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Crochet at Beamish

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

As part of my assignments for the International Diploma in Crochet I had to write a report on crochet related articles that were kept my a museum. My submission reviewed the crochet at Beamish, and thought you would like to read more about this via my blog.

The aim of the report was to examine what crochet related articles are kept by a museum local to Hartlepool. The museums within Hartlepool were visited as a first step to explore what was available locally. Unfortunately, the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool, Heugh Gun Battery, and the Museum of Hartlepool offered very little in the way of crochet, as their focus is mainly wartime and maritime history. This was anticipated considering the significance of these aspects of Hartlepool’s history.


Looking further afield, Beamish is a living, working museum that tells the story of everyday life in the North East of England from 1820’s to 1950’s. This establishment has many crochet related articles, books and samples on display, so this establishment was selected for further study. As the field of study is a museum, the crochet items will be discussed in relevance to the historical time period of their use to add context.


Objectives

The main methods of obtaining research material were visiting the museum to examine the articles on display and an online research of their digital catalogues where available. Where further information was needed or required clarification then contact was made directly with staff at the museum following the visit.


Findings

The museum presents the story of everyday life in distinct periods from 1820's through to 1950's. This covers some interesting times in the history of the North East of England, spanning much simpler Georgian times, through the early 1900’s where the North East had a booming coal mining industry, and how people lived through the First and Second World Wars.


1820's Pockerley

This area of the museum features a recreated cottage of locally renowned Georgian quilter Joseph Hedley who was brutally murdered in 1826. This part of the museum tells the story of quilting and the growth of cottage industries in the early 1800s. Joe the Quilter was exceptionally skilled and his handiwork was known in various parts of UK and America through his travelling for work. Sadly, there is no evidence to support that Joe the Quilter also crocheted.


Before 1850, crochet was not used much in England (Turner, P. 1984), therefore it is unsurprising in the lack of worked crochet examples being exhibited in this area. The popularity of crochet started to rise in Europe during the 19th century and the craft was performed using an embroiderer’s tambour hook (Paludan, L. 1994).

This was shaped like a stylo with a fine hook at one end requiring a skilled worker to determine the stitch sizes, unlike the modern style hooks which determine the stitch size by the circumference of the shaft.


1824 was the earliest crochet pattern publications and these tended to be for small luxury items such as purses, using expensive coloured thread in golds and silvers. These patterns or materials were not generally accessible to the working classes, they would however, have been used by ladies of a certain social standing. These early patterns required a certain level of literacy skills to interpret the written pattern but to use the illustration as the more accurate guide. The earliest patterns were reliant on the crocheters comprehension for crochet stitch construction and reading patterns and pictures.


The kinds of crochet stitches and patterns that would have been used by the working class

inhabitants of the cottage at this time would have been passed verbally or by copying directly from original work. Often small sample books were compiled, containing samples of stitches that were stitched onto scraps of paper or fabric and then shared among women’s circles. Alternatively, crochet stitch samples would be fashioned together in a long narrow strip, which was then added to in time as new stitches were learned and stitched to the strip.


1900's Town

The 1900’s town is a bustling place with plenty to explore; from a fully operational bakery, watching the confectioner making sarsaparilla sweets that can be bought in the sweet shop, bank with a vault, garage and of course the local pub! One of the highlights here is the recreated Co-Op store which was moved from Annfield Plain, in County Durham and contains the grocery, drapery and hardware departments. Within the drapery department the display counters have examples of delicate crochet lace handkerchiefs, crochet hooks and thread.



Over the road is a dentist surgery where the costumed workers are eager to tell horrifying stories of how brutal dental surgery was performed without anaesthetics! Within the waiting room there is a jug displayed on a cabinet with a heavy cotton doily beneath. This was a beautiful lemon colour and appeared to have been worked in mercerised cotton which was heavier than bedspread weight. It featured an eight pointed flower shape at the centre made from double-treble clusters, further rounds for 5cm were double crochet then a round of trebles before a round of ‘petals’. This section was repeated once more to create a doily that was approximately 25 cm in diameter and has a firm robust feel to it.



In addition to this, another circular crochet doily was on display in a white colour which also looked to be made of mercerised cotton. This doily had a more lacy texture and has twelve ‘petals’ in an openwork pattern round a central circle. The outside makes good use of chain spaces and stitches to give a light airy feel.



1900's Pit Village & Colliery

The North East was renowned for its prosperous coal production in the early part of the 20

th century.

Generations of families worked down the North East’s pits and Durham alone had 304 mines. The 1900’s pit village features six pit houses which were originally built in the early 1860s by Hetton Coal Company for the pit miners at the colliery.

All of the houses are open to explore and host several examples of crochet on display. One of the houses is open to the public upstairs to view the bedroom set up of people who would have lived in these houses at the time. Each of the beds had a hand quilted patchwork cover and several had crochet blankets of various types.

One of the blankets was constructed from traditional granny square motifs of various sizes sewn together. It appeared to be made of acrylic yarn in a double knitting weight.



Another good example observed was a cot size blanket in broomstick lace crochet in grey and blue. The loops were taken off in groups of 4 with simple double crochet between the rows. This example also seemed to be made from acrylic yarn in a double knitting weight.



Beside the lit open fireplace downstairs, was a rocking chair complete with a work basket beside. This included a patchwork quilt similar to those seen upstairs as a work in progress. The seat cushion of the chair was covered with another traditional granny square motif blanket in tonal blues, browns and creams. This also looks as though acrylic yarn in a double knitting weight was used to create it.



The number of crochet items on display in this particular area was encouraging; however the use of acrylic yarn in this setting is not in keeping with the purported age of the exhibits in this area of the museum. Acrylic yarn was increasingly popular from the 1940s when petrochemical technologies advanced to create a man-made product that could be used in place of natural renewable products. Crocheted items in cottons or wools would be more expected in this period.


1940's Farm

The cosy farmhouse complete with open fire is host to baking fresh bread. This displays several examples of traditional granny square motif blankets in acrylic yarn in a double knitting weight.

As part of the wartime effort on the home front, women were encouraged to knit and crochet

garments for the troops such as socks, gloves, scarves and hats. Leaflets of patterns were published specifically for this purpose and were branded as being ‘approved’ for military use. In the spirit of austerity, crochet was also a great way of enhancing existing outfits, very much in keeping with the ‘make do and mend’ culture of the time. Several different crocheted collars could ameliorate the look of a simple dress, enabling it to be worn at many different events or occasions thereby extending its wear.


On the bookshelf was a well-thumbed copy of Woolcraft: a practical guide to knitting and crochet. This was reissued at regular intervals from the 1930s through to the 1950s. Most homes would have likely had at least one a staple reference book (such as these) to enable garments to be made for the whole family.


Conclusions

To summarise, there is a range of crochet examples, books and photographs housed by Beamish that is both on display and more items further within the archives. On the whole, the examples lend themselves well to the periods they are located, but choice of materials may not be entirely true to the period. This could be influenced by the environments and periods covered by Beamish tend to portray working class backgrounds, and the crochet produced at that time would have been functional and therefore disposable as time has gone on. The display examples are likely to have been created more contemporaneously and used as examples of what crochet may have been available at the time, rather than actual period pieces. Period examples may well be too precious to be on display and open to the public and could be within the archives.


Future Development

Unfortunately, the global pandemic halted the author's exploration of further items available at Beamish. Future development of this research would be to explore more fully the samples and archived material at Beamish relating to crochet and to dig deeper into the Beamish People's Collection. This is an evolving collection and includes a selection of photographs, oral history recordings, books and trade catalogues from the vast collection at the Museum.


Beamish has a comprehensive library of books and leaflets that contain instructions on crochet among many other handicrafts. Many have illustrations to aid the reader in learning the different techniques. There are a number of crochet lace sample books. These are books made up of crochet fabric samples rather than words and pictures and would have been used as reference books.


Further exploration of the full crochet collection at Beamish would be an interesting way to explore the history of the craft within the context of the North East.


 

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Lyndsey Allen disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.

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