During 2020 I have seen a huge uptake in people learning to crochet which makes my heart happy!
So in support of all the newbie crocheters, and as a self taught crocheter, I thought I would take some time to share some useful nuggets of information that will help beginner crocheters everywhere.
A kind of “What I wish I knew when I first learned to crochet”.
This post isn’t a how to crochet, it assumes you have some beginner knowledge of the basic crochet stitches. My aim here is to attempt to fill in the gaps.
It will include the kinds of things that aren’t always made clear in any single tutorial or lesson. I want to share the unspoken stuff that you pick up along the way. The ah-ha moments and stuff that normally only comes with practice.
I want to help you with the stuff that people assume that you already know. Don’t you just hate it when people are explaining things, assuming you understand lingo they are using? (That’s why I built my jargon buster)
Some of these I took years to work out and I really want to save you some of that “If only I realised that 6 months ago” feeling.
Honestly this post could go on forever, but I don’t want to cause you overwhelm (too much info is just not helpful when something is new).
So I could actually get to the end, I have added some brief “also rans” at the end. These are quick tips that didn’t quite make the top ten but are useful bites of info nonetheless.
Because this is a pretty long post (I hope you’re sat with a cuppa), here’s a top level look:
The 10 things you need to know about if you’re new to crochet:
- There is no single correct way to hold your hook and yarn
- US vs UK standard crochet terms
- Working in Rounds and Rows
- How to keep count of your stitches
- Understanding turning and starting chains
- How to work into chains
- Yarn weight
- Wrong Side and Right Side
- Weaving in ends
- Gauge / Tension
If there’s something specific bothering you, you can click the link and jump straight to it.
Before we get into it, I need to give a nod to my awesome facebook group (my crochet wardrobe). I asked them to think back to what they wished they had known when they first started crocheting, and they did not let me down!
There’s lots of stuff here that I hadn’t thought of, thanks to them! A lot of the same issues came up again and again, so I’ve dug deeper into some of those areas.
Okay. Let’s do this!
1. There is no single correct way to hold your crochet hook and yarn
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. As, I believe, Frauline Maria sung.
There isn’t a right way to hold your hook and yarn.
Different crocheters manage their hook and yarn in different ways. There are two common ways to hold your hook; the knife grip and the pencil grip. But do what works for you.
Likewise with your yarn. I learned from youtube and always saw people holding their yarn taught over their index finger as it points straight up in the air as their middle finger and thumb held their work.
I could never make this work. It just felt like too much effort for me, so I found my own way that feels relaxed and comfortable.
I think if you come to crochet with a knitting background (I do not), this can impact how you use your tools. Though with knitting, people generally hold their yarn wit the opposite hand so perhaps this is more of a hindrance than a help.
Regardless of the source (human, youtube, book, pictures) you are learning from, don’t be afraid to develop your own style. So long as the yarn ends up in the right places, it’s not really that important how it gets there!
It will take a bit of practice to find your groove. Experiment with different holds and different types of crochet hook (if you have access). Go with what feels natural and give yourself some time to build up muscle memory.
2. There are two types of standard crochet terminology: US and UK crochet terms.
Crochet has it’s own language. Each stitch, or stitch pattern has a name and that name usually has an abbreviation. For example a chain stitch is abbreviated to ‘ch’, so that in a pattern it can tell you how many of that stitch to make; e.g. ch11.
Most of these abbreviations are standardised
However, here’s where it gets fun. In the English speaking crochet world, there are two versions of this language – US and UK Standard Terms.
These languages are similar but the descriptions are kind of ‘offset’. So a single crochet (sc) in US terms is a double crochet (dc) in UK terms. And a double crochet in US terms is a treble (or sometimes triple) in UK terms.
I’m really sorry about this. All I can say is that you will get used to it!
If you are working from a pattern or tutorial, it’s vital you know whether US or UK standard terms are being used.
Let’s say a pattern asks you to work ‘10dc’. If you follow that in UK terms, but the pattern is written in US terms (and you don’t realise), then you’re going to come out with something that looks very different from the pictures. I’ve done it and so have most crocheters!!
All good patterns and tutorials should have this clearly stated. Some even use both or have two versions of the pattern.
If it’s not clear, there is a quick, but not foolproof, hints to help deduct which standards are bing used. Scan through the pattern and if you see either single crochet or half double crochet instructed then US terms are being used. (These terms aren’t used in UK terminology). However, if the pattern doesn’t contain either of these stitches then this won’t help!
Once you learn what different stitches look like, you’ll generally be able to see at a glance, comparing pattern with pictures, whether US or UK terms are being used.
In the meantime, ask for clarity!
3. The difference between working in rounds and rows
Generally in crochet, you will either work in rows or rounds.
Working in rows is pretty much as it sounds. You work your stitches across, turn, and work your stitches back the other way; on top of the row you just made.
Working in rounds brings a little more variation.
Rounds can mean working in circles or squares or rectangles (or other). It’s a ‘round’ because you make your stitches around a shape. When you work the last stitch, you will be back at the start.
There are two ways to finish a round; joining to the top of the first stitch or working in a continual spiral without joining.
If you are working a joined round, you will make a slip stitch in the top of the first stitch to finish the round. This will to create an even edge. At the end of a joined round you may turn or work the next round in the same direction. The pattern will (or certainly should!) tell you.
The biggest problem I had with with working in rounds was accidentally crocheting into the slip stitch, or missing a stitch which played havoc with my stitch count. Using a stitch marker helps make sure that you avoid this (more on that in a mo!).
When you are working continual / spiral rounds, I also recommend using a stitch marker so you know where your round ends / begins. Once you’ve worked a few you won’t be able to see it!
Which direction are you working?
When working in rows, you know that you are going to turn at the end and work back in the other direction. Unless you fasten off your yarn and re-join it.
However, if you’re working in rounds, sometimes you turn and sometimes you don’t. It’s easy to forget whether you did or not, so I wanted to share my tip for knowing which way you’re going.
In short, if your stitches slant away from you as you work then you are working in the opposite direction to the previous round – it looks like the image below (although this is a swatch with rows, but you get the gist!)
If your stitches slant forward, towards you as you work, then you are working in the same direction as last round, as shown in the image below.
This tip can be useful if you are working on a project with separate pieces.
Now that I’ve differentiated between rounds and rows, I’ll just use the word row to mean row or round, for ease of reading. (Unless I’m specifically talking about one or the other then I’ll make it clear!)
4. How to keep your stitch count the same
When you first start to crochet, you are not familiar with the way each of the stitches are structured so it can take a while to ‘see’ which part of the stitch to work into, what is a whole stitch and what isn’t.
This is normal and it will come with time, so don’t get frustrated with yourself!
To count your stitches you’ll need to be able to see and identify them. The easiest way to do this is to look at the top of the stitch which looks like a row of ‘Vs’ on their sides. Each V is one stitch and you put your hook under both parts of the V when working a typical stitch.
If you struggle with losing or gaining stitches, then you can get a but of help from a place marker.
Take a stitch marker (or contrasting yarn or bobby pins or safety pins if you haven’t been sucked into the notions rabbit hole yet!) and insert it into the first stitch of your row.
The picture below shows you what this will look like
With the first stitch marked, it is easy to see where the row starts. When you finish your row, count your stitches and check the number is as expected. There are 10 in this image.
When you start the next row or round, add amother place marker in the first stitch you work.
Work your stitches across and you will get to the stitch marker you placed at the start of the previous row. This marked stitch is where you work your last stitch.
The image below shows the last stitch, unworked, with a the red stitch marker running through it. This is where you will insert your hook to make the final stitch.
As you work into the marked stitch, you move the marker up to the first stitch of the next row each time.
This is a great way to keep stitch counts even when you are getting used to what stitches look like.
When working on a project like a blanket, with a large number of stitches on each row, some people like to place a marker every 10 or 20 stitches. This way you can count stitches in increments so you don’t end up counting as far as 157 and then get distracted and loosing your place and starting over.
5. Understanding starting or turning chains
This one is a biggie – I mean it’s really a whole separate post in itself, but for now I’ll cover the basics.
Turning chains (t-chains), or starting chains can be a source of huge confusion for newer, and indeed more experienced crocheters, so it’s really helpful to get it right from the start.
What is a turning chain?
A turning chain is the chain you make at the start of a row to achieve the height you need to start working your stitches.
You make a different number of chains to start your row depending on the height of the stitch you’re making.
The photo below shows a turning chain of 3 worked after a row of US double crochet / UK treble crochet.
How many chains should you crochet in your starting chain?
- Ch1 = height of a US single crochet / UK double crochet
- Ch2 = height of a US half double crochet / UK half treble
- Ch3 = height of a US double crochet / UK treble
- Ch4 = height of a US treble crochet / UK double treble
This is a general rule of thumb and, like anything in crochet, is dependent on personal style and preferences. (More about that in moment)
However, there is another vital factor to consider when it comes you t chains:
Does a turning chain count as a stitch?
The simple answer is; sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t!
There really is no standard either way. However, the pattern you are following, in whatever form it takes, should make it absolutely clear if your turning chain counts as a stitch or not.
It is essential to know the answer to this question as it will dictate where you place your hook for the first stitch of a row.
Make sure you know the answer to this question right from the start.
If your turning chain counts as a stitch
Where your chain counts as a stitch, you start your row by skipping the first stitch (the last stitch of the previous row) and insert your hook into the second stitch along.
The image below shows the hook being inserted into the second stitch, having skipped the first.
The starting chain will kind of sit on top of the skipped stitch, filling in the gap.
In my experience, this can be the cause of many issues for newer crocheters in keeping their stitch count consistent. When working back on the next row, it is easy to miss this chain and ‘loose’ a stitch. It’s harder to ‘see’ as it looks different to all the other stitches.
If you’re working a pattern where the turning chain is the first stitch then make sure you pop a stitch marker in the top of your turning chain (in the same way described previously). For example if you’re working a row of US double crochet where you start with a chain 3, you’d put your marker in the 3rd chain.
This way when you come back to work the next row, you know exactly where the last stitch should be made.
Sometimes, this starting chain method can leave a bit of a gap at the edge of your work. If you don’t like the look of it, try working with a shorter chain or one that doesn’t count as a stitch (see below).
There are various other ways to eliminate this gap, such as the standing single crochet, but that’s really for another post! (Watch this space!)
If your turning chain does not count as a stitch
In this case, the first stitch of the row is worked in the top of the last stitch of the previous row.
The image below shows the hook being inserted into the first stitch of the row using a row of US single crochet / UK double as an example.
You basically ignore the t-chain.
Because of this, you may find that the t-chain might be one chain less than the rules I just gave you!
For example, in the majority of my patterns, the t-chain does not count as a stitch. So for a row of stitches using a US double crochet, I will make a t-chain of just 2, instead of the 3 (which I would use if I was counting it as a stitch).
I generally take off 1 chain from the rule of thumb above. This stops too much extra bulk at the edges. The exception is when working a US single crochet / UK double, where you will always chain 1 regardless of whether it counts as a stitch or not.
Which way should you turn?
The take home message here is this:
Consistently turning the same way at the end of the row should help keep your edges straight.
There seems to be debate about whether to turn towards you or away. The important thing is to keep your working yarn at the back as you turn, so it’s in the right place ready for the next row and doesn’t wrap around itself.
As a side note, in another quirk of crochet, a lot of patterns, mine included, suggest you turn at the end of the row, then start the next row with your chain.
The reality is that most people chain first and then turn as it feels more natural. If you turn first you can add extra bulk to your turning chain as the working yarn can end up on the wrong side.
I asked crocheters on instagram which way round they did it and I think it is my most commented on post ever! If you want to go down the rabbit hole, check it out!
I’m not sure when or why the norm in pattern writing is to say turn and chain, when most people do it the other way around, but there it is nonetheless!
Both the turn and chain vs chain and turn, and turn towards you vs turn away from you methods are on my list to experiment with to see if there is a ‘best’ approach for neat straight edges. I’ll keep you posted on that one too!
6. How to work into chains
For years after I learned to crochet, I had envy of all those you tubers and instagram crocheters whose chain rows were always so neat.
I HATED working into chains because it was just so messy and tight and urgh. It was enough to put me off a pattern.
Then I learned how they all did it!
Which part of the chain should you crochet into?
The simple trick with working into chains is to work into the ‘back hump’ of each chain stitch. Doing this consistently stops your chain from twisting and keeps everything neat.
The picture below shows you which the ‘back hump’ is
It can take a while to get consistent tension in your chains, so don’t worry if yours are all different sizes. Even now, if I’m not paying attention, my chain size goes all over the place! Don’t worry too much about it.
If you consistently find that your chains are really tight and you end up with a curve in your work because of it, then go up a hook size or two for your chain row.
And try to relax!
Which is the second chain from the hook?
This was one of the comments that came up in the fb thread I mentioned earlier and it really spoke to me because it’s one of those things that is so often skimmed over.
A pattern will often say something like ‘chain x and work a stitch in the second / third / fourth chain from hook’. But identifying which chain that is can cause problems.
Lets take the example of working a US single crochet / UK double crochet into the second chain from hook.
The reason you do this is because the chain you miss is effectively the turning chain (as discussed above). So in this example, we are missing 1, which is equivalent to that ch1 t-chain that goes with a US single / UK double crochet.
As we discussed earlier, when you’re newer to crochet it can be hard to ‘see’ the stitches and chain stitches are no different. The picture below shows which the first, second and third chains from the hook are.
You can count the chains from the hook by counting those back humps.
Learning to look at a chain like this really was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. Ir made it SO much easier and made my work look so much neater! It’s especially useful if you need to come back and work into the other side of the chain (for example if you’re working a border).
Although I no longer use the term hate when it comes to working into chains, I confess that I am still not a fan.
If that is you too, then I implore you to learn how to make a chainless foundation row. It’s where you work the chain and the first stitch at the same time. You might not be quite ready for it yet, but when you are, it’s a game changer!
7. Yarn comes in different ‘weights’
When I discovered crochet, I had never tried any other yarn craft, so I knew nothing about yarn.
I called it wool because I didn’t know that wool is the fibre from sheep used to make wool yarn (i.e. yarn is the string and wool is what it’s made of).
You will probably already have seen lots of mentions of different categories of ‘yarn weight’ (worsted, aran, double knit etc) which can be pretty confusing.
You can read a detailed post about yarn weights here, but for now, this is what you need to know:
Yarn weight refers to the thickness of the yarn, not how much it weighs on a scale. The ‘heavier’ the yarn, the thicker the strand.
The thicker (heavier) the yarn, the larger the crochet hooky out need to work with it. Learn about hook sizes and yarn weight here.
The ball band should tell you what weight category the yarn is. (Guess what, there are different languages for that too… you can get it translated in this post!). It should also give you an idea of what crochet hook size to use, thought this is a guide only!
If a pattern calls for a particular yarn weight, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. But you do need to know that using a different weight yarn will change the size of the finished item and the amount of yarn you’ll use.
If this is a scarf or blanket then it may not be a big deal. You can change the number of stitches in your foundation row (though make sure you check the stitch multiples) and work until you reach the size you want.
If it’s a hat or something that needs to fit then you’re going to want to be more careful and learn a bit about gauge / tension (see number 10) before you start switching things up.
I totally made a hat for a giant, before I understood about yarn weights. It’s sort of a right of passage for any crocheter!
As a side note about yarn. When you’re learning to crochet, choose a light or bright colour. It is really hard to see the stitches with colours such as black or navy or charcoal or any other dark colour, so you will be giving yourself an extra layer of difficulty if you take that route!
8. Which is the ‘right side’ and ‘wrong side’
This is another one which tool me waaaaay too long to understand.
Some crochet patterns or fabrics are reversible. That is, they look the same on both sides. If you work rows of one stitch consistently, turning at the end of each row, then you’re going to have a reversible fabric.
However, if you switch up your stitches, let’s say you work a row of US single / UK double crochet, then a row of US double / UK treble crochet, then the two sides of your fabric are going to look different.
When you’re working a pattern. it’s important to recognise this and make sure you know which side you want to look at, especially for projects like hats or garments.
This is what the terms ‘right side’ (RS) and ‘wrong side’ (WS) are used for.
In this context, Right and Wrong are relative terms. It’s not about correct and incorrect. They are also sometimes referred to as Public (right) and Private (wrong) sides, which I think this is a more useful description.
The ‘Right Side’ is the front, or the side that the designer intends to face outwards, to be seen (publicly). The ‘Wrong Side’ could be classed as the back, the private side that should not be seen.
Note that I say the RS/WS is allocated by the designer. This is because it’s a matter of personal preference. You might think that the other side looks nicer.
Sometimes it’s really obvious if there is a right side, and sometimes it’s harder to tell.
In fact, I recently designed a stitch pattern called Breaking Waves which looked slightly different on each side and I simply couldn’t decide which one I preferred so I showed both!
If it matters then it should be clear in the pattern if there is a right side and which side that is. Normally it reads something like this:
Row 1 (RS): Ch1, 1sc in each st to end, turn
If you’re working from a video or picture tutorial, it should also be clear. This may not seem important when you’re making a scarf or a blanket where both sides will be seen, but as you start to make things like cushions or hats or sweaters, it matters more.
Likewise, if you’re making something from a motif, a granny square blanket for example, then it’s important that everything is facing the same way when you join it together!
You can also use the tip I shared earlier about the directions your stitches slant to help you work this out.
9. How to weave in ends
For a long time after I learned to crochet, I wondered if I was sewing in my ends ‘properly’. I never saw a tutorial which explicitly showed me how to do it.
When working a simple granny square, the advice was so often to crochet over your ends. But I recommend, from my experience, that if you want that granny square blanket to last, then you should do a bit more than that!
I use the terms sewing in and weaving in interchangeably, but sewing is more accurate!
A while back I wrote a tutorial dedicated to explaining how I weave in ends partly motivated by the fact that I never knew in my early days. It includes a rather therapeutic-to-watch (if I say so myself) video of me sewing in my ends on a sleeve. I suggest reading the post for the full picture.
In the meantime, here are few tips for sewing in ends that won’t come undone;
- Leave at least a 6 inch tail to weave your ends in and sew in the whole length
- Trim the last bit of the end close to your work
- Sew your ends into (rather than through) the fabric, working underneath parts of the stitches and following the ‘flow’
- Sew each end in at least 3 different directions so it won’t just pop out when you pull on the fabric (this is extra important if you’ve started with a magic ring)
- When working over ends of the same colour, work the end into a new stitch as a quick way to sew in whilst you work – I tend to do this as an extra measure so when I come to sew the tail in, I’ve already started the work
- If you’re working with super bulky yarn, use a small crochet hook to help weave in the ends and try felting the last bit of the tail
- If you want something to do with the ends of your ends once you’ve trimmed them, pop them all in a glass vase and make a living piece of art for your home!
10. Gauge and Tension: What you need to know as a beginner
I’ve left gauge until the end because I don’t want to scare you off!
You can read in more detail about what gauge is and why you need to know about it here. In this post I’m sticking to the essentials.
Lets start with a definition of gauge:
Gauge or tension is a measurement of how many stitches and rows of a specified crochet stitch there are in a specified area of crochet fabric, normally a 10cm square.
It is essentially a reflection of how tightly or loosely you crochet your stitches.
When you’re crocheting a pattern that you want to be a certain size, lets say a hat, the pattern will be written based on this gauge measurement. If your gauge measurement is different to the designer’s, then your hat is going to be a different size.
This is why a pattern will ask you to ‘meet gauge’.
If you’re just making squares or blankets or scarves, you don’t need to worry too much about matching the designer’s gauge. It’s important to be aware that gauge is an important thing, but don’t let it feel scary or overwhelming.
It’s really only important when things need to be made a specific size to fit.
If you want to know more, you can learn how to make, and measure your gauge swatch here. (Something else I see people doing ineffectively (I hesitate to use the word wrong) all the time!)
The terms tension and gauge are often used interchangably in this context. Tension is generally the UK term and Gauge the US term for the same measurement.
That said, I think tension is often a more relatable word. When you begin your crochet journey, your tension can be seen as how tight you work and hold the yarn.
Each crocheter has their own level of tension which develops with practice and time (and current mood!!). Some crochet loose, some tight and most somewhere in the middle.
New crocheters commonly start out with a fairly tight tension. You might be focusing really hard on what you’re doing and holding the yarn extra tight, as if your life depended on it!
As you build your muscle memory for the stitches, you will begin to relax, your shoulders will drop and your tension will, most likely, relax too.
Once common mistake that newer crocheters make, is that they only use the top part of the hook.
Crochet hooks are made with a very specific circumference around the ‘shaft’. You should make sure you use this part of the hook when yarning over and making your stitches. This ensures that your stitches end up the same width as your hook. (You can learn more about how crochet hooks affect your work here.)
If you’re wrapping the yarn around the ‘neck’ of the hook, which is usually narrower than the shaft, then you are going to end up with really small tight stitches. So when you come to work the next row, you’ll have to force the hook in… you will brace yourself to get it done and your tight tension will continue.
This is not a path to experiencing crochet as a therapeutic activity!! Making sure you use the wider part of the hook will help with this.
As you become experienced, you will get to know how you work and what tendencies you have in terms of tension. Take some time to notice this. Then, when you do come to a point where you need to match gauge, you will stand a much better chance!
P.S. Drop your shoulders!
Also Rans – quick fire tips!
Okay, those are my top 10 tips done. You can see why I had to limit it to 10. There is so much more I could talk about, but instead I’m going to add a few quick but valuable tips below!
They are a bit of a mash up, but all better to learn sooner rather than later!
Left handed crocheters: You can work from standard patterns. Your work will just be a mirror image of that of a right handed crocheter. Left handers (like me) work from left to right and clockwise, right handers work right to left and anticlockwise.
Changing colours mid row or round: Add your new colour to your hook on the last pull through of the previous stitch. Colour changing is a whole other blog post (coming soon), though you can learn about invisible colour changes here if you’re up for something adventurous!
Learn to read crochet patterns: You can do so here. It will enable you to choose from an infinite variety of projects. I’ve added a final note about learning styles at the end, but even if you prefer not to read patterns, understanding what goes into them will really help inform the medium you do prefer.
Remember to enjoy yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, it doesn’t have to be perfect and you can always pull it apart (frog it) and start over. Please do not take it to seriously, personally or worry about perfection. Experiment, have fun and play!
Other places to look for help
The Craft Yarn Council is an amazing, US based, website with so much useful information from standard abbreviations, to stitch symbols (I’ll leave charts for another post!), yarn weights and all sorts! Add it to your favourites!
Yarn sub is great for ideas for substituting yarn and digs really deep into lots of topics.
I share of my other favourite tips, tricks and techniques that I wish I learned earlier on this part of my crochet resources area
I will leave you with one final thought and that is how important it is to recognise that we all learn differently. This is something we should embrace and work with, rather than fight against.
For example, if you’ve got this far through the post then I’m going to assume that you’re not averse to written guidance!
But I know that many people prefer to learn from videos, picture tutorials or one to one in person (or on line) real time teaching.
I learned to crochet from an amazon kids kit then moved to youtube. Now I prefer to learn from old books and written text, reading patterns and visual charts.
Learning styles and preferences can evolve with your level of experience and that is a totally normal thing!
So try everything once, then when you get used to what you like, try them all again. You never know what you’re missing out on (or how good you’ve got it!) until you do!
I hope you’ve found this a useful article, regardless of your crochet experience.
If you have any feedback, newbie questions, or your own tips that you wish you knew when you started, I would love it if you dropped them in the comments.
My goal is for this blog to be a place where we can all learn from one another’s experiences.
Big love and happy hooking