Sunday, March 21

What's "Hook-Led Gauge"? Why is it Important?

Use extra-fine lace weight alpaca yarn and
a big Tunisian crochet hook. for the
Convertible Smokestack Vest
2018 Update: I revised this post and created a permanent page for it at my new website.

Learning how to let your crochet hook determine your stitch gauge is possibly the most valuable skill a crocheter could develop.


A hook-led gauge is necessary for making fashionable-looking crochet fabrics with dramatic drape and textures. Sometimes I think of it as "crocheting with air" -- that's how it might feel to use a very big crochet hook with a fine or very stretchy yarn.
    It comes in handy when making Love Knots and other intermediate-level stitches that depend on being able to "eyeball" a loop size.
      You'll be ahead of the curve if you'd like to someday crochet professionally as a teacher, designer or as a valuable pattern tester for other designers!

      Weightless Tunisian Wrap
      It breaks a habit that many crocheters develop: they make their chains and slip stitches tighter than their other stitches, regardless of their hook size. 
      The Eva Slip Stitch Shrug

      Sometimes the crocheter simply crochets much more tightly or loosely no matter what size hook they're using. Other crocheters are actually using the yarn as a gauge guide. Crocheters who are used to using a lot of cotton yarn or thread, which is not stretchy to work with, tend to do this.
      Every crocheter starts out with a natural gauge, often called the "crocheter's hand." With enough practice, crocheters can have more control over their natural stitch gauge. This is actually an intermediate skill that leads to advanced crocheting, although it's not listed in any of the standard skill level descriptions.

      To maintain the best stitch gauge throughout, use the diameter of your hook to judge if your stitches are the right size: as you crochet, the space between the two top loops of each stitch should look large enough to fit the size of the crochet hook you're using. 
      The stretchy slip stitch Pullover Shrug

      See issue #59 of Crochet Inspirations Newsletter about it:
      Starwirbel Cowl. See newsletter 
      issue #60 for more.
      You might feel a bit outside of your comfort zone at first. If so, just tell yourself that you're making an important investment in your hobby: a world of exciting new stitches and designs will open up to you.

      Tuesday, March 9

      My Favorite Way to Add A Professional Look FAST

      2018 Update: I revised this post and created a permanent page for it at my new website. Also see issue #26 of my Crochet Inspirations Newsletter, "Creative Stitch Blocking".

      I give it spritz so I can drape it on the mannequin and
      see if I should keep going! "Tripuff Tunic"
      in DesigningVashti Lotus yarn.
      I'm going to describe a "finishing technique" but I don't wait until the end of a project to do it. It is usually called "blocking"...but this is only one blocking method of many. 

      I'm talking about the power of mist. Not steam, not water, not a special soaking liquid, just low-tech plain cool water mist!

      It's an essential tool in our project bags along with scissors, and yarn needles for weaving in ends. 

      Ten ways I use plain mist first and sometimes exclusively with crochet:

      pre-blocked Tunisian Islander Wrap
       1) When I want to see how the project might look when finished but I don't want to wet it and have to wait more than 15 minutes for it to dry. I mist it enough on a flat surface so that as I pat it out evenly, I see and feel that the stitches are relaxing and socializing with each other nicely.

      2) For solid stitch patterns like Tunisian Simple Stitch, or single crochet, post stitch patterns, etc., I mist a bit after I work 12 inches or more of the project so that I can see the fabric look its most sleek, flat, and even. It's a boost for me to see my stitches look so good.

      Tunisian Islander Wrap 
      after simple blocking.
      3) When I start with the inside end of a new ball of yarn and it's too crinkled. I mist the stitches to see if the crimps are distorting my gauge. Or, I pull out enough of the yarn from the ball, wind it loosely over a chair or something, and mist it lightly so that it relaxes the wrinkles enough that I can crochet it comfortably in 15 minutes or so.

      4) To renew my confidence or excitement in a lace project. I want to see its real beauty as I go! It was great for the Weightless Tunisian Wrap.

      The Eilanner Shawl:
      diagonal crochet loves to be blocked.
      5) To learn more about an expensive yarn that may be delicate. Mist is very gentle. I choose expensive yarns for their beauty, so I mist a swatch of one to get a preview of the full finished beauty of the stitch pattern I'm using. I can also see if it sheds easily, if it goes limp and flat, if it gives off dye, has a strong smell, etc.

      6) To make minor adjustments in the fit of clothing.

      7) To avoid re-doing a seam or edging if possible. Mist might be all it needs to look smooth and make the stitches play nicely with each other.

      8) Mist may be enough to make picots, corners and angles look crisp and pressed. I mist, stretch, pat, press it with my fingers like it's dough until it's the way I want it, then let dry.

      9) When I swatch with a yarn that's new to me and it's unexpectedly stiff. It's amazing how a little mist will bring out a yarn's true personality! Especially linen, hemp, cotton yarns.

      Tunisian crochet lace, unblocked.
      10) When I mist a swatch with any yarn while designing, I can get a quick sense for whether I'm on the right track: how good a stitch pattern looks in the yarn, whether I think I should go up or down a hook size, and how much the stitches might stretch out or grow.
             I know that many crocheters (and knitters) don't block their work because they simply don't want to! It sounds optional, or boring and time-consuming. Others don't know how, and once we complete a project, we don't want to learn an additional finishing step. We want it to be finished already!
        Spritzed with water and spread out.

             I spent most of my life not blocking my crochet. If I liked how my stitches looked, I kept going until I was done. When I was done, it looked fine to me, and that's that. I wasn't crocheting clothes, nor doilies that needed to lie flat and even. When I went through a phase of crocheting every snowflake pattern I could find, it was a new world of wetting, starching, and pinning them evenly so that the lacy stitches looked gorgeous. I hated waiting for them to dry. I did not call this "blocking"–I'm not sure if I knew the word. I thought it was only for snowflakes and doilies. 

             A spray bottle is a crocheter's best friend. I even keep a tiny one in my project bag.

        Monday, March 1

        Crocheting Coffee Cozies the Goldilocks Way

        Alpine Coffee Cozy for chunky yarn.
        I want a coffee cozy that fits just right: one that improves my grip on a full cup of steaming hot java.

        If it doesn't fit the cup snugly, it slides around and interferes with a secure grip. 

        If a cozy is too cozy, however, it's tricky to slip onto a full cup without splashing oneself. This is why my crochet coffee cozy patterns tend to include exacting instructions for the foundation rows.

        I'm like Goldilocks when it comes to crocheted coffee cozies! Feel free to be less exacting while crocheting one, and later, if like Goldilocks you'd like your cozy to fit just so, try one of these tips:

        Not-Cozy-Enough Coffee Cozy?
        • Tighten up the bottom edge with a round of slip stitches. (Pictured: close up of slip stitch reinforcement)
        • Fit it over a cardboard sleeve that usually comes with the cup (just keep one handy and reuse it.)
        Overly-Cozy Coffee Cozy?
        • Wet it and stretch it. If that doesn't loosen it enough, you can do what my friend does: 
        • She drinks mostly large iced drinks and purposely makes the bottom rim of her cozies too small for the cup. This causes its bottom rim to curve under the cup. The cozy absorbs the condensation from the cup (especially if the cozy is cotton), which makes the cup dripless. In other words, the cozy becomes a portable coaster. 
        Click here and here for some snug-fitting examples that I freelanced for magazines. You might like my coffee cozy newsletter issue #54, "How and Why of Crochet Coffee Cozies" :)