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The Crochet Machine

Machines have taken over the artisan worlds of sewing, weaving, embroidery, knitting, lace and beadwork. But crochet? Those contrivances that bear the name “crochet” are nothing but industrial toys for making fancy braids and edgings. No machine has ever been built to replace the petites mains of the crochet artisan.

thecrochetmachine

This, to me, is the allure of crochet. The motions of the artisan’s hands with the hook and yarn cannot be replicated by a machine. I have looked carefully at those expensive machines. They claim to be “crochet machines.” They do no crochet. They make machine lace, braid and cords using mechanisation similar to those done by overlock sewing machines or sergers. The pieces that they produce employ the universal chain stitch but do not produce or even resemble any of the other crochet stitches.

Another machine creates free-standing embroidery that produces motifs and laces that from a distance looks strikingly like crochet. But they are embroidery and not crochet.

The “handmade look”

The term “crochet” derives from the French, diminutive of croc which means ‘hook’. The so-called crochet machines use needles and not hooks at all.  So, these days, the term “crochet” is used to mean “handmade look”, and not “hook.”

In many of the mass produced objects of fast fashion, there are numerous items that label themselves “crochet.” Some even boldly use the label “crochet lace.” However, many of these objects do not even feature a single trim of crochet whatsoever. They are entirely machine made. The average consumer is shepherded into ignorance in many of the aspects of manufacture. Why? Because of the allure of the “handmade look.”

The human “crochet machine”

As jest, some of my on-line friends have called me “crochet machine” because of the rate by which I could produce finished projects in this craft. However, if I were to produce many (say 5, and 5 is many) of the same object, over a short period of time (say 5 days, so that is one vest per day over 5 days), then this “crochet machine” is sure to break down.

For even the most complex, free-form or varied of designs, crochet involves repetitive action, repetitive movements, while in a fixed posture. There is a single term given to several of those discrete physical conditions associated with repetitive tasks: repetitive strain injury or RSI. Long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture eventually leads to debilitation.

I would like to add that given this very nature of crochet and handmade, the artisan should not be treated as if she were a machine. The artisan should not treat herself as if she were a machine. If she is treated so, then what we have is a human being that is subjected to inhumane conditions. Her eyes suffer, her back, neck and shoulder aches, her hands and wrists – the very instruments of her art and livelihood – become numb. Soon, the muscles of her hands waste away.

In mass production and automation, the machine is of great advantage. But crochet continues to defy mechanisation.

Thus, the beauty and unique quality of crochet is in the fact that it can only be handmade, and that many objects of exactly the same qualities cannot be produced. The context, ethics and economics of hand crochet is also totally different from mass produced objects. So one can understand why it upsets me when fast fashion goods declare themselves as “crochet” when they are not. This only serves to sow confusion amongst an already confused public. The handmade crochet aesthetic cannot possibly have a place in mass production.

But one day, a real crochet machine will be built.

And how would I feel about it?

The more important questions, really, are: Why must it be built? How would it change the principles of hand crochet itself? What breakthroughs in mechanical production need to happen?

Still, I believe that the problem of building a crochet machine will be at a standstill for many years because mechanisation is primarily pragmatic. Unless there is a compelling practical reason that will serve large industries, and not merely in aid of the tired hands of the artisans, there will be no breakthrough in mechanical production.

In the meantime, the industry seems quite happy labelling machine embroidered laces, edgings and cords, “crochet” for the appeal of handmade, all manufactured on the basis of an overlocking technology invented in 1881. There’s plenty of time for the undiscerning consumer to continue buying into “the handmade look.”

Fatima @bespokecrochet.com

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