Canal crochet


One of the requirements of my International Diploma in Crochet is a written report. I have opted to research how much evidence of crochet – items, implements or patterns – exists in our local museums.

Over the past few weeks I have discovered that plenty of such items exist but, and it’s a big BUT, almost all of them are packed away in archives. If you want to see any of the above examples you have to make an appointment with an archivist and the waiting list can be as long as three months. By the time I contacted the third of my list of local museums I was becoming quite frustrated by this state of affairs ……. as are some  the ladies in the Boaters’  Crafts Group who told me of this sad situation when I enquired about canal crochet exhibits at The National Waterways Museum in Gloucester.

The group is made up of men and women who, having realised how little is on display to inform the public about the lives and crafts of the families who lived on the waterways, meet regularly at The National Waterways Museum. Their aim is to demonstrate and raise awareness of the domestic crafts practised by the boat people. They also give talks locally to spread the word and, hopefully, inspire others to explore these 19th century crafts.

I was fortunate enough to attend one such talk where there was a display of canal crochet and other items used and made by the boat people.

canal boat crafts

The ladies who gave the talk were all colourfully dressed in typical boat women’s wear, made by themselves.  Their crocheted shawls reflect the style and bright shades which were popular amongst the boatwomen. The decorative, but sturdy, bonnets add colour and feminine detail to the otherwise plain, utilitarian outfits of these hard working women while at the same time protecting their heads from the cold, the rain and the sun.

colourful crochet and embroidery

Crochet was the most popular craft of the boatwomen. The very fine filet style of the canal crochet is being reproduced in the Boaters’ Craft Group by a very talented lady affectionately referred to as their “crochet queen”.  She was taught the technique many years ago by a neighbour whose mother was, in fact, a boatwoman herself. During the talk the crochet queen demonstrated her skill and spoke of her aim: to teach present day crafters to make canal lace as beautiful as that which was being crocheted on a daily basis by the boatwomen.

crochet queen

They decorated the interiors of their cabins with shelf edgings ….

original edging showing rust where it was nailed on

…. curtains and porthole covers. They made yards and yards of crocheted lace edgings to embellish their bonnets, aprons and girls’ dresses. One of the most beautiful items on display at the talk was a horse’s earcap – a protective covering worn by the canal folk’s horse’s to keep the flies away from their faces and eyes. The swishing of the coloured tassels would keep away insects ….

horse earcap

There was embroidery on display as well – gorgeous coloured belts in intricate spiderweb stitches worked on tea towels or other squared material.

spiderweb stitch embroidered belts

The talk was both fascinating and informative. I was totally unaware of the extent and importance of canal crochet; my attempts at filet work have now taken on a whole new meaning and I am keen to try some of the original cabin lace designs.

How brilliant that this group of crafts people are passionate enough to give up their time and share their enthusiasm with the general public while museums do not seem to believe there is a need to display exhibits of such historical importance.

On that note, let me wish you all a very happy Easter. I hope you have time for a bit of crochet …… or knitting …..or embroidery – in fact, whichever craft inspires you.

Happy crafting, everybody

Jenny x

9 thoughts on “Canal crochet

  1. Very interesting blog Jenny, I’ve yet to find out if the same is true for my local museum, National Museum Cardiff, which as you probably know is huge! Love the filet crochet, I’ve yet to do that one for the diploma, I’ve got some catching up to do on that score, I never knew there were such lovely crafts created by the boat people, I feel educated, thank you !🎓

  2. Hi Jenny, that’s a really interesting project and lovely photos.You must be close to finishing too. I’ve just started my report – I’m looking into learning preferences and motivations. I know it’s a bit cheeky, but would you be prepared to complete a short questionnaire for me? Happy for you to share with your crochet group if you wish. Creative Corner – feel free to do the same if you like. It’s great to know that there are more IDCers about 🙂
    I’ve set up a blog to host the survey and report back on the findings – Blogging is very new for me so
    I’ve just finished my last samples and do hope they pass!

    • Hi Sarah. Thank you for your kind comments re my report. As you say it’s good to know there are other IDC ers out there. Very happy to help with your questionnaire and to read of your experiences. A few samples left to complete – hairpin to be attempted and a couple of other things. My aim is to have completed by the summer as I am booked onto a two-day workshop in September. Will I do Part 2? Probably as working in the round is what I do most but not sure about all the extra written work. I’ll see in September.
      All the best, Jenny x

  3. This is fascinating! How sad that there aren’t more samples of crochet history available to explore! I hope that the current popularity of crocheting doesn’t fade away but if it does I would also hope that thanks to groups like the one that you found there will be plenty of exhibits for future generations to enjoy! Good luck on your crochet diploma!! 😀

    • Yes, I felt quite fortunate to have found that group. The IDC study has led to many very interesting discoveries and I am loving it. Thanks for your support. 🌸🌸

    • Hello again. The saving grace for me when I was researching my Cabin Lace project was the Friends of the Gloucestershire Waterways Museum who go around the area giving talks on the crafts of the canal boat women. It was fascinating and really inspired my filet crochet. It was difficult to find positive responses about the existence of historical crochet or crochet teaching but the report passed so I was very pleased. 🌸🌸x

      • Yes, I saw some of your photos. That looked lovely. There’s nothing like that round my way (Norfolk) although there is a long tradition of dying and weaving. I might have to write my report on the lack of access to a useful resource!

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