony was that I had never learnt to crochet.   As a child I learnt to knit.   In fact my first knitting was at the age of two.  My mother did not believe in idle hands and if I wanted to listen to the radio I had to be knitting or doing some other work.  If I did not, the radio was turned off.  The yarn I knitted with was very thin baby cobweb, in today’s measure.  This meant that necklines which may need two or three buttons would require a crochet edge.   I did ask my mother to show me how to crochet so that I could say I had not had any help with making my jumpers.   On hindsight, I was fortunate she never did show me, or I would have followed her teaching and not had my own journey of discovery.  I finished my first little jumper for myself just after I had turned three.  I must say I also believed in crochet fairies long after I stopped believing in Santa Claus – just because I never saw my mother with a crochet hook.   She worked full time and long hours an so did the crochet on my knitting when I was asleep.


I loved using my hands from an early age and I believe that until I was in my teens my hands always contained some knitting or one of the many aspects of embroidery and sewing.  Later I included all kinds of leatherwork, French polishing, upholstery, wood burning, macramé, tatting, etc.  My first designing was in knitting.


I truly loved cooking and had distinctions in my cookery qualifications which were taken after I got married.  These qualifications enabled me to cook in people’s home to accumulate the money to finance myself to qualify as a teacher.   Teaching cooking to adults came next and it was from my success in some innovatory courses with the Lancashire Education Authority, that I was noticed for my versatility in crafts and was asked to apply for the post of “Crafts and allied subjects” which I held for 11 years prior to starting my business – Crochet Design.


At this stage I should point out that my mother, and to a certain degree my husband, found it abhorrent for me to spend any time doing something just for myself.   I did not agree that a person should be unable to have a hobby without it being frowned upon, and therefore I took the devious path of always enrolling for an evening class that produced a nationally recognised qualification in all the subjects I attended.  I was taking them for fun for myself but the end product of obtaining a diploma in that subject made it acceptable to my family.   


All the subjects I involved myself with, taught design.  In that way I became a designer but I have to stress that I have never considered myself a designer first.   I can bring out the latent talents in other people and that is my first skill.  In order to do that I have to design and I am quite competent at that.  However, being a designer is secondary to being an educator.


Being employed in the Lancaster and Morecambe district full time, allowed me to use crochet to expand all my other crafts.   I added crochet to my ceramics, wood and leather pieces, macramé and incorporated it into my dressmaking.  It also embellished my food.   All of this was rather genteelly done being aware of my mother’s Victorian upbringing and the fact she wanted me to be a ‘lady’ – something I have failed dismally at, I am afraid.   It was the discovering that crochet could be added in a magical way to all other crafts, without it being intrusive, that removed my anger at having to teach it.   After 12 months of loathing the fact I had to crochet, I became one of its biggest advocates.  I have spent many hours thanking my Head of Faculty for forcing me into doing crochet when I really did not want to.


One of my responsibilities connected to my employment was to be involved in curriculum development.  It was at a time of educational expansion in Britain when they were encouraging people to take classes in all kinds of unrelated subjects as a hobby.  There was also a call to cross-fertilise educational establishments.  Instead of working only in my place of employment I was asked to take short courses around the area, some as a visiting lecturer, others I organised myself, having discovered the limitless possibilities of crochet.  When I was asked to invite a published crochet author and organise a residential weekend at another Lancashire college, I contacted the only author I could source at that time, which was James Walters.  He accepted and the two of us taught throughout the weekend.  On the last morning BBC television came and filmed our event.


From this experience I offered a series of five week-long summer schools.  Unbelievably Sylvia Cosh attended as a student with James and myself as tutors.   This was the first time they had met and from that first summer school they formed a business alliance.   Other well known crochet experts came to the subsequent summer schools many of them becoming published if they were not already so.  It was at the very first summer school that freeform crochet began, but it began under a very different name.   During the week there were all kinds of fun exercises to get people to experiment with yarns and hooks.   Scrumbling them together was a word that emerged and was also given to the group project.


Everyone was given a piece of card to make any kind of crochet in different yarns, colours – or just one yarn and one colour.  The only constraint was that it had to fit the size of card they were given.  No-one knew where their piece would end up.  Kathleen Basford did a wonderful cockerel but it has stood on its head ever since!   When we put the first patchwork of crochet pieces together on the last day, we used the word scrumble many times.  Instead of it being a patchwork project it was the first largest scrumble!  


Sylvia Cosh and James Walters taught this kind of crochet all over the world and eventually it developed into the freeform crochet we know today.  It is wonderful to see so many experts in this kind of crochet which is totally limitless and very rewarding. 


I had already written the course material for the distance learning course ‘Diploma in Crochet’ which soon became the ‘International Diploma in Crochet’, when Shire Press asked me to write a book on the History of Crochet, as crochet was missing as a subject in their collective series on all things historical in Britain.  This was a fascinating journey.   Mary Konior who died early this year used my book as a basis for her wonderful development.   Annie of Annie’s Attic came to Britain for her research and interviewed, Sylvia, James and myself.   ‘Crochet Lace’ was my latest addition to the history of crochet published by Batsford.   My Part III students add to the information being gained on the subject.


Many of the crochet stitches have different names.   Slip stitch used as a fabric can be just ‘slip stitch into the back loop only’ or Bosnian Stitch.  Tunisian crochet has even more names – Afghan crochet, Shepherd’s knitting, Tunisian knitting, Scottish knitting, Princess Alexandria’s stitch etc!  With regard to the history of crochet, as we cannot find any reference to it in paintings during the French Revolution and earlier, or even in the early paintings around the world; nor can we find any reference to crochet in the folk lore – I am reluctant to say crochet is an early textile.  No-one has yet proved to me that it is and any early examples I have followed through, have been Sprang.   My book for Shire, and my hardback ‘Lace Crochet’ book (which I still sell) plus that of Mary Konior’s are both indisputably researched.   Also the Lacis Museum in Oakland and the Metropolitan Musem, New York – both of which I have had the privilege of  being invited behind the scenes to see their collections.  All the information regarding why crochet suffered a poor image, and the oldest pieces of crochet are documented in the above books.  


Do I have a favourite style of crochet? – yes I think I do, and that has to be mixed media.   Crochet has such a wonderful way of enhancing other crafts, both hard and soft, and I have had a lot of fun experimenting with these.    


One of the most wonderful happenings at the moment is the resurrection of fancy yarns.   When I was experimenting with crochet and its limitless possibilities, we had a lot of short shelf life yarns to play with.   Then came a drop in production with only those yarns selling large quantities of yarn in the shops, being manufactured.   It is such a joy to have the textured yarns back, and with a wider range.   The right size crochet hook can do so much more with these fancy yarns than any of the other textiles because of it being unconstrained, having only one loop on the hook.


The International Diploma in Crochet began when attendees to the five summer schools held in Morecambe in the early 1980’s were going back to their districts and demanding crochet classes.   The classes being taught were either mixed craft classes or of a standard much lower than anything the student enrolling for that class was used to now.   These summer school students then created a rumpus and I was being approached from many other County Education Authorities to improve the status of their crochet teachers.   The Diploma in Crochet was born.  As I was still involved with the Lancashire Education Authority, I was in a good position to have the full scheme looked at and vetted professionally.   Kathleen Basford piloted the course and by default became my first graduate.   I had begun my own Crochet Design business by then and was only doing freelance work for the Authority.  


In the next couple of years, City and Guilds of London Institute started their Creative Craft Curriculum.  They realised there were no qualifications for single subjects and as money was still forthcoming from the Government for adult education, syllabi were being created for each subject which normally came under the heading of ‘crafts’.   I was invited as a consultant for the ‘007 Crochet – Creative Crafts’.  Being a James Bond fan, I was delighted with my prefix number!   City and Guilds used the basis of the course from that of the Diploma in Crochet.  I was thrilled when their draft outlines included the statement “Anyone wishing to teach the crochet scheme should take Crochet Design’s ‘Diploma in Crochet’ first”.  I was granted an honorary degree for my services.


From the second of the five summer school’s I was approached and asked to write books for spinners, Craft councils, publishing houses and became quite a prolific author.   I also wrote for magazines and produced patterns for students.   When I went into business for myself, I added the production of crochet kits to my list of products.   To make the business viable, I also needed to make sure those wanting to execute my designs could get the tools.   Broomsticks, hairpins, Tunisian hooks etc were virtually impossible to get hold of on the high street, although they were being manufactured.  This was the beginning of my mail order service.


For around 18 years crochet was frowned upon by accountants, banks, government officials.   Bodies such as ‘Business Link’ and the Chamber of Commerce’ tried to help but each came up (after an expensive outlay from me) with the result that my business was unique and they could not help because they had no guide lines from any other business, on which to base findings! – WOW – but that did not help!


During this phase of my life I tried to publish a magazine however, I was before my time and crochet was still unpopular. I can be satisfied that what I did with that magazine was exceptional because 20 and more years later, people are asking me if I would start publishing it again!  I had only just begun to make ends meet and producing the magazine meant I lost an enormous amount of money during this period.  The magazine alone was losing me £1000 a month (around £3000 per month is equivalent of the pound sterling today).  This was my most challenging stage, as I was a single parent.  Due to circumstances outside my control, I had no capital having previously lost all my possessions and that of my daughters, and therefore I had to be very careful how we managed what was available.   It was during this time I discovered I had another skill and in order to survive I reluctantly began work with the “other side to Pauline Turner”.  In today’s jargon I became an “energy empowerer and biochemical balancer”.   


On the positive side of crochet I was the first editor of Slip Knot – the magazine for the Knitting and Crochet Guild.   After 10 years service, I was made an honorary life member.   I was approached by Gwen Blakley Kinsler to attend the first ever conference of what is now, the Crochet Guild of America.   I taught the post conference course, and was elected International Liaison Officer – a post I held for 10 years until the post was discontinued.


Eventually crochet became fashionable again and as the business recently began to expand I was able to leave the mail order side of Crochet Design in the hands of both the Knitting and Crochet Guild and the Thread of Life, run by a Part III student of the International Diploma in Crochet, Helen Jordan.   With the interest in crochet on the rise, the International Diploma in Crochet is also being recognised as a prestigious qualification.   It specialises purely in all aspects of crochet.   All styles of crochet are covered in the scheme necessitating the use of a huge range of materials and implements.   Part I has an emphasis on good techniques encouraging students to change how they work.  Only if another technique is available that would produce a better result is a student advised to alter their original way of producing that particular stitch.  As only one commercial pattern has to be followed to show the student can read instructions, this course is for those lacking in confidence and wanting to follow instructions as well as those with a creative flare.  Approximately 75% of the compulsory samples allow for real creativity.  Part II specialises in own designs for home, children’s toys, fashion, accessories and all other artefacts.  Part III demands a theme and a research dissertation.   The emphasis is on artforms both in fashion (haute couture) or hangings and sculptures.   


600 going on 700 is the number of students who have over the years enrolled on this course.   For a distance learning course we have very successful continuation rate, considerably higher than other home learning courses.   This is probably due to the fact that I produce and mail out a Diploma Newsletter every two months.   The newsletter acts both as a reminder to pick up the hook, and also gives information to make the execution of some of the processes easier.   Part I is Techniques; Part II is Commercial Design; Part III is ‘Widening Horizons”.


It is fair to comment that many people enrol to learn the techniques and so not everyone gaining their Part I certificate wishes to continue with Part II.   Many of them become teachers in craft gatherings, colleges, after school children activities, women’s institutes, or include it in their teaching syllabus.   


All students enrolling for Part II who want it as a vocational qualification, become published, and many having published their own books as well as designs for magazines.   However there is also a large number of students who choose to take ‘Scheme B’, which excludes the necessity of submitting written work, and writing out patterns.  


Part III covers many forms of mixed media, hangings, collages, sculptures, art-to-wear, wearable art etc and also requires a research paper which can be academically based or experientially based following rigid criteria.   There is a Scheme B available but only those students who have qualified fully with all three parts gain the full International Diploma in Crochet and become graduates.   These may be few and far between, but they are at the top and on a par with the best crochet workers in the world, having an incredibly high all round standard in every aspect of crochet as well as being superb in their own specialism.   


When asked if the course is demanding to teach I discover my answer is mixed.   It is not hard work because I do not think of it as work.   It is time consuming but in lumps rather than as a steady flow.  It is not difficult administratively as we have streamlined the office, however, this is a human not a computer, assessed course which means there is a need for constant overview and that can be demanding.   The course has been recently updated to fit in with today’s new laws and governmental demands.   Should a student discover something is not right with our system we sit down in the office until it is right.



The key functions of my life are a combination of educating and writing for others both in the subject of crochet and that of self awareness.   When invited, I teach, I am a consultant, I do interviews for the media, I design, all of which necessitates me travelling a lot.  In the past I only responded to invitations which is why the International Diploma in Crochet and my self-awareness courses, are based on rock solid foundations.   It is during my travels that I do a lot of my writing and designing.  


NOTE: One of Pauline's book is reviewed here



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Filling in the Blanks

Thanks for all you have done to bring crochet forward and thanks for writing this article. I own a copy of How to Crochet and James Walter's Crochet Workshop; I love them both. I'm delighted to hear more of your history and the fairly recent history of crochet in England. They are so intertwined! For my book, Contemplative Crochet, I created my first small scrumbled piece and had a blast doing it. Thanks to all who have gone before me in developing the technique! You seem to have taught only adults, both young and old. I would love to hear your thoughts on teaching handwork to children: what should be learned first and when, what are the early benefits, and the later ones. I am deeply interested in hand development and the hand-brain connection though I am not formally schooled.