Crochet Hooks: A History

Around the world lets talk about hooks! This may seem like a no brainer but as we delve into the world of stringed crafts the tools they use are just as important as the end game. Later in the series we’ll look at the different types of yarn and their composition but before we do that we have to see what type of crochet hook we are using, after all the right needle makes all the difference to your yarn.

The right needle is an around the world question because the development of crochet in different countries relied on their ability to manufacture their own supplies. Most of us give little thought to our crochet hooks other than to check the instructions for the suggested size for the project at hand. If we don’t have it we can get it. But, that wasn’t always the case. The earliest crocheters would have to make their own or ope a Milner in town sold them.

The history of crochet hooks started with people fashioning their own, usually of wood, bone or metal. In Ireland, Irish laces were worked with hooks made from stiff wire inserted into a piece of wood or cork. The end of the wire was filed down and a hook turned at the end. Poor farmers often carved wooden hooks for their wives out of whatever was readily available.

Looking back through the history of crochet hooks, it’s amazing that these early crafters could turn out such lovely pieces of needlework with the crude hooks with which they had to work. Now we have giant machines to do these things and they often don’t look quite as delicate as they would have.

Needle making in England was centered around the town of Redditch in Worcestershire, and it extended in about a 10-mile (16 km) radius. In 1847, when the first British patents for the hooks were issued, it was a cottage industry; individual families made needles from start to finish, with some families and family-owned companies specializing in certain types. Family businesses that innovated in crochet-hook design and production included George Chambers and Co., Abel Morrall, and William Hall and Co. in Studley; Alfred Shrimpton and Sons, John Shrimpton and Son, Zaccheus Shrimpton and Sons in Redditch; and John Burgess and Sons in Birmingham. Some also manufactured toys and smallware (e.g., John Shrimpton’s and John Burgess’s companies). Over the next fifty years, some of these family-owned businesses closed when the owner died (e.g., George Chambers’s and Zaccheus Shrimpton’s companies). Yet others (e.g., Abel Morrall’s company) expanded by hiring employees and absorbing smaller companies. By 1900, the companies in the needle-making industry had transformed into businesses with corporate structures.

As crochet grew in popularity and technology flourished, stitchers enjoyed a renaissance in the production of hooks. Crocheters in the upper classes could take their pick of beautiful hooks hand-carved from wood, bone or ivory, or made of mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, abalone, horn, agate or sterling silver, and sometimes inlaid with gemstones. Crochet hooks used for thread work (lacemaking) needed to be mounted in a handle, which served two purposes: it held the shaft tightly, and it kept the hook from rotating out of position as the needleworker was crocheting (thus preventing the hook from catching the thread on the subsequent stitch). Crochet hook handles were made in a dizzying variety of styles. During the second half of the nineteenth century, crochet hooks underwent many changes in design and style largely because of advances in steel-manufacturing techniques. The patents registered as well as the timing of advances in steel manufacturing have turned out to be the most useful method for dating these hooks.

Boye Needle company was founded in 1906 in Chicago and originally made drapery hardware and sewing machine accessories. In 1917 Boye introduced the first complete line of steel crochet hooks made in the USA. These were the smaller sizes designed for thread work, from Size 1 on down to 16. Moving to the early 1920s in the history of crochet hooks, buying by the set became popular. Each set consisted of a single handle, perhaps of bone or amber, with an assortment of short steel hooks generally ranging in sizes from 1 to 14. The crocheter simply selected the size hook she needed for her project and screwed it into the tip of the handle. Each hook sold for a nickel or the set with the interchange heads was around fifteen cents. Today, the Boye brand is housed under Creative Simple Solutions (CSS) Industries and continues to create innovative products. They are not however made in the United States anymore as the company merged with another in 1989 and manufacturing was sent to China.

Aluminum Hooks appeared in 1923, and hooks for hairpin crochet were introduced in 1935. World War II forced the government to order the cessation of nickel plating for crochet hooks in 1942, and Boye began a special black plating process known as “hoto” black process, or hot oxide black process, in order to prevent corrosion of the hooks. Nickel plating was not reinstated until the latter part of May 1945.

The history of crochet hooks has progressed to a time when we enjoy the convenience and availability of crochet hooks in an almost limitless variety of eye catching styles and colors.

Some of the best hooks available today are pony aluminum crocket hooks, though my preferred brand is Boye, The Susan Bates has been around for two centuries and not without a good reason. If you need one with a grip BeCraftee makes a great set of 12 will cost you around seventeen bucks.