Crochet work was popular among the Germans from Russia in the Dakotas, and mention is made by Joseph Height [Homesteaders on the Steppe] of both crocheted tableclothes and pillowcase lace as prized posessions of German housewives in Russia. Photos in Karl Sumpp's The German Russians: Two Centuries of Pioneering show evidence of decorative lace and crochet work on the clothing of German women and girls 1920-1942. Various pieces of crochet work can be seen in the photos of German-Russian families included in the various Jubilee books produced by North Dakota and South Dakota towns.
As young girls developed fine-motor skills, they were introduced to needlework by their mothers or grandmothers. A first project might be hand-sewing a simple dress for a favorite doll, or hemming a dishtowel or other small cloth object. As the needle skills progressed, the child might be instructed in embroidering a colorful design on a pillowcase, which would naturally lead to learning to crochet lace to edge the pillowcase.
Girls would often prepare hand-decorated linens to be carefully saved in their dowry box. Dreams of a future home of her own motivated many a young girl to diligently invest time and effort in the preparation of these handwork pieces.
Modern crochet work is an outgrowth of tambour embroidery and became a highly developed skill in the convents of France in the 16th century. The word "crochet" is the French word for "hook," the vital piece of equipment needed for crochet work.
Early on, crochet patterns did not exist. Women would copy a favorite crochet piece of a relative or friend, working row by row and with the assistance of a magnifying glass if needed. Some women would combine elements from several crochet pieces into their own unique design.
Some crochet pieces start with a beginning ring and work outward - such pieces can be round or square, depending on the design. Other pieces start with a long chain, with the rows built on this foundation, resulting in a square or rectangular piece. A motif is a small piece of crochet work which, when attached to many other pieces of the same design, results in a larger crocheted item.
Crochet work can add strength and a finished look to linens such as towels, tablecloths and pillowcases. Crochet work can be used as a joining piece between two panels of fabric. Crocheted doilies and tablecloths add elegance to the home as well as providing practical protection for prized furniture. By the use of crochet, yarn can be turned into warm afghans and blankets.
The following patterns present a sampling of some of the crochet work done by German-Russian women in the Dakotas. Additional examples of German-Russian handwork can be seen in The Gluckstalers in New Russia and North America pp. 647-665. It is hoped that the patterns here presented will provide a venue for interested individuals to participate in a "living history" of Germany-Russian culture and help preserve the accomplishments of our ancestors.