It’s all about that drape, ‘bout that drape, no treble… How to find the right drape in crochet fabric
Sorry not sorry for the Meghan Trainor song reference, I’ve had that song in my head all afternoon (sorrier if you have no idea what I’m on about!).
Songs aside, shall we talk about drape? More specifically, what it is, and how knowing a bit about it will help you along with your crochet journey.
What is drape?
The dictionary defines drape as “the way in which a garment or fabric hangs”. The term can also be used to describe fabric arranged loosely around something (a shawl over shoulders, a napkin on a lap etc etc.).
I think that because of the second definition, there is a misconception that drape only relates to floaty lightweight fabric, but really it’s a measure of the movement of any fabric, whether that’s a cotton collar starched to within an inch of it’s life, or the softest lightest flowiest silk scarf! (shut up spellcheck, I’m making flowiest a word!)
The same applies to crochet fabric, because essentially, what you’re doing when you’re crocheting is creating a fabric. That fabric will have a certain amount of drape.
How does drape work in crochet?
There is another misconception (which drives me bonkers) that crochet garments in particular are all bulky and don’t have much movement. This is not the case but The myth comes from the comparison with knitting.
To give it context, I need to explain a little about why crochet fabric differs from knitted fabric. It’s true that crochet fabric is, in general, thicker than knit fabric. Now without tying myself in technical knots, crochet is thicker because you are effectively creating two layers of yarn when you wrap it around your hook – notice your crochet stitches have yarn doing different things on each side of your stitch. With knitting you are creating a single layer of smaller stitches, so it is more flexible from the start. (This is also partly why crochet works up so much faster than knitting but lets not go down that rabbit hole right now!).
Okay, the knitting question out of the way, lets talk about drape in crochet. It’s a good rule of thumb that the thicker the fabric the less movement (and therefore drape) it has. But just because crochet fabric is often thicker than knitted equivalent, that does not mean you can’t achieve spectacular drape with it!
There are many ways that you can effect the drape in your crochet. You might want to make a very firm stiff fabric, for a rug, a bag or a basket, or you might want to make a fabric with a lot of drape, for a lightweight sweater, a shawl or a skirt for example.
For me, there are 5 key elements which influence drape in crochet:
- Stitch Pattern
- Hook Size (and gauge)
- Yarn Weight
The choices you make with respect to each of these will impact the drape of your finished fabric. So lets take a look at them one by one:
The type of stitch pattern you select is key in how the finished fabric will hang. If you’ve been crocheting for a while, it won’t take a leap to know that single crochet creates a relatively solid stiff texture compared to a lacy open stitch. Think of something like an amigurumi versus a lace shawl. It’s quite intuitive once you start to think about it.
Essentially, the more movement in your stitch or stitch pattern, the more movement in your fabric.
If you want a fabric with very little movement, single crochet, slip stitch and waistcoat stitch (sometimes called centre single crochet) are all stitch patterns which, generally speaking, restrict movement.
If you’re looking for more drape, something where parts of the stitch are freer (I can’t think of a better word for it!) will be more drapey. Patterns like moss stitch, v-stitch, and extended crochet stitches (see my stitch directory for details) all have good drape, as do linked stitches, and often stitches worked in back or front loops (although these will drape more in one direction!).
Hook Size and Gauge / Tension
Ahhh… my friend gauge again!
I have listed hook and gauge together, mainly because one directly impacts the other.
The simple way to look at it is that if you want to increase drape you increase your hook size and if you want to decrease it you go down a size.
However, if your tension is still tight when you go up a hook size then you’re going to reduce your drape. Likewise if you crochet loose even with a small hook then your fabric will have more drape than you want!
A tight tension means that there isn’t much space between the yarn which makes up your stitch, so there isn’t much space for it to move around. You can use a super lacy open stitch but if you’re pulling on your yarn too hard then it’s not going to have much flow.
So, if you want to increase your drape, go up a hook but also, drop those shoulders, take a big deep breath and relax!!
Say you’re making a purse or something you don’t want to move much, then you can tighten your tension by going down a hook size. Whist I don’t advocate the angry approach to crochet where it’s so hard to get your hook into the stitch you get a sweat on (though it’s one way to exercise I guess!!), you can also adjust the way you hold your yarn so that the tension is tighter.
It would be easy to think that the thicker your yarn, the less drape your fabric will have. However, this isn’t necessarily true. If you’re making a queen size throw for example then super chunky yarn can have just as much movement as double knit.
However, if you’re using super bulky to make a sweater then you’ll have less movement because there isn’t as much area (relative to the size of each stitch) for it to move. With something like a double knit, you are going to have more stitches in the same area so there is more opportunity for movement.
So yarn weight is really a relative thing!
I would say, and this is my intuition rather than any kind of science, that the thicker the yarn, the bigger the impact your stitch choice has. A sweater made from 4 ply yarn using single crochet can have tons of drape, but a sweater crocheted in ultra bulky (not sure that’s an actual yarn weight but you get the point) using single crochet is going to be a little more like a straight jacket (especially if your tension is tight!)!!
You see how these things are starting to interact and work with or against each other?
The content of your yarn can have a huge impact on how your fabric will drape. I’ve already used the example of cotton and silk, so lets look at something like raffia versus something like mohair.
You can get both these fibres in various weights, but if you tried to make a sun hat out of mohair, I think you will be disappointed (and mohair is a killer to frog so double disappointment!). However, sunhats work up great with raffia.
Why? Well think about the properties of the fibre. I touched on this in my last post about choosing yarn, so I won’t go into detail here, but again it’s one of those things which comes with practice and your gut. Raffia doesn’t move much so it stands to reason that if make something from it, that isn’t going to move much either. And something made from it using a tight stitch pattern and small hook is going to move even less!
Conversely mohair is all about lightness and movement. Because it has a big halo you can up the hook size quite a lot and the fluff (technically, they are short fibres) kind of sticks together between the gaps in stitches to create a very floaty fabric. My be bold sweater uses mohair and a a 5mm hook and illustrates this quite well.
I’ve used quite extreme examples here to illustrate the point. I know the more common fibres such as acrylic and wool sit somewhere in the middle but it’s important to be conscious of how fibre plays it’s part.
Blocking can be used to introduce or increase drape in your finished fabric and can, in some cases, override the rules I have given you so far.
With garments made from natural fibres in particular, I recommend wet blocking to increase drape (there are exceptions so always experiment with your swatch, especially if you’re working with steam!).
I know blocking is a topic of much mystery to many crocheters who don’t do it, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. Instead I will refer you to this post which explains blocking step by step!
What I will say is that blocking with heat (steam blocking) will almost always increase drape. But be warned if you are working with acrylic yarn. When you heat block acrylic you are melting the fibres in the yarn and whilst it creates lots of movement, the effect is irreversible! Fibres like wool will often revert after washing and cotton is (generally speaking) hardier still.
I hope that this has given you an insight into how drape works with crocheted fabric and will help you increase or reduce it in your next project!
Do you have any other tricks to manipulate your fabric? I’d love to hear them if so! Drop a comment below!!