Posted on Leave a comment

Hand Chaining, a Straddler of Worlds

Hand chaining is when you crochet chain stitches with your hands and fingers instead of with a crochet hook. It’s also called finger crocheting. Hand chaining is so easy! Kindergartners do it. It’s a popular way to crochet trendy necklace-scarves with fancy yarns in under 30 minutes.

Trendy Hand Chaining Trendy Necklace Scarves long
Love it! “Poseidon Scarf Kit” at

You might have learned hand chaining as a child in kindergarten, at camp, or from a babysitter. It’s often taught as a stand alone activity rather than as an introduction to the larger world of crochet, knot tying, or knitting. I don’t even remember how I learned it. I just already knew how by the time I officially learned how to crochet with a hook at the age of nine.

For the next blog post I viewed several videos that show how to do hand chaining as a crocheter, a knitter, or a knot tyer. It left me with a new way of thinking about the origins of crochet.

Not Just for Beginners

Hand chaining is so fun to do that even experienced crocheters are at risk of getting “hooked” (if they remember to try it). It’s often forgotten as a crochet method even though it offers nuanced control over unusual yarn combinations for edgy, artsy effects. I get new, deeper insights into simple stitches when I hand crochet them, thanks to the intimate, tactile experience of crocheting.

Hand chaining a special subset of crochet that merits a closer look than it usually gets.

Hand Chaining vs. Hook Chaining

Hand chaining (finger crocheting) loosely and tightly in 3 different fibers: sain cord, wool tube yarn, suede lacing.
Hand Chaining loosely vs. tightly. L to R: Satin cord, wool knit tube yarn, suede lacing.

Hand chaining cuts out the middleman (er, the crochet hook). This is perfect for crochet beginners! Learning to use a new tool with yarn loops for the first time takes the focus off of the stitch. Shouldn’t getting to know a stitch be the most important part of learning to crochet? Especially when that stitch—the chain stitch— is the foundational core of all crochet? I think so.

The crochet hook is the one central tool of crochet. When researchers encounter an unfamiliar fabric, they consider the tool used to create it. An item made with a crochet hook is usually classified as crocheted. I wonder how hand-chained items are classified.

Earliest Crochet Roots?

Hand chaining straddles two worlds: Crochet, and Knot Tying. The same basic crochet stitches can be made with hand chaining as with a crochet hook: Chain Stitch, Slip Stitch, and Single Crochet. (Other stitches are more of a struggle without a hook.) The fingers or the whole hand simply take the place of the crochet hook. Perhaps hand chaining came first, at least in some early cultures, and the crochet hook evolved to substitute for hands and fingers.

Among knot tying aficionados, hand chaining is called many other things: Drummer Boy’s Sinnet, Zipper Sinnet, Monkey Braid, Sea Chains, Chain Knots, Caterpillar Sinnet, and Daisy Chains. Boys and men may have encountered hand chaining via knot tying. Some practical uses among knot tyers include:

  1. To quickly neaten long lengths of rope or electrical wire for storage. (To this linked video, a commenter added, “This is used by riggers [who set up e.g. the ceiling on stages for rock concerts] as a cool way of shortening and storing several long ropes in a hurry.”)
  2. Launder climbing rope so that it can be easily machine washed, allowed to dry, and then “unzipped” for use afterwards.
  3. Watch James Dean absent-mindedly finger crochet with a rope while doing an interview in 1955! (Video starts as the camera is about to pan down to the rope he’s holding.)


Even if you already know how to crochet, I think Chain Stitch In Depth and other posts about crochet basics offer some new ways to think about our most basic and important crochet stitch of all, the Chain Stitch.

Updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: Hand Chaining How-To’s.
Posted on 1 Comment

Pros & Cons of the Starting Slip Knot

In the previous post I listed five decisions we’ve already made by the time we’ve made a starting slip knot in the yarn, and six options we have for doing more with the starting yarn end. Below I compare the advantages and disadvantages of different slip knots.

If you’re new to crochet, stick with the basic slip knot for now, and read on for future reference.

Starting slip knots: reinforced with a twist; three-loop; fancy "jury mast knot".
Reinforced with a twist (two leftmost photos). Three-loop slip knot (upper right). Fancy “jury mast knot” (lower right).

A Creative Start

Crochet happens when a loop can be pulled through another loop. So much creative freedom in this!—including the very first step we take when starting a new crochet project. With options come new advantages.

Basic Slip Knot: Advantages

The role of the traditional beginner’s slip knot is to be:

  1. Invisible (ideally completely).
  2. Strong.
  3. Permanent (when made the right way).
  4. Simple and quick to make, remember, adjust, and use to start crocheting the first stitch.
  5. The slip loop blends in as a stitch: it forms the top two loops of the first chain stitch.

✅The beginner’s slip knot is a great choice for #1 through #5, with a few minor exceptions.

(Slight) Disadvantages

The basic slip knot is not truly invisible.

It’s usually invisible enough, but occasionally not in certain yarns and project types. The thicker the yarn, the bigger the knot when you start crocheting. A knot in the center of a motif, flower shape, or nose of a stuffed animal can make it more noticeable.

It’s not particularly pretty.

The basic slip knot adds no beauty or polish when it’s noticeable. For me it’s because it lacks symmetry. The yarn end doesn’t hang straight and centered from it. The knot itself is a bit lumpy (sort of like a tiny fist). It looks like what it is: a simple, common, serviceable knot.

It can loosen and unravel (due to user error).

©2013 Reyna Lorele: Granny square blanket with just the center unraveled.
©2013 Reyna Lorele. Only the center of this granny square unraveled.

If the starting yarn end is clipped too short and/or the yarn is slippery, watch out. The knot could loosen and even unravel in certain projects (see example at right).

⚠️Beginners: this is why I go into detail about the starting yarn end and how to make the basic slip knot the best way.

Ever seen an old lace or granny square afghan with only the centers unraveled? It’s sad how common this is and how easily it could have been prevented.

Alternatives: Advantages

Given that…crochet is great for everything from delicate lace dresses to sturdy beach totes and slipper soles; from super strong pet leashes to artistic jewelry; from weightless shawls to heavy coats and afghans, and still more! —

And…that many crochet projects are actually “started” over and over, like granny square afghans (each granny square starts in its center), Irish crochet lace (separate shapes are assembled later), and intarsia (patterns of colors with varying lengths of yarn), —

Doesn’t it make sense that some crochet projects could benefit from specialized ways of starting them? 

6. Pretty.

A clearly visible starting slip knot could be intentionally decorative. Imagine one that looks symmetrical and has a charming, fancy, or fascinating texture. It could also be functional. A dense and bulky one would serve as a stopper for a large-holed bead. (I’ve often needed a good knot for this purpose!) It could also add weight to the ends of fringe for a nicer drape. See my Buff Slip Knot.

7. Temporary.

Some crocheters and knitters have a blanket “no knots” policy. Temporary knots are easy. Just make your basic slip knot really loose so that you can undo it later. Or, crochet right into it as if it’s a foundation chain. This way, the knot makes it easy to start crocheting, but you’re not stuck with it permanently.

8. More than one starting loop.

I keep discovering more uses for starting with more than one loop. Make a simple slip knot variation that produces two (or more) starting loops, then start crocheting with one of them. The remaining starting loop(s) can be used as a button loop or hanging loop for your finished project.

9. Reinforced strength.

Add a twist or an extra wrap while making the basic slip knot reinforces its strength and security. I need this reinforcement when using extra slippery or wiry yarns and threads. See some in the first picture above.

10. Change the angle of the yarn ends.

Simple crochet jewelry with chain stitches, starting slip knots, and simple fastening off knots. Lotus yarn, four colors.
Yarn ends hang bent from basic starting slip knots.

“Change the angle of the yarn ends” may sound odd, but for me it’s a new way of looking at starting knots. When my yarn end is visible as fringe, sometimes it’s noticeable to me that it doesn’t hang straight. This is because our basic slip knot causes the yarn end to hang at an angle. I’m currently looking for starting knots that cause the starting yarn end to hang differently. I like the Buff Slip Knot so far.

11. Attach to something with a starting loop.

I’ve needed a way to start crocheting while also neatly, elegantly attaching it to something when I’ve made: watchbands, a belt with a buckle, and certain pendants for necklaces. I’m currently looking for new favorite starting knots in this category.

A Note about Knots

Remember I mentioned that some crocheters and knitters have a NO KNOTS policy? Perhaps some of them mean tight knots. A tight knot can weaken the yarn over time. It’s also unsightly, intruding on a buttery, spongey look and hand.

I almost always use knots when I start crocheting, but I don’t pull them into tight hard lumps. I rely on reinforcement from a long woven-in yarn end more than on a knot if I can. It depends on each project. I’m especially careful in areas that will have to sustain strain and weight. That would be the shoulders of a sweater, the motif centers and seams of a blanket, the toes and heels of socks, a bag bottom and its handle attachments, and so on.

Updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: .
Posted on 1 Comment

Starting End of Yarn: No Small Thing!

Which starting yarn end is the ball end or feed line? labeled diagram.
Some folks call the short end the “yarn tail” and the other end the “supply end” or “the yarn coming from the ball”. View full size.

More to It Than it Seems

Crochet beginners need to know how to leave a long enough one (see #2 below) when they making their basic slip knot. Of course the other thing to know is which end to start crocheting with, and if beginner chooses the shorter end they figure it out soon enough!

Very little is usually written or said about the starting yarn end. What else is there to know? The starting yarn end comes with built in decisions—decisions we non-beginners may not realize we’re making. I’ve listed five below. If you’re a new crocheter, just read through them for now.

In addition, we could be putting the starting yarn end to work for us. I’ve listed six ways at the end of this post. That humble starting yarn end may be the most underestimated part of a crochet project!

New to Using Yarn?

If you’re new to using yarn as well as new to crocheting, keep the yarn simple for now: use a 36″ or so {91 cm} piece (I mentioned it previously). A shorter yarn length like this avoids unnecessary yarn-based issues, like whether the yarn is in a hank or other difficult-to-use form, or how to even find the yarn end when it’s tucked away well.

This will also make it easy for you to keep both ends of the yarn in sight at all times. The first end we use is the starting end (or occasionally a yarn tail), and the other end is called the longer endball end (because it leads to the rest of the yarn), feed line (feeding from the ball), working endsupply end.

Five Hidden Decisions

We make five decisions (maybe more) with the starting yarn end every time. They’re hidden because most of them are made automatically, or are not seen as having options.

1. Which End?

Every ball of yarn has two ends. Depending on how it’s wound, you may have easy access to both: one wound around the outside of the ball, the other coming from its center. (See example in the upper photo). The end in the center can be surprisingly hard to find! When you do it will be wrinkled. The outer end is smoother and easier to find.

The first decision we make is which end we choose as our starting yarn end. Sometimes it matters (that’s for a future post); often it doesn’t. The center end is my first choice because the ball won’t roll around as I pull more yarn from it.

2. How Close to the End?

The next decision is how close to this end we make the starting slip knot. In other words, how long should the starting end of yarn be for a crochet project?

A starting yarn end that is too short vs. just right.
Making the slip knot too close to the yarn end results in a yarn tail (starting end) shorter than at least 4 in (10 cm). Full size.

The standard guideline is 4″/10 cm long. Why? It’s just long enough to be threaded onto a yarn needle later and woven in (sewn securely into nearby stitches so that it stays invisible). It’s not too long to waste yarn or get in your way.

A common exception to the default 4″-long starting end of yarn is 6“/15 cm long, for example when the yarn is especially slippery. Some yarns need more weaving in to stay put.

⚠️Never snip the yarn end close to the knot unless you’re specifically, rarely, directed to in a pattern for a certain effect, such as for stubby fringe. It otherwise looks poorly finished. Worse, it could loosen and cause seams or other stitches to unravel.

3. Which Kind of Slip Knot?

Most crocheters always use one of two types they learned as a beginner, so this counts as a hidden decision. Knot tyers know several more, and some offer extra features. More experienced crocheters avoid the knot part and just wrap a loop around the hook for their starting loop. (A chain stitch is self-knotting at its base, so a starting knot is optional.)

4. Adding Beads?

If you wish to have beads strung on your yarn so that you can slide them up and into stitches as you crochet them, string them onto the yarn before you make that slip knot. You could cut the yarn later to string beads on, but the knot you’d add would be pretty inconvenient with beads. (There are alternate ways to add beads, which is for another post.)

5. Assign a Special Task?

Give the starting yarn end some odd jobs to do. A few of these tasks below count as beginner-level, especially the first two. Some may take a bit of planning ahead, so once you make that slip knot, you’ve essentially made a decision against certain special tasks.

Special Tasks

The starting end is already securely attached, so you can use it to hold extra yarn in reserve for later. If you had to attach a new piece of yarn later for the same tasks, you’d have three yarn ends to weave in instead of just one. Keep this list in mind and you won’t underestimate the starting end of yarn as your skills grow.

⚠️When a starting end of yarn is very long, beginners are especially at risk of confusing the ends. Make sure you don’t crochet with the starting end instead of the ball end.

1. Sew/String on Buttons and Beads

A moderately long starting yarn end (12″ to 24″/30–61 cm) is helpful in case I might wish to:

  • Sew on a button.
  • String on a big accent bead.
  • Create beaded chain fringe. (I’d still be attaching more yarn if I decide to add a fringe edging, but at least I wouldn’t have to weave in the starting end of yarn that’s too short.)

I’ve often used the starting end of yarn for the first two tasks for crochet jewelry. By now I reflexively leave a longer end when I swatch a new jewelry idea just in case I need it; also see #3 below.

2. Seaming

For some projects, a much longer starting end of yarn can be reserved for seaming later. It’s the best yarn for this because it’s already attached, and I often prefer a crocheted seam. I don’t always know how much yarn I’ll need for the seam; my general guideline is to multiply the length of the seam by 3 or 4 for a slip stitch seam and longer for a single crochet seam.

For this option, and for the next one, it helps to wind the starting end of yarn onto a bobbin or scrap piece of cardboard.

3. New Jewelry Clasp

Sometimes when designing new crochet jewelry I’ll use a long starting end of yarn to crochet a clasp  later. At least 36″/91 cm long gives me options for adding a range of jewelry clasps without having to attach a separate length of yarn.

4. Both Ends Together

You might start off crocheting a long starting yarn end together with the ball end. I’ve done this when starting at the center of a rectangular or oval shape so that the foundation chains are more substantial, since I’ll be crocheting Round 1 into both sides of the chains. In other words, I’m crocheting the foundation double-stranded—with two strands held together—but I didn’t need to add a separate length of yarn (with two more ends to weave in later!) to do so.

5. Add a Simple Finished Edge

For small projects and simple edgings, you don’t need a crazy-long starting yarn end. An edge of slip stitches and chains or of single crochets would require roughly the same amount of yarn as a crocheted seam (see #2).

I’ve done this most often with coffee cozies. With the starting end of yarn I slip stitch around the bottom rim to firm it up. It also looks nice.

6. Improve a Join or Add a Few Stitches Later

Rosepuff crochet videos by Vashti.
Rose and lavender shawl points were completed later with fancy beaded picots, thanks to the reserve yarn of their long starting ends.

Sometimes a beginning is prettier when you save it for the end! For newer crocheters, this means you don’t have to sweat what your first round of stitches looks like, especially if it’s a spiraling round. Maybe it looks stringy, uneven, or lumpy. You can use your starting end and a yarn needle to smooth the area with a few darning stitches where you joined your round. Or, slip stitch a new edge with a crochet hook (see #5). It may help to unravel the starting knot first.

A more advanced example is when I start a shawl in one corner and it has a fancy built-in edging. I can get its edge to look like the other corners if I come back to it and crochet its first few stitches last. It’s a low-stress option that also makes the pattern easier to write and to follow.

There are probably many more handy uses for a long starting yarn end. Have I left out any special tasks?

One Last Thing

The starting end of yarn determines whether your starting slip knot is fixed and secure, or can be pulled loose enough to allow a seam to unravel! See my earlier post about these two different slip knots. Look closely at the starting yarn ends.

Updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: More Ways to Start Crocheting.
Posted on Leave a comment

Starting With the Best Slip Knot

How to make the best (most secure) slip knot (leftie view too).
View above image full size.

I knew of only one kind of slip knot when I learned how to crochet at the age of nine. It’s a common, fast, useful, and easy knot. As I recall it was occasionally called a slip loop

The simple slip knot we’re all taught when we first learn how to crochet can be made to be either adjustable (blue one in photo) or secure/locking (the red one). The only difference is which yarn end you use to make it.

Many years passed before I learned about these two versions of the same slip knot. (I discovered other kinds of slip knots a few years after that. More on those at the end of this post.)

It used to be that all of my slip knots were adjustable by accident. Now they are all secure on purpose!

Which Slip Knot Do You Make?

Tug on the short end of the yarn (a.k.a. the cut end or “tail”).

  • If doing this tightens the loop, you made an adjustable slip knot
  • If you have to tug on the long or “ball end” (i.e. where the yarn that is attached to the skein) to tighten the loop, it is a locking slip knot.

The locking type is important because there’s no chance of it loosening and perhaps even unknotting over time under stress. A source of stress could be when the slip knot is part of a purse bottom, at the clasp end of heavy beaded jewelry, or—very commonly—at the center of afghan motifs.

The adjustable version could come in handy when you want to close up a center hole in one of the many methods of crocheting in the round. (Make sure a lot of stress won’t be put on it.)

Here’s how: If you work all stitches of the first round into one chain, you can then pull on the yarn tail to close up the center hole tightly. This is how I was taught to start granny squares in the 1970’s.

Be sure to leave a long enough end (more than four inches/10 cm) for weaving in securely so that it won’t loosen later.

If your adjustable slip knots have never loosened, great! Perhaps you have woven in a nice long yarn end to secure it; or used a non-slippery yarn, or a tight stitch gauge. Maybe your projects have not subjected the slip knots to a lot of stress.

Slip Knot How-To Video

This video demonstration (not mine) shows three ways to make a slip knot. The first two are just different ways to make an adjustable slip knot. Notice how she uses the short yarn end when completing the slip knot, and then tightens the loop around the hook by pulling the short end.

The third slip knot in the same video is the locking slip knot. Notice she uses the ball end (long yarn end) when completing the slip knot.

More Slip Knots?

Knot tyers make several types of slip knots!

Among non-crocheters, our simple slip knot may go by other names, such as Simple Noose KnotOverhand Knot with Draw Loop, and Slipped Overhand (or Thumb) Knot.

Knot tyers have more slip knots that crocheters could use. After all, we really just need a simple loop to start crocheting. When we know more slip knots, we can choose one that offers advantages for the project we’re starting.

You can see some of the ones I tried at right. In another post I explained how to do a few of them and why you might want to.

Updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: Starting End of Yarn: No Small Thing!
Posted on 5 Comments

Start Crocheting From Scratch

Classic Slip Knot on left, Crossed Loop on right.
Classic Slip Knot (left), Simple Crossed Loop (right). Either one works. View larger.

How We Tend to Start

Let’s really look at how we start crocheting, and why we do it this way. Most of us learn to make a slip knot that gives you your first loop (called a slip loop) that you can tighten or loosen a bit to fit nicely over your crochet hook.

Later, some of us may alter the beginner’s slip knot, depending on the project. We may start crocheting in the round with a magic ring instead; or we might undo it later because that starting knot is too noticeable in the yarn we’re using. Some crocheters loosen it and crochet the last stitch of the row into it.

Over the next few posts I contrast the advantages of the standard slip knot with some alternatives.

Are you a beginner? Head over to this post first so that you’re clear on the best way to make the standard starting slip knot.

Many Crocheters Don’t Know:

  • The simple slip knot we all learned as beginners is one of two types based on which yarn end tightens the slip loop. Which one we learned matters.
  • The slip knot has a special relationship to the chain stitch. (That’s the first stitch you make after putting the slip loop on your crochet hook.)
  • A slip knot is not required at all, but it’s helpful if you’re a beginner.
  • There are slip knot variations that could be more useful for a particular project. (Explained in future posts.)

Start Crocheting With Just a Loop

The knot part is optional. Compare the two starting loops in the image above. Frankly, you don’t even need a crochet hook or a specific kind of yarn. Isn’t this a remarkable thing about crochet? Musicians need to tune their instrument first, and weavers need to string a loom first. Even knitters need to cast on more than one loop.

The minimum a crocheter needs to start crocheting is a yarn end looped around a hook (or your finger if finger crocheting).

About the “Yarn”

To start crocheting with a loop implies that you need a length of something that bends into a loop, right? If you’ve never, ever crocheted before, you don’t need a ball of yarn. Start crocheting right now with a piece of yarn-like cord that’s at least 36″ long (almost 1 meter). Ideally your cord or string is smooth, limp, and a light enough color to see well. Kind of thick—like craft yarn or cotton clothesline. Not stiff or wiry, neither bristly nor bumpy, and not as skinny as kite string. From here on I’ll refer to this as “yarn.”

The Crossed Loop

When a simple loop has crossed ends, you’ve already got a starting loop for crochet. See it in the photo above? When you think about it, all of crochet is based on loops with crossed ends.

The two crossed ends of a loop matter later. They have different roles in crochet. (For a future post.)

A quick and easy way to think of this Crossed Loop is to imagine that you’re writing a cursive letter “e”. You can do it in the air or “write” with the yarn on a table. See how the Crossed Loop in the photo above could be a cursive “e”?

From Crossed Loop to Slip Knot

If You’re Right-Handed

Pinch and hold a Crossed Loop with the fingers of your left hand where the yarn crosses itself. It now appears that two strands are hanging down from your hand. With your right hand, pick up the strand on the right that crosses in front of the other strand. Bring it around behind your loop. Bend it so that you can pull a new loop through the first loop, from behind. Leave it sort of loose, and set it down.

It's this easy to create a loop with a Slip Knot
Two kinds of yarn shown. Slip knot is loose on the left and tighter on the right. View larger.

If You’re Left-Handed

Turn it around, pinch and hold it with the fingers of your right hand where the yarn crosses itself. Or, you could write a cursive “e” backwards. It now appears that two strands are hanging down from your hand. With your left hand, pick up the strand on the left that crosses in front of the other strand. (See below.) Bring it around behind your loop. Bend it so that you can pull a new loop through the first loop, from behind. Leave it sort of loose, and set it down.

For Lefties. Two kinds of yarn shown. Slip knot is loose on the left and tighter on the right. View larger.

Slip Knot: It’s a Chain Stitch!

You’re already crocheting. When you pulled the bent or “looped” strand through the initial loop, you finger-crocheted. You can see why some crocheters just leave the knot loose and crochet into it like it’s one of the foundation chains.

Key Takeaways

1. The Crossed Loop is one loop away from being a Slip Knot. Once you pull a new loop through a simple Crossed Loop, just tighten it to reveal that it’s actually a Slip Knot. (To tighten, pinch the loop and tug on the other strand to watch the knot tighten around the loop.) Notice that you can also adjust the loop size of the Slip Knot, and the knot part preserves the size of the loop.

2. The Slip Knot is the standard, official way to start crocheting, especially for beginners. This is probably because beginners also usually start crocheting with a crochet hook in their hand (as opposed to finger crocheting). The Slip Knot is great for this. You can tighten its loop around a crochet hook and wave it around like a magician. It stays put. Very handy!

3. Once you pull a loop through an initial Crossed Loop you’ve crocheted. A Crossed Loop is a fine start for any crocheting, when you’re ready for it. For finger crocheting, you wouldn’t need a Slip Knot to keep a loop on your finger because you can easily hold it. Just keep pulling a new loop through the next loop and you’re crocheting.

4. Chain stitches are self-knotting at the starting end. It’s another reason that a Slip Knot is not essential, it’s optional. Try it: undo the initial Slip Knot after you’ve crocheted some chains. Tug on that starting yarn end and the very next chain stitch automatically becomes the new starting knotThis is why some crocheters can leave the initial knot loose and undo it later.

Updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: Starting with the Best Slip Knot.