Despite the fact that knitting and crochet employ similar tools (hands, yarn and a long, pointed implement) crochet is often labeled the "other yarn craft." This remains true even within the context of the early 21st century, which has given rise to a tremendous revival of interest in all do-it-yourself hand-crafts. Their differing levels of popularity might be due to the inherent nature of these two yarn crafts. Crochet lends itself more towards open, lace-like finished projects, while knitting usually produces a dense, sturdy product prized for its warmth. Within the context of garment creation, crochet is more frequently used to create elegant garment accents or embellishments, such as cuffs, collar or shawl, rather than an entire garment. In contrast, knitting is used to create garments which become the focal point themselves.
Though no scholar has been able to pinpoint the exact origins of crochet, within the European context it probably developed from tambour needlework, a type of needlework originating in modern-day India, Pakistan and/or Turkey but practiced by European women. In tambour, a hooked needle is pushed through fabric stretched on a frame, pulling a thread through the fabric to create a chainstitch. At some point, the fabric was discarded and the thread or yarn worked on its own with the hooked needle. This evolution probably occurred sometime around 1800, as pre-1800 examples of European crochet have not been located by scholars.
Crochet took on particular importance in Ireland, where it was introduced by Irish nuns in the early 19th century. Irish nuns used crochet to approximate motifs found in Venetian lace and taught this skill to girls and women throughout Ireland. The resulting lace-like product was marketed as an affordable alternative to expensive but highly desirable bobbin or needle lace and was sold throughout Europe and North America. Used often as garment trim, Irish lace was also incorporated into decorative items for the home and personal accessories.
This small purse of Irish crochet dates from about 1905-10 and was probably created from a pattern featured in a fashion periodical. Patterns for small crocheted purses, often decorated with beads, were common in the first decade of the 20th century. Due to the relative speed with which they could be produced, purses were often suggested as the ideal hand-crafted gift.