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The Happy Hooker - crochet yarn organization?
August 18, 2010 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking a beginner's crochet course soon, with a view to going on to do amigurumi and maybe (much further down the line) trying a hand at knitting. What do you wish you knew when you started?

I'm trying to avoid the mistakes I've made when taking on other hobbies - being too ambitious and ruining/wasting supplies I couldn't use properly, collecting supplies rather than using them, and not knowing where to go for things. Any tips on good yarns for blankets and toys, and how not to make it a hugely expensive hobby or one that takes over my room? Is it worth spending more on brand X or going with the cheapest acrylic available to begin with? How much yarn can one fit in a small space? Do I need to buy one in each colour? Is making your own garments impossible, rewarding or disappointing? How many hooks does one person actually need? Should I just give up now and go to Primark instead?

I'm in London (I work in the centre and live in the West) but find with cross-stitching, my main hobby, that there are very few places I can go to get supplies. I'd like suggestions for websites (I know Ravelry and Knitty already), sources for guidance and cheap wools, and maybe even books and magazines. I'm not going to be investing much other than time for the first few months as I've got a few projects on the go while I learn, but I'd love some ideas for resources I can come back to.
posted by mippy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Coming from the knitting perspective, I learned after a few years that I could have saved a lot of money and grief by being more selective with my yarn purchasing. I jumped on fads, bought crazy colors and now I have two boxes full of one-skein samples of yarn that are just...not good. There is nothing wrong with falling in love with a certain yarn and buying it for a specific project, but if you want to use it to make anything bigger than a potholder, buy all you need for your project at once and buy all from the same dye lot.

There is also nothing wrong with learning on acrylic yarns, but it probably won't take long for you to discover the joys of natural fibers and more high-end yarns.

As for yarn storage, I bought those long, thin tubs that fit under your bed and stacked my yarn in them. I can probably fit 30-40 skeins of bulky yarn in a large one. I have three such tubs under my guest bed now and you'd never know I had a yarn "problem".
posted by bristolcat at 6:54 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Buy the yarn for a specific project. Don't buy yarn just because it's pretty then decide what to make with it later unless you want to end up with tons of yarn (not that I have done this). Acrylic has its uses, but I don't buy anything that isn't at least partially natural fibers, because the feel is different. Yarn can take up a lot of space. I used to keep mine in an over-the-door shoe holder before I "de-stashed."
Knitpicks has affordable yarns. There are mixed reviews on quality of some of the varieties, so check Ravelry before buying. eBay can be good if you know already what yarn you want, especially if you want to buy a lot of it (like 5 or more skeins/balls).
Ravelry makes life so much easier. I can't even imagine how I knit in the pre-Ravelry world now.

You can make your own garments, and this isn't at all a far-fetched idea. Crochet isn't as versatile (IMO) for making adult clothing as knitting is. Knitting makes knit fabric, which is what tons of clothing is made of (even t-shirts are knit, just with tiny thread). Crocheting is going to make something kind of knobby no matter what it is.
posted by elpea at 6:56 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get hooks with the larger grippy handle. I use these.

Amigurumi/toy-specific tips: cheapo acrylic is totally fine. It comes in all sorts of colors, and it makes a sturdy fabric. It's not a good choice for garments - it doesn't breathe or block or drape well, but these aren't really concerns if you're making toys. If you really dislike the feel of acrylic (some people complain that it's "squeaky"), go with wool or a blend.

If you're making stuffed objects, go down a hook size or two from the recommendation on the label - your work will be more solid and less likely to have little gaps for the stuffing to poke through.

Plus, if you get bored easily, toys are a good project because they are small and what you're doing changes frequently.

If you try knitting, I recommend learning continental style. It helped me immensely!
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:09 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ann Budd makes yardage estimater cards for various projects. Get them and convert the yardage to meters so that when you find a yarn deeply discounted you can buy enough for a sweater without being 2 balls short.

Always buy at least one ball more than the pattern says you need.

In crochet patterns, Americans mean something different by slip stitch, single crochet, double crochet, etc than British. The differences seem slight, but they add up.

Lastly, join ravelry.com!
posted by bilabial at 7:12 AM on August 18, 2010


When you're just getting started and want to attempt a bigger project like a blanket, I recommend using no dye lot yarn. That way if you underestimate how much you will need (gauge and such is an acquired skill) you can go back and get more without having to worry about matching.
posted by Kimberly at 7:14 AM on August 18, 2010


Thanks so far. I was worried because:

- I worked out how much it would cost to knit an adult jumper in Rowan wool and it was scarily expensive, which has put me off learning for a while. I don't wear acrylic knits so I'd need to go with the more spendy yarn if I decided to make something wearable. I'd love to make a granny square blanket, for example, as I can do a square when I feel like it, but wonder how expensive it will get.
- I like the idea of making things to my own specifications, but given that trying things on can make a nice garment look blah, that's off-putting. I have a large bust so I do like knit/crochet things due to the little bit of give they allow.
- I do have packrat tendencies - I'm having a clearout before my course starts anyway, regardless of whether I go on to do more - and it makes me wonder what I actually *need* to start off with.
- It's hard to know what yarns are decent and where saving money is a false economy.
posted by mippy at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2010


For learning how to knit, Knittinghelp.com has been an invaluable resource for me. They have some info. on crocheting, too, so don't let the name fool you. I've found for true beginners these are really the best videos out there and the forums are full of some really gentle and patient people who are there explicitly because they want to help or need help learning a particular technique. The forum is also really easy to navigate.

For me, where I am, I don't buy yarn unless I'm planning on using it. I have a bunch from a friend who didn't have the time to crochet any more, but I only buy yarn I plan on using and with a very specific project in mind. I've found with my brief knitting experience that good way to determine if I'm ready for a project is if I can understand 90% of the pattern instructions when reading it. This doesn't mean I really know what I'm doing or even understand the technique, but if I know what the pattern is referring to, even if I don' t know how to do it, it gives me a leg up in completing the project.

Don't be afraid to start something and then put it aside if it gets too complicated. You won't know if you can't do it unless you try, and not being able to do it now doesn't mean you won't be able to do it later.

I've also found for me that starting with a few small projects that can be completed relatively quickly (couple of days for a knit 3, purl 3 baby blanket, about a week for a raised pattern dischcloth, or about six weeks for two baby hats) provides me with a sense of accomplishment. Were I to have started right in on a large shawl or a sweater, I think I'd have thrown in the towel much earlier.

I really like the Plymouth Dream Baby DK yarn. It's really pleasant to work with, shapes up nicely, is easy to untangle, and the pattern for the hats I used (from the same company) were really straightforward and easy to follow.

The blanket I made was in their Encore Colorspun yarn, which is also really nice to work with, not expensive, and if you do something really simple has the benefit of still looking absolutely beautiful because of the yarn colors.

Plymouth isn't terribly expensive, as far as yarns go. I think the Dream Baby skeins were something like 7 USD each and the Colorspuns were closer to 10 USD at the local yarn store. They may be cheaper online, but I like to go to brick and mortar stores to see my yarn. I really like Plymouth as a beginner. I think anything that's a wool, a wool blend or a synthetic material blend is good for beginners. 100% cotton (Sugar'n'Cream is a good brand for that) isn't horrible, but it's hard on the hands. When I first started, I started with cotton and I just couldn't do it. I found things went more smoothly when I picked up something with wool in it. Then I went back and knitted the cotton dishcloth when I had a better idea of what I was doing.

Try different needle types, too. I was given a pair of bamboo needles to start with, and they drove me nuts. I couldn't maneuver them properly. I bought some metal needles and it was a vast improvement for me. I lost more stitches along the way that I had to then learn how to pick up, but I wasn't stuck on one stitch for five minutes because the needles were sticking together. I've gone back to wood a couple of times, but I've found I really just prefer metal needles. I imagine there's some variation in needle choice for crocheting, too, so just find the ones that you like the best.
posted by zizzle at 7:17 AM on August 18, 2010


Rowan is a great yarn company, but their products can be found on eBay and discount yarn sites.
posted by bilabial at 7:18 AM on August 18, 2010


Seconding and thirding about being selective in your yarn purchases. I've been destashing like mad this year and there's still stuff I have no idea what to do with.
posted by Kurichina at 7:19 AM on August 18, 2010


This might sound silly/obvious to some...but keep a count of your stitches, if you're knitting something flat. With crochet I frequently had trouble telling where the last stitch in the row was, so I'd turn early or do a stitch into the edge or whatever.
posted by cabingirl at 7:25 AM on August 18, 2010


During previous phases of mine of 'I'm going to learn to knit and crochet!' I ended up buying tons of wool from charity shops, then taking it back there when I never got round to it. I guess I'm trying to balance whether, as with some hobbies, it's worth going bargain basement/used first? I think buying the yarn for what you intend to use is helpful!

Recommendations on cheap online yarn stores (that are based in or ship cheaply to the UK) v.welcome. John Lewis is the only local store I can think of and they tend to carry the more expensive, 'wait 'til you know what you're doing' yarns.
posted by mippy at 7:27 AM on August 18, 2010


Do I need anything to help keep count of stitches? I end up unpicking if I cross stitch too carelessly and it's a PITA.
posted by mippy at 7:28 AM on August 18, 2010


For crocheting, I've found that I prefer acrylic for general-use blankets and toys, and natural fibers for all other things. (Especially: Cotton for dishtowels, pot holders, and washcloths.)

Expensive natural fibers are great for heirloom blankets, especially if they are going to be framed instead of used -- have you ever tried to hand wash a queen-sized blanket? Now imagine it's made of $1000 worth of cashmere. Whoa.

What I learned when I first started to spin holds true for knitting and crocheting both: buy nice yarns that feel good on your fingers that you like to work with and think are pretty. Working with yarn that hurts your fingers or that is really ugly (to your own eyes) is rough, and makes you not want to use that yarn or finish that project.

My last recommendation is to go to a yarn store and write down the yarns you like, and then price check them over the internet -- depending on where you live, you might be able to get the yarn much cheaper mail order than at your local yarn shop.
posted by shamash at 7:30 AM on August 18, 2010


To answer your newest question: crocheting is not like knitting. The stitches and rows are much easier to count, and also much easier to rip out and work again (especially in acrylics). A row counter can be helpful if you are working in a spiral, but (especially when you are first learning the basic stitches) stitches and rows are discrete and easy to see. Use a light-colored yarn that is not white (pink, lavender, baby blue, pale yellow, etc.) for your first tries, as the stitches and rows will be easier to count than using a dark yarn.
posted by shamash at 7:33 AM on August 18, 2010


Don't regard crochet as beginners-level knitting. Though both crafts use yarn and are often discussed together, they're quite different from one another. They also create fabrics with very different qualities -- I like crochet for doll-craft and for things like afghans. I prefer knitting for garments.

For me personally, knitting was intuitive right from the start and I find crochet is more difficult. It might just boil down to how your brain works. (I both knit and crochet, but I would call myself an advanced knitter and a beginner at crochet.) As to yarns, for making amigurumi arcylics will probably work just fine. I wouldn't make a garment with acrylic yarn, partly because acrylic = plastic and I don't find the fabric you get with acrylic to be breathable or comfortable. (Also, it makes me sweaty.) There's also the fact that with some fibers, namely wool, you can use a finishing technique called "blocking" which will even out your stitches and make everything nice & neat, and you can't block acrylic.

You are already aware of Ravelry, which is good! I'd check Ravelry for some local groups, and they will probably have both meetups and excellent advice as to where is best to buy supplies. You can find good quality natural fibers at a lower price than what you see with Rowan, but I'm not sure what the best UK resources are for finding good prices.

Good luck! I first taught myself to knit almost ten years ago from a cheap patternbook. Just take it one step at a time! I think that granny squares & amigurumi with inexpensive acrylics sounds like a fine place to start.
posted by dryad at 7:38 AM on August 18, 2010


Rowan is always going to be super expensive. I wish I could give you more recommendations, but unfortunately I'm only familiar with US stockists. I do know that Colourmart has great prices on cashmere and other nicer fibers, so if you get to that point (or just want cones of yarn), they might be an option.

I'm guessing you've figured out the difference between a Local Yarn Store (LYS) and the larger variety stores. That was my first blunder!

Acrylic isn't the worst thing in the world, but there are definitely better kinds. Red Heart is the bane of snobby knitters for its plasticky feel. Wool-Ease is better, but still not ideal. One of the best acrylic/wool mixes, and pretty affordable, is Plymouth Encore.

The crimp of wool yarn, and the way it's spun, makes it naturally springy. Maybe not like elastic, but you can feel a definite give if you tug it. That helps make it nicer to knit with, particularly when you're just learning, because it doesn't dig into your fingers but stretches just a tiny bit. It also helps when you block it after you're done knitting, as the stretching and smoothing helps tug the fibers into a more even distribution. Acrylic won't block without a blowtorch :)

Your other concern is gauge. That's how many stitches you have to an inch (in either direction). The same yarn on different needles will create tighter or looser fabric (and wider or narrower fabric as well). Knowing gauge is REALLY important when you're knitting garments. If you're even a half-stitch off over a four-inch swatch, just think how much difference that will make over, say, a 42" bust!

I would highly suggest starting with something unfitted, like dishcloths, scarves or blankets (if you're feeling ambitious). Hats are pretty forgiving as well -- small enough to redo or add on if you've done it too small.
posted by Madamina at 7:39 AM on August 18, 2010


Don't regard crochet as beginners-level knitting.

I'm not! I just don't want to take up two crafts in one go, and I have heard crochet is a bit easier to learn so might be a good way to see how I enjoy it.
posted by mippy at 7:53 AM on August 18, 2010


I learned to crochet first and then taught myself how to knit. Now I prefer knitting except for when I'm making some toys and when I'm doing flowers for accents.

Make sure you really learn how to hold the yarn and needles/hook correctly. I learned wrong with crochet and now I get finger cramps when I crochet for too long (another reason why I prefer knitting.)

Cheap acrylic yarn is great for a beginner. I prefer acrylic for toys because it's so easy to wash. I actually give my toys to kids, so I expect them to be tossed in the washer. Acrylic is also good for blankets for the same reason. I also tend to use acrylic for scarves. I like the Caron Simply Soft brand. I get itchy when I have wool right next to my skin and I want my kids' winter wear to be really washable so acrylic is the choice there too. I also use the Simply Soft or a similar soft feeling baby weight when I make baby hats for the hospital. Babies have such sensitive skin that I think acrylic is best.

I use a washable wool blend for hats and mittens so that I get the water repellant qualities of wool and the washability of acrylic.

I rarely make big projects (I don't finish things that take too long) so I hardly ever use the really expensive wools. I've made a few small projects in nicer blends, and I really loved using bamboo.

Don't be afraid to frog your work and start over. (It's called frogging because you "Rip it, rip it") Trying to fix a mistake is usually nearly impossible and it's 95% easier to just go back and redo the work. The finished project will look much nicer too. This was a lesson I learned the hard way. (Except dropped stitches in knitting, those are easy to fix when you discover the mistake. You don't have to rip anything out with that.)

Another reason why I find knitting easier than crochet is the stitch counting. I tend to add a stitch at the end of a crochet row, and have a harder time seeing the stitches to count them. In knit all the stitches are lined up nicely on the needles and it's easy to see the individual stitches to count. I just keep a piece of paper next to me and put down a little hash mark when I've finished a row.

Knit and crochet both have their places and I'm glad I know how to do both. Different kinds of projects need a different method, socks in knit can be super comfy while socks in crochet tend to be more slipper like and less comfortable in shoes. Lace is easier to do in crochet and looks better (IMO) than knit. Granny squares are great in crochet and I can't even remember seeing a knit example. Cables look funny to me in crochet, but look awesome in knit. Everything has a place.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2010


How many hooks does one person actually need?

I've always bought hooks as I needed them. I recommend making a list of what you have and bringing it with you when you're buying supplies for a project. I've ended up with quite a few duplicates over the years because I couldn't remember what I already had.

I prefer the Susan Bates "Silvalume" style metal hooks. They have a nice-sized grip on the handle and the way the tip is designed, the yarn slides easily. I've tried other hooks that have a more pointy tip, but I always go back to these. I don't recommend plastic hooks at all, because I like a hook to have some weight in my hand. I've never tried wooden hooks either, for the same reason.
posted by cottonswab at 8:01 AM on August 18, 2010


I don't like spending money on yarn. Like, at all. Even a bargain yarn. Any yarn I get comes from the thrift store, both the commercial skeins turned in by donors and by recycling sweaters. There are lots of tutorials out there, but it's fall-off-a-log easy.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:04 AM on August 18, 2010


If size will matter, make and wash a swatch first. Then measure your gauge.
Gauge MATTERS if you are going to wear it.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:09 AM on August 18, 2010


Get yourself some stitch markers (or have on hand some small safety pins to serve the same function). If you're making a baby blanket that requires 100 stitches in the foundation row, it's nice to just mark them off every ten, so you don't have to keep counting.

I'm another voice in the chorus saying that acrylics really are just fine for toys and blankets - there are many acrylics that are nice and soft and warm and - maybe most important for a blanket! - machine washable. Also, seriously, don't buy yarn unless you know exactly what project you're going to use it for. Otherwise you will end up with baskets and baskets of yarn (*mumble mutter like me*).

I hold my crochet hook and yarn differently than I've seen in any book or tutorial - and that's just fine. Learn the standard, and if it doesn't work or feel right for you, don't hesitate to move your hands around a little and figure out what works best for you. The nice thing about crochet is that it's really easy to see the knots you're making, it works up pretty quickly, and if you make a mistake it's really easy take out your work to go back and fix it.

Don't forget to pause and stretch out your fingers and hands from time to time.

I have two of nearly every size hook, and I prefer the aluminum Susan Bates hooks, too. I only have two of each because I tend to put one in my shoulder bag with a project and have another at home (and because I'm a ditz and will easily misplace things). You probably only need a few different sizes to get started. You may want to hold off and just buy the size you need for the project you need (start slow).

My first big project was a tetris blanket made of granny squares. I actually wish I'd used a cheaper yarn (I used a wool blend) for that, because the blanket is itchy and so people don't like to use it, and after 50 squares or so my hands became slightly irritated from the yarn (I have super sensitive skin), but it was a fabulous project - don't hesitate to tackle something large and ambitious that you think is really cool. If you think it's cool enough, and it can be broken down into small enough pieces, it'll get done. :)

Lastly, have fun, and if you have any questions don't hesitate to drop me a line!
posted by lriG rorriM at 8:27 AM on August 18, 2010


You're approaching from the right angle.

I can't crochet. I've tried so many times since becoming an OK knitter. I find it incredibly difficult, but if it's what you want to do first, and you have a habit of over-crafting (me too!), then don't even think about knitting until you've mastered your first 2-3 crochet projects.

I'm not going to be investing much other than time for the first few months as I've got a few projects on the go while I learn, but I'd love some ideas for resources I can come back to.

All the money saving tips are great, but I would spend where it's useful. The Make Lounge in London offers (pricey) lessons but with materials and tuition. It's an investment, but I think it's preferable to books/websites which you'll buy/download and never read.

Alternatively, join a free craft circle if you haven't already. There are tons in London, operating sorta like reading groups. You go, share your projects, ask for advice, make friends... Plus you have an incentive to keep going even after your first project unravels.

Re: knit counter - I use the iPhone app KnitMinder, which also handily catalogues all my materials and yarns. If you've got no iPhone, use a notebook and keep a tally as you go (as TooFewShoes says).

Recommendations on cheap online yarn stores (that are based in or ship cheaply to the UK) v.welcome.

I second this. I need to stop my John Lewis addiction. Morley's of Brixton has a much cheaper haberdashery, but the quality is cheaper, too.
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2010


Wow, i'm the exact opposite of a lot of people here. I love to crochet but find knitting to be nearly impossible. I'm actually re-learning how to knit now. I learned to knit first in Jr. High School way back in the 80's but when I learned to crochet I dropped the knitting needles and never looked back ('till now).

You can crochet garments (I have) but knitting is much more versatile for garment making. I have stacks and stacks of afghans of all different shapes and sizes - actually my friends and family have them all. They also have hats, scarves, slippers, sweaters, shawls, etc...

I bought every sized hook I could find and inherited the tiny hooks from my grandma, who crocheted beautiful lace. I'm like you, I just want to buy everything! even after doing this for years and years.

Good luck with your adventures.
posted by patheral at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2010


To save time, take the time to check your gauge. For a garment, you want to make a HUGE gauge swatch, big enough to drape over a shoulder. Figure on an entire extra ball of yarn for the purpose, seriously. Then wash it and block it the way you will treat the final garment. Not only will this ensure an accurate fit, but it will allow you to play-test the fabric and the way the yarn reacts to treatment. Best to discover your yarn pills like a mofo after knitting an 8" gauge swatch rather than a $300 sweater.

It is a waste of money to cut corners on yarn. I agree that cheap acrylic is good, possibly even best, for crocheted amigurumi, but for anything you're going to wear, spend the money on the good yarn -- or you won't wear it, and then all that time and money is wasted.

In general, knitting is better for purposes that require a drape, and crochet is better for purposes that require a structure. I crochet bags, stylish hats, jackets, and blankets, and I knit socks, sweaters, warm woolly hats, and other garments.

If you want to do jaw-droppingly beautiful work and spend virtually no money on supplies, learn to knit and crochet doilies. They're pants in the keeping-warm department, but they'll allow you to perfect your skills, and doily crochet cotton is so cheap it basically just costs pocket money.

Sign up for Ravelry. It will allow you to learn from other people's mistakes. Chief among those mistakes is usually knitting a beautifully patterned article in gorgeously variegated yarn; the two sets of gorgeous often fight in unfortunate ways.
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2010


Seconding Continental Knitting. I learned to crochet in college from a book. When I got into knitting I found the hand positions for Continental were much more comfortable for me, and seemed much more like crocheting. I also discovered halfway through my one and only (to date) knitted sweater that I was purling incorrectly. I threw in an extra twist that actually ended up looking very pretty. Anyway, that's one of those reasons why it's useful to learn in a class setting, from actual people, than from a book.
I highly recommend the books by Debbie Stoller of Stitch & Bitch. In addition to being very well written and easy to understand, they are pretty hilarious. Here's the amazon page for the crochet and knit books.
posted by purpletangerine at 10:44 AM on August 18, 2010


Rowan has beautiful yarn, but I only use it for small things because it's so spendy. I only knit large things when I'm testing for a designer and they provide the yarn, but when I make kids' sweaters, I like Lion Brand Cotton Ease. Cotton Ease is affordable, has some stretch, is durable, and looks nice (I actually once knit 2 kids' sweaters for sisters, one in Rowan cotton somethingorother and one in Cotton Ease. You couldn't tell any difference, other than color).
It's fun to use pricier yarns for accessories, like hats, gloves, socks, scarves, etc. It's also much more instant-gratification because it doesn't take a month or more to finish something if you have a decent amount of time for it.
posted by elpea at 12:47 PM on August 18, 2010


Oh and Knitting Help is a godsend for beginners. They have videos with both continental and English styles.
posted by elpea at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2010


Other people have covered a lot of what I wanted to say, and I realize that this is quite late to the party, but I wanted to mention that if you're working at learning crochet and having a hard time of it, give knitting a go. Back when I was learning, I was going to learn both and figured that crochet would be a bit easier, but for me it was the exact opposite--I picked up knitting in literally a few minutes, and have been happily chugging along ever since. Almost fifteen years later, I've tried time after time to learn crochet using instructional internet videos, sympathetic friends, and even a couple of real live knitting/crochet instructors. I still can't crochet--I can make an excellent chain, and that's about it.

Anyhow, my point was just that if one isn't coming easily, that doesn't mean that the other one won't. I initially thought my failure to crochet meant that I was going to suck at fiber arts. Turns out it just means that I suck at corchet.
posted by MeghanC at 7:04 PM on August 21, 2010


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