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What IS Crochet, Really?

'What is crochet' issue: Unusual mesh of two-color very tall stitches

“What Is Crochet, Really?” was first published as issue #103 of Vashti’s Crochet Inspirations Newsletter. I sent it to 8,043 subscribers on October 9, 2020 with the title, “The Big Picture of Crochet”. I’ve updated the third paragraph (“This idea for a newsletter topic…”) as of Nov. 2, 2020.

I have a fresh big picture of crochet to report.

I’ve worried about whether you’d be interested in my “what is crochet” thoughts, but you know what? It’s crochet theory, which we don’t have enough of, so I’m probably not alone in pondering it. 

For help in my quest I turned to national libraries, big crochet sites, encyclopedias, and academia. How does crochet fit into the larger world? How is it defined by and for non-crocheters, versus crocheters? Within the subject of crochet, how is its huge variety organized into subtopics? 

This idea for a newsletter topic grabbed hold of me thanks to three writers (I’ve listed all mentioned sources at the bottom): Cary Karp, Rachel Maines, and Sue Perez. Cary’s Loopholes blog has several thought-provoking posts and published articles about crochet history and structure; his “Defining Crochet” article had me mulling “what really is crochet” for weeks. It turns out that my “how does crochet fit into the larger world” question is addressed in Rachel’s book. Sue’s new category-crossing crochet book was an indirect trigger (see Links at the bottom).

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Star Stitch Crochet Class Resources

Four kinds of star stitches: corrugated cowl, striped scarf, quilt-like coverlet, sheer glittery lace capelet.

A Star Stitch For Every Purpose is the name of a sold out three-hour crochet class that I taught in July, 2014 at the 20th anniversary annual conference for the national crochet guild (CGOA). I researched over 200 sources from the 1840’s to the present. Class materials included a spiral-bound booklet of star stitches and a step by step how-to section.

Star Stitch: Visit These First

Star Stitch History

The earliest example of star stitches I’ve found so far is in an 1881 issue of a Norwegian magazine. It’s remarkable to me how seldom star stitches have appeared in crochet books since 1881.  

When star stitches do appear in a book or online, they can vary in ways both subtle and dramatic. It’s mainly because it’s a compound stitch. It multiplies the opportunities to vary each step along the way.

This is true not only when completing each star, but also when crocheting the next row into it, and what stitches are in that next row. For example, you can crochet stars into stars – with turning or without. You can alternate a row of stars with a row of, say, single crochet stitches. These simple choices change the look of the stitch, and the experience of crocheting them.

Key historical sources

  • 1881: Nordisk Mønster-Tidende.
  • 1886: Knitting and Crochet.
  • 1891: The Art of Crocheting, by Butterick.
  • 1891: Home Work, by A. M. (Toronto).
  • Late 1800’s: Weldons Practical Crochet, First Series (London).
  • 1910: Fleisher’s Book #8.

More Resources

  • I’ve been unable to locate a print copy of two Japanese “Star Crochet” books mentioned in class, but here is the ISBN for one of the volumes: 978-4-579-11323-1.
  • Star Stitch projects and design prototypes as I add them to Ravelry: https://www.ravelry.com/projects/vashtirama .
  • For more star stitches as I create them, bookmark this Star Stitches photo album in Flickr.