By Angela ARNie Grabowski
I hear all the time, “Wow! I never knew you could do so much with Tunisian Crochet! All I’ve ever seen is that one stitch!”
I just smile and nod, “You’d be amazed at what you can do with Tunisian Crochet, once you learn what was forgotten through the years.”
Tunisian Crochet has a long, but intermittent history; which is the one reasons why it isn’t as well known and popular as knitting and classic crochet. Most historians believe that shepherds in the fields created this type of needlework, but no one has found surviving evidence to clearly define “when” it was created. The first “modern” appearance of Tunisian Crochet is during the Victorian Era when publishers began to tap the needlework market. Unfortunately, everyone was calling it something different: each publisher had their chosen name for the needlework and they each had their own chosen stitch titles. Towards the end of the 19th century, even geographical areas had a different name for this style of needlework. The French are credited for calling it Tunisian Crochet, even though there is no evidence to suggest it was started in Tunis. I haven’t found the exact date when Americans began calling it the Afghan Stitch, but the new name was well established by the 1930’s.
Tunisian Crochet was popular for the Victorian Era, but for unknown reasons, that popularity waned in the early party of the 20th Century. There is evidence of a resurgence of Tunisian Crochet in the late 1960’s through the early 1970’s; then again starting in the mid to late 1980’s. After that, Tunisian Crochet has made steady progress towards achieving the same popularity as knitting and classic crochet. One factor holding Tunisian Crochet back is the trepidation of publishers to buy more complex project patterns that use Tunisian Crochet; that is changing… slowly.
Today’s designers seem to have some sort of uneasy ambivalence towards Tunisian Crochet. What to call the style of needlework; what to call the stitches used; how to write stitch notations and directions for shaping. In the past, these were real concerns; however, it has been my experience that today’s Tunisian Crochet Enthusiast is accustomed to the confusion. They know to read all the stitch instructions to clearly identify the mechanics for each stitch used- regardless what title the publisher attaches to the stitch. If the consumer doesn’t understand a set of instructions, there are numerous sites online that offer help and even videos to illustrate the mechanics. Many of the site owner who focus on Tunisian Crochet will help folks for free, either through message boards or email.
For me, the biggest frustration is that folks don’t seem to know all that can be done with Tunisian Crochet. That was one of my goals in writing the Encyclopedia of Tunisian Crochet- to provide a resource of stitch combinations, and a technical, manual so that anyone could master this amazing style of needlework. The repetitive mechanics, combined with the easily recognized hook placement makes this needlework the easiest to teach and learn; yet today’s publishing industry has continued to shun Tunisian Crochet. However, the internet and the ability to self publish have allowed designers the option of selling their Tunisian Crochet designs on their own.
At this point in time, I can see no reason for designers to hesitate using Tunisian Crochet in their designs, nor for the publishers to not publish those designs.
In the past, Knitting and Crochet designers employed techniques that were isolated to their chosen stitching medium, as well as, working to overcome the weaknesses of their needlework choice. In many ways, Knitting and Crochet designers were stuck in a box, due to the limitations of their chosen needlework. Although it is a needlework style that has been traditionally limited to blankets and oversized clothing, I do believe Tunisian Crochet opens up clothing construction potentials that, previously, have been ignored.
Every single resource that I have read on Tunisian Crochet (both modern and historical) regales the wonderful quality of the fabric. The sturdy fabric Tunisian Crochet creates is better suited for structured, winter garments, but more designers are using the new light weight yarns & threads, or the larger hooks, for cool weather clothing. Tunisian Crochet can be very dense, when worked with the traditional hook sizes, but it can also be very fluid with wonderful drape, just by using larger hooks. There is very little stretch to the fabric, and only one direction- top to bottom. The Cross Bars formed on the Return Pass prevent the fabric from stretching side to side. Although the larger hooks will allow some stretch side to side, the fabric will not ‘bounce back’ to the original shape. Since Tunisian Crochet does not stretch side to side, pull over sweaters cannot be form fitting.
One of the joys of Tunisian Crochet is that the fabric can resemble a woven fabric, more so than Knitting and Crochet. The various methods of creating Increases and Decreases allows more versatility in shaping garments to achieve those form fitting designs. These Increasing and Decreasing methods (each with its own gauge and shape), combined with the stability of the fabric, makes TC perfect for using sewing pattern pieces to create a tailored, well fitted garment. In other words, Tunisian Crochet is ideal for stitching fabric pieces to match sewing pattern pieces and then stitching them together to create those body-hugging blazers, button-up cardis or even dresses.
What I would like to see, is Sewing Designers teaming up the Tunisian Crochet Designers to create high fashion pieces for the runways. I honestly believe this is a sustainable avenue of both profit for the designer/publisher and creativity for the consumer. In the past, these two design areas could never truly meet and work together; Tunisian Crochet bridges that gap.
One of the most important advances in Tunisian Crochet is the introduction of the larger hooks. Most TC afficionados recommend using a hook that is 3-5 sizes larger than what the yarn/thread label suggests. The larger hooks create a looser tension, which creates a much more fluid fabric, than what was possible in the past. By using a larger hook, this also reduces/eliminates the “curl” that plagues Tunisian Crochet. However, with the versatility of hook placement, the curl in Tunisian Crochet is much easier to conquer than that of knitting. Designers who want a more solid, dense fabric can conquer the curl by alternating stitches on the back and front of the fabric.
In the past, finding the larger hooks was difficult; however, I see a new hook manufacturer or retailer every couple of weeks. Those larger hooks are out there, and range in price from a few dollars for utilitarian hooks up to $50-$60 a hook for hand turned works of art. In the last couple of years, the number of places that manufacturer large and long crochet hooks has tripled.
One aspect of Tunisian Crochet that excites me the most is the potential for textured stitching. With 60 individual stitches, the stitch combinations to create texture is astounding. Yes, I have discovered or re-created almost 60 different stitches; not stitch combinations or stitching patterns- individual stitches. Now combine that with the fact that many elements from Knitting and Classic Crochet can be translated to Tunisian Crochet. I have already translated two versions of Knitted Feather and Fan (Old Shale) & numerous Cables into Tunisian Crochet. Using Classic Crocheted elements like Popcorns, Puffs & dropped stitches gives Tunisian Crochet some wonderful three dimensional elements. Those 60 stitches, plus translating elements from Knitting AND Classic Crochet, creates an humongous pool of potential stitch combos and patterns to create texture and visual appeal to Tunisian Crochet, as well as, intriguing mechanics that will interest the needleworker.
The sturdy fabric and how well it works with sewing patterns; the potential for Texture in the stitching; how fast and easy it is to stitch; yet a trepidation of publishers and designers to use it- all of these point to a needlework style that simply hasn’t reached its potential, yet. I truly believe we are entering the Renaissance for Tunisian Crochet. With the combined efforts of folks like Dora Ohrenstein, Kim Guzman, Amie Hirtes, Stitch Diva Jennifer Hansen, Vashti Braha and others, we will see TC move beyond what knitting and classic crochet have achieved. With the best of both of knitting and classic crochet, plus unique elements of it’s own, Tunisian Crochet is the needlework of the future. The Boundaries for Tunisian Crochet have not been reached; it is a New Frontier in stitching and designing.
Owner and Designer of www.ChezCrochet.com
Encyclopedia of Tunisian Crochet