Welcome to the new How To Crochet series on Tip Junkie.  Today we are covering the very basics for those of you who want to learn how to crochet.  This is a beginners guide to crochet with an introduction to the look, the yarn, the hooks, gauge, and a new yarn called the Sashay from Red Heart Yarn.
How To Crochet
You’ve probably noticed that crochet has made a comeback. Likely because of the increased interest in DIY and all things handmade. Crochet continues to crop up in women’s apparel, cute baby sets, market bags, children’s toys, and home accessories (beyond the ratty afghans you may have inherited from your grandma-- I have them too). I love the bright colored granny square accessories that I’m seeing all over as well as the vintage-pattern baby sacques.
Crochet is back because it is versatile, beautiful, always handmade (unlike knitting, crochet can’t be reproduced by a machine), and is a great way to incorporate some modern vintage or bohemian style. If you’ve been eying more crochet items than you can afford, take heart: you too can learn how to crochet!

Crochet is relatively easy to do because

  • Crochet uses one implement (a single hook) rather than two (a pair of needles) and only has one active yarn loop at a time, both of which make it less complicated.
  • Crochet is more forgiving! It’s easier to drop your project and pick it up again without losing your work (no stitches sliding off needles). It’s also easier to “fake it” as long as you fake it consistently! You can often make adjustments to fix past mistakes without tearing out your work. And, unlike knitting, those no possibility of a line of stitches unraveling before your eyes.
  • Crochet projects work up more quickly (great for the beginner and the impatient) because the “fabric” of crochet is more open—your stitches go farther.
Similar to knitting, there are only a few stitches you need to master to take on any crochet pattern and this series will walk you through them. In this, the first installment, we’ll talk basic basic: hooks, yarn, and gauge. Then you’ll be ready to select yarn and a compatible hook and start working some stitches.

The Look

While you might have to look closely at times, crochet has a very characteristic look. You can identify knitting by its herringbone pattern, which typically forms a tight fabric. Crochet can similarly form a flat fabric (such as you would want for a sweater), but it is more commonly used for open, lacy designs such as those in traditional afghans, can be easily worked in a circle (think hotpad), as well as connected to form complex patterns including three dimensional flowers, and makes a great edging on blankets, pillowcases or garments.
Crochet has a “chunkier” look to it with raised stitches while knitting typically lies flatter. You can learn more about its origins, practice and differences compared to knitting at Wikipedia and the Craft Yarn Council.

The Yarns

You can use the same yarns to knit and crochet. The important thing is selecting the right yarn for your project.  Patterns are typically designed for a specific yarn and it’s critical to use that yarn or a close substitute to get the right result. To make it a bit easier, yarn makers classify their yarns by their weight (thickness, or gauge, which we'll talk more about below). These weights are assigned a number from 0 to 6 and also have a corresponding name. Yarn Categories You can find more detailed explanations here and here, but here is a brief summary of yarn categories: • Cat 0: Lace • Cat 1: Superfine or Fingering • Cat 2: Fine or Sport • Cat 3: Light or DK (double knitting) • Cat 4: Medium, Worsted or Heavy Worsted • Cat 5: Bulky • Cat 6: Super Bulky
(Various sized hooks and yarns from my stash)
In addition to the weight of yarn, you also need to consider the fiber content as it will affect the drape, feel, care, functionality and comfort of your project. Think about crocheted washcloths, for instance (a great gift idea!). They need to be made with 100% cotton to be absorbent. Wool is also absorbent, while maintaining warmth, which is why years ago it was used for baby soakers and ski sweaters. I love using yarns made of natural fibers, primarily cotton and wool (and how about cashmere?!) but more and more yarnmakers are incorporating synthetics (acrylic, modal, nylon, etc.) for easier care. I can’t keep my hands off yarn when I’m browsing and you can certainly tell a lot by touching a skein of something you’re considering. The way it feels is especially important when crocheting for a baby or child. You’ll want to consider softness and any potential irritation including loose fibers such as mohair.

One last thing to remember

Be sure to buy enough skeins of yarn to complete your project with the same dye lot (yarn is dyed in batches or “lots” and though it may be the same color, slight variations can exist from lot to lot) to avoid a frustrating change in hue. With the rise in popularity of knitting and crochet, yarnmakers are also producing some fun specialty yarns. These include yarns which vary in gauge from thick to thin, furry yarns, and even yarns that ruffle when you knit or crochet them. Specialty yarns provide even more possibilities for getting creative and there are patterns designed to help you make the most of them. Find more advice about selecting a yarn here.  And read up about how to read a yarn label here.
(Just a quick series of single crochet with this Coats and Clark Sashay yarn and I had ruffles!)

The Hooks

Crochet hooks are most common in metal (aluminum usually), but also come in plastic and wood. Hook sizes are described in the U.S. using both a number and a letter, for example “I/9,” but elsewhere they are sized according to millimeters, which the U.S. has recently adopted. Helps to make it less confusing. Patterns will indicate the correct hook to use to make the project the size it was designed. Yarn labeling also includes a recommended hook size—too small and the yarn will be difficult to work, with pinched stitches, too big and the result will be limp looking stitches, although varying one size up or down is common to achieve the right gauge (see below for more on gauge). You can find more information about hook sizing here.
Also note that steel crochet hooks, used for working the finest yarns (think doilies) have a separate numbering system with higher numbers indicating a smaller hook size. Confusing, I know, but you only need to worry about it if you intend to work in a miniscule scale and I wouldn’t recommend that to start.

Gauge

Gauge is perhaps the trickiest aspect to crocheting. Especially if you are hoping to make apparel. Gauge refers both to the thickness of the yarn as well as the density of worked stitches. Patterns include a gauge section which indicates the number of specific stitches and rows in a 4-inch square, called a gauge swatch. To be certain your invested time will yield the right sized result you should make a gauge swatch first and adjust the size hook you use on the project to a larger size if you created too many stitches within the 4 inches, or a smaller hook if you created too few. Each person works the yarn differently, tightly or loosely, and minding the gauge can eliminate this variable in your work.
Yarn labeling also includes gauge, typically illustrated with a square diagram showing numbers of stitches and rows produced with a certain hook size in a 4-inch square. (In the yarn labeling image above, the square on the left indicates 8 sc, or single crochet, and 11 R, or rows, in a 4"x4" square using a size 6 mm or J-10 hook.) It took me a few years before I finally figured out how to read the labels and make yarn substitutions successfully. They key is to pay attention to gauge, not just yarn category as even category 4 worsted weight yarns can vary quite a bit when it comes to gauge. To be honest, you can ignore it for a while if you want to stick with things such as blankets and scarves where size doesn’t really matter. However, if you master gauge you can be certain sweaters and hats will always fit, and you can even change the size of the project you’re making. For instance, I used the same baby layette pattern to make a newborn sized sweater and one to fit my three-year old daughter simply by substituting a larger hook and yarn.

So there you have it

Crochet is hip, it’s relatively easy to do, and all you need is a yarn you like and a hook to match. Pick up some and stay tuned for the next installment in this series, which will talk about slip knots, chain stitches, single crochet, turning chains, and fastening off—everything you need to make your first project! Annelise Anneliese shares her creative, authentic, and inspiring creations at Aesthetic Nest.  She is driven to beautify the space around her, and has a knack for creating gorgeous, original items that enhance her space.  At Aesthetic Nest, you'll find a creative journal where Anneliese showcases things she makes including sewingknittingcrochetcookingpainting (not often enough), room decorating, and party designing.

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View the Video ~ Learn how to knit With Sashay from Red Heart Yarns

If you're a more advanced at crochet and want to learn about a really cool new product, check out the brand spankin' new Sashay yarn from Red Heart Yarn.  You can check out this fab video to learn how to knit with Sashay from Red Heart Yarns to get a sneak peek.  I love being the first to know about cool stuff!

I got a sneak preview at CHA {Craft and Hobby Association Expo} and holy smokes it's beautiful!  It's so amazing in fact, I went straight up to their Rep and asked if I could feature it.  {snicker}  And so yes, you guessed it... I'll be giving some Sashay yarn away next week.  'Cuz I can't wait for you to be able to play with it! {squeal}

I'm so honored that Coats & Clark ~ Red Heart Yarn is sponsoring this post as well as next weeks giveaway.  They sent Anneliese their new Sashay yarn and she'll be showing you how to use it next week.  It's off the hook!  {get it... snicker}