Little is known of it's earliest history, but it is believed that the earliest crocheted projects were to have been made by finger crocheting (meaning the use of fingers instead of the traditional hook that we use today). During the Renaissance period, both upper class and lower class women crocheted several strands of thread (like macrame) to produce lace-like fabrics, imitating European lace. The website, The Renaissance Tailor discusses how a man's cape on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum uses the crochet braid as an adornment from the late 16th and early 17th century.
It was not until about the mid 1800s, when printed materials became more mass produced, that the popularity of Crocheting excelled. Usually in magazines or books, printed patterns for various crocheted items made it easier, and more popular, to produce Crocheted products. World War II though, nearly brought this art form to a halt due to shortages in available materials. It's popularity sprung back to life during the 1970s when it became extremely popular to wear Crocheted items. Today, according to a study done by Research Inc. for Craft Yarn Council of America, 34 million women in 1994 crocheted or knitted. In 2002, some 38 million women do.
Compared to today's Crocheting hooks which are mostly mass-produced and made of steel, aluminum, or plastic, vintage Victorian hooks were handmade, usually with materials such as: real ivory, brass, various woods, and other bone material. Most vintage hooks were ornately carved, including those with beautiful Mother of Pearl. It is believed that the more ornately carved crocheting hooks had a higher likelihood of being a wedding gift.
Today's crochet is primarily created by using soft yarns to produce mostly garments and blankets. The crochet stitch can be made by machine but in large, continues to traditionally be a home craft. And, although primarily thought of as a "woman's hobby," men are starting to catch onto Crocheting for it's relaxing qualities and satisfying results. (Some men reportedly like to crochet because the stitches have a mathematical quality which lead them to artistic creations.)
Crocheting still appeals to the various economical classes as a popular hobby because most of the materials still remain inexpensive and easy to obtain. The hobby of Crocheting also transcends between the ages. Young children are taught the art of Crocheting for many reasons: to increase their fine motor skills, aid in counting and instruction following, to bolster self-confidence, to introduce "quiet time," to learn a family tradition, and more. The older generations like Crocheting for the pleasure their craft brings to them, for the social outlets (yes, there are Crocheting Clubs!), and for those who are sufferers of arthritis -- the movement in the hands reportedly helps keep the arthritic symptoms in check!
Contrast to knitting, crochet (meaning "hook" in French) is a series of interlocking loops of thread onto a chain using a slender rod with a hook at the end. A single chain of loops is created, with each new loop catching the thread or yarn and pulling it through the previous loop. After the chain has been completed to the desired length, the thread or yarn is then turned starting a second chain (or the start of a row). Various stitches and patterns can be created. Some of the more common stitches known are: Chain, Single Crochet, Half-Double Crochet, Double Crochet, Popcorn Crochet, and Cluster Crochet.