Podcast episode 18 – Top 7 things you need for Crochet

Episode 18 - Crochet for beginners

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Hello, welcome to the craft room podcast. I’m so glad you’re joining me today because we are talking about one of my favourite things to do and that is crochet, most specifically the top seven things you will need to begin crocheting for the first time or maybe after a long hiatus. It’s a pretty common sense kind of list I’ve got for you today. I am also going to share with you the number one thing that makes people give up on crochet, just when they are about to make a big breakthrough. Spoiler alert, it’s not stitches.

Alright, so the best way I think I can describe crochet is it is the art of looping yarn through yarn with a stick that has a hook on the end. It sounds primitive, but you can use one crochet hook a metal rod with a hook on the end to lift this yarn around itself and make a finished piece of cloth. I mean, it’s quite something.

To crochet, there aren’t a lot of things that you need, and it’s a pretty affordable and very portable craft. I think we should just dive straight into the list.

1. Crochet Hook

You cannot crochet without a crochet hook. It is vitally important that anyone who doesn’t really know the difference between knitting and crochet will assume that knitting needles and crochet hook said the same thing. But they’re not. For knitting, you need a pair of knitting needles with pointy end crochet. For crochet, you just need one single crochet hook. They come in all different shapes and sizes and colours made from different materials. And there are a few things that you didn’t need to know about crochet hooks. So different materials, I have a few different ones in my personal collection. The first ones I ever used were metal crochet hooks. That’s what my mum uses, so the first crochet hook I ever bought was a grey metal crochet hook and it served me well. I still have the very first one I ever owned in my crochet hook collection. I love working with the metal crochet hook, as the yarn glides across it beautifully. They’re very sturdy, they last for ever, but I will only ever need one of each size that I use. They’re definitely my favourite.

Another that I have in my collection, are plastic crochet hooks. These I don’t use quite as often, as I do have a preference for metal hooks. In fact, I’m using metal hooks with a soft grip handle at the moment, and loving those. The plastic ones, my hands get a little sweaty if I’m crocheting in summer with acrylic yarn, and the yarn tends to just not glide quite as smoothly across plastic. My plastic hooks are pretty though. They’re kind of a transparent, tinted coloured plastic with glitter through them. They’re really pretty. And yes, I say they’re not my favourite and sometimes the yarn can grab a little, it doesn’t glide like on a metal hook. But that is really, really, really nitpicking on my part. If all that was available to me was a plastic crochet hook it would not be a deal breaker at all. I would still use it very happily.

The other style of crochet hook I have is bamboo. I love how yarn glides on a nice polished bamboo hook. Absolutely amazing. It’s so smooth and it’s so lightweight. I’m always struck with a little bit of the giggles when I’m crocheting bamboo yarn using a bamboo hook, it’s it I don’t know, it’s just fun to now that bamboo is a great renewable resource and I love that we can make yarn for it but we can also make crochet hooks with it. This is the one that I use least often … the hooks just aren’t compatible with my personal crochet style. I find that sometimes when I loop through the yarn, it doesn’t stay. The hook section of it doesn’t seem to be carved out in a way that works for me. But I’ve seen other people work with the same crochet hooks and I do it perfectly well. Choosing your hook and what it’s made from, how it looks what it costs … it’s all very personal. And you may be thinking, “Uh Dawn, you have plastic, metal, metal with soft grip handles & bamboo, should you not be clearing out and destashing  / Kondo-ing that collection?”. Very good question. And we did talk about should you Kondo your craft way back in Episode 7. Yes, one day I probably will go through and maybe pass my bamboo hooks on to someone else. But for right now I teach crochet classes and I do love to have all three different kinds of hooks available so that my students can try them out and see which one they prefer. Some people prefer the bamboo over the metal. It’s a very personal decision. One is not right or wrong. It depends what works for you. So when you’re choosing see if you can try before you buy.

The other thing that you need to know about crochet hooks is not only do they come made from different materials, of course they come in different sizes. You tend to use larger hooks for larger projects with a large ply of yarn. We’ll go into that a little bit more shortly. Every different hook size is a numbered, different. However, there are actually four different ways to number or hook it can be really confusing. Here is a link to a crochet hook conversion chart. It’s something I recommend you print off and keep with your crochet supplies. So the four different styles of measurements, there’s metrics (millimetres). So you might have a two millimetre hook or a two and a half millimetre, three millimetre, four and a half millimetre they tend to jump up in half sizes, but the very small ones can be in quarter centimetre increments. So you might have a 1mm then 1.25mm, 1.5mm, 1.75mm and then a 2mm. The next one is USA hook sizing these generally has letters, at least sometimes letters and numbers. So, for example, a very commonly used hook is H-8, which is the equivalent to a five mm hook. The next one is UK or Canadian hooks, which are numbered. The smaller the hook the bigger than number, it doesn’t make any sense to me but there it is. So a 5mm hook which is an American H-8 is a UK size 6. And just to make it even more confusing, in Japanese sizing, it is different again and you would be looking at a size 8. You can find all of that on the conversion chart and it is very handy to note on any pattern that you’re using, what terminology they’re using, and that could give you a hint as to what hook sizing they are using. So use the conversion chart use it well.

The next thing that I wanted to talk to you about was your crochet hook collection. I often have students asked me if they need to buy a whole set of hooks and the quick answer is … no … you do not. When you are first taking up crochet, you don’t know how much you’re going to love it. Is this going to be something that you do a lot of? Is it something you might pick up casually in winter, and all you want to make is blankets? If that’s the case, you don’t need a 1mm hook. Unless you’re planning on doing micro crochet, you probably don’t need anything that small. If you’ve never seen micro crochet, I’m going to link to an example below. It’s so teeny teeny teeny tiny. It’s absolutely amazing but you can’t do micro crochet until you really have your head wrapped around regular crochet.

Depending on the project you are working on. That is the hook that you’re going to use. So my recommendation if you are making blankets or granny squares, I would go for around about a five millimetre hook or H-8. If you want to do amigurumi, which is a Japanese style of crochet toy, they are wonderful … you might need a two and a half millimetre hook. The size hook you’re using also depends on the ply of yarn that you are using, and how big or small you want your project to be. So that essentially the larger the hook, the larger the stitch, the bigger the project, right. Whereas the smaller the hook, the smaller the stitch, the smaller the project. Let’s take a blanket for example. You want a blanket to be soft and lovely and drapey, you’re going to use a larger hook to get that softer finish. If you use a small hook, you’re going to get much tighter, smaller stitches, and it’s going to be quite stiff. A handy tip … if your natural crochet tension is quite tight, and you want to make something that’s softer, you may find it it’s coming a bit too stiff. If you go up one or two hook sizes, you’ll get a softer result. Likewise, if you find that your tension when you crochet is quite loose, but you want to crochet an amigurumi toy, which needs to have quite tight stitches so the stuffing doesn’t come out. If you go down one or two hooks sizes you’re going to get that tighter result.

2. Yarn

You cannot crochet without yarn. I don’t know that it’s possible and yarn … oh my goodness. It is such a fun thing to shop for yarn. You don’t need tons of young to start with depends what you’re working on. The question is, what yarn do I get for crochet? Well, there’s no one definitive answer on that. However, when I have students come to me, I generally start them out with an 8 ply acrylic count and that’s for a few reasons. It is readily available you can get 8 ply acrylic pretty much anywhere. I’ve seen it not only in spotlight (which is Australia’s big craft store), in small craft stores, specialty yarn stores if you’re lucky enough to have one of those nearby … I’ve seen it in supermarkets and discount stores. It is easy to find 8 ply acrylic yarn, and most people honestly already have a ball or two in their home or in their stash somewhere. I’ve used it for doll hair and taking it now that I’m not using it for doll hair, it’s come out that box and now it’s with the crochet stuff.

In choosing a yarn, there’s a lot of things to take into consideration depends what you’re working on. Consider the fibres that the yarn is made from, I mean I used to always say it’s call it a ball of wool but not all young is made from actual wool. I tend not to use wool much these days because one of my best friends is quite allergic to wool and I don’t want to aggravate her allergy. So I tend to stick to acrylic, cotton and I love bamboo. I even have something that has a silk blend. I think it’s a cotton silk blend. Oh, it’s so pretty. It’s a baby yarn and it’s so soft and beautiful. You also need to take into consideration what your pattern asks for and the ply of yarn. There are different ply’s, and an 8 ply yarn is essentially eight strands that have been spun together to make the yarn. It’s a very visual thing. So an 8 ply is going to be thicker than a 4 ply yarn, 4 ply will be thicker than a 2 or 3 ply …  but then you can get thicker yarn, like 10 or 12 ply. He’s a thing about the different ply’s of yarn … a large ply is going to give you a bigger finished piece. So let’s say there’s a new baby and I want to crochet some little crochet toy balls. I love making a little baby ball with some bright colours, maybe stripes on it because they can throw it at their sibling or at Dad, or bite it, it’s not going to hurt anyone … and they can be washed. Another reason that I prefer to use cotton in baby toys and amigurmi, is because it doesn’t pill there’s no fuzzy finish. The toy lasts longer, and you can throw it in the wash, so it can be loved and played with and loved and played with and washed over and over and over again. So it’s not going to matt up and get grungy looking anytime soon. But if it’s a blanket, I want it to be soft and fuzzy and lovely and warm. I’m not going to use cotton for a blanket (I have done once … it was a lightweight kind of summer, baby throw blanket). More usually, if I’m making a blanket for winter, for example … if I want to have a throw on the lounge for putting over your lap when you’re watching TV, I’ll use 8 ply acrylic. So, when choosing yarn, you want to think about the ply think about the project you’re working on the longevity of it. Also think about your budget. If you’re making a blanket that needs 10 balls of yarn and you’re looking at a yarn that’s $20 per ball, that’s going to be an expensive blanket. Sometimes you just need something that is quick to make for around the house, so maybe you want to look at a $2 or $3 balls of yarn for that blanket. You also want to consider the feel of it and the colours. Choosing the colours is honestly the best part. So have a look around and you are going to need yarn … I give you full permission to buy at least one ball of yarn to learn how to crochet.

3. Pattern

When you are learning crochet, you need a pattern. Yes, you can make up your own patterns but you do need to have been crocheting for a while before you’re able to do that, because you need to learn the stitches and how they interact with each other. There are a few things that you do need to know about patterns. Just like there are different codes for crochet hooks, there are actually three different terminologies for crochet stitches. Mostly here in Australia, the most common one is the UK terminology. You will find a link to another conversion chart for you below. UK terminology is most commonly used, but I learned with USA American crochet terminology. There is also this amazing chart like a pictorial chart with symbols on it. Now stitches are the stitches, but in the UK and in the USA, and on a chart, they are represented by different codes. This came into sharp relief for me when I co-wrote a crochet pattern book with my mother. I used American crochet terminology … my mother knew UK terminology. So I had to take all of the paterns that I had written in American terminology, and translate them all into UK. When choosing a pattern, right at the beginning there should be a table like a key that tells you what all the abbreviations are … like CH is chain. And it should also mention whether or not the pattern has been written in UK or USA terminology. If it doesn’t, there is a little detective work that you can do. If the pattern mentions single crochet, it is American terminology, because that phrase does not exist in UK terminology. If all of the stitches look quite short, and they’re referred to as double crochet, then that means that you are looking at a UK terminology pattern. It can be a little tricky and look, if all else fails, you can always contact the pattern writer and ask them which terminology they’re using.

The charts are something different. There’s actually no writing in a crochet chart. It is all represented by symbols. I first found one on Pinterest. It takes a little while to wrap your head around, but once you figure it out, charts are amazing. Because there’s no writing, there’s nothing left to interpretation. It’s all set out … you can see the entire pattern in symbols … which size stitch needs to go into which place. So once you wrap your head around them, I do recommend learning about symbol charts because they’re amazing. When it comes to patterns, the last thing you need to know is that not all patents have been pattern tested. I’ve had at least two students come to me this year thinking that they were making an error with their pattern or reading it wrong or doing the stitches wrong, because it just wasn’t working out the way it looked in the book. Upon closer investigation of their patterns, it turns out it wasn’t them at all. The pattern was wrong. Now, a long time ago, magazines used to have several editors someone would even pattern test on occasion. And nowadays that just doesn’t happen that this down to one editor and things just aren’t pattern tested. It’s easy for typo to slip through, the wrong stitch to be recommended a line to be missed out and there’s no pattern testing for a lot of patterns anymore. I’m not saying all patterns aren’t tested. Some patent writers are really fastidious about that kind of thing … they make sure and they actually send their patterns out to pattern testers who will check it out and advise them of any errors. Personally, I know when I’m designing a pattern, I will crochet that thing over and over and over and over again to make sure that what is written down is what you need to do. I think the first pattern I created, I must have crocheted that owl about 17 times to really make sure I had it right. I was paranoid, I was going to get it wrong. So that’s a pattern that I’m very happy with. It’s helpful when buying a pattern to check out the pattern writer. Do they have any reviews? Read the reviews. I’ve bought many patterns from Etsy, and Ravelry is a fantastic place to pick up patterns as well. You can find ones for free. You can find once you pay for it. I like the ones I pay for, because I know that they have, generally speaking, been tested and I can look at reviews from other people who bought the pattern and they can tell me whether it was easy to use or not. So just be aware that not all patterns are created equal and a lot of the times of free pattern that you might find via a link on Pinterest, may not be actually correct. And this leads me very nicely into number four,

4. Teacher

When you are starting out crocheting for the first time, it is incredibly helpful to have someone showing you what to do and correcting you along the way. A teacher is that person. You can find teachers at specialty yarn stores, craft stores, sewing machine centres, communities centres or church craft groups. You may know someone who crochets, or their mum crochet … or their Nan or their aunt or their cousin. And you can say “Hey, would you or your aunt or your Nana cousin, be willing to help me get started on these?”. I love helping people learn to crochet. It’s a wonderful craft. It’s inexpensive, it’s portable, it’s relaxing. It’s like meditation for me and you can make useful things with it, which is why it’s one of my favourites. So I love helping people learn to crochet. I actually taught a friend how to crochet on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney. It’s just something that’s fun for me to do. And maybe you have somebody near you who can help you as well. The advantage of going to a teacher over doing it alone, is that they can help you on the spot. They can see what you’re doing and correct it because there are all these little micro movements within the crochet experience that you need to know. I mean, you can maybe have someone teach you via Skype, but you’d have to have a really good camera, have a great connection so that they can really see what you’re doing. There’s something as simple as just partially turning spinning, rotating the hook as you draw it through a loop can make a huge difference to your success or failure, learning a particular stitch. So find a teacher. When I started learning, I actually tried to get my mum to teach me, but my mum is lightning fast … man, she is fast. And she’s been doing it a really long time. Not only that, my mum is left handed. At the time when she was trying to teach me, I just couldn’t pick it up. I was having trouble keeping up and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It was some years later that I found a gorgeous pattern on Etsy of a crochet sea horse toy  … it was amigirumi. That’s why I love it so much. The first thing I ever made was a crochet seahorse. I wanted to learn how to crochet and make this for her as a surprise for her. And my teacher was a video tutorial on YouTube. I found a video tutorial on how to crochet an amigurumi ball, and I just started from there. I found a tutorial in US terminology because that’s what the pattern was. And I didn’t even realize that that’s what I was doing. I just got lucky. And I sat in front of YouTube with one hook, and one old ball of yarn that I had lying around the house. The hook was from what I tried to learn years before I literally one hook, one ball of yarn. And I sat in front of that video and I did what she did, and I paused it when I needed to, to keep up. I would get to the end of that ball, unpull it and start the video again … and just go again. I did that over and over and over and over, dozens of times. I don’t know how many times I must have done it at least a dozen times a day, every day for weeks. And I started to wrap my head around it so the YouTube could also be your teacher if you don’t have a person a real life person to teach you how to do it. YouTube is an excellent resource for learning new stitches and just learning in general … it’s how I learned and I think it was a great way to learn.

5. Scissors

I know it might seem like this is an obvious thing, but I actually made sure make sure that I keep a pair of scissors with my crochet because the last thing I want is to be crocheting a little set of angel wings, which only takes me a few minutes and then get to the end of it and then I have to get up and go and hunt down a pair of scissors. You need scissors because you just can’t snap yarn acrylic yarn.

I just have a small pair of scissors I picked up in a discount store, you can pick them up at Kmart, you don’t need expensive, fancy crochet scissors, it just needs to be able to cut through yarn. That’s it, that’s all you need. But keeping them with you means you can crochet on the go. I used to do a lot of hearts and a lot of little angel wings. I have video tutorials on both of those on my YouTube channel, links below. I would sit in the hairdressers and if I had a four hour appointment where I was having foils put in, you’re constantly sitting for 20 minutes waiting for this and 20 minutes waiting for that. I would take my crochet with me I’d take the pattern, crochet hook and scissors, and I would need to be able to cut that thread so I could move on to my next little motif that I was making. So keep a pair of scissors with your stuff so that you don’t have to go hunt around for them and you can take it on the go.

6. Darning / Tapestry Needle

The last tool in my crochet bag is a darning needle (a tapestry needle will do, maybe even a doll making needle) … but you do need a sewing needle with a large eye. That is because you are going to need to stitch the ends of your yarn into your finished piece. If you just tie it off, tie a knot, and cut it really close … over the years of use that toy or that blanket or that jacket or those booties, whatever you’ve made, the knot can come loose and if it just comes on done, and there’s no tail on the end of it, the whole thing can unravel … then you’re going to have a great big hole in your blanket. I fixed a few blankets with people where things have come undone over the years. So by leaving a long tail of yarn at the beginning and at the end of your work and wherever you change colours, or go from one ball of yarn to the next, it means you can use the darning needle to stitch that yarn back through your stitches and hide it away in there, and you don’t have any little end bits of yarn sticking out. So that’s the other thing I used to take with me on the go because I could sew loose ends and be done with it.

7. Patience

Now there is a seventh thing on this list, and that is patience. When you are learning to crochet, you need to have some patience, this is not something you are going to pick up and be able to do instantly. There’s a learning curve involved in this for sure. And the reason you need patience is because there is this one thing … I’ve seen more people quit because they don’t have the patience to get past this one awkward thing than any other reason. Crochet stitches are quite simple, and you can find tons of resources about stitches. The one thing that makes people quit crochet before just before they’re going to get good at it, is tensioning the yarn in your non-hook holding hand. I’m right handed, I hold my hook in my right hand and I feed my yarn through, tensioning it through the fingers of my left hand. This is an action that feels really weird … like it’s really awkward. It feels odd and your fingers don’t know what to do … at first it’s too tight, then it’s too loose and it feels awkward and odd and irritating.

This is the one thing that makes people quit … because they can’t figure out the tension thing in their other hand. So, if you can persist and have patience with this process, once you learn and become comfortable with the way you tension yarn in your other hand, you will be so much further ahead than most who try. My recommendation is to do some crochet every single day. And doesn’t matter what you’re crocheting … just start by crocheting, pulling it undone, and then go again. When it comes to tensioning the yarn in your other hand, it’s not set and forget. You don’t just set it up when you first pick up your work and it stays like that … you are constantly readjusting it. You’ve got to pull more yarn from the ball, you’re constantly readjusting it. The way one person does this is going to be very different to the way another person does it. Honestly, I think you could line up 50 crocheters and see at least 40 different ways that they tension yarn in their hand. Some people move around all fingers, some people just place yarn around their thumb and their pinky. There are all sorts of ways. I’ve broken it down for one student to some very minute actions. And for me now it’s so automatic the way I tension my yarn. If someone asked me to show them step by step how I do it, I can’t because I do it from muscle memory. So this is the one thing … before you know it, the tensioning action will begin to feel more natural, and then become something you do by muscle memory alone … and then the sky’s the limit. You’ll be able to learn those stitches and make some amazing things. So please have patience with yourself. Have patience with whoever’s trying to teach you and give yourself a little bit of grace, but practice, practice, practice. The more you do it, the more comfortable and natural it’s going to feel in your hand.

Now, I love crochet, it is my meditation, it helps me zone out. I love crocheting, all sorts of things and you can crochet with some amazing charities. I’ve seen people knitting and crocheting all sorts of things for charity. My mum started a knitting & crochet group in her town, and they crochet for so many charities!

I like basic crochet. I like to sit and just do the stitches do the stitches, repetition, repetition. It’s like completely zoning out. I do have a few hints for you and I did want to talk about emigrant me. So amigurumi is a Japanese style of toy making crochet. It is just amazing what you can do with some crochet cotton and a hook. You can make dolls, you can make seahorses, you can make dragons. I saw today on Facebook, no word of a lie … A full head to toe Halloween costume of the alien from the movie aliens, made for child completely out of crochet. There are all these incredible things you can do with crochet and amigurumi. I love amigurumi because it is something practical and beautiful hand made with love. Making toys for kids that they can play with and love and use that can be washed and played with again and taken on adventures is a beautiful thing. My preference for amigurumi is crochet cotton. For over many years I’ve used Milford threads, a fantastic 4 ply yarn. I do mine quite small, but amigurmi doesn’t have to be done like that. My sister makes crochet toys … and she makes them big. She has some patterns on her Etsy store … a house elf pattern for your wizarding fans, Byron Bay hippies, a rainbow serpent and more. I crochet really small using cotton, my sister crochets big using acrylic yarn.  Again … there’s no ultimate right or wrong … do what works for your personal style, the design you’re making and your budget.

Toys can be amazing because kids are going to play with them, they’re going to make memories with these toys. And crochet is really quite hard wearing especially if you make sure that you know you so those ends in it’s also quite safe for them as well. You can use safety eyes which are fantastic and make all these different things. I’m currently working on a crochet cockatoo. I also have a pattern for a platypus I’m making for some overseas friends’ kids. I picked them up from an Australian Etsy seller. I’ll link to those patterns as well her shop. It’s just gorgeous, and I absolutely love them. Could I have designed some myself? Yes, I could. But it would have taken me a long time to figure it out. And this girl has just figured it out this so gorgeous. The patterns are really good, very easy to read and I’m getting great results from them. So why would I reinvent the wheel, spending hours and hours, figuring it out from scratch when someone else is already done so … and I can support another artist, that’s something that I really love to do. I’ve also done some crochet for charity. The little angel wings I mentioned before. I crocheted a lot of them when I was doing some Angel gowns charity work few years ago, and I used to also crochet blankets for that charity as well. So have a look around. Do any of your local charities or favourite charities need crochet done for them? I will link to the angel gowns charity that I have done some work with. I was crocheting  teeny tiny premi booties and bonnets, blankets and angel wings. They are little things that I could do quickly that didn’t take much yarn and I was helping somebody out by using my skills. This is one of those instances where you can take your crafting skills and turn them into your superpower by making somebody else’s day a little bit brighter.

If you’ve been considering taking up crochet as a new hobby, or maybe picking it up after a little bit or long bit of a break from it. I hope you have so much fun with it and find someone with whom you can share your joy of crochet.

LINKS

Episode 7 – Should you Kondo your Craft?
Crochet hook conversion chart
Micro crochet example
Crochet terminology conversion chart
Symbol chart example
Etsy – crochet
Ravelry
Seahorse crochet pattern
Crochet heart tutorial video
Crochet angel wings tutorial video
My sister’s Etsy crochet store
Australian animal crochet patterns
Angel Gowns charity

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