What is Crochet?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Crochet is a method of making fabric from yarn or thread, much like knitting. In both types of textile art, loops of yarn are pulled through other loops to make fabric. Crochet makes use of a hook, while knitters use knitting needles and, in most cases, only a single thread loop is active at a given time in a project.

Crochet involves a hook pulling loops of yarn.
Crochet involves a hook pulling loops of yarn.

This craft became very popular in Europe and America during the 19th century, in part because of the increasingly efficient production of cotton thread in America. Crochet uses more thread than other fabric-making techniques and is particularly suited to cotton. The technique emerged as a relatively cheap and simple method of making lace, and it was adopted by women who made fabric for a living. During the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, women in Ireland produced great quantities of lace for export. Young women of the upper classes also crocheted as a hobby.

Crochet can be used to make soft blankets.
Crochet can be used to make soft blankets.

The popularity of the craft has waxed and waned since it was first widely adopted. In the 20th century, many new patterns and styles were developed, most using thicker yarn, rather than the thread popular in lace production. Crochet remains a staple of homemade crafts as it is easy to learn and can only be produced by hand, unlike knitting. Today, there are many variations on the basic method, such as broomstick lace, cro-hooking, Filet, hairpin lace, and Irish and Tunisian crochet. The Tunisian stitch works many loops at a time and makes use of a very long hook with a stoppered end.

If a crocheter uses a small hook, combined with fine yarn, very delicate fabrics can be made.
If a crocheter uses a small hook, combined with fine yarn, very delicate fabrics can be made.

Today, crochet is used to produce a great variety of crafts. In addition to lace trims, doilies, runners, and similar products, it can be used to make blankets, scarves, and many articles of clothing — even bikinis — thanks to designs using thicker yarn. The modern yarn varieties also allow a talented crocheter to create a nearly endless range of items.

Filet crochet can be used to make doilies.
Filet crochet can be used to make doilies.
Doilies, which can be made via filet crochet, may help protect a furniture's finish from heavy lamps.
Doilies, which can be made via filet crochet, may help protect a furniture's finish from heavy lamps.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@kylee07drg – I am the same way. I really need someone to actually sit down and show me things like this, though, so an online tutorial probably wouldn't help.

I need an actual person who can answer questions and show me what I'm doing wrong. I have trouble turning things I see on a screen around to my perspective, so I need someone to sit next to me and show me how to crochet from my angle.


My mother learned how to crochet a baby cap and gave me one as a shower gift. It was so soft and adorable!

It doesn't irritate my baby's head like some materials would. I love having some homemade items for him to wear.


I have a friend who has just discovered the art of crocheting, and she has been making a little bit of everything! She just made me a little round crocheted coaster with frilly edges that looks like a flower, and she made a square for it to rest upon. So, it looks like a flower on a lily pad, but it can be used as a coaster.

I won't be surprised if she starts making purses and gloves and all sorts of complex things before long. She is really into it right now, and she will likely be really productive with this hobby.


I would have to use crochet patterns if I ever tried to make something. My friend showed me the basics of crocheting, but it is so difficult to get the hang of!

She actually sat and watched online tutorials, and that is how she got so good at it. I'll admit that having an instructor to show you things would make me much better at it.


@strawCake - I'm not really surprised by this. Most people aren't that informed about hobbies that aren't their own. For example, I doubt I could tell the difference between a paintball gun and a real gun used for hunting!

Even if no one has any clue what I'm doing, I really enjoy crocheting. I have to admit I usually do easy crochet projects though. I just don't have the time or patience to use the crochet thread and do complicated crochet lace patterns like people did in the 19th century. I would rather make an afghan!


I knit and crochet, and I'm always so amazed at how many people get the two mixed up. With crochet, you use one hook, and when you knit, you use two needles. The two fiber arts look different and produce fabric that looks completely different, but so many people think they're exactly the same thing!


@JaneAir - That is kind of strange to think about. I have several crochet sweaters in my closet, and until I read this article, I had no clue that an actual person made them. I thought they were probably done by machine.

I wonder how fast you have to crochet to make garments for sale? I primarily knit, but I also crochet a little bit, and I have to admit that I crochet very slowly. I've only made squares for an afghan, and that took quite awhile. I think it would probably take me weeks to do a whole sweater!


It's so crazy that there is no such thing as crochet by machine. Think about that for a second. That means that anytime you buy a crocheted item of clothing from the store, like a crochet shawl or skirt with crochet edging, an actual person had to crochet it. That is crazy to me.


When I was pregnant I received two crocheted baby blankets that were just beautiful. I think there is something special about receiving a homemade gift like this. You know that there was a lot of time that was put into this gift.

The baby yarn is so soft and inviting and there are a lot of color choices to choose from. Baby blankets are much smaller than regular afghans, so they don't take as long to make, but there is just as much satisfaction when you are done.


My first big project was a blue and white granny square crochet afghan and matching pillow. Before attempting this I had made a few small things like a scarf and some pot holders. My grandmother was my inspiration and my teacher.

First she taught me how to crochet the squares. Once you get this down, it is just a matter of repeating the same thing over and over again. After the squares were complete, she taught me how to connect them together and finish the edges.

This is something that is very relaxing for me - especially if I am not pushed for time. One of my favorite winter activities is to sit down and crochet while I am watching TV.


My aunt was rarely seen without her crochet bag and her recent project. She was always making things for the girls in the family. I remember one year for Christmas she made ponchos and matching hats for all of us. Another year she crocheted a lined tote bag with an umbrella pocket.

There are so many more beautiful choices of yarn than there used to be, and there is no end to the beautiful items you can make. There is something special about crocheting your own hat and scarf. I have found many free crochet patterns online and at my local craft store.

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