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A History of Crochet, Part 2

1945-60 - “Well-Scrubbed Boys & Girls”-

With the return of the soldiers, priorities revolved around making up for lost time and fixing up the nest.  America settled into domesticity.  By the 1950’s, wholesome families were being raised in suburbia and stay-at-home moms formed sewing circles and gathered together to create friendship quilts.  Crochet was found in crafters’ totes everywhere.

Projects reflected the range of creativity from sequin snowflake tree skirts to ripple afghans.  “Aprons:  Icons of the American Home” is a retrospective exhibit that toured American museums through 2002.  “While these bow-in-the back aprons aren’t likely to return as a fashion statement, they are coming back, this time as collectibles.  As they disappear, so does an era’s worth of memories.  Aprons that wiped sweat off foreheads in steamy kitchens, dusted furniture, doubled as hot pads, and held peas from the garden when the bottom was pulled up.  Aprons remind us of mothers, grandmothers and our own pasts.”  Organizer, Trix Kout’s, says that among her favorites is an ecru-colored, doily-like crocheted apron with a yellow ribbon woven through it.

An exhibit of aprons in 2013, at the Gray’s Lake Historical Society Musuem  in Illinois shows that the allure of aprons has not gone away! The exhibit traced the history of Gary’s Lake through the array of aprons that were worn by its citizens in various jobs throughout history. A stunning example of a crocheted apron was included. 

The ubiquitous crocheted apron in Grayslake exhibit
Classic pineapple crochet apron from author's collection
The crocheted potholder, also representative of the fifties, was highlighted in Martha Stewart Living Magazine (2001). Nearly every branch of the needle arts including crochet was employed in their creation. Elaborate examples were crocheted for parties and holidays. Clearly crocheters were making pot holders for aesthetic reasons rather than for simple protection.

"Dress" potholder from author's collection

 1960-1970 - “Swirling Shapes”

There were many novel ideas and youth was celebrated in the 60s:  rock & roll, the mini-skirt and bell bottoms made in colors not found in nature like hot pink, lime green, turquoise!  President Kennedy reigned over a confident America but social change was beginning to swirl.  The Vietnam War incited protest and parents couldn’t figure out what the world was coming to. 

Without well-stocked crafts stores, most crafters contrived projects from common household items.  Knitters rejoiced in fuzzy mohair and crocheters added to bleach bottles and greeting cards.  Often a retreat from these unsettling times, crafts became common at the kitchen table.

After the war ended, adult boomers set out to “find themselves” while focusing on projects with and for the kids.  Influenced by the “Hippie” Movement,” crafters hastened to “let it all hang out” with tie-dye and batiks.  Outlandish colors were combined in outlandish ways in all these techniques.

The “boomers” were in college in the 70’s and women’s Liberation kept the protests going.  The economy was bad and “polite society” was out the door.  “By 1975, the Art to Wear movement had found its voice” according to Julie Schafler Dale, author of the book, Art to Wear. Crochet figured prominently in the movement in which “the body became a vehicle to express and animate visual imagery.”

Sit on It; Cedrus Monte; 1980; Cotton and wool; knitted, crocheted. From Maximum Coverage
“Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) was not the result of Chicago being a fiber artist. She chose to speak about women’s history in a medium commonly associated with women in this culture. Chicago is the first to point to the skills of many needle workers as invaluable to the completion of her fiber projects.” (Fiberarts Magazine, Summer 1990)

1980’s- 1990’s-“Freedom of Expression”-The 80’s were a “greedy” time and the emphasis was on the individual.  The pursuit of wealth dominated our life styles:  parents worked, children were over-scheduled after school and weekends gave them time to catch up.  Leggings and the over-sized sweater were in mode.

Trendy mothers embraced the country look, and sewed clothes for bears; Dads learned to cut out folk-art hearts in garage workshops.  Families invested in computer and the stock market only to be surprised by its great fall.

People sped through the 90’s hurried by the course of advancing technology.  They retreated into a world they understood; where they could create anything they wanted:  faux-painted walls, stenciled borders.  The harsh world didn’t matter as long as there was comfort waiting at home in the form of creating with their hands. 

In an issue dedicated to the womanly arts, Bust Magazine says in the editorial, “You’d figure that today, freed from the constraints of the home, we modern gals would have no problem reaching our full human capacities.  Don’t get me wrong-I dig my job, the ability to support myself and most of all the freedom to make my own choices.  But lately I’ve been rediscovering the joys of cooking, crochet, sewing, and other simple domestic activities, and the more I do, the more I realize how important these things are to a balanced, satisfying—even fulfilling-life.” 

Bust magazine for “women who have something to get off their chest,” is published by Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel. Debbie Stoller went on to write books that rode the wave of creativity that was flowing at this time. Her very popular “Stitch ‘n Bitch” series included a crochet version, The HappyHooker.
Vintage crafts, like filet crochet, took women a million miles away.  Still holding onto the old, yet embracing the new, they relished crafts they could do faster and easier. Crochet lace reminds us of the aura of yesteryear.  It is timeless and period styles add to a feeling of nostalgia.  Some lace is simply not made anymore.  Their beauty deserves to be worn and enjoyed by the wearer and by those who see her. 

Filet crochet pillow designed by author, Old-Time Crochet magazine, Spring 1999
As we entered the new millennium, crafts continue to both shape and reflect people’s heritage across generations.  Through war and peace, good times and bad, crafts offer a sense of continuity and accomplishment.  The D-I-Y (Do It Yourself) Movement was coming alive. “For those of us who consider needlework an essential part of life, we’re glad to see youth jumping on the learning curve of needlework ideas. According to Anneli Rufus, ‘It is a rebellion to our processed and homogenized world and it’s rebellion against paying retail.’ Every youth revolution must present itself as radical and new – even if in this case, the tools and fruits of that revolt are age-old and one of its driving forces is nostalgia.”  To read the entire article, 
"Craftivism," by Gwen Blakley Kinsler:

Yarn-bombing, an off-shout of the new wave of confidence felt by crafters is a type of yarn graffiti. Its bright and cheery colors bright out a warm and fuzzy feeling to viewers who don’t always know what to think. The crafter’s who do it want to beautify their world with yarn, make a statement or just plain have fun. They are secure in the notion, that it may not last but over night.
Dog Sculpture outside Radisson Hotel, Manchester, NH
Bombed with yarn from the conference goody bags

“Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting which included crochet, opened in 2007 at the Museum of Art and design in New York. It addresses issues of ‘craftivism’ that were spreading across the world. According to Martha Schewendener of the New York Times, “Given the show’s title, some visitors will arrive wanting to know how needlework, which runs counter to our technology and information saturated age, has become such a cultural juggernaut, and how it might serve to break down the barriers between artist and amateur, art and craft.” (from The FineArt of Crochet )

Author at Radical Lace exhibit, Indianapolis, IN

The ‘era of collaboration’ brought crocheters out into the public eye in 2007 and validated the worth of crochet as it took center stage in the Coral Reef Initiative. Thousands of crocheters came together to pay homage to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. Still touring and engaging crocheters today, the Coral Reef has been responsible for enlightening museum and gallery patrons and raising awareness of the skill and diversity of crochet.
By continuing to embrace crochet as an important aspect of our lives and by teaching just one person, especially a young one, we are celebrating our foremother’s legacy and contributing to craftivism as well as to the future history of crochet!


Better Homes and Garden Crafts & Decorating Showcase

Cox, Elizabeth.  “The ‘Wearable’ Movement in Contemporary Art.’”

“Designer Wants People to Use Their Old Lace.”  Monterrey, CA:  Sunday Peninsula Herald, 9.22.85. 

Ferris, Monica.  Crewel World.  CA:  Berkeley Publications, 1999.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, wisconsin. Maximum Coverage: Wearable by Contemporary American Artists, Sept. 7-Nov. 9, 1980.

Kiewe, Heinz Edgar. The Sacred History of Knitting. Art Needlework Industries, 1967.

Matchan, Linda.  “Apron Strings Tug at Hearts of Collectors.  Chicago Tribune, October, 29, 2000.

McDaniel, Lynda.  “Portfolio:  Visions, Revisions.”  American Style Magazine, Fall 2000.

Schafler Dale, Julie. Art to Wear. New York: Abbeville Press, 1986.

“Take Back the Knit.”  Bust Magazine.”  Spring 2001.

Stoller, Debbie. The Happy Hooker. New York: Workman Publishing, 2006.

Trucko, Terry.  “Pot Holders”   Martha Stewart Living Magazine.  Winter, 2001.


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