GEM crochet hooks are ubiquitous in the US. Anyone with even a handful of old aluminum crochet hooks will have at least a couple of GEM hooks. Old GEM rug hooks in wood are also common and these have a unique flat-sided hook shape. Much rarer are unbranded GEM bone hooks but these can be recognized by the same flat-sided shape used on wood hooks.
Although GEM aluminum and wood crochet hooks seem to be of the same quality as hooks by Susan Bates and Boye of the period, the bone hooks were poorly made. They were made from poor quality bone blanks. These might be bent or have flat sides on the handle where the blank wasn’t large enough. The flat-sided hook could be shaped quickly and cheaply by simple sanding. The formation of the hook was rough and inconsistent and it appears only one size of hook was made.
The unusual flat-sided shape was patented by Boye (US patent 2,635,444 issued 1953 April 21), I have long suspected that either Boye bought out a company that made hooks of this shape or that the hooks were made by Boye for another distributor. If another company would have used this shape without permission after Boye received its patent, Boye would have sued for patent infringement.
Evidence was hard to come by though. Imprints and packaging gave no help only stating made in USA. There was no evidence of Boye buying out other companies. Retired employees from Boye as far back as the 1970s specifically stated that Boye never made crochet hooks for anyone other than themselves.
A trademark search finally provided the answer. A Google search of “GEM trademark” turned up the use of GEM as a trademark in many different industries but not for crochet hooks. This wasn’t too surprising as mostly current trademarks are shown and GEM crochet hooks hadn’t been used for years. I finally resorted to an intensive search of the Official Gazette of the US Patents and Trademarks for the term crochet hook and found this GEM trademark registration on 1934 May 01. The registration was by The Boye Needle Company and claimed use of the GEM trademark since 1908.
Trademarks have to be in use in commerce before registering so GEM was probably first used for crochet hooks in 1933. I speculate that the GEM line of hooks was introduced by Boye as a down market brand during the Great Depression and continued until replaced by DIANA (US trademarks 204,548 and 207,005 both registered 1966 and claiming use since 1964) as Boye’s down market brand about 1965.
On July 13, 2019 I had the privilege of being inducted into the Crochet Guild of America Hall of Fame. In my acceptance speech I talked about some of the research I am doing on the history of crochet. You can read the speech here.
My Family Heirlooms Crochet Sample Book won first place in thread in the 2019 CGOA Design Competition. It was inspired by the crochet sample books popular from about 1880-1930 but I had a few” improvements” in mind. Many of the old books had raw fabric pages that ravel so I wanted the individual pages finished. Many of the old books had several empty pages at the back which I don’t like so I wanted mine to be expandable having only as many pages as necessary. Most of the old books have no information on maker, dates, materials, stories, etc. I wanted mine to have room for notes and journaling.
So here are some features of my book. Each fabric page is edge-finished in crochet. Pages are assembled into an expandable book using a unique, flexible button and buttonhole spine. The book is filled with swatches made by me and both my and my husband’s grandmothers and great grandmothers. The backs of edge-crocheted ball bands provide journaling space for family stories and notes.
I already consider this a family heirloom and it’s only 6 months old! I love flipping through the pages and remembering my grandmothers and great grandmothers.
I was thrilled to win the 2019 CGOA Design Competition Grand Prize with my Rockabilly Swing Dress. It features a sweetheart neckline, form-fitting bodice and full skirt. Made with Aunt Lydia’s size 10 crochet cotton using Catherine’s Wheel stitch. Internal shaping used to shape bodice. Cape and gloves complete the ensemble but were not submitted as part of the design competition. The dress took about 150 hours to complete.
My article “Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Crochet Hooks: A Story of Invention” has made its debut in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of PieceWork magazine. It discusses early crochet hook designs and advances in steel technology that made them possible. Dating of hooks is backed by British patents including the patent numbers. Here’s a link to an excerpt from the article.
There haven’t been many articles on crochet hook collecting published. One of the early ones was a magazine article in the June 1979 issue of Crochet World. It’s an interview with Bert Turriff of De Pere, Wisconsin, who collected old hooks using an ad in a trade magazine. You can read the entire article using the link below.
The new issue of Vintage Crochet, a special issue of PieceWork magazine, has just been released. I’m thrilled to have an article on Irish Crochet, Bebe Irish Crochet – DYI Irish Crochet from Written Patterns, and two projects – Irish Rose Pillow and Pansy Pillow in the issue. My article discusses changes in Irish Crochet needed to move it from a commercial production technique for a finished product to a written pattern technique that could be worked by a single person.
Irish Crochet doll dress, crochet, cotton, Nancy Nehring, USA 2001
I created this Irish Crochet doll dress as an appreciation piece to see what it was like to make Irish Crochet on the scale used in the 1850s. It is worked with size 80 cordonnet for the motifs and size 100 for the mesh. These thread sizes would have been on the larger size of those used in the 1850s. Working in the 18″ doll format allows use of full-sized stitches while keeping the overall size down. Still the dress took over 300 hours to complete. The dress won the PieceWork Needleworker of the Year First Place in Crochet in 2001/2002.
Here’s where the appreciation comes in. First of all, I didn’t think it would take that long to make this dress and I’m a fast crocheter. I estimate a similar full-sized woman’s dress would have taken about 5000 hours. It also surprised me how much such a little dress weighed. I asked Maire Treanor about the weight and she told me that the Irish Crochet was made in a lightly twisted thread (similar to DMC floche). A tightly twisted thread like cordonnet weights much more than a loosely twisted thread like floche.
The pattern for the dress was published as Irish Crochet Doll: Annie’s Attic leaflet 872651 in 2001. I have a few copies left. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
I always wondered if any of my children would take up needlework when they became adults. They all learned basic sewing skills (as well as basic carpentry skills, cooking skills, etc.) as children but you never know which they will enjoy as adults. My oldest daughter, Carrie Merrell, has taken up quilting and her grandmother, Laura Nehring, would have been pleased. I think one of the things that appealed to both of them (and to me) in quilting is the math.
Carrie has just released her first ebook, the Quilty Math Workbook. It’s one of those books you look at and wonder Why Didn’t I Think of That? When I design a quilt, I spend hours figuring out how much of each fabric I need. And the next time I design a quilt, I start all over from scratch figuring out how much of each fabric I need. Carrie has organized the designing and math of a quilt into graphs and tables that you fill in as you go. The graphs help you visualize your developing quilt first as blocks and then as an entire quilt top. Then, as you work down each table, she has you apply simple math to the measurements of your quilt block to figure out how much fabric you need. And I use to figure out the math from scratch every time I designed a new quilt – Never Again! I’m using her workbook to keep my designs organized and the fabric calculations as simple and fast as possible.
Crocheted African grey parrot amigurumi sitting on an outdoor trellis.
Crocheted African grey parrot amigurumi sitting on an outdoor trellis.
I’m always surprised at how many people in their 20s are picking up crochet. I guess I don’t notice it because most of the ones I meet are crocheting without patterns. Noelle, one of my daughter’s friends, made this African grey parrot to look like our real African grey parrot named Hermes. It is so lifelike that at least two of us in the family have tried to put the fake Hermes back on his perch! Noelle said she was thinking about putting some of her work up for sale on Etsy. I volunteered to teach her how to write patterns if she would rather sell patterns than finished items since she has never crocheted from a pattern herself. Hope she takes me up on my offer as her work is outstanding.