A few of my friends have recently requested that I teach them how to crochet. Although I’m not sure I’m as good at teaching this as I think I am at teaching science (matter of practice), I hope that this ‘Learn to Crochet’ series is helpful not only to them, but anyone else interested in the art.
The first lesson is about the essential tools required and the yarns available to crochet. Please feel free to ask any questions via comment or e-mail. I will be happy to help any of you learn to crochet!
Let’s start with the essential tools required
You obviously will need crochet hooks. We’ll discuss your options in a moment. Scissors to cut your yarn are also necessary. I have always used just plain scissors, or a nail cutter. No, I’m not kidding, they actually are fantastic at cutting yarn and you can bring them with you on a plane!. Just make sure you have a separate set for that purpose. As for fancy metal scissors available at some places, I don’t care for them. Why? a lot of people will tell you that yarn snips or embroidery scissors are better. But they were not designed to cut yarn. All you need is a sharp pair of scissors, anything else is optional. Tapestry needles come in bigger (gold color) and smaller (silver color) sizes. They both have a blunt end, so they are different from sewing needles. They are used to finish a project, by ‘hiding’ a tail of yarn within the crocheted piece. I mostly use the smaller needles, with the exception of bulky or super bulky yarns, which are really hard to thread through a thin needle. Last but not least are the stitch markers. You can find stitch markers in all shapes and materials, but the ones pictured are by far my favorite because they stay secured to the stitch, while other types of markers can fall off your work. Markers are used to… well, mark a part of your work. They serve as a reference so you don’t lose track of where the beginning of your round or row is, to separate a piece of work in parts etc.
You can buy these markers here: Clover Lock Ring Markers*
Now let’s talk about hooks
First of all, it’s important to note that there are many materials available to crocheters when it comes to choosing a hook. The most common are plastic blends, bamboo, fully metallic or metallic with a handle. My favorite hooks are the ones pictured last. They are the clover amour hooks. They were my self-gifted wedding gift and I have fallen in love with these hooks because they are incredibly comfortable. The handle is soft and they are tapered hooks. We’ll discuss what that means next. Let me add that the clover hooks are made in Japan and that simply gives me confidence in the quality. The Japanese are adept crocheters and they invented the art of amigurumi. If you want your own set of Clover amour hooks, you can get yours here. (And no, Clover didn’t pay me to say any of this)
An image is worth a thousand words and there isn’t much I can tell you about inline and tapered hooks. Inline hooks have a ‘sharper’ shape and the hook is cut in an angle with two straight lines. Tapered hooks however, have a rounded shape which reminds me of fishing hooks. I prefer tapered hooks because I find them to move more smoothly through the yarn, especially with yarns that tend to split (the fibers start separating). I suggest you try both and decide which one works best for you.
Hey, what about crochet hook sizes? Sizes are standardized and only certain dimensions are available. Hook size is given both by a letter and the millimeter diameter of the hook. Both designations are interchangeable and they go as follows.
Finally, we need to talk about yarn. The variety of yarns currently available is almost overwhelming. The major classification of yarn is done with regards to its weight. This may sound a bit weird, but it really just means the classification is based on how thick or thin the yarn is, which determines what the appropriate hook for it is. However, it is important to keep in mind that weight categories represent a range of yarns, not a single value. I’ll explain this further in a second, but the main weight groups are pictured below.
The exact classification of yarn according to the yarn council of america can be found here. But I’d like to simplify things a bit for you. First of all, two yarns within the same weight category are not necessarily the same. I think the picture makes that a lot easier to understand. You can see several types of worsted weight yarn pictured and they are clearly not exactly the same thickness. Moreover, they are not spun exactly the same way and they aren’t all made of the same fibers. So how do you pick the right one? Something to keep in mind is the number of wraps per inch (wpi), which is exactly what it sounds like, how many wraps can you fit in one inch. This number will give you an idea of the relative thickness of two yarns that fall within the same weight category but are not exactly the same. The most important thing is that you choose a yarn that appeals to you and that is adequate for the project and season it will be used for.
The weight of yarn you require will be determined by a project. But besides the thickness, it is important to consider yarn fiber. There are plenty of fibers available all over the internet and at craft stores. The price of the yarn is directly related to the fiber composition and also to the way in which it has been spun and dyed. Cheaper yarns are usually acrylic or blends of acrylic and wool. Typical prices range from 3-10 $ for about 200 yards.
Some yarns I use often, within that price range are: Caron Simply soft (made in the USA), Vanna’s choice from Lion Brand and Vickie Howell’s Sheepish. The first two are 100% acrylic and the last one is a mix of acrylic and wool. I do not recommend cheap wool yarns. These are usually spun using long fibers which end up poking out of the yarn and make it itchy. Most wool sensitive people are not allergic, they just don’t tolerate the poking.
So if you want to use wool, and you’ll want to, it’s best to choose merino wool that has been finely spun and is not itchy or scratchy. My favorite is Malabrigo yarn, which is available online and at small(er) yarn stores and is reasonably priced at about 14$ for 200 yards.
Cotton yarns are a must for any items that will be exposed to high heat and heavy wearing, such as potholders and cozies. I have recently discovered bamboo yarns and I am absolutely in love with the lightness and softness of them. But, these are only suitable for lighter garments such as summer shawls. Another favorite is t-shirt yarn, which is made out of the remnants of knit stretchy fabrics. It’s great to create big crochet pieces for the home, like rugs and baskets. The thickness and type of fiber makes the items really sturdy. When it comes to amigurumi, and we will explore it in a future post, I always resort to acrylic because it makes the process much easier on your hands and is resistant to wear.
So… where can you buy yarn? My main stores for cheaper yarn are JoAnn’s or Michaels. (No, I don’t and I won’t shop at HL). However, the type of yarn you will find there is very limited. Mostly affordable yarns made by Caron, Lion Brand and Bernat. The colors are relatively limited and the availability will vary store by store. I recently discovered Knit Picks. They are an online yarn supplier with a large amount of available fibers and colors. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive because of the shipping (the price is actually comparable), but it’s worth it. Another place to keep in mind is Ice yarns. Their yarns are sold by lots of 2-8 skeins. The amount of skeins per lot and the price depends on what yarn you’re buying, of course. I absolutely love their tube t-shirt yarn, which is thinner than most t-shirt yarns (pictured second from the top). Their shipping is a flat price of 10$ and if you have a relatively large project in mind, or you are ok with buying large quantities, I highly recommend it. They are based in Turkey but shipping is typically 2 days! If you are looking for nicer yarns, which are almost exclusively wool, you can find plenty of online stores that distribute some pricier yet affordable yarns, like Malabrigo. While I wouldn’t start crocheting with a very nice yarn, they are worth buying for special projects, especially clothing or accessories that go close to your skin.
Well, that’s it for now! I hope I’ve helped a bit and not confused you very much. Stay tuned for our next ‘Learn to Crochet’ in which I’ll show you how to make single crochets. And please, feel free to ask any questions you might have!
*(This is an affiliate link. It will cost you the same as shopping for it on your own, but I get a wee bit of something which helps me keep this blog full of free tutorials)