Most people assume that crochet refers to the fabric that is used in the process, but this is not the case. The name actually refers to the process of creating fabric by interlocking loops of materials with a crochet hook. This is evident with the name which is derived from the French term crochet which translates to “small hook”. It was common, in the 19th century, for people to make crochet hooks out of broken forks or spoons.
During the potato famine in Ireland during the 1840s (1845–1850), there was a great deal of suffering and poverty around Ireland. The Ursuline nuns set up crochet centers around the land , teaching local women thread crochet. This became known as "Irish Crochet." They produced crochet items which were then sold to rich English aristocrats to provide a steady income to many Irish families. The schools that were formed helped the people to save up the money necessary to emigrate to America. It became incredibly popular and provided much needed income.
Spinning is the oldest fiber craft (20,000 BC). Origins of the technique are vague with some claiming that it originated in Arabia where it followed along Arab trade routes while others believe that it originated in South America. Although there are a few very old crocheted artifacts, the technique was not common in Europe until the 1800s. Crochet may have arrived late onto the fabric-creating stage because people preferred more economical weaving techniques One theory is that crocheting uses more fiber than knitting and fiber was hard to produce until the invention of the spinning Jenny in 1764.
The earliest known written reference to crochet is from 1812. The first appearance of the word crochet and instructions for the technique were first printed in 1823 in a Dutch magazine called Penélopé. There were 5 differently styled purses shown in the magazine along with instructions on how they can be made. The Weldon Company in London published the first known granny-square pattern in 1897. It is one of the longest crochet patterns in print.
In the late 1800s, men's and women's hairstyles required the use of oily pomade. Consequently, crochet became more popular as people put little sewn pieces on top of expensive furniture to protect them from the pomaded heads. Crochet became increasingly popular in the 1920s when women stopped wearing corsets and began to crochet lacy underwear.
It is believed that the earliest forms of crochet were created using a bent finger instead of a hook. In the 1800s, holding the hook like a pencil was thought to be more feminine and graceful. Many crocheters now hold their hooks in the palms of their hands (often called the "knife hold") to reduce carpal tunnel.