Starting a Project Tips

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Doubling Up the Yarn

Sometimes a pattern will want you to crochet the piece using 2 strands of yarn (or you might want to use this technique to make an item thicker and bigger than originally sized). Using 2 balls of yarn can lead to a tangled mess, so you might want to use the 2 ends of one skein of yarn (especially if it is a pre-wrapped skein of yarn that allows for easy access to the center).


How Many Chains?

It's easy to lose count of chains when you are making them. One way to keep track of how many you have made is to insert a stitch market every 5 or 10 chains, then just count the stitch markers to know how far you've gotten. Also, when working up a length of chain stitches, do not count the loop on the hook as a stitch. So, if the instructions tell you to "ch 25", you should have 25 complete chain stitches plus the loop on the hook.


The Foundation Row

Ah, that first row of any project is the toughest in my opinion. Crocheting into the chain can be so hard, especially if your chains are too tight or you're not sure exactly where in the chain to insert your hook. For the first problem, one way to address it is to use one hook size larger than called for in the pattern to make your chains. For the later problem, try to pinch the chain between your fingers and slide the hook in between the two top bars of yarn (that look like the top of a stitch) and the underneath bar of yarn. Using this technique will make for a smoother bottom edge. If the edge doesn't matter so much (for example, you are going to sew pieces together or put on a trim), then just insert the hook under one or two of the yarn bars to make your stitch. Just be consistent in your approach, and that first row will be done before you know it!


Gauge and Speed

Having just ripped out half of a sweater, please learn from my mistake! I've discovered that, when I get into my crochet groove and start picking up speed, my stitches start to get tighter. As a result, my fabric was getting narrower as I was working more length. What started out as 46 inches across had ended up being about 44 inches across once the piece was about 9 inches long! So, keep relaxed and steady in your yarn tension and measure your piece often!


Measure, measure, measure

I know, it's time consuming and frustrating, but one of the only ways to ensure that your crocheted garment is going to fit properly is to take lots of measurements as you work. And, as the Knitting Guru here at Lifetips recommends, you should use a ruler (or metal measuring tape) instead of the regular cloth measuring tape because you want an accurate reading. Over time, cloth measuring tapes stretch, so an inch is no longer an inch!



When you look at the top edge of the last row you crocheted, you should see what look like chain stitches laying on that top edge. Unless the pattern indicates otherwise, you should be inserting your hook through both loops of that chain stitch when crocheting. But, sometimes, a pattern will instruct you to crochet into "back loops only" (BLO -- insert hook into only the loop of the chain stitch that is on the back side of the item that is facing you) or "front loops only" (FLO -- insert hook only into the loop that is nearest to you, on the front side). Using one of these techniques gives a very different look to your work and results in a stretchier fabric.


The First Row

I always say that the first row is the hardest because you have to work into the foundation chains. The best, but hardest, way is to insert your hook in between the two top loops and the one bottom loop of the chain. This method gives the smoothest look to the bottom of your work. Or, flip over the chain and work into the bottom loop. This way, when finished with the first row, it looks like the full chain is at the bottom of your work, and it will match the top edge of your work.

If the look of the bottom isn't a factor, then you can go ahead and just insert your hook into any one or two of the loops of each chain stitch in making your first row. But, beware, it does leave you with a stitch that is weaker and might create a "hole-y" effect between the first row and the chains.

If you find that you're a tight crocheter, then working into the foundation chains for the first row can really be difficult. So, try using a size or two larger hook than called for in the pattern to chain the foundation chains and then switch back to the right-sized hook for the first row and rest of the pattern.


How to Hold the Yarn?

The goal here is to find a method of feeding the yarn smoothly through the hand not holding the hook so that there is a consistent tension on the yarn as you are hooking it. There's no one correct way to do it; you should find the method that works for you most comfortably, but there are a few standard techniques you might want to try. One method is to loop the yarn around your pinkie once (start with your palm facing you; put the yarn in between your pinkie and ring finger, from back to front; then loop the yarn around your pinkie and pull it through between the pinkie and ring finger again, from back to front, then put the yarn through between your middle finger and index finger, from front to back, and have the yarn come up over your index finger). Or try weaving the yarn between your fingers, staring with your palm facing you, and the yarn over your pinkie, between your pinkie and ring finger, from front to back, then bring the yarn behind your ring finger and between your ring and middle finger to the front, then between your middle and index fingers, from front to back, to loop over your index finger. Another method is to just wrap the yarn over your index finger twice, starting again with your palm facing you, and putting the yarn between your middle and index fingers, from front to back, and looping the yarn over the index finger. Experiment to discover which method feels most comfortable to you, which frankly might take a while, so be patient with yourself!


How to Hold the Hook?

Comfort should be the key here since you are going to be crocheting for a long time hopefully. There are two popular ways to hold the hook, but if you've devised your own method, then stick with it! One way is to hold the hook as though it were a pencil. The other way is to hold it as though it were a knife. Experiment and see which way works best for you.


What Type of Hook to Use?

Choice of hook is a very personal thing in my opinion. Hooks are made from many different materials, like plastic, aluminum, bamboo, wood, and others. Some hooks have a thumb rest and others are smooth and cylindrical along what is known as the shank. Some hooks have a cushioned or ergonomic handle, whereas others have no handle at all. Pay attention to the head of the hook as well: some are in line with the shank, some are tapered with an indented throat area. The best thing to do is experiment with different types of hooks and decide which ones feel and weigh best in your hand. You might come to discover that you like different materials for your hooks depending on the type of yarn you are working with. For example, you might want a slippery aluminum or steel hook when working with a fuzzy or nubbed yarn and a wood or bamboo hook for a smooth yarn.


Getting the Size Right

The sizing of crocheted garments are going to be different than clothing that you would buy in a retail store. Even if you follow the pattern carefully and check your gauge, you still might not get the right fit. The key to getting the right fit is taking accurate body measurements. For a woman's crocheted top, the bust measurement is the critical one. Measure around the fullest part of the bust and choose the size in the pattern based on that measurement.


Tote Bag and Supplies to Have on Hand

Whenever you start a new project, you might want to prepare a tote bag, with the following supplies in it, to keep your project in until completion. In addition to the smooth, soft tote bag where your yarn will stay clean and snag-free, you might want to have the following items on hand: 1) yarn or tapestry needle, 2) stitch markers (if you're working in the round), 3) measuring tape, 4) scissors, 5) reading glasses, and 6) a row counter or calculator (if a large or intricate project). You might want to set up a bag for each project you're working on if there's more than one so that it is self-contained and ready to go when you are!


The Dye Lot is Cast

When starting a new crochet project, be sure that you have enough yarn of the same "dye lot" to complete it. Color and dye lot information is provided on the yarn label. It might be tempting to buy skeins of yarn that are the same color but not necessarily from the same dye lot. Don't do it! Subtle variations in the color may not be apparent but they will show up after you finish your project and even more so after you wash the item a few times.


The Perfect Hat Fit

When working in the round to make a hat, mathematics realy helps to figure out the right size. First, measure around the hat recipient's head, just right above the ears and across the forehead. That will give you the circumference or perimeter of the finished hat. Divide that number by pi (3.14159). That will give you the diameter (straight line measurement across the widest part) of the circle that you will crochet before you start to decrease to make the sides and brim of the hat.


The Chainless Foundation Row

No, it's not an urban myth! You can make your first row of American single crochet stitches without first chaining. Just chain 2, then insert your hook into the first chain and pull up a loop, then pull up another loop through the loop you just made, then pull a loop through the 2 loops on your hook. You've just finished one single crochet stitch! Now, insert your hook into the base of the stitch you just made and repeat the process again (pull up a loop, pull up another loop through that loop, then pull a loop through both loops on your hook). Repeat until you have the number of stitches you desire for your first row.


Changing Yarn Colors

It's so much fun to mix lots of colors into a crochet project, but it can be challenging to change colors without the transition being obvious. The easiest and best way to do that is to finish the last part of a stitch with the new color. For example, if you're doing single crochet stitches and working with Color A, you'd insert your hook, yarn over, pull up a loop of Color A, then yarn over with Color B, and pull through a loop of Color B. You're now ready to work in Color B. With the double crochet stitch, do a yarn over, insert your hook, pull up a loop of Color A, yarn over, pull through a loop of Color A. Now, yarn over with Color B, and pull it through to complete the stitch. The idea is that the last yarn over that you do to finish a stitch should be in the new color that you want to use.


A Cheat Sheet

Drew Emborsky, "The Crochet Dude," gave the best tip recently on the PBS show "Knit and Crochet Now!" -- when he's working an intricate pattern, he likes to write down the stitches for each row separately on a 3x5 card or sheet of paper. He uses his own coding system for knowing how many times to repeat a stitch pattern for that row. For certain projects, it's worth taking the extra time to write out the instructions in a way that will make sense to you and make it easy to keep count since typed patterns often use small fonts and short cuts in describing stitch patterns.


Be Sure to Check the Gauge

Whenever you are starting a new project, it is tempting to not make the recommended gauge swatch. Well, don't give in to that temptation! I really dislike this part too, but a little time spent now doing the swatch truly will save you time and heartache later. Why is it so important? Because it will help you ensure that your finished item turns out as pictured and the size you want it to be. Since each crocheter's style is different (some create loose stitches, some tighter), it's important to determine what your style is and to make adjustments once you know the size of your stitches. If you're making a garment, then it's even more important because you'll want all the pieces to fit together properly. So, go follow the instructions and make that gauge swatch!


Pattern Repeat

You'll hear this term used often when making an item that requires multiple rows in length to complete a stitch pattern. For example, it might take repeating the same four rows over and over again to create a certain look in your finished product, so the pattern will refer to it as a "four-row pattern repeat." It might be helpful to write down each row of a pattern repeat on a 3x5 card so that you can keep track of which row of the repeat you are on by flipping each card over when done (keep track on a separate card how many times you've completed a full repeat).


Hook Sizes

Figuring out hook sizes can be confusing. In the U.S., a combination of letters and numbers are used, but the English and most other countries use a metric numbering system. On top of that, there is a separate numbering system for steel hooks that are used for thread and lace crochet. And, even though this all sounds like there's a uniform system for sizing crochet hooks, unfortunately, one company's hooks aren't necessarily the same sizes as another company's! This is why you might want to consider buying a set of hooks from the same manufacturer and why you should take the time to make a gauge swatch -- getting the correct gauge for a pattern is always better than having the "right" hook size.


Straight Sides

I had a reader ask me the other day what is going on -- the sides of the blanket that she is crocheting are getting wider! Chances are she is inadvertently adding a stitch or two at the end of each row. When you start a project, you need to decide how you're going to count the stitches at the beginning and end of each row and then follow that method consistently throughout. There are two basic ways to start a row: 1) let the chains at the beginning of the row count as a stitch; that means that at the end of the row, you have to put a stitch into the top of the chains from the previous row, or 2) the chains at the beginning of the row don't count as a stitch and you put a stitch into the same stitch and each stitch across and, at the end of the row, you do not put a stitch into the chains from the row below. For example, let's say you are doing your rows in double crochet. At the beginning of a row, you can either 1) chain 3, count that ch-3 as your first stitch of the row, and start double crocheting into the next stitch and each stitch across until you get to the end of the row and then do a double crochet stitch into the top of the chain-3 from the row below (which was the first stitch of that row), or 2) chain 2 and do a double crochet stitch into the same stitch as the chain-2, which then counts as your first stitch of the row, then double crochet across the row and do not double crochet into the chain-2 of the row below. Of course, you should also take the time to count the stitches in the row you've just finished crocheting before going on to the next row until you feel comfortable that you are performing the same number of stitches in each row.


Substituting Yarn

When starting a new project, it's not so hard to purchase the number of balls or skeins of yarn indicated in the pattern (and maybe an extra ball or two, just in case). But, what about if you are substituting another brand of yarn that comes in different ball or skein sizes?

If you are substituting yarn, then calculate the total yardage required in the pattern (for example, the pattern says to buy 4 skeins of yarn, and each skein is 150 yards long, so the total yards required for the project is 600 yards) and divide by the number of yards contained in the substitute yarn (let's say you want to use a yarn that comes in a 200-yard skein). That will tell you how many balls or skeins of the new yarn to buy (in our example above, 600 divided by 200 equals 3 skeins, though, again, you might want to go ahead and buy an extra skein).

But, a word of caution, don't try to substitute a bulky number 5 weight yarn for a sport or baby weight number 2 yarn! The whole pattern would need to be reworked to account for the differences in gauge, so when substituting yarns, stay within the same weight of yarn originally called for in the pattern.


Adjusting Yarn Weight

Ever wanted to follow a pattern but use a different weight yarn than listed? There are a couple of ways to approach this dilemma. One is to make a gauge swatch using the desired yarn and then adjust the number of stitches in the pattern according to the outcome of the swatch. Another is to double up finer yarn to create the weight of yarn called for in the pattern. A rule of thumb is 2 strands of a fingering yarn will make 1 strand of a sport weight yarn; 2 strands of a sport weight yarn will equal 1 strand of a worsted weight yarn; and 1 strand of a worsted weight yarn coupled with either a fingering yarn or a sport yarn will yield a bulky weight yarn. Here too, you are going to want to make that gauge swatch to be sure that your stitches are matching the measurements provided in the pattern.

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