I grew up learning every craft available in the United States in the 1960s, and along with trendy macrame and decoupage and creating faux stained glass, I learned the traditional threadworking skills of knit, crochet, embroidery, hand-sewing and other related skills that had been handed down through the ages along with the doilies, tablecloths, sweaters and aprons made with these skills.
While I still enjoy indulging in each of these and anything new that comes along, I developed my greatest skill and threadworking enjoyment in crochet. I made potholders for the house in the 60s, afghans for family members in the 70s, fine lace collars, doilies and tablecloths and baby layettes for friends getting married in the 80s but put it aside in the 90s to rest my hands while I worked too many hours on computers.
But it would not stay put aside for long and while I can no longer make the finest lace stitches I’m so glad to see a resurgence of crochet and knit, and I’ve once again been making scarves, hats, purses, shrugs and whatever else comes to mind. I’m a designer on paper and on the internet, and also a designer in yarn and thread—I’ll soon be publishing my books of crochet patterns inspired by and made for my cats, patterns inspired by my garden and also making my unique hats, scarves and purses.
But I’m still enchanted by the early days of crochet and all those elegant lacy and stylish patterns for the things people made for themselves.
In my work as a graphic designer I’ve come to know a number of Civil War reenactors, and while I have no historical connection to this era—my family arrived here just about 100 years ago from Eastern Europe—I’ve been drawn in by both the pretty things ladies wore and the functional things they used every day. Crochet was relatively new then and imported from Europe, but as we know today with any new craft or skill that comes along, people were hungry to learn it and to make the latest things, and manufacturers were ready with materials and patterns to satisfy their creative needs. And while I’m delving into styles and fashions in the United States before and during the Civil War, a historical connection I do have is that crochet was quickly picked up from the French by Polish threadworkers and many of the lace patterns were designed, and are still made, in Poland, so I am adding a bit of my own heritage.
So that’s my background in this, and after studying styles and patterns in books and found on the internet, and with the suggestions and guidance of reenactors I know, I’ve put together a beginning gallery of crocheted items for Civil War reenactors to purchase or have custom made to match their own outfits. This gallery of items also serves for those who enjoy Victorian style because, while we think of the Victorian era as a few decades around the year 1900, Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, spanning most of the 19th century. Lace collars, fingerless gloves, miser’s purses, tiny hats and grand shawls also span this era.
Each of the items I offer includes an explanation of the pattern I used, whether it is an authentic pattern published at the time in Peterson’s Magazine, for instance, or a pattern created from an actual vintage item from a known period in time. In some cases I’ve designed patterns that use shapes, styles and stitches from the era to suffice for patterns I either can’t understand, since terminology was very different in the early days of crochet, or which I only have a photo.
I found an invaluable reference in a book I purchased on the internet while researching patterns, Civil War Era Knit and Crochet Patterns by DeAnn E. Upton, in which she took vintage patterns and modernized the terminology, and created patterns from authentic photos and from vintage items she had purchased as a reenactor. In the book she also includes lists of color combinations used, styles of yarn and beads and lots of details that answered questions I had as I planned the items I’d make. I had the pleasure to correspond with her and confirm that I can sell things made from her book and share our love of making these things.
As I make more items I receive more suggestions for things to make, and I know I’ll be constantly adding to my gallery with new items. I am heavy on the lace work with white and colored crochet thread since I truly love to work with it, but the shawls are calling me as well, and what lady doesn’t need a pretty shawl to dress up an outfit? For lace, I am using modern-day cotton crochet thread, which is made in the same way today as it was all those years ago. For shawls and heavier items I have wonderful sources for commercial wool yarns, but am very excited to work with Wild Rose Farm in Hookstown, PA, very close to me, where the sheep are grown and sheared, and the spun wool is dyed by hand using natural dye substances.
Please visit my Vintage Crochet gallery on Etsy. As I add new patterns I’ll post them here and on other social networking places including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
In the meantime, I’m getting things ready for the annual Civil War reenactment event that got me started in all this—the annual Living History Weekend at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.
And a few more images of the gloves and collars…