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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.
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Why I’d Want to Learn How to Crochet

Crocheted honeycomb slots of the Big Hook Bucket seen from the top.
Pictured: Honeycomb-top Big Hook Bucket!

 

After decades of crocheting and writing about it, I’ve reconsidered the essential character and fundamentals of crochet. I’m an even bigger fan than I already was! Consider what is remarkable about crochet with me:

Why I’d Want to Learn How to Crochet

Easy Control

Terms like easy and simple come up often about crochet. They usually imply not complicated, but I think that’s misleading. What’s easy about crochet is that you have a lot of built-in control. The hook provides it, and the logical structure of one “locked down” loop at a time does it.

Irresistible Rhythm

Crocheting has a wonderfully rejuvenating rhythm. It’s comforting to frayed nerves and reassuring in difficult times. I would want to learn how to crochet just to have this experience.

The Textures Look Complex

The result is a textured fabric that looks more complex than it is. I also appreciate how the inter-looped structure reinforces the material used. It can take the form of diaphanous, seemingly two-dimensional weightless fabrics, a stretchy wind-proof covering, a luxe pearl strand, or a big free-standing figure.

Rapid-Rip

The whole piece is easily “unzipped.” Crocheters call it frogging (because you “rip-it”). The yarn can then be reused, unlike with macramé, for example, which requires you to use several cut pieces instead of one continuous length.

Experience Every Color & Fiber

Stack of sparkling crocheted Solstice Bangles.
Crocheted wire, fancy embroidery braids, and metallic flosses: Solstice Bangles.

If I didn’t already know how, I’d want to learn how to crochet just to try crocheting with yarns of different fibers, colors, and thicknessesIt’s a new experience each time. I’m in control of what I spend, too: each crochet project can be as economical or expensive as I want it to be.

I’d say that anything based on manipulating several yards (meters) of stringy stuff will not be easy initially for some folks, but the small challenge is so worth it. Wielding that crochet hook gives you the edge you need to control the yarn while it flows through your fingers at a good rate. It takes just a bit of practice to get up to speed.

As Fast & Portable As Needed

Crochet is as fast, lightweight, and portable as you want it to be. You’re in control there too. No bulky or heavy frames or looms to manage with crochet. Even hairpin lace, a crochet lace technique that uses a type of “loom,” is portable. Most of these mitts were crocheted in one day during a road trip!

I learned how to play the piano, and how to weave, and neither of these was very portable. I’d want to learn how to crochet like some people want to learn guitar: so that they can play anywhere.

Varied & Versatile

Finally, I’d want to learn how to crochet because it adapts to every phase of my life. It’s a distinctly useful, accessible, and versatile construction method. As a child I crocheted things for my sister’s dolls, and for my teachers and friends. As an expectant mother I crocheted things for the baby and to help me wait. I’ve crocheted trendy accessories, toys, Halloween props, protective shields for tech items, educational aids, and the best thing I’ve ever worn to a memorial service.

Double-stranded Lovelace swatch: sport weight Lotus and lace weight glittery mohair.
I designed Lovelace to see a northern stitch & southern stitch together in a project!

Historically, crochet developed in several places worldwide. Too bad the specifics of when, and in relation to where, are under-researched and inconclusive.

Given that crochet is a dramatically responsive technique, its development is likely to show marks of time, place, and purpose. For example, doesn’t it seem likely that crochet used in icy climates would develop different stitch patterns, methods, and materials from crochet that developed in tropical climates?

About the Name Crochet

It’s French and means small hook. It’s properly pronounced cro-shay. (Many crochet how-to books don’t give the pronunciation, so I thought I should.) Occasionally I see it spelled crotchet, so perhaps some people pronounce it that way.

All of us English speakers use the French term. In other languages, to crochet is called:

  • tejer in Spanish,
  • häkeln in German,
  • szydelkowac in Polish,
  • Gōu biān in Chinese,
  • virkning in Swedish,
  • hekle in Norwegian, and
  • haken in Dutch.

Defining Crochet

Crochet how-to books start out with some kind of introductory description of crochet. I started to write that for this post, then remembered that I did this for the launch of my DesigningVashti.com website! I still like what I wrote there, so please have a look.

Update: In 2018 I suggested this definition of crochet to the Center for Knit and Crochet. As a starting point the group has been using The Getty’s indexing description:

Textile construction involving the interlocking of looped stitches, employing a single cord or strand of yarn and a single hooked needle.

My preference:

Textile construction involving the continual loosening, tightening, wrapping, and interlocking of adjustable loops to form a range of stitch types. A fabric can be built in any direction by adding new stitches anywhere, including “in the air” to add a foundation for new stitches. This freeform property distinguishes crochet from linear grid-based textiles such as weaving (and perhaps nålbinding and knitting). Usually, a single strand of cord or yarn is employed at a time. More than one strand may be held together and used as one, or alternated in use (such as to change colors frequently).

The primary tool is a crochet hook, which resembles a dowel of any diameter with a hook at one end (sometimes at both ends). Stainless steel is the preferred material for the crochet hooks of extremely small diameters (typically 1.75 mm down to .5 mm, for use with superfine threads) for greatest strength and durability. This is probably why the crochet hook may still be referred to with the outdated term “needle”.

This page was updated November 2018. It’s part of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: Start Crocheting From Scratch.
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Introducing: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book!

Crochet chain stitches in different colors, combined to look like a cabled braid. Full size: https://www.flickr.com/gp/vashtirama/2c5494
A compound braid of simple crochet stitches. View full size.

I invite you to join me as I try an experiment: what is it like to write an in-depth crochet book, post by post, right here on this blog?

I’m excited to show you what I’ve come up with! The working title is Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. I don’t see it as being a typical how-to-crochet guide.

My vision for it is that it goes step by step, more deeply and thoroughly than any other I know of. (I’ve read a hundred or so.) It’s for beginning crocheters and the rest of us. It could even be for aliens. Surely there’s an extraterrestrial who’s trying to learn how to crochet.

What’s the Rush?

Sometimes I feel kind of rushed along when reading about how to crochet basic stitches. I have lots of why questions, including why do I feel rushed? Rushed toward what? taller stitches? Finished projects? Maybe it’s just that no book can be big enough for what is really going on with crochet loops.

New to Crocheting?

May this be the place for beginners to get solid answers to how to crochet at each step. Stuck at the beginner level? Surely there’s a way to explain things that finally clears up confusion. Here’s an example: I’ve noticed that crochet relies on simple terms like loop or chain that actually have multiple meanings. This can confuse some folks when they’re not spelled out. Please let me know in the comments how I can do even better.

If you already own a crochet how-to book, great! Some of them are designed to be sweet portable project companions. Come back here to fill in the gaps, answer your why questions, or just to see if a different point of view enriches your understanding.

Know How to Crochet Already?

This book is for us too. What can be said about the most basic elements of crochet that’s worth saying AND hasn’t already been said? As it turns out, a lot in my humble opinion. I keep discovering important things about crochet when I take nothing for granted. What I find about the chain stitch alone could fill a small book. (As you probably know, crochet books typically devote about a page to it.)

Can’t Know Too Much!

Knowing what’s in the usual how to crochet book won’t make any of us crochet experts. Crochet is too big to fit in a book; it’s even too big for one person to master 100% of it! Another way I think of it is, every crocheter is a beginner at some part of crochet. This is why I see the standard crochet skill levels as more of a spiral than ranked levels.

Why I Want to Blog This

  • A how to crochet book has not yet been blogged and I can’t resist a good experiment.
  • A blog allows me all the room I need. It’s ambitious. To avoid getting overwhelmed, I’m blogging a section at a time. This first section is all about initial fundamentals, which are often taken for granted the most.
  • I want to write crochet books and not disappear from my online crochet communities while I do so. This way the book gets written publicly. I also want it to be interactive. Please leave comments!

Other Book Titles I’ve Considered

Secret Lives of the Great Crochet Stitches (because when I gave the Chain Stitch room to speak, it did…)

How to Crochet Like a Geek (because geeks love to get granular instead of skipping the juicy stuff. I found kindred crochet spirits in CGOA’s crochet geek seminar last year.)

How to Crochet: Vashti’s Missing Manual (So much is missing in the official crochet how-to books.)

Vashti’s Deluxe How to Crochet Guide (This is my ultimate way to celebrate my beloved art and hobby.)

This page was updated November 2018. It’s the first post of an experimental blog post series: Vashti’s How to Crochet Book. Next post: Why I’d Want to Learn How to Crochet.
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The Two Free Victorian Crochet Pattern Books I Love!

Of course, ALL free Victorian crochet pattern books are lovable. After I researched crochet stitches for my classes, though, I keep these two close by and bookmarked. Both of these antique crochet books were published in 1891. (Click each image for the free download information and link.)

Last year I searched in literally hundreds of crochet books and booklets. I love researching crochet. Lots of antique, public domain crochet sources are keepers. Perhaps these two stand out in particular because of the specific stitches I was looking for.

  • The Art of Crocheting. By Butterick Publishing Co., Ltd., 1891 (London and New York).
  • Home Work, A Choice Collection of Useful Designs for the Crochet and Knitting Needle… By A. M., Rose Publishing Co. Ltd. (Toronto).

I recorded all occurrences of star stitches, love knots (“knot stitches” to the Victorians), and lacy Tunisian crochet patterns. I was surprised to discover that in many of the publications ranging from the 1840’s to the 2010’s, these stitches often didn’t appear at all. These two 1891 gems were especially fun for creative star stitch patterns.

Researching crochet stitches in free Victorian crochet pattern books offers lots of insight into crochet’s development. It’s fascinating to see how crochet is explained, illustrated, and promoted. Exciting, too! By 1891 the public demand for crochet patterns and stitch how-tos was very strong.

Free Victorian crochet pattern books date from the 1840’s to shortly before World War I. Please support the Antique Pattern Library. It’s one of my favorite sources for some obscure early indie crochet designer booklets too. I hope you will help their cause by donating scans or funds.

The Home Work book was the focus of an ambitious crochet pattern project by the Cyber Chapter of the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA). Members crocheted actual swatches and projects from the book. The exhibit of them at CGOA’s annual Chain Link conference was a highlight of the event!

Also see my Antique Crochet Stunners board in Pinterest.