Jess Molchan and Margaret Kavanagh
[mashshare]

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Crochet

beginner guide to crochet

The “ultimate beginner's guide to crochet” may sound like a lofty goal, but we're Happily Hooked and we're all things crochet. Our goal is to share everything we have with you and introduce you to our passion, which is crochet! Welcome! Let's get started.

What is Crochet?

The simple explanation is that crochet is a craft that uses a hook to loop yarn or thread and create fabric. The tool used in crochet is called a crochet hook, and it comes in many sizes. Yarn or thread is used in crochet to make the fabric, with many options for materials, sizes, textures, and more. You can crochet a blanket, a dishcloth, a stuffed animal, a sweater, and so much more!

crochet hook and yarn

 

Brief History 101

The word crochet first appeared in the Dutch magazine, Penélopé, in 1823. There are several references to crochet around the 1800s in England, France, Scotland, and Ireland. Ireland introduced crocheting in schools as part of the famine-relief process. It was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants. From the 1940s through the 1960s and late 1970s, crafting, including crochet, was on the rise in the US. Today, you see many brightly colored patterns and yarns, bringing crochet into this century and even solidly into the fashion industry.

Benefits

Ask 100 people about the benefits of crochet, and you’ll get 100 different answers! Crochet’s benefits are endless and unique to each crocheter. However, there are some universal advantages gained from crochet.

First, it provides stress relief. The repeated motions versus the brainpower needed to follow a pattern is a balance that I (and many others) find extremely stress relieving. The design engages your thinking brain while your hands do physical work, seemingly on autopilot. It’s a process that takes your mind off your worries because it occupies your whole brain.

crochet pattern sheep sleep mask

Pattern: Counting Sheep Mask by Sonya Blackstone | Pattern Pack Pro #8, May 2015

Also, stuff! Don’t forget that even though the process is relaxing, engaging, fun, and interesting, at the end of it, you have a thing you’ve made! Some crocheters like to make a particular category of projects. Others make a little of everything. Whatever you prefer, the finished product can be useful and fun. I love making dishcloths, blankets, stuffed animals, and cold-weather items like scarves and hats.

Other primary boxes that crochet ticks are creativity and expression. No matter where you are in your crochet journey, you get to pick what yarn you use and in what color combinations. As you get more experienced, you may find yourself modifying patterns to suit your needs or just for fun. Crochet is a great way to express your creativity and enjoy your downtime!

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Equipment

Crochet Hooks

A crochet hook is your most basic, essential piece of crochet equipment. There are as many kinds of hooks as there are crocheters, and that’s great because it means there’s something for everyone.

crochet hook comparison

Two common crochet hook brands compared.

Hook Materials

Most basic hooks are aluminum, but you can find plastic, bamboo, and heftier metals, too. Each material will have a different weight and feel in your hand as you work, so experiment to find what you prefer.

Hook Size Conversion

When you start crocheting, you may find the hook sizes/labels confusing. We use different terms for hook sizes in the US than they use in UK/Canada. Additionally, some countries use metric measurements. So, how do you know what size you need?

Most crochet hooks have the metric size in millimeters somewhere on the hook. The metric measurement is consistent, so look for it, and you’ll always know which hook you need.

You can also look at the pattern’s origin country. If you’re using a US pattern, you’ll use the US hook sizes. If the pattern originates in the UK, use UK hook sizing. Often, pattern designers will list the US and metric conversions with the patterns. If not, use a conversion chart. We've provided one here for you!

Crochet Hook Conversion chartClick on the picture thumbnail for a full-size version of the crochet hook conversions chart that you can save to your own device.

 

Let’s look at one of the most common size hooks for worsted weight yarn (one of the most popular weights).

Metric: 5.00mm = US: size H/8 = UK: size 6

Once you find the hooks you find most comfortable, be sure to care for them properly. You'll use them again and again!

Tape Measure

Some crochet projects require you to measure your gauge, which is the process of crocheting a test swatch or sample. Next, you count your stitches to make sure your stitch size matches the pattern’s gauge requirements.

Checking your gauge ensures that your project turns out the expected size. A simple fabric tape measure is a handy tool to check your gauge, measure your project size, or even take body measurements. Having a little retractable tape measure on hand can save you tons of headaches as you work.

Scissors

A portable, sharp pair of scissors is a must for any crocheter. The perfect pair is small and cuts cleanly through your yarn, so you don’t wind up with any frayed or unraveling ends on your work. This pair ticks all the boxes.

Row Counter

When I first started crocheting, I used a sticky note to keep track of my rows as I went along. But this meant that I needed a flat surface and a pen to keep track of my work. It was cumbersome. Row counters are small, light, and easy to use to mark off a row quickly. Using a row counter makes your crochet time more efficient.

Stitch Markers

Stitch markers are essential for many projects. There are several types: lobster clasp, locking, split stitch, and ring. Closed stitch markers (like the ring-type) do not work for crochet and are for knitting.

Locking stitch markers are popular because you can secure them in place. Split stitch markers don’t lock closed, so they’re easier to move around. Use stitch markers to keep track of rows, tricky to find stitches, pattern repeats, and more.

Yarn/Tapestry Needles

Yarn needles (sometimes called tapestry needles) are indispensable for a crocheter. These needles are blunt (so they don’t split yarn) and are easy to thread under your stitches for weaving in ends. Yarn needles have a big eye for easy yarn threading. Some have a curved or angled point to make it easier to grab that stitch as you’re weaving in your ends. They may be metal or plastic.

We have a Notions Kit with all the necessities in our Happily Hooked shop. It has everything you need to get started. We also have a nice little Beginner's Kit that includes crochet hooks. But I think the best deal is actually a membership, which includes a great project bag and set of crochet hooks with it!

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Yarn

Yarn, wool, thread, string, cotton, twine, plarn (plastic bag yarn), floss—anything long and thread-like. This is the medium that you use with your crochet hook to create fabric. Most commonly, animal or plant fibers are spun into these long strands, or manmade fibers are created for use. But you can use just about anything! Let's move ahead with the idea that we'll stick to the basics: yarn and thread. But don't let us limit you, by any means!

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Yarn Materials

When you pick up a skein of yarn, what do you feel? Is it soft? Scratchy? Smooth? Shiny? Rough? The combination of raw materials used to make the yarn will significantly impact how it feels in your hand, how the completed project feels, etc. Many commercial yarns are acrylic, which is a plastic-based material. Wool is a traditional natural yarn material. There are many different kinds of wool, each with different properties. You might also come across the term “superwash” before a type of wool, which just refers to a process that the wool has undergone to be more washing machine friendly. Cotton and linen are also popular options. You can find natural hair from yak, goat, alpaca, and llama, too.

Each different type of material comes with a different feel and a different way to care for it properly once it’s been crocheted. The easiest yarns to care for are acrylic because of their origins. Cotton is also easy to care for but susceptible to shrinking. Wools can be more challenging to care for because they’re natural materials. They often do best when hand washed.

Learning about all the different types of yarn will come with time. Be sure to pay attention to your yarn label, where it tells you the exact percentage of materials used in that yarn.

Yarn Weights

Yarns are classified in a system of “weights.” This weight system refers to the thickness of the yarn, among other attributes. Most yarn labels indicate the yarn weight in a graphic with a number in a yarn skein like this (or similar):

Getting comfortable with the different yarn weights can be invaluable. Becoming aware of their differences can help you immensely when you’re starting a new project. For example, many crocheted afghan and blanket patterns use a medium weight 4, or worsted, yarn. Learning to recognize a worsted weight yarn can help you complete your projects with more ease.

The Craft Yarn Council has defined eight yarn weights, from 0 (lace) to 7 (jumbo). That’s a lot of options! Many crocheters enjoy sticking with weight 4 (worsted), weight 5 (bulky), and weight 1 (fingering/sock). But all yarn weights have a place, depending on the project. (New crocheters usually start with worsted weight yarn because it is the easiest to work with view stitches in.)

Yarn vs. Thread

Many crochet patterns use yarn, and many intricate crochet designs use thread. There are entire books and tools dedicated to this crochet type. When you think of traditional doilies, you’re probably picturing crochet with thread! Thread has its own sizing/weight system and its own set of tiny hooks to go along with the fine thread.

Thread crochet hooks are much slimmer and are usually steel with tiny hook heads. You may not be as familiar with thread crochet or have heard as much about it. However, it has its delights, and it lends itself to certain types of work that you might find interesting!

Irish Crochet lace collar

Delicate Irish Crochet is just one type of crochet that uses thread.
Vintage Irish Crochet collar made between 1888 and 1900. Courtesy of RovingCrafters.com.

 

The most common thread crochet is intricate, open lacework, most often found in traditional doilies and used for all kinds of delicate applications. I’ve seen stunning crochet thread work on wedding veils, dreamcatchers, and more.

NOTE: In the rest of this article, we’ll be using “yarn,” but in general, you can substitute “thread” whenever we talk about yarn.

Reading Yarn Labels

I would argue that when you’re starting a new project, reading the label of the yarn you intend to use is probably the most important part. The yarn you use affects literally everything about your project, including how pleasant it is to crochet! True story: I was working on a blanket once with a yarn that was so scratchy it actually hurt my fingers to make, and I would have to stop and take breaks more frequently because it felt like it was rubbing my fingers raw.

Moral of the story: read the label!

The label will usually list the elements we’ve been talking about above. Material, weight, standard gauge, yardage, and care are the basic items you’ll see on most labels. The variation in these elements make up everything about the yarn, and you can use them to determine if they’ll be right for your project.

yarn label diagrams

A portion of a standard yarn label.

Label: Yarn Weight

The one most people look at first is weight, which we talked about above. As a beginner, you should generally stick to the same weight that your pattern recommends, to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Label: Yarn Material

Next, we look at the material the yarn is made of. Again, be sure the material you’re using is not only suitable for the type of project you’re making, but you actually like it, and it’s comfortable to use. (For instance, furry yarns are adorable and usually super soft, but a pain to crochet with because it’s hard to see your stitches.)

Label: Yarn Yardage

Next, look at yardage. Depending on the size of your project, you’ll have to make sure you can get enough of the yarn you need, but also that it will fit in your budget! Making a blanket with $30/skein yarn can be a significant financial undertaking. Many labels will list both the yards and the grams for the skein. US patterns tend to work with yards, while you’ll find UK patterns tend to use grams. Either one is fine, and you can use whatever you’re more comfortable with or whichever one the pattern uses.

Next, you’ll see a square denoting the standard gauge/hook sizes. This square shows what size needles/hook you could use to get a 4″ x 4″ swatch in a standard stitch (like single crochet – sc), both for knitting and crochet. You can use this to help inform your decision, either by comparing it to the pattern’s gauge or using it to help visualize the size of a crocheted square.

Label: Yarn Care Instructions

And finally, the care instructions. Standard washing/ironing/bleaching/drying symbols denote how you should care for your finished project.

These can help inform if you’d like to use that yarn, depending on the type of project and how you’d prefer to care for it. Don’t buy a high-maintenance yarn for something you know you won’t have time to hand wash.

Choosing Yarn

So, you’ve read the label, and you’re more undecided than ever (*raises hand*). Sometimes, it seems like every yarn will work for your project, and then other times, you can’t find anything that ticks all the boxes. Here’s where I contradict myself a little bit.

Reading the label is essential, but so is knowing your preferences. As an example, I’ve learned over the years that I don’t like alpaca. It’s a dream to hold in my hands, but if the finished project is against my neck or arms, no thank you. And yet, for years, I kept buying it. But then I’d make a cowl, and I’d have to give it away because I couldn’t wear it! In this case, even though the label told me the yarn would work, I eventually learned that it wouldn’t work—for me.

So, as you learn what you like and don’t like, keep mental notes so you can use them to inform your purchasing decisions. Similarly, if you’re making something as a gift, stick to the basics and don’t go too crazy if you don’t know the recipient’s preferences. (Thankfully, I have a friend who loves alpaca! Phew!)

two women exchanging gift hugging

Choosing the right yarn can make ALL the difference when it comes to gift-giving.

Where to Buy Yarn

  • Box stores: The most readily available yarn is often at your local box store: Walmart, Michael’s, JoAnn’s, Hobby Lobby, etc. Here, you’ll find a wide range of commercial brands, like Lion Brand, Red Heart, and more. Most crocheters start with yarn from box stores because it’s accessible, affordable, and available in a wide range of colors. Additionally, you can see and feel the yarn in person — highly recommended for beginners. (I still shop here for specific projects, like blankets that I want to be able to throw in the wash, stuffed animals, and more.)
  • Online: Online yarn stores are a fabulous resource, especially if you know exactly what you want: WEBS, WeCrochet, Amazon, Hobbii, Yarnsub, Yarnspiration, and other online stores have tons of different yarn lines with every weight, material, and color you could possibly need. However, shopping online is when knowing how to read your label becomes even more critical. Because you can’t touch the yarn through the screen (when will they develop this technology?!), you need to rely on any information you can get to determine which yarn is right for your project and you.
  • Independent dyers: Another excellent option for yarn is indie dyers. Indie dyers are independent shop owners who create unique color combinations and then dye the yarn themselves. When buying from indie dyers, not only are you getting fun and exciting colorways that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else, but you’re also supporting independent, small businesses. Indie-dyed yarn tends to be more expensive, with good reason. But just keep that in mind when you are out looking for yarn for your next project.
  • Other: If you keep your eyes open, sometimes you can find yarn in the most unexpected places! I have friends who have found cashmere sweaters in excellent condition at thrift stores, brought them home, unraveled them, and used them to make something new. If your mind is open to the possibilities, you never know when you might find some yarn to take home and add to your stash.

yarn store shelves

Your yarn choices are endless.
But that doesn't mean you should choose just any yarn for any project!

Yarn Care

We touched on this above, but specific yarns have specific care instructions. These guidelines are usually on the label, but let’s briefly run down some of the basics.

There are two main categories to consider when you’re thinking about care. First, the material the yarn is made of. Second, the type of project it is. Blankets, for instance, are considerably more difficult to handwash than baby sweaters!

Yarn Care by Material:
  • Acrylics, cotton, and linens are some of the easier materials to care for — usually, you can machine-wash, and in some cases, machine-dry them.
  • Superwash merino is a material that you might come across if you buy sock/fingering yarn. Like we discussed above, superwash means treated fibers and machine washability. Merino is the sheep type. This yarn is usually pretty durable and relatively simple to care for.
  • Lastly, we’ll talk about your more delicate fibers — alpaca, yak, llama, etc. When using these fibers, keep in mind that you’re only going to be able to handwash these or possibly put them on the delicate cycle.

Always do your research and follow all yarn label instructions. Make sure you know the care guidelines for any of these yarns before you use them for a project. The last thing you want is a sweater you can’t wash, and therefore, you can’t wear!

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Basic Crochet Techniques

Crochet Hook Grips

One of the first things you’ll learn as a new crocheter is how to hold your hook. While there are two main techniques for this, the main thing that matters here is that you can control your hook, and your body is comfortable as you crochet. It’s pretty common for crocheters to spend hours sitting and working in the same position, so comfort is key! Experiment with the pencil and knife grip, but always make adjustments if you’re not comfortable.

Pencil Grip

The pencil grip refers to holding your hook between your thumb and forefinger, resting on your middle finger. This grip is the way many people hold a pencil, hence the name! Many crocheters find this a comfortable way to hold their hook while they work. Because it is familiar to some, it comes more naturally and allows fine-tuned control over the hook as you work.

Knife Grip

The knife grip is more of an overhand grip (picture holding your knife while you cut into a steak). This grip tends to utilize your wrist and shoulder more as you work. Again, many crocheters find this a comfortable way to work!

Your Grip

While the pencil and knife grips are “common,” they’re actually not! Depending on how you were taught, who taught you, and what your body feels comfortable with, you may have come up with a completely unique way to hold your hook, and that’s okay! I’ve seen all kinds of grips over the years, and they all worked and were comfortable for the people using them. That’s all that matters.

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Holding the Yarn

A Common Method

Most crocheters hold their yarn in their non-dominant or non-hook-holding hand. Crocheters all seem to have different ways of looping yarn through fingers or even over their wrists.

What matters here is that the yarn can flow at a pace that works for your crochet style and level and that you can provide a bit of tension and control with your fingers. I wrap the yarn over my ring finger, under my middle finger, and over my pointer finger, which allows me to use my pointer finger to control my yarn’s placement as I crochet while the rest of my hand maintains the tension.

Your Method

Again, this is a place where you might see other crocheters doing it completely differently from you, and that’s fine! It is about comfort and ease of working. The important thing is that you’re able to let the yarn flow and have fun.

Yarn Tension

A Common Method

We mentioned tension above, so let’s dive in a bit more! Tension refers to the “pull” on the yarn as you use it. A loose tension will allow the yarn to flow freely without restriction. Most crocheters find this unmanageable, as the yarn tends just to do whatever it wants.

Tight tension will mean you can almost “pluck” your yarn as it flows through your hand! However, this can be problematic too. Tighter tension will give you tight, dense stitches, altering your gauge and making your stitches difficult to work into.

Most crocheters take a bit of time to find that middle ground, but once you do, your stitches will look and feel even more impressive than before.

Your Method

It’s an excellent time to remember that what matters is your comfort and enjoyment as you crochet! For the longest time, I was a pretty tight crocheter. I would pull the yarn tight after each stitch, in addition to holding it tight while I made my stitches. While some people may consider this “wrong,” my projects still came out neat, I had a great time while I was crocheting, and that’s all that matters.

Everyone is going to have a slightly different way of crocheting, and that’s fine! Just remember to check your gauge before embarking on a project where size matters — you still want to wind up with a sock that fits.

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Yarn Tension Helper Tools

There are a few tools out there that tension your yarn for you. Usually, they fit on your finger like a ring, and you pass the yarn through them before you start working, and then the tool will tension the yarn for you. You can even make a tension regulator. I’ve seen crocheted bands that fit around your finger, and then you just weave the yarn through one of the stitches, and the friction from the yarn passing through the stitches of the ring regulates the tension. Feel free to try these tools out to see if they work for you!

Left-Handers

Left-handed crochet is simply a mirror image of right-handed crochet. All the same tips and techniques still apply but are mirrored. Lefties will see their work unfold from right to left, instead of righties, whose work will grow from left to right. The same opposition is true of working in the round. Righties work counter-clockwise, while lefties will work clockwise.

There are a few additional changes that left-handed crocheters should consider, as well. When patterns include images or words, left-handers will be working them in reverse. Charts and graphs will show them backward for the left-hander, so consider reversing them for reference.

Luckily, there are a lot of new resources online for left-handers. Happily Hooked has an excellent member video library for the left-handed crocheter.

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Basic Stitches

Most crochet patterns use a combination of these basic stitches, so take the time to get familiar with them. They all build on each other, so once you’ve learned one, it’s much easier to learn the rest. If a stitch uses a standard abbreviation, we've noted it in parentheses after the stitch name, for example, the abbreviation for the chain stitch is (ch).

STITCH NAMING NOTE: The stitches we’re describing are in US terminology. Some are different for UK terminology. The techniques are the same, but the naming convention is different.

Slip knot

The slip knot is the start of (almost) every crochet project. The slip knot is made in the yarn, leaving a “tail” or extra yarn on the end. Take your hook and insert it into the center of the slip knot, tightening it around your hook. Then, you’re ready to begin. View a video here.

Chain stitch (ch)

A chain stitch is the most basic crochet stitch you’ll encounter. You use it to start many patterns. It’s often used when you begin a new round to bring your hook up to the height of the stitches you’ll be making. It can also be used in the pattern itself for visual interest or utility.

If you need to slow the technique down, click on the video Settings gear, Select Playback Speed, and then pick a slower speed, like 0.75 or 0.5. Sam will do a slo-mo version of the chain stitch for you!

Slip stitch (sl st)

A slip stitch is an easy but versatile stitch. You’ll most often use it to finish your work. Because a slip stitch is very flat, it works well as a way to kind of “seal off” a row when you’re done with your project.

The slip stitch (sl st) is the smallest stitch but it does a lot of work!
It works as a regular crochet stitch as well as one of the most commonly used joining stitches.

Ring

A ring is made by chaining stitches and then joining the ends of the chain together, usually with a slip stitch, to form a circle or ring. (Also see “magic loop” which we discuss later.)

Single crochet (sc)

A single crochet (sc) is a basic foundation crochet stitch. This stitch is sturdy and stout and widely used in patterns. Get familiar with the single crochet, and the following stitches will be a breeze!

sc: insert your hook in a stitch, yarn over (yo) the hook, and pull a loop through the stitch so it remains on the hook, then yarn over and pull through both loops on your hook. View a video here.

Half double crochet (hdc)

This stitch and those that follow below continue to build on the single crochet technique.

hdc: With a loop on your hook, yarn over (yo), insert your hook in a stitch, yarn over (yo) and pull up a loop, and then yarn over (yo) and pull through all three loops on your hook. View a video here.

Double crochet (dc)

A double crochet stitch (dc) is twice as tall as a single crochet and is often used as the base in decorative, texturized stitches. Get familiar and comfortable with this one!

dc: With a loop on your hook, yarn over (yo), insert your hook in a stitch, yarn over (yo) and pull up a loop, yarn over (yo) and pull through two loops, then yarn over (yo) and pull through the remaining two loops on your hook.

In other words, you yarn over and pull through two loops twice for double crochet. View a video here.

Triple or treble crochet (tc)

A triple or treble crochet (tc) is a tall stitch made with more beginning yarn overs than the half-double or double crochet.

tc: With a loop on your hook, yarn over (yo) twice, insert your hook in a stitch, yarn over (yo), and pull up a loop. You'll have four loops on your hook now. Yarn over (yo) and pull through two loops, yarn over (yo) and pull through two loops, and then yarn over (yo) and pull through the remaining two loops on your hook.

In other words, you yarn over and pull through two loops three times for triple/treble crochet. View a video here.

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Decorative Stitches

Once you dive into crochet, you’ll open up a world of new stitches. These add texture, interest, and dimension to your work. We’ll introduce you to just a few stitches here, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is all there is to know. Crochet is continually evolving, and today’s crocheters are creating new stitches even now. (Even after crocheting for 40+ years, I have learned SO many new stitches and techniques, I am surprised at how much I didn’t know! And I LOVE it! ~MAK)

Puff Stitch (puff st)

Puff stitches are an easy, fun, decorative stitch! They’re often made by starting several double crochets in the same stitch and then finishing them all at once. That may sound complicated, but it’s simple, and it creates great texture in your projects.

Popcorn Stitch (pop or pc)

Popcorn stitches are also easy and fun. Like puff stitches, they consist of several double crochets in the same stitch. In this case, you complete five double crochets (dc), then remove the hook from the current loop and insert it into the first double crochet (dc) and pull the dropped loop through the stitch.

Picot Stitch (picot)

Picot stitches add a round shape to an edging or empty space. They’re often used in thread crochet. To create a picot, chain three from the stitch where you want to add the picot, insert your hook in the third chain from the hook, yarn over (yo), and draw the yarn through the stitch and the loop on the hook.

Post Stitch (fpdc or bpdc)

Post stitches create a raised, textured look and can be combined to form cable-like designs. They are worked by pulling the yarn around other stitches rather than through them during the yarn over (yo) step.

Front post double crochet (fpdc): yarn over (yo), insert your hook around a stitch on the row below, going from front to back to front between the stitches, yarn over (yo) and pull a loop back between the stitches, so it wraps behind the post of the stitch and back out the front of your work. You now have three loops on your hook, just like a regular dc, but the yarn is wrapped around the body/post of the stitch below. Yarn over and pull through two loops twice to finish the stitch.

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A back post double crochet (bpdc) is similar, but you yarn over (yo), then insert your hook from back to front to back around a stitch on the row below, yarn over (yo) and pull a loop back between the stitches. You complete the rest of the stitch in the same way.

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Shell Stitch (shell)

Shell Stitches are another example of a group of stitches clustered together to create a “single” stitch. To make the shell stitch, crochet four double crochet stitches in one stitch on the row below. That’s it! But it is used so often and is so recognizable that it has earned its own name. Rather than always writing 4 dc in a pattern, the pattern would call for one shell stitch. You’ll find many examples of shorthand designing like this in crochet.

V-Stitch (v-stitch)

The V-stitch is another example of an often-used group of stitches that has earned its own name. It is comprised of a double crochet, then a chain stitch, then a double crochet, all in the same stitch on the row below. It forms a pretty inverted V shape, which is why it’s named the V-stitch. Again, if written out even with abbreviations, it would be, (dc, ch 1, dc). Shorthanded, it is just (v-stitch).

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Advanced Techniques

Advanced techniques include decorative stitches, but they also include working basic stitches into different parts of the basic stitch anatomy. You may see terms such as back loop only (BLO) or front loop only (FLO). You'll also see stitches worked around the post of the stitches (as shown above) or into the “third loop.” At Happily Hooked, our fabulous team and community cover all these techniques.

crochet stitch anatomy blo

Once you learn the basics, we help you continue your crochet education with advanced techniques!

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Making Fabrics

When you use crochet stitches together, you create woven material. The way you put the stitches together determines the type of fabric you make.

In the round

Crocheting in the round refers to a project where you work in a circle, either joining each row to the one before it with a slip stitch (sl st) and then starting a new row, or continuing in a spiral. Many basic hats and beanies use this method.

Our beautiful Rainbow Starlight Blanket by Krisztina Edomer
from our January 2021, Issue #82 is worked in the round.

When we get a pattern that becomes as popular as our Rainbow Starlight Blanket by Krisztina Edomer, our Happily Hooked members go a little crazy (in a good way) and the picture sharing is amazing in our Member's-Only Facebook group. It's pure joy to see everyone sharing their hard work and we really enjoy looking at all the different color combinations. It's just one of the many benefits our members embrace! Learn more about our membership.

Traditional chain and crochet method

To set yourself up for crocheting in the round, you can start with a circle of chains, large or small. You do this by making chains, then joining the ends of the chain.

Magic circle and crochet method

An alternate starting method is the “magic circle” (sometimes also called a magic loop). The magic circle creates a drawstring-type loop into which you crochet starting stitches. You can pull the loop closed and wind up with a nice tight starting circle at the beginning of your work. Magic circles are often used in hats and stuffed animals (or amigurumi) or anywhere you want a nice clean beginning circle. Here are two ways to make a magic circle, here and here.

Flat rows

Flat rows are worked by crocheting a length and then turning, or flipping, your work over and crocheting back along the stitches you just created. Crocheting in this way makes a flat fabric, like a blanket or a dishcloth.

Dragonfly crochet blanket pattern

Our incredibly popular Dragonfly Grace Blanket by Teal Dragonfly Creations
from Happily Hooked Magazine, Issue #72, March 2020 is worked in flat rows.

Traditional chain and crochet method

A traditional way to start a crochet pattern is by chaining stitches and then working back across that chain. Each successive row builds on the previous one.

Foundation chain and crochet

Another way to start a project is to work your foundation stitches into your starting chain. You’re making the chains and the first row at the same time. Some benefits to this method: You create a stretchier base than a simple chain, you don’t have to worry about finding out that your foundation chain’s length was wrong at the end of Row 2. Try it out for yourself and see if it works for you.

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Increasing

A row increase is anywhere you add to the number of stitches in your row. Increases help shape your project, and you may make them at the beginning, end, or anywhere in the row, depending on what you’re making. The most basic increase is crocheting two stitches into the same stitch on the previous row. For example, you might single crochet two stitches into one stitch on the row below to increase your stitch count by one stitch.

Decreasing

Decreasing is the opposite of increasing! The most basic decrease is done by pulling up loops in two stitches and then yarning over and pulling through both loops, turning them into one stitch. An example is a single crochet two together (sc2tog). However, there are many different types of decreases, and you’ll learn them as you go along.

Joining/Changing Yarn

During a big project or a project where you need to change colors, you might find yourself needing to change the yarn you’re using. There are several different ways to do this, other than just tying a messy knot in your yarn, and here are a few of them:

Standard Join

The most common way to join new yarn is by using the new yarn for your last yarn over (yo) in a stitch. For example, if you’re making a single crochet and you need to change yarns, before you do your last yarn over and pull through the loops on your hook, drop the yarn you want to end and simply fold over the beginning of the new yarn to make a new loop. Grab that loop with your hook, pull it through the loops on your hook, treating it as if it was the old yarn. In other words, you just pick up the new yarn and continue working. You’ll go back later and weave in the ends. View a video here.

Russian Join

A Russian join threads the yarn to make a seamless transition. This join works well when you’re adding more of the same color because it’s difficult to precisely “time” or place the join. Here is the basic Russian join process: thread the end of the old yarn onto a needle and then work the yarn back through its plies, leaving a small loop at the end. Thread your new yarn onto a needle, through that loop, and then back onto itself and through the plies. When done carefully, the join isn’t visible.

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Magic Knot Join

A magic knot is a quick and straightforward join that produces a tiny and strong knot. Take your new and old yarn, and lay them parallel to one another, pointing in opposite directions. Take your old yarn and use it to make a loose knot around the new yarn. Then, take the new yarn and use it to make a loose knot around the old yarn. Tighten the knots and pull them towards each other tight join with a tiny little knot holding it together. Trim the ends closely, and you’re ready to work. View a video here.

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Finishing

Once you've put stitches together and created fabric, you can piece that fabric together into a finished product. There are a few steps, depending on your project, that may include joining pieces together, weaving yarn ends in, and shaping your project.

Joining

Depending on the project, you may wind up with pattern pieces to join. Maybe you’re making a blanket with motifs (squares or parts that you join together), or perhaps you’re making a hat with a brim and pom-pom! If a pattern is made up of pieces to be joined, you’ll usually see detailed instructions in the pattern’s finishing section. Many different types of joins could be used, depending on the project and its features. For example, you can join blanket squares in a way that adds visual interest to the piece, or you can join them in a way that’s completely invisible and seamless. Here are a few options.

Beginners should follow the join method the pattern uses, but if you feel like you’re ready to explore more options, just check out “Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs: Creative Techniques for Joining Motifs of All Shapes” by Edie Eckman.

Weaving in/Hiding Ends

Congrats! You’ve finished a project. Now what? You have all these little pieces of yarn sticking out of your work where you started, where you ended, or anywhere you changed colors or added a new skein of yarn. We need to weave in the ends so they aren’t sticking out and helping to keep the fabric from unraveling. I try to do two things when I weave in ends: change direction and split a stitch. Let’s go over those!

Ideally, your ends are long enough that you can thread a yarn needle and comfortably weave them in without having to stretch your fabric as you do so. Once you have your needle threaded, weave the tip through a few stitches going in one direction. I like to go right under the “v” of the stitch, especially if they’re single crochet stitches.

Then, I’ll turn my work and change the direction in which I’m weaving to make the end more secure. Sometimes, I’ll also take my needle and (in the middle of a line that I’m weaving) split the yarn on one of the stitches. So, I take my needle and put it through the strands of yarn in the stitch. This creates a grip-like effect with the yarn fibers, making your ends even more secure!

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Blocking

Blocking is the process of taking a finished project and “setting” its finished shape. This is most commonly done with things like shawls, where they’re supposed to be a particular shape when done. But while you’re crocheting, especially if the pattern is intricate, you might find that the edges pull in or are wavy from the stitch pattern or your tension. This is perfectly normal, and it’s precisely why we block projects like this.

There are a few different ways to block, but the basic idea is simple. You take foam mats, lay your project on the mats, and then use pins to pin the project to the mats in the shape you want.

Wet/Damp Blocking

If you’re wet blocking, you will soak your project to get it damp before you pin it. Then you let the project sit until it’s dry, take the pins out, and that’s it.

Dry Blocking

Dry blocking is the same concept, but you pin the project dry and then steam it. After it’s completely cool and dry, you can remove the pins. There’s also spray blocking, which is like dry blocking, but instead of steam, you take a spray bottle and spray your project while it’s pinned.

Ironing

As mentioned above, you should always follow the care instructions for the yarn you’ve used. Only iron your yarn if the label says you can! Remember, acrylic yarn is plastic-based material — it will melt. If you have to iron, you can always hover the iron over your work or use a towel (dry or even slightly damp) between your iron and your work. Ironing can cause irreparable damage to your work. That’s why blocking is so popular and essential. If a project is blocked correctly, you won’t have to iron it!

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Patterns

Next up we'll discuss patterns, which are crochet design instructions, or what's similar to a blueprint for a design. When a designer creates an object and wants to share the instructions for that object, the designer creates a pattern, whether it's in words, symbols, or a combination of the two. If you can understand a pattern, you can re-create the object it describes, as long as you have the crochet skill.

Reading a Pattern

Reading a pattern can sometimes be a science all on its own! Let’s outline some basics to help you sort through and understand how to read patterns better.

The first thing to do when working with a new pattern is to read through the entire thing. A designer can write a pattern however they like, which might mean that valuable information is tucked away in the middle of the pattern. You should know and understand that information before you get started. This practice also helps you get all your ducks in a row before you get to the fun part. You can make sure you have all your supplies and even practice new stitches on scrap yarn if you are nervous about trying something new.

Happily Hooked makes patterns easy to read. We put all of the necessary information upfront, where it makes the most sense. At Happily Hooked, we triple-test every single pattern before we publish it to make sure there are no errors. We use the same style for each pattern, so you know what you’re reading, where to find what you need, and exactly what everything means. Plus, we provide the BEST customer and peer support in the crochet world. We guarantee it.

Once you’ve given the pattern a once over, address any questions you may have or supplies you may be missing. Now’s the perfect time to visit YouTube and watch videos for new techniques or unfamiliar stitches. Use this time to get a good overview of what you’ll be undertaking.

Once you’ve done all that and you feel good about getting started, it’s time to pick up that hook! I like to keep a pen handy when I’m working on an unfamiliar pattern, to keep track of where I am, or to write notes as I go along. Determine what works best for you. Some people prefer to read their patterns digitally; some print them out and mark them up—experiment with both to see what you like.

Sizing

Sizing refers to the size of the finished item the pattern creates. Depending on what you’re crocheting, the pattern might offer size options. Hats, sweaters, socks, even blankets can all come in a variety of sizes. Some pattern writers include a myriad of sizes, already worked out with the yardage and measurements conveniently listed. As you become more comfortable with crochet, you’ll learn how to adjust patterns for your recipients with increases and decreases.

Gauge

Most patterns will provide a section at the top about gauge. The gauge is the number of stitches and rows that fit in a certain measurement (usually 4″ x 4″). For example, the pattern gauge could look like this: 28 sts x 40 rows in single crochet. That means that the designer did 40 rows of 28 single crochet stitches to crochet a square that was 4 inches by 4 inches. In order for your finished project to come out the same size as the one the designer did, you’d need to have the same number of stitches and rows in your 4″ x 4″ square.

We talk specifically about making a gauge swatch below, but for now, all you need to know is this: if your project must come out a specific size, swatch, swatch, swatch!

Abbreviations

Crochet patterns use standard abbreviations for stitches, which allow the pattern to be less wordy and easier and faster to read. At the beginning of your pattern, you’ll most likely see a list or table of the abbreviations used in that particular pattern. This list can be helpful if you’re unsure of some of the stitches. Use this table to help you research and learn any stitches that you don’t already know. You might even see a full description of how to work a particular stitch. Often, pattern makers describe complicated stitches or an unusual stitch, so you have it as a reference.

Some standard abbreviations are sc for single crochet, dc for double crochet, and hdc for half double crochet, as we've noted in the stitches section.

Repeats

In a crochet pattern, a repeat is any section of the pattern or row where you are… well, repeating previous stitches.

Stitch Repeat

The first type of repeat you may encounter is in a single row. An example of a repeat would be “Row 4: Ch 1, *hdc in next, ch 1, skip 1; repeat from * across.”

Simply put, you repeat the section from the asterisk until you run out of stitches in that row. So, you would start following in the stitch pattern beginning at the asterisk. You would work the stitches hdc in next, ch 1, skip 1; then, you would start over at the asterisk again. So, you would do the stitches hdc in next, ch 1, skip 1 again. And you would once again return to the asterisk, which means you would do those stitches again. You continue to do this all the way across that row.

Pattern Repeat

The second type of repeat you might encounter is what’s usually called a pattern repeat. That means that instead of repeating a few stitches in one row, you’ll repeat a more extensive section.

So, you might see something like “Rows 7-26: Repeat rows 1-4 five times.” When those instructions occur, look back in the instructions for rows 1 through 4, carry out those directions five times, and then move on to the next set of instructions. Breaking it down, you literally do: row 1 through row 4, and then do row 1 through row 4 again, do rows 1-4 again, do rows 1-4 again, and do rows 1-4 one more time. In this case, the 20 rows you did would count as rows 7 through 26 for this pattern. You would then move on to row 27’s instructions.

SMART TIP: Pattern repeats are a great reason to get a stitch counter. You have to keep track of both what row you’re on (ex: 1-4) AND how many times you’ve repeated the pattern rows (5 times in the above example). Simple stitch counters usually have two numbers on the face. I like to use the one on the right to show what row I’m on (1-4) and the one on the left to show how many times I’ve repeated those rows (in this example, 1-5).

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Charts

Charts are a visual method of writing a crochet pattern. Sometimes you’ll have a written pattern with a supplemental chart, and in some cases, you’ll have just a chart for the pattern.

Symbol/Stitch Charts

Stitch charts depict each crochet stitch with its own, specific symbol. The symbols are arranged in the pattern you follow to create the project.

Stitch charts are universal and transcend language barriers. Because they’re a visual representation of the entire pattern, translation between languages is relatively unnecessary. Many people find it easier to read charts than written patterns, and I’ve even encountered some crocheters that only know how to read charts. As you can imagine, chart reading is a useful skill.

granny square stitch chart

Without reading a single word of text in any language, an experienced stitch chart reader
could immediately tell that this was a pattern for a granny square. 

Grids

There are a few types of grid patterns used by crocheters — graphgans, filet crochet, and grids used for colorwork in tapestry crochet.

Graphgans

Graphgans are pixelated images turned into afghans. They’re extremely popular in some circles and can be tons of fun to make and gift! (Just ask my siblings, who’ve each gotten one over the years!)

Graphgan grids are made up of squares, each filled in with a color. As you crochet, you follow the grid, with each square corresponding to one stitch. If the grid has one black square, followed by one white square, and then one black square, you crochet a black stitch, a white stitch, and then a black stitch.

Filet Crochet

Filet crochet follows a grid as well. However, for filet crochet, you work with open spaces and stitches. The combination of open and closed spaces makes a lovely image, word, or pattern when completed.

Tapestry Crochet

Tapestry crochet is similar to a graphgan but on a much smaller scale. It usually consists of single crochet with each stitch representing a square on a graph. When the color on the graph changes, so does the color of the single crochet stitch you work.

farmhouse trivet set crochet pattern

The Farmhouse Trivet Set by Jessica Fishman pattern from 
Pattern Pack Pro Issue #70, July 2020, uses a graph to indicate color placement.

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Motifs

A motif is a block or piece of work. Think granny square for your most recognizable motif. Motifs can be square, round, diamond-shaped, and so on. The most typical motifs are to make multiples and then connect them all into a blanket, shawl, pillow cover, or some other larger project.

Color Placement

When you work with motifs, you have a ton of options for creativity. You can make the motifs in solid colors and then lay those colors out in a pleasing array before joining them, or you can make the motifs in multiple colors for even more options.

Whenever I do a project with motifs, I like to do a bit of planning — but not too much! Part of the fun is in taking all your finished motifs, laying them out on the floor, and rearranging them until you’re satisfied.

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Gauge Swatch

A gauge swatch allows you to test your yarn, hook size, and personal tension. The goal is to get the same measurements for the number of stitches and the number of rows in the same area of fabric as the pattern indicates. If you have the same number of rows and stitches in the same amount of space, your project should turn out the same size as the pattern.

Making Your Swatch

To make a gauge swatch, look for the section in your pattern that lists the gauge. Usually, this is a stitch and row count and a square measurement (4” x 4” is most common). The pattern gauge could look something like this: 28 sts x 40 rows in a 4” x 4” square. If they list the stitch that they used to make their swatch, be sure to use the same stitch to make yours.

To make your swatch, crochet using the stitch indicated with the yarn and hook you plan to use for the pattern. Make your swatch at least slightly bigger than the stitch and row count you’re aiming for because edge stitches are harder to count and often have a different tension than the main body of your work. So, if you’re aiming for 28 sts x 40 rows, I would make a swatch about 35 sts across and maybe 50 rows high. That way, I can ignore my beginning and ending rows and my edges when I measure my swatch.

Measuring Your Swatch

Once you’ve crocheted your swatch, cut your yarn and lay the swatch flat. (Depending on the project, you may want to wash before you measure, see “To wash or not to wash” below.)

Using a ruler, tape measure, or gauge ruler (a tool with a window cut out to more easily measure a swatch), count the number of stitches you made in a 4-inch-wide area and then count the number of rows you made in a 4-inch-tall area. Compare your numbers to the numbers in the pattern. If they match, you’re good to go!

Fixing Your Gauge

But what if the numbers don’t match up? If they aren’t quite right, you need to do some adjusting. If you have too many stitches or rows, use a larger hook size. For instance, go from F to G (or go up two hook sizes, depending on how many more your swatch has). If you have too few stitches, go down a hook size. Using a smaller hook size (for example, an E instead of an F) will allow you to make smaller stitches to have more stitches per inch.

If you adjust, make a new swatch with the changes. Follow all the same steps and measure again. Repeat until your swatch matches the numbers in the pattern. Sometimes, this can be a tricky process. But it’s crucial, especially for garments or anything that you want to be an accurate size!

To wash or not to wash?

Generally speaking, you should treat your swatch the same way you intend to treat the finished project. It’s most important when you’re creating a project where fit matters. If you plan on machine washing your sweater, machine wash your swatch on the same settings. If you’re going to hang it to dry, hang your swatch to dry too! Doing so gives you the most accurate measurement so you can be sure your project will fit even after you’ve washed it. However, if you’re making, say, a scarf, a perfect fit isn’t critical; I wouldn’t worry about washing the gauge swatch.

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Pain Relief

Posture

Your posture while you crochet is vital to your comfort level while you work. But it’s also a very personal preference. You may find it most comfortable to sit upright in a straight-backed chair or at a table, or you may find it more comfortable to be more supported as you work. Whatever you choose, consider a few things.

Duration

If you’re going to be crocheting for a long time (hours), consider a supported option. For most people, sitting ramrod straight in a hard chair for hours is unsustainable and uncomfortable. Try an option where you can lean back a bit and put your work in your lap.

Arm Position

For many people, the most comfortable position for their work is in their lap. For that reason, you have to consider where your arms are. A chair whose arms get in the way of your elbows can be extremely uncomfortable, as you try to lift your shoulders to compensate for the chair being in your way as you work. You may find it comfortable to put your work on a table as you crochet. Experiment and see what works for you.

Stretches

It’s entirely possible to get so engrossed in a project that you crochet for hours! While that’s one of the fun things about crochet, it also can be a significant strain on your shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, sometimes without you even realizing it. You might not notice the pain or aches until after you stop, which is why it’s important to take stretching breaks throughout your marathon crocheting sessions.

sufi grind yoga pose

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A few simple stretches you can do are hand/wrist stretches, where you interlace your fingers and then push your hands away from you in front of your chest. It also might be a good idea to get up and stretch your legs, roll your shoulders and neck, and reach your arms up over your head too.

If you stretch more often as you crochet, you’ll find that not only can you crochet longer without pain, but you won’t feel that ache after you stop either.

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Author Info

Jessica Molchan
Jess Molchan
Website | + posts

Jess has been crocheting and knitting for over a decade. She loves helping people solve problems, whether they’re a confused crocheter or a baffled business owner. She freelances over at J-CAT Consulting, where she helps small business owners navigate any sticky problems they face. Jess currently resides in NJ, where her cat Cleo taunts her by sleeping all day.

Blog Manager & Columnist Coordinator at | + posts

I've been crocheting since my mother taught me as a little girl. I'm lucky to be working with Happily Hooked and I can't wait to share everything yarny and hooky with you! Yarn over, peeps! Yarn over!

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