Category: Crochet and Knit

The Integral Grip of August Kippenburg

Posted by – August 6, 2013

Shortly after 1865 when the Bessemer process for making steel in large batches was invented, making fine crochet hooks using needle making methods was more or less abandoned. Small crochet hooks were fashioned by drawing out the end of a steel rod and fashioning a hook on it. The remaining thick body of the rod became the handle. These one piece hooks were studier, better quality and required less labor (were cheaper to make) than hooks made with needle making technology.

The biggest problem with the rod was that it rolled in the fingers. Every so often you had to stop and look at the hook to rotate it back into position. In 1896, August Kippenberg, a German citizen, was granted US patent 572809 for an integral crochet-hook comprising a shank, a hook at the end thereof, and a flattened portion therein…the grip.

Kippenberg must have taken out similar patents in Germany and England because grips did not become a universal feature of steel rod hooks until sometime between 1912 and 1914 when his patent expired.

The hook pictured with the scissors is from Hadley, Sara, ed., The Lace Maker, D. S. Bennet, vol. 1, no. 5, May 1903.

Lacy Knitting Patterns

Posted by – July 24, 2013


Freda Frase Square Doily 600px

The Fall 2013 issue of Knitting Traditions by Interweave Press is out and two of Mary Shiffmann’s knitted lace patterns, Star Doily and Freda Frase’s Square Doily (pictured above) are featured.

I first met Mary Schiffmann in 1994 at a meeting of the Lacy Knitters, a group she cofounded to promote lace knitting by collecting, cataloging, and making available old knitted lace patterns. Mary had collected more than 500 patterns in her lifetime, and these form the foundations of the Lacy Knitters pattern bank. Mary very much wanted to see her collection of patterns in print. She felt like a lone crusader in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s as she watched the interest in lace knitting die. Mary died April 28, 1996 [prior to the publication of The Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffmann by Nancy Nehring, Interweave Press, 1998]. Here final words to her knitting friends were, “I spent my life looking for patterns. Don’t you quit.”

Idar-Oberstein Agate Handles

Posted by – July 2, 2013

Most crochet hooks were made out of common materials so it is a treat to come across a crochet hook with a semiprecious agate handle. The agate handles were manufactured in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, from agate mined in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Historically there were agate deposits at Idar-Oberstein and water power to help work the stone. Local workers became experts at cutting, grinding and polishing the stone. When agate deposits began to play out about 1800, hunger caused many of the workers to emigrate to South America. In 1927 some of these Germans discovered agate deposits in Rio Grande do Sul. The expertise for working agate still remained in Germany and beginning in 1834 raw agate was shipped to Idar-Oberstein as cheap ballast on ships returning empty to Germany. Manufacturing items from Brazilian agate continued until World War II.

Crochet hooks with agate handles were made using the same methods used for bone handled hooks from the mid to late 1800s. A metal collet glued to the bone or agate held a removable steel needle in place. Crochet hook manufacturers who wanted a higher priced line of hooks probably just ordered handles from Idar-Oberstein manufacturers to fit the metal parts they were already using. Some of the hooks were further embellished with silver and the hooks also came in boxed sets with multisized hooks. A lovely gift then and now.

It’s Not a Crochet Hook

Posted by – June 4, 2013

Top to bottom – tatting hook, Presto needle threader, button hook, sley tool, citrus peeler, latch hook, tambour hook, leather working tool made from nail, rug hook


Not every hooked tool is a crochet hook. So what are some of the common hooked tools mistaken for crochet hooks and how do you know? When confronted with a hooked tool that may or may not be a crochet hook, the first thing to do is to try and crochet with it. If you can’t crochet smoothly and rhythmically, it’s not a crochet hook. If it hurts your fingers or hand, it’s not a crochet hook. Pictured above are some hooks often mistaken for crochet hooks. Here’s a little about each.

Tatting Hooks

Tatting hooks are often distinguished by their short length. They are usually under 3″ and sometimes advertised as children’s crochet hooks which they are not. You can use the bone one above to crochet but without the long handle of a regular crochet hook to stabilize the hook against your hand, work does not flow very smoothly.

These pictures show both a tatting hook and a crochet hook from a Ladies Necessities set. Note that the hooks are set in the handles at different angles. It is difficult and uncomfortable to crochet with the tatting hook because of both the short length and angle of hook.


Presto Needle Threader

The Presto Needle Threader was designed to thread sewing machine needles. The spring loaded hook will collapse when inserting the hook into a stitch.


Button Hook

Button hooks have a large open hook. They were used for fastening shoe buttons. Slightly smaller hooks were made for fastening glove buttons. The hook catches when trying to pull the yarn through a stitch. You may find these with the same (and sometimes elaborate) handles as tatting and crochet hooks as they were included in Ladies Necessities.


Sley Tools

I often wish these were crochet hooks as they were sometimes made of decoratively carved ivory like the two pictured above. Sley tools are used when warping a loom to pull threads through the reeds and have to be narrow. Sley tools are usually rectangular or oval in cross section with the narrowest width in line with the hook. When crocheting, you try to hold the hook on the narrow side of the rectangular hook or pointy ends of the oval.


Citrus Peeler

These wide flat tools are citrus peelers. Like a sley tool, the hook it at the wrong angle to crochet with easily. If it has an orange painted on it or says Souvenir of Florida, it’s a citrus peeler.


Latch Hook

This tiny latch hook was used to repair runs in (knitted) silk stockings. The hook is basically one hook from a knitting machine mounted in a handle. The latch usually doesn’t open when crocheting leaving the yarn trapped in the hook. Large latch hooks are used for rug making.


Tambour Hook

A tambour hook (bottom in photo above) usually has a screw that tightens against the needle (hook) to hold it in place. The screw serves a second purpose. The opening of the needle is aligned with the screw so you can maintain orientation of the needle as you pick up the thread underneath the work where you can not see (you catch the thread “blind”). Without an orientation guide, the needle would roll out of position as you work. If you try to crochet with a tambour hook, you find your fingers constantly bump into the screw. The earliest crochet hook patents were for handles that secured the needle by methods other than an exposed screw (top in photo above). Tambour hooks and crochet hooks with matching handles were sometimes found in Ladies Necessities.


Leather Working Tools

Heavy leather tack was sewn together by hand. An awl or punch made matching holes in two pieces of leather to be sewn together. A hooked tool pulled heavy thread or leather lacing through the holes forming a loop and a second piece of thread or lacing passed through the loop. The first thread or lacing was tightened until the crossing of the two centered in the holes – like the top and bobbin threads on a sewing machine. Leather workers might make their own tools like the shaped nail above.


Rug Hooks

Rug hooks come with and without latches. When you try to crochet with these, you want to hold the hook down on the round metal part instead of on the handle. This makes the hook hard to hold and lets the hook rotate out of position as you crochet. The chunky handles give a better grip when pulling yarn or fabric through the mesh base of the rug but get in the way when crocheting.

CGOA Classes July 17-21

Posted by – May 20, 2013

techniques 600px

finishing techniques from Couture Techniques


I’ll be teaching several classes at the Knit and Crochet Show, featuring the Crochet Guild of America Conference and The Knitting Guild Association Conference, in Indianapolis in July.


July 17-21, 2013

2013 Knit and Crochet Show 

Sheraton at Keystone Crossing, Indianapolis, IN

July 17, 2013   Wednesday   Professional Development Day

How to Photograph Your Proposal

July 18, 2013   Thursday

Victorian Button – 3 hours

Crochet Hooks Past and Present – 3 hours

July 19, 2013   Friday

Designing Larger Sizes – 3 hours

Couture Techniques for Knit and Crochet – 3 hours

July 20, 2013   Saturday

On the Edge – 3 hours

Stacked Rectangles – 3 hours

July 21, 2013   Sunday

Internal Shaping – 3 hours


Ross Crochet Needles

Posted by – May 7, 2013

Ross 1878 patented crochet needles

By 1868 crochet needles in the U.S. were being made from tempered steel wire – not wrought iron that was converted to steel after the needle was formed as needles were in the 1840s and 1850s. But the new Bessemer method of steel making was still in its infancy as was development of tools to fashion the steel. Swaging or stamping, the method used to fashion steel hooks today, was not yet possible.

During this time two different designs for steel hooks were used. Both had manufacturing drawbacks. In one method, a needle was mounted in a handle. The handles were made from a variety of materials: bone, wood, brass, steel wire and steel sheet were common. Having separate handles made and attaching them to the needles was labor intensive. In the other method, a steel rod was tapered by being drawn out at one end and formed into a hook. Drawing steel caused it to loose its temper and the needle had to be heated and tempered a second time. William Ross patented a crochet needle that he thought would overcome the drawbacks of these two types of hooks.

William Ross of Baltimore, Maryland, patented a method of attaching a handle to a crochet needle on May 27, 1879 (U.S. patent no. 215,979). Of the early U.S. patents related to crochet needles, this is the oldest one that I know an actual hook exists. The following excerpts are from the patent.

“   it consists of a crochet needle having a tempered hooked stem provided with a handle formed by casting a readily fusible metal on one end of said stem … The handle, is formed by placing the stem in a mold and pouring the fused metal around it”. The handle was made of a soft, low melting temperature metal such as pewter.

“One special advantage in construction crochet needles as herein described consists in the fact that the stem may be formed of tempered steel of a uniform thickness or gage … In wholly metallic needles heretofore constructed, the handle has invariably been of the same metal as the stem, and where steel was used the stems, after being reduced to the required size, had to be tempered before the needles were fit for use.”

“By casting a very fusible metal around an end of the tempered stem to form the handle two results are attained, the first being that the temper of the stem is not affected by the low temperature requisite to fuse the metal and form a handle; and, secondly, the soft metal forming the handle can more readily be impressed with the numbers of the needles than when a hard metal is employed.”

Ross crochet needles were produced with a variety of handle designs and with either one or two needles. The handles were usually clearly stamped with W. ROSS’S PAT. 79, PAT. May ’79 or a similar mark. You can’t miss them.

A Brief History of C. J. Bates & Son, Inc.

Posted by – April 2, 2013

Excerpts from C. J. Bates and Son, Inc. 1873-1973 100 Year History, internal document used with permission.

Back of package for Susan Bates Clipson® crochet hook explaining purpose of clip.

Bates is the oldest operating crochet hook manufacturer in the United States and by 1971 was the largest needlework tool manufacturer in the US. The company is named for Carlton Joseph Bates. Bates began working for the firm of Tyler and Post in 1861 at the age of 14 by stoking the stove and sweeping the floors before going off to school each day. Tyler and Post made small items from ivory discarded by a piano key manufacturer in a one-room shop. In 1865, Mr. Post bought out his partner and bought up another business, Griswolds, which made crochet hooks from whale bone (baleen) and cow shin bone.

Carlton Bates bought the business from Mr. Post in 1873. He continued to make small items such as crochet hooks, studs, stillettos, bodkins, and manicure implements from bone and ivory. Carlton’s son Hamilton took over the business when his father became seriously ill in 1893. Hamilton was chief executive until his retirement in 1954. Grandsons Hamilton Jr. and Wells assumed leadership of the company and incorporated it in 1960. Manicure implement production was sold in 1964 creating a needlework tools only company. In 1993, C. J. Bates and Son, Inc. became part of Coats and Clark.

Around 1905, whale bone (baleen) became scarce and its use discontinued. Cow shin bone was used exclusively for the manufacture of bone crochet hooks. By the end of the 1920s cattle were being slaughtered at an early age in the US. The shin bones were not long enough to make crochet hooks. Cattle in Argentina were allowed to grow larger so shin bone was imported from Argentina until the late 1960s when a special plastic replaced bone.

Originally, Bates needlework tools were unbranded or branded with private labels. Bates began using its own brand names, Chester and Barbara Bates, in the early 1930s. In the early 1940s Chester was changed to Zephr and Barbara Bates to Susan Bates.

Bates began expanding its needlework tool line in the early 1900s by introducing wooden crochet hooks. In the mid 1930s plastic crochet hooks and in the late 1930s aluminum crochet hooks were added to the line. During WWII, production of plastic hooks continued at a reduced rate while production of steel and aluminum items ceased entirely. Factories were converted to produce airplane fuel sight gauges and glider frames.

The company has received several patents and awards. In 1944 Bates received a patent for the in-line hook shape. In 1952 a patent was issued for the Clips-on thread retaining clip. The 1960s saw changes in mass marketing and Bates received several awards for packaging and display including awards for color coded crochet hooks and point of purchase displays.


About Books videos

Posted by – March 26, 2013

knitted doily

 Freda’s Small Doily from The Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffmann

Several years ago I did two interviews for a TV program called About Books. About Books was recorded at Foothill Community College, Los Altos Hills, California, as part of the college’s communications curriculum. It featured interviews with local authors about their recently published books. My son digitized my old VHS tapes of the programs and I got permission from Foothill College to show them on my website. They are each about 30 minutes long. The quality is poor but they are rather fun to watch.

The videos are

About Books – 50 Heirloom Buttons to Make

About Books- The Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffmann

Irish Crochet class at Lace Museum May 4, 2013

Posted by – March 22, 2013

Irish crochet butterfly with book

I’ll be teaching a class in Irish Crochet at the Lace Museum, Sunnyvale, CA on May 4, 2013. We will be making this Irish Crochet Butterfly taken from a bedspread in the Lace Musuem’s collection. Contact the Lace Museum for details and to sign up.

March is National Crochet Month

Posted by – March 2, 2013

Some of my favorite crochet hooks top to bottom – abalone shell, glass, piqué posé work in horn, porcupine quill handle, brass filigree with aquamarines, forged brass, bone with needlecase and Stanhope


I’m teaming up with Crochetville’s A Tour through Crochet Country to celebrate National Crochet Month. Each day this month the tour will feature the blog or website of one or two designers from the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA). On her day, each designer will create a post specifically for A Tour Through Crochet Country. Details and the list of designers are here. I’m following along each morning with a cup of tea, join me!

Today is my day and I’d like to introduce you to a resource that I’m developing – the Crochet Hook Classification. It’s a catalog of crochet hooks, manufacturers and supporting documents such as ads and patents. It will help you answer all of those questions about our favorite needlework tool like – How Old Is It?, What Is It Made Out Of?, or Who Made It?. It’s a work in progress so some sections aren’t complete yet but I’m constantly adding more material so check back.

Also, if you would like a little information on my background and a little inspiration, you can read my 2005 CGOA keynote address Past, Meet Nancy Nehring here.