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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.
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.
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.
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.