“What Is Crochet, Really?” was first published as issue #103 of Vashti’s Crochet Inspirations Newsletter. I sent it to 8,043 subscribers on October 9, 2020 with the title, “The Big Picture of Crochet”. I’ve updated the third paragraph (“This idea for a newsletter topic…”) as of Nov. 2, 2020.
I have a fresh big picture of crochet to report.
I’ve worried about whether you’d be interested in my “what is crochet” thoughts, but you know what? It’s crochet theory, which we don’t have enough of, so I’m probably not alone in pondering it.
For help in my quest I turned to national libraries, big crochet sites, encyclopedias, and academia. How does crochet fit into the larger world? How is it defined by and for non-crocheters, versus crocheters? Within the subject of crochet, how is its huge variety organized into subtopics?
This idea for a newsletter topic grabbed hold of me thanks to three writers (I’ve listed all mentioned sources at the bottom): Cary Karp, Rachel Maines, and Sue Perez. Cary’s Loopholes blog has several thought-provoking posts and published articles about crochet history and structure; his “Defining Crochet” article had me mulling “what really is crochet” for weeks. It turns out that my “how does crochet fit into the larger world” question is addressed in Rachel’s book. Sue’s new category-crossing crochet book was an indirect trigger (see Links at the bottom).
I’m going to unpack that “outdated advice” part in the tip pictured above.
For reasons I still haven’t figured out, misconceptions and outright errors (“alternative facts”?) about slip stitches are still repeated uncritically in English-language crochet books.
This has been going on for decades. Think about how it affects whole generations of crocheters. It’s the only reason it took me 30 years to try crocheting a whole swatch of just slip stitches. I was immediately smitten. My first slip stitch design was the 2004 Pullover Shrug (the cropped purple top I’m wearing in the tip above).
I have distilled every fake fact about slip stitches into the following four sentences, below. I begin my Slip Stitch Crochet 101 classes with them so that we can deal with them head on.
Can you spot all the unhelpful advice?
There is one kind of slip stitch and you crochet it tightly.
It is useful only occasionally, for a few things, such as joining a round, closing a picot, or seaming.
Don’t bother trying to make anything with it, it has no height.
It doesn’t really count as a stitch at all; it’s a non–stitch.
(I underlined the fake facts to help you.) This false information discourages crochet beginners and all crocheters from exploring only slip stitches, not other basic stitches. Why? It’s not because slip stitches are tricky for beginners. It’s the most basic crochet stitch of all, along with the chain stitch! In my classes, the experienced crocheters struggle more—but that’s just due to the years of misinformation.
Slip Stitch Crochet is actually a whole technique. When you know this, you can retain what you learn about them easier. It also spurs innovation, and aids pattern writing. I use the abbreviation SSC, as do others in the international SSC community.
Slip stitches look, feel, and behave very differently when crocheted with turning or without (“Bosnian”), and in just the front or back loop or both (or between stitches!). Invert them or twist their loops for more slip stitch types.
2. Go up at least two crochet hook sizes to crochet them loosely.
Big-hook slip stitch is especially fun! Start with your bounciest wool yarns.
3. Slip stitches are exceedingly versatile, useful, and pleasing for many of the things crocheters make.
A slip stitch may also be fine forjoining a round, closing a picot, or seaming, but not always. For example, slipping a loop through to join is more invisible than a slip stitch. A single crochet sometimes closes a picot better with some yarns or for certain patterns. For seaming, sometimes alternating a slip stitch or single crochet with a chain-1 is better. (I also like to use inverted slip stitches for seams.)
4. Slip stitches clearly have height.
How odd that it needs to be stated. The simple evidence is the heaps of very wearable scarves and sweaters. You should see the overflowing table of them that I bring to classes!
Not only does a slip stitch have height, the height varies depending on the type of slip stitch. As a starting point, expect front-loop types to be taller than back-loop types. (This is the case for single crochet too.)
Yes, you can even crochet around the post of a slip stitch.
Please Don’t Wait Like I Did.
I learned about crocheting slip stitch projects decades after learning how to crochet everything else. There’s no reason for crochet beginners to wait decades like I did!
At first glance, the materials I use when researching Tunisian crochet (a.k.a. afghan crochet, & including double-ended types) seem the same as for other crochet topics. Besides Tunisian crochet books and online sources that I find by Googling and searching Ravelry, I use sections of other books, notable designs, and antique sources. (Click on on of the thumbnail photos to enlarge.)
Tunisian Crochet Books are Keepers!
Over the years I’ve noticed distinctive differences in the information I can depend on for Tunisian crochet research, compared to other kinds of crochet. The most intensive research I do is for classes, but I also need to for some newsletter topics and when I’m writing a pattern for an unusual design.
100% Tunisian crochet books are special and really pretty rare. Many of them are slim, booklet-like volumes. They tend to be hard to find and to get. Some go out of print quickly, are self-published, or are only in Japanese, for example. I treasure each one. That first book stack you see is my go-to stack.
I’ve found a lot of useful information buried in general books about crochet.”TC” (Tunisian crochet) has long been presented in crochet books as a specialization. This means the TC topic sometimes gets its own thick chapter, and that’s a beautiful thing. Other times, the chapter or section is lean, but can make an important contribution somehow. It may have fresh and original material, or offer well designed instructions, stitch symbols, and other valuable publishing standards.
From my TC perspective, it makes a big, big difference when the book’s production staff, especially the technical editors and illustrators, also understand TC (not just regular crochet). It also matters what is used as a standard, because basic Tunisian crochet publishing standards are still being forged.
The book stack in the second photo shows general crochet books I own that contain TC sections I refer to often. Missing from the photo is A Treasury of Crochet Patterns by Liz Blackwell.