Daveyyyy! Davey Crochet! (Get it? If you pronounce it phonetically...?)
February 19, 2014 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I can crochet... sorta. I have made mittens and slippers and hats and scarves, I even made a Dispicible Me Minion hat and scarf for my step son (impressing the pants off of him), but they are all winged. I have no idea about stitches and I have no idea what I am actually doing. Things just seem to work out (so far). I want to learn how to crochet for real and make awesome things. (Or should I try knitting again?)

I learned how to crochet one afternoon at a "Crochet toques for Cancer" thing back when I was in university. Instruction was basic, to put it mildly, and all we were shown how to do was crochet in a loop to make toques. That was over 10 years ago I am I toque making MASTER now, and have lately been trying my hand at other things like slippers and mittens, as well as making things, like a giant Minion eye for my kid's hat and scarf. Everything I have done I have just sort of made up as I went along. I am able to make a mitten in an evening so I am getting pretty fast as well. Overall the results have been pretty good, getting better lately as I do more, but I would love to get better at this. I would LOVE to make myself a big slouchy sweater or something, but that seems more geared to knitting... doesn't it? I have a teeny bit of experience knitting as I did it a little when I was in high school. I really like to crochet but when looking at the different patterns available online I get the sense that maybe you can do bigger cooler things if you knit. Should I reattempt knitting? The main goal of all of this is to have something I can do to keep my hands busy, as well as working on building skill at something. Being able to make sweaters, for example, would be fantastic and would excite me to no end. I am always in awe at people who can do that, and I want to be one of those people. One major problem is that I have never used a crochet (or knitting) pattern. I have looked at a couple but they may as well be written in Klingon for all the sense they make to me.

What I am looking for is:
1. A way to learn how to read and use crochet patterns
2. Some good starter project ideas
3. Advice on whether I should revisit knitting
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Note: I'm not very interested in amigurumi.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:08 AM on February 19, 2014

Crochet is fabulous for letting you make things up on the fly. Embrace that aspect of it - knitting is slightly more rigid in that respect. Also, it does sound as though you have been doing a lot of crocheting - hats, scarves, mitts and toys? You are crocheting! Don't feel bad about not using a pattern - many people wish they had your creativity!

Having said that, reading a crochet pattern is like learning to crack a code. Start easy and work your way up. You've already by-passed the whole 'learning stitches' part so now you just need to figure out how to understand the code.

1) There is a difference between UK & US terminology. Make sure you know which one your pattern uses.
2) Get acquainted with the abbreviations and work out what the various stitches are called. It's a bit like following a recipe book and remembering the difference between tb and tbsp.
3) Get yourself on Ravelry. It's fairly knit-centric but crochet has its own wonderful groups over there.
4) Knitting is wonderful too but it's a different skill set. If I were you, I'd throw myself into crochet and focus on that for a while.
5) Attic24 is a super-popular UK-based crochet blog. I bet you can find some good hints there. Lucy specialises in colourful, easy projects.
posted by kariebookish at 8:19 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're not on ravelry already, sign up. Lots of free patterns for crocheting and knitting, plus forums, etc. GREAT resource. You can probably even get pattern reading help there.

But ultimately, I'd recommend taking a trip down to your Local Yarn Shop (LYS) and seeing what they have available for classes, workshops, or just a few minutes of help to learn to read the patterns, etc. Patterns for crochet and knit are written differently and use a bit of different language, so you would need to learn to read that language. I had a heck of a time learning with knitting and kind hated how patterns were written, but since then I've gotten used to it. You'll just have to find a glossary of crochet or knit terms to follow until it becomes second nature.

I knit, but I don't crochet yet. There's no reason you can't or shouldn't do both. I intend to learn to crochet after I get some more advanced knitting techniques down. I'd say pick which one you enjoy doing, learn that one decently, and then do the other one.

As for whether you should knit or crochet first, some things to consider:

1. A long time knitting and crochet instructor at my area LYS has found in her nearly 20 years of teaching both that knitters have an easier time learning crochet than crocheters do knitting. Something about going from two needles to one hook vs going from one hook to two needles.

2. Crochet uses more yarn for similar projects than knitting, which can add to the expense.

3. Crochet is faster and is much easier for making things up as you go along.

It depends most on what you want to do, but I'd pick one and stick with that for awhile until you think you're ready to branch out into the other. I plan to pick up crochet sometime in the next two years.
posted by zizzle at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hello fellow-crocheter! I am in a somewhat different position. I am pretty competent at rectangular things (have made a bunch of scarves), and am only ok at caps. I also can't read a pattern. A book I can recommend is "Teach Yourself Visually Crocheting." It has lots of pictures (though I wish they were bigger) and takes you through all the stitches. It will get you into pattern reading.

I would also love to make things like sweaters and mittens, and knitting seems like the better option.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I started with crochet and learned everything I needed to know about reading patterns (and making my own) from this lovely folksy book: Crocheting in Plain English.

However, after crocheting for about ~15 years, I got rill bored and honestly pretty turned off to the crochet aesthetic. You can make many lovely things with crochet, but it has a more distinctive look that is harder to modify than knitting. It also uses something like three times as much yarn as knitting, so larger items (sweaters, etc) are not as practical in crochet. I'm happy I know how to do both, and your crochet background will serve you well, but I love knitting too and I'm glad I know both now.

And I heartily second Ravelry, probably the most useful, best designed website on the internet (seriously).
posted by telegraph at 8:24 AM on February 19, 2014

The craft yarn council has a good tutorial on the basics of crocheting. If you buy a copy of one of the crochet magazines, they'll also have a little tutorial section that covers how to do different stitches and read patterns.

A good thing with Ravelry, as recommended above, is that you can do very detailed searches. Yes, sweaters are more often knit than they are crocheted (crochet makes a thicker, but lacier/holier fabric) but there are thousands of crocheted sweater patterns listed on Rav. (That link may not work unless you're a member of Ravelry, I'm not sure.)
posted by jacquilynne at 8:26 AM on February 19, 2014

I knit, so I might be biased, but I do think knitting generally produces fabrics that are smoother, stretchier, better suited for garments and IMHO better looking. Crochet is great at making decorative things, 3D things and it can be improvised more. Theres also a bit of regionalism with crochet being more predominant in the south (in the US), and generally this is a skill passed down in families. I knit because my mom knit, because her mother knit.

I think whatever gets you the satisfaction of making things is what you should go for. Frankly most starter projects are boring, and if you're already up and running with crochet you won't have fun knitting a dishcloth or scarf or other boring rectangle thing.

So, both hooking and knitting are based on learning stitches, and then using those stitches in patterns. I'd find a project you'd like to make, and read through the pattern and figure out all the stitches you'll need to use. If you don't know a stitch, type it into youtube and there will be a dozen videos on how to do it.

Most crochet patterns are diagrams of stitches. Most knitting patterns are instructions on the orders of stitches with in a row. For patterns, You need to head on over to Ravelry. (Look up the MetaStitchers group while you're at it.)

There are thousands and thousands of free patterns to get started, and then you can see different projects knitted/crocheted out of those patterns in different yarns, in different colorways of that yarn! You can see that 10% alpaca really does make that sweater drape nicer, or that double ply shows off the cable details more than a single ply yarn would. Or that the spring green you thought looked cute in in a skein looks monstrous in an adult sized sweater.
posted by fontophilic at 8:27 AM on February 19, 2014

Seconding the suggestion to get on Ravelry.

Most introductory crochet books will have some good instruction in how to read patterns -- I suggest flipping through several of them to see which one looks like it has a style you find easy to understand. As printing technology has improved, the illustrations have gotten easier to read, so looking at books from the last decade or so is probably best.

I'm exclusively a crocheter and make sweaters for myself frequently -- there's no reason you need to knit to make clothing. I like Doris Chan patterns a lot, especially from her book Everyday Crochet.

Finally: the popular notion that crochet takes three times as much yarn as knitting is a math error. It's about a third more yarn in similar stitches, less if you're doing something like tunisian crochet.
posted by asperity at 8:27 AM on February 19, 2014

I found it way easier to learn crochet as a knitter. Not necessarily because it’s any easier—I was just way more relaxed. When I started knitting, I was stressed out about “doing it wrong,” dropping stitches, maintaining tension, etc. I don’t have kids, but maybe learning a second yarn craft is like having a second child?

Ravelry is your friend for finding patterns. I bought a marked-down learn-to-crochet kit at Urban Outfitters for five bucks & started with granny squares. They’re small, and I was able to get used to the mechanics of crochet. Then I got Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti and Crocheting For Dummies (there’re instructions on their website and on the Idiot’s Guides’).
posted by editorgrrl at 8:34 AM on February 19, 2014

Another thing I'd really recommend is getting acquainted with crochet charts. They are more intuitive than knitting charts because they mimic the shape & texture of the crochet piece - and once you can decode crochet charts, you will be able to crochet all sorts of things from all sorts of cultures.

I'd second going down to your LYS (local yarn shop) - some will offer introductory crochet classes for free but you are looking for something slightly more advanced so prepare to spend a bit of money on classes.

Also, do not underestimate knitting/crochet groups. Don't expect to get taught at these get-togethers (because they are not classes) but they are a great resource for pattern-reading tips and getting the low-down on easy crochet patterns.

FYI: I started out as a crocheter but picked up knitting later. I now make my living designing & teaching knitting/crochet. Both crafts are great - crochet can do things knitting cannot and vice versa. A lot of people will have Big Opinions on which is better and it's a bit of a silly discussion as both are awesome.
posted by kariebookish at 8:34 AM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: I have an account on Ravelry, which is where I have seen the Klingon patterns.

I didn't realize that crocheting used so much more yarn than knitting, but that makes sense. The thickness/stiffness that some crochet-ing gives is the reason why I am half leaning towards knitting again. Knitting seems softer and more comfortably wearable. (Though my crocheted slippers are better than a knit slipper I think for that reason.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:35 AM on February 19, 2014

Ravelry's more helpful for finding patterns and seeing versions in different yarns and getting very specific tips on how to make a given item, I think -- a good intro book will help with decoding the Klingon (it's a lot like a programming language, complete with loops and variables and if-then statements and so on). But once you've got the hang of reading it, it's not so hard, I promise!
posted by asperity at 8:40 AM on February 19, 2014

I do both, but I knit way more often than I crochet. Each craft has its own advantages: crochet is better for making solid, structured projects (e.g. stuffed animals) and gives you a lot more room for improvisation or for creating your own shapes. Knitting is better for creating things that can drape or stretch, so if you want to make garments, I'd recommend re-learning to knit. Both are equally good for things like scarves, afghans, and dishcloths.

Other advantages of knitting: first, there seem to be more knitting patterns than crochet patterns currently available; Ravelry's pattern database has about twice as many knitting patterns as crochet patterns. Second, I find that knitting is better suited to a wide variety of fibers, and you can get a better feel for how silky or squishy or glossy a luxury yarn is in a knit fabric than in a crocheted fabric.

I learned to crochet with this cheesy kids' book, which was pretty easy to follow. If you're making hats and mittens, you already know how to crochet in the round and decrease (and possibly increase too?), and that opens the door to a huge amount of stuff! If you're confident enough to make up your own projects, better still. The key now is to figure out how what you're doing translates into a written pattern. I'd recommend finding a small beginner-level pattern that closely resembles projects that you've already completed; it'll help you figure out that things like "ch 26 and join" or "sc tbl around" are the same as what you've already been doing.

For either crochet or knitting, in-person classes can be a huge help. If you go that route, I recommend taking classes at a small local yarn store instead of big-box multi-craft stores: the environment is often cozier and the employees more experienced.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2014

Crocheted garments don't have to be thick or stiff or un-drapey! It's pretty much a function of yarn choice and hook size. You want a larger hook, thinner yarn, or both to achieve a similar result to a similar knitted item, basically. Since most yarn manufacturers have historically aimed their products more at knitters, hook size suggestions on yarn labels are frequently useless.

The amount of yarn really isn't so much more, though even a lot of crocheters will also repeat the "three times as much" line without testing it.

I might try learning to knit one of these days, but so far haven't run into anything that I can't make with crochet. I do think seaming garments is probably easier in knitting and avoid making seamed items because seaming is tedious, and I can't try my work on as I go.
posted by asperity at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

You want beginner patterns so I am going to share the one *I* want to do with my more rudimentary than yours even crocheting ability:

Octopus Puzzle Ball

There's also the regular Amish puzzle ball and the mini one which makes good practice.
posted by foxfirefey at 8:55 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Happy Hooker provides a jaunty and effective introduction to crochet. I learned the basics from it and really enjoyed it. It takes you through different stitches and includes a bunch of cute patterns.

Wrt crochet vs. knit: What I tell folks who are trying to decide which to learn is that knitting is best for making rectangular or tubular things, and crochet is best for making circular or freeform things.

Unless you're specifically interested in knitting sweaters (which are basically rectangular/tubular), I would stick with crochet. IMO crochet is much easier, since you only ever have two or three "live" stitches, so fixing mistakes is much easier.

My advice would be to spend a year or so developing your skills in crochet. Then, if you're still hankering to knit, try Stitch 'n Bitch, which does for knitting what The Happy Hooker does for crochet.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I get home tonight I'll post my favorite guide - can't remember the name of it off the top of my head.

Knitting is very good for some things. Crochet is very good for other things. It definitely doesn't have to be one or the other. (crochet love)
posted by Sophie1 at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: I definitely want to make a sweater, so it sounds like I was right that knitting may be better suited to that. Being able to do both is an appealing plan. I like being able to whip together a pair of mitten for my kid, but I also would like to make larger sweaters and wearables as more labours of love.

foxfirefey, I know I said I didn't like amigurumi but that octopus puzzle ball is magnificent and my kid LOVE octopus things! That is on the list like whoa.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:07 AM on February 19, 2014

This book will decipher the Klingon for you. For real I saw it for the first time yesterday and you're the second person I'm recommending it to. Better explanations of how knitting works than I've seen ever.
posted by clavicle at 11:24 AM on February 19, 2014

I love the DROPS website. This is the site I used when I wanted to learn to read crocheting/ knitting patterns and start some new and exiting but easy starter projects. They have loads of free patterns but the best thing is they have loads of tutorial videos (also free). These really helped me understand patterns. They even have tutorial videos linked to specific patterns that are harder to understand and every pattern has a comments section where you can ask questions if you don't understand the pattern. Bonus: they have awsome patterns for kids, especially hats and such.

I used to love crocheting, and find knitting rather boring until I started working with patterns and knitting bigger projects like sweaters. You're right in guessing that knitting is more suited to making bigger things. I don't know why, but knitting became much more fun to me when I started bigger projects. Now I have these phases where I love crocheting or love knitting. Or both. You can do both, no need to choose.

If you are looking for big crochet projects, blankets are awesome and easy to make. I recently made this one and I love it (even though it took me over a year to finish it, but whatever).
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 6:33 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you basically decent at math like "if x stitches goes this far, then y distance needs z stitches (plus or minus one or two), and if my thing repeats every n stitches then the closest multiple will be z+2, so I will use that"? I get the feeling that you must be if you've been making it all up as you go along.

If you are, then you want a good stitch source book like Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches. This kind of book just has lots of textures that can be substituted in for basic stitches, with notes about difficulty level, drape-y-ness, and so on. Then you can start with the most straightforward first-knitted/crocheted-sweater pattern and slap in blocks of whatever texture you like (doing the math to get the number of repeats and stitches correct) until you have your own unique sweater. (The beginning of the book is also a pretty decent, easy to reference guide to the very basics like notation and how to start and end a project.)

By the way, a lot of the larger knit projects are modular, like granny squares (which are addictive).
posted by anaelith at 9:20 PM on February 20, 2014

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