Remember your first piece of crochet?

This is what it looks like now.  Feel old yet?

Get it? Because it’s a GRANNY square?

Oh, the granny square.  A staple among crocheters, a harbinger of bad dreams for older crafters who lived through the 1970s, the granny square is actually even older than your granny.

Patterns as far back as the mid-1800s include instructions for the granny square, although in its younger days, it was quite the looker, and went by the name “patchwork square.”  It had probably been a crochet staple for quite a while before it made it into print, but the first record found so far is from Weldon’s Practical Needlework, which published its patchwork square pattern in 1897.

Even back then, crocheters were taking advantage of the granny square’s benefits.  The description for the pattern notes how handy it is for using up scraps of yarn.  Once you’ve collected enough scraps to make a bunch of squares, you can sew them together into blankets or rugs.

During the Great Depression, the ‘waste-not-want-not’ quality of the granny square made it an excellent way to get the most out of the least.

The Joy of Granny-Squaring, from 1974

The Mysterious Tunisian Crochet

The history of crocheting can be sort of tricky, mostly because there are so many different styles, not just of finished products, but of methods and even materials.  For example, one of the earliest forms of crochet in Europe was called tambouring and required pulling loops through a background fabric, like a hybrid of crochet and embroidery.

Many think that, like tambouring, Tunisian crochet probably started somewhere in Asia, likely moving west through the Middle East before turning north into Europe and Scandinavia.  Others believe that the name was coined by the French.  We may never know.

But at GYI! we don’t hold crochet’s shady past against it.  Today’s post is about Tunisian crochet which, like any dubious character, has many aliases: Shepard’s Knitting, German Work, Railway Knitting, Russian Work, Tricot Work, and Royal Princess Knitting.

The fabrics made through Tunisian crochet tend to be denser and heavier than other types.  That’s why the Afghan stitch, closely related to Tunisian crochet, is often used to make… wait for it… afghans.

Tunisian crochet, like traditional crochet, starts out with a chain, but the fabric is never turned, and you work the same side back and forth.  That’s why most Afghan hooks are longer, with a stopper on the end – you have to keep lots of stitches on them.

Tunisian crochet was pretty popular in the 1920s, and had a resurgence in the 1970s.  However, much like the architecture of the 1970s, Tunisian crochet faced a wide backlash and is just now coming back in vogue as people learn that it’s not all scratchy blankets.

The Tunisian Simple Stitch makes a grid pattern, quite handy as an embroidery surface, while the Tunisian Knit Stitch is a good doppelgänger for the knit stockinette stitch.  There’s even an urban legend that one woman entered a crocheted piece into a contest at her County Fair, but was disqualified because the judges thought it was knitted.

Freaky.

So, in review, Tunisian crochet:

Mysterious past

Master of disguise

Craft of international spy rings (??)

Tunisian Crochet Resources

ChezCrochet has an overview of the many aliases of the technique, plus some instructions on the basics of Tunisian crochet.

Allfreecrochet.com has a compendium of tutorials and easy patterns to practice.

Free Crochet Videos has a great video tutorial with written instructions for trying your hand at the basketweave pattern, which looks uncannily like its knitted counterpart.

Aran’s Party

Last post, we left off with quite the cliffhanger.  What happened when the Gansey went north??

Relax.  I’ll tell you.

It morphed into the Aran sweater.

farrell_sweater-378x496

The Aran sweater takes its name from the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland.  Nobody is quite sure when, but most historians think it was invented in the early 1900s by a small group of island women who adapted the gansey by using thicker wool and adding their own patterns to represent local traditions.

Traditionally made from undyed, unwashed wool, their designs are based off a central axis of symmetry, with patterns extending down the sleeves and body (as opposed to the plain sleeves of the Gansey).

Paddy himself!

Aran sweaters came to the United States from the west of Ireland beginning in the early 1950s.  Under the organization of Paddy Ó Síocháin (I know, right?!) exports took off in the 1950s and 60s.  He hired an instructor with a grant from the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to teach knitters how to make Aran sweaters in standard sizes, and knitting soon became a significant part of the Aran Islands’ economy.

It’s romantic to think that, with all their symbols and with their Irish roots, these sweaters are the yarn equivalent of an old Irish granny, full of lore and Emerald Isle magic.

Marketers know this, so they’ve claimed that the stitches and patterns were handed down from generation to generation, and that drowned fishermen were often identified by these clan patterns.  Anyone with access to Google will find that’s not quite true, but why suck the fun out of everything!

funsucker

Many of the stitches seem to be modeled on neolithic burial sites and, famously, on designs in the Book of Kells.  These patterns have picked up some fun symbolic meanings over the years.  Cables are intended to mimic, funnily enough, fisherman’s cables, representing a fruitful day at sea.

Irish-Knit-Stitch-Sampler-Sweater

Diamonds reflect the small fields on the Aran Islands.  The diamonds are often filled with the Irish moss stitch, which depicts the seaweed used as fertilizer to secure a good harvest.  Together, they represent a wish for success, wealth, and finding a diamond mine in your vegetable patch.

The zig-zags are the winding paths along the cliffs of the islands, while the Tree of Life represents hopes of family unity and long lives.

Basket stitches represent the fisherman’s basket for a good catch.

Finally, the honeycomb stitch is a tribute to the bee, representing hard work.  Since Aran sweaters have around 100,000 stitches, the honeycomb is a fitting addition.

Next, we’ll explore the world of crochet traditions!

Aran Resources

Irish Culture and Customs has a post by a woman who went to the Aran Isles to seek out her family pattern and unravel some of the history of the sweaters.

Aran Sweater Market has a catalogue full of patterns and kits.  Bonus: if you have Irish ancestors, you can pick a pattern supposedly associated with your clan!  If not, Colin Farrell’s clan pattern is pretty lovely, so just pretend you’re related to him.

The LoveKnitting Blog has collected their top 10 free patterns for women’s Aran sweaters, and their top 5 free patterns for men’s Aran sweaters.