Monday, May 12, 2008

How to read crochet patterns

I teach crochet classes at a lys, and this morning, one of my new, beginner students, asked me to show her how to read a crochet pattern. I had showed her how to chain, single crochet, and double crochet, and she wanted to know more. Another student who was working from a pattern, offered to let me use her pattern as an example, so that she could learn some things, too. As I was going over some of the beginning information, I thought it would be helpful to talk about some of it here, because I get questions about reading patterns all the time.

First of all, I suggest reading the pattern all the way through, before you start crocheting. Mark places where you have questions.
Then, here are the usual parts of the pattern:
SIZES. These are usually written like this: XS(S, M, L, XL) But what does that mean? What measurement is an XS? You'll need to look at the numbers next to these letters. They might look like this: 32"(36", 40", 44"), and be under the heading: FINISHED MEASUREMENTS.
What does that mean? Well, it means the measurements of the finished garment. Not your body measurements, but the GARMENT measurements. So if you had a chest size of 32" and you want to make a sweater with "positive ease", your finished measurement might be 36" or 40", or however much "ease" you want. Which leads to - what is "ease"? "Ease" is the amount of room you have between you and the garment. "Positive ease" is roomy - bigger than your body measurement. Some patterns, however, require "negative ease" - smaller than your body measurement. These garments could be meant to be worn tight, or they could be very lacy and loosely crocheted, so that they would stretch quite a bit. If you need to be concerned about "negative ease", very often it will be mentioned somewhere at the beginning of a pattern - the Notes section, probably.

Okay, we know the garment comes in 4 sizes, and we have to choose which size to make. All of the directions from here on will have choices for different sizes. You might have a direction that says: Ch 25(41, 57, 73). If you were making the XS (extra small) size, you would chain 25. If you were making the L (large) size, you would chain 57. It's a good idea to go through the pattern and highlight the directions for the size that you want to make.

Somewhere, after FINISHED MEASUREMENTS, there will be a section for MATERIALS. (It may be separated from the directions.) This section covers yarn, hook size or sizes, and anything extra that you may need.
I'll talk about yarns and hooks in another post - there is a lot to say about each!

The next part is usually GAUGE. This is measured, usually over 4", but sometimes over another inch measure - it depends on the stitch pattern and how long it is. A simple gauge description is: 16 sc and 8 rows = 4".
But what if you have a pattern stitch. Then this would be how it is designated: 4 pattern repeats and 4 rows = 4".
Sometimes, patterns don't give you the row gauge, just the stitch gauge. And remember, this is figured using the hook size that was in the MATERIALS section along with the yarn that was listed there.
Now, this is all just simple math, but my student asked me "What is gauge?" So, I'm asking you. What is gauge?

I'm going to talk about it in my next post! Think about it until then, and if you think you have an answer, post a comment, please!

The next part of a pattern is usually the stitches used, and any special stitch pattern. In this section, the abbreviations for the stitches and stitch pattern are given. We used abbreviations so that we don't have to write out the stitches each and every time. "Dc" is a lot easier and quicker to write than "double crochet". And it saves space - really important in print!

Then, there are the NOTES. This is a section that will tell you things that you need to know about the pattern. Perhaps that it is worked in the round, or side to side. There may be a note about crocheting the pieces in the correct order, and then connecting them. There is all kinds of information in the notes - don't forget to read them!

So - I've taken you through the first part of reading a pattern. I'll be continuing this, with the answer to the question: What is gauge? And I'll talk about hooks and yarns. Then, I'll go through the typical pattern, line by line.

'Til next time!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Felting Crochet - how to do it!

Whenever I work in public on a crochet project that I am going to felt, inevitably someone will ask me what I am making. When I answer, and add that I will felt it when I'm done crocheting, the next comment is, "I didn't know you could felt crochet." Well, yes you can. It may not felt just like a knitted piece does, but crochet does felt!

What you need to felt something is yarn that felts, hot water, and something that will provide agitation.

To felt something by machine – put the piece into a zippered pillowcase (this will prevent the felt lint from getting into the washing machine and gumming up the works). Use a small amount of hot water – you don't need much. Add something like an old towel, old jeans, or rubber flip flops. Something that the piece can bump around with. Add just a touch of laundry detergent, and start the machine. You might want to add some boiling water, too.
You should check your project every few minutes. Then, when it's felted enough, take it out. DON'T let it go through the rinse and spin cycles – this could put creases in the felted piece. If it doesn't felt enough in one wash cycle, drain the machine and start again. When the piece is felted enough, take it out, rinse it in cold water. Do not wring the water out of it (see above about rinse and spin cycles.) Roll it up in a towel to squeeze water out of it. Lay it flat to dry, and if it needs shaping, pull it into shape. If it needs stuffing, stuff the inside with a towel or some newspaper to wick the water away.

Now – how do you know how much your piece will shrink? You don't. :-)
You can make a swatch, measure it before and after felting, and get some idea. But it won't always be accurate. Small pieces felt differently than large ones do. Different yarns felt differently. Different colors of the SAME yarn felt differently. If the water is not as hot, if the agitation is not as strong or as long, your piece will felt differently. There are so many variables! And, crochet pieces felt differently than knit pieces. Crochet felts more in the width of the piece than in the height. Knit felts more in the height then in the width.

Look at the above example. Two bags, the red one is knit, the violet one crocheted. Both are worked in Berroco Vibe. Both were worked to the same initial size. Both were felted in the same machine, but not at the same time. See how the knit bag is not the same size as the crochet bag! It's shorter than the crochet bag, and the crochet bag is a little narrower than the knit one. If you look close, you can see the different width in the handles too.

I like to tell my students that felting is not an exact science. But it's fun to do, and you do get "hooked" on it!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ch 3 and turn, or turn and ch 3 ? That is the question!

I have been crocheting for ages, and writing directions for almost as long. I also am a tech editor, and I work with individual designers, yarn companies, and book and magazine editors. Each person or company usually has their own guidelines for writing patterns, crochet or knit. I know I have my own guidelines for pattern writing, based on what I would like to see in a written pattern. I also know that crochet patterns are written differently than knitting patterns are. I can usually tell when a knitter has written the crochet pattern, by the way it is worded - "cast on" is used in knitting patterns, and it's often used when a knitter writes a crochet pattern. Same with "bind off". We don't usually cast on and bind off in crochet. Knitting patterns also say "k4, p4, k4, p4". In crochet we would say " *sc through front loop only in each of the next 4 sts, sc through back loop only in each of the next 4 sts, repeat from * across." Crocheters need to know where to put their stitches, so we have to tell them "in each." Otherwise they may put 4 sc in one st.
When I teach my new students how to read a pattern, they seem to grasp this concept quickly. But one thing they have a problem with is the difference between "ch 3, turn" and "turn, ch 3". I've have told them it really makes no difference in what the chain stitch looks like. Just be consistent in what you do. However, my students don't always believe me! So I ask them to make a swatch. You can do this too.

Chain 12.
Row 1: dc in 4th ch from hook, and in each ch across. Ch 3, turn. (10 dc, counting first ch-3 as a dc here and throughout)
Row 2: skip 1st dc, dc in next dc and in each dc across. Ch 3, turn. (10 dc)
Row 3: skip 1st dc, dc in next dc and in each dc across. Turn. (10 dc)
Row 4: ch 3, skip 1 dc, dc in next dc and in each dc across. Turn. (10 dc)
Row 5: ch 3, skip 1 dc, dc in next dc and in each dc across. End off.

Now, look at the ch-3 that you worked at the end of the 1st Row. (It's at the beginning of the 2nd row.) Compare it to the ch-3 you make at the beginning of the 4th row. (You can see these chains in my picture. The first one, made at the end of the 1st Row and appearing at the beginning of the 2nd row, is labeled with a "1". The 2nd one, at the beginning of the 4th Row, is labeled with a "3". ) I know, you're wondering WHY I labeled them that way. Well, I'll tell you ..........I really don't know! :-) But now, look closely. There really is no difference between the chains. (The picture shows the bottom chain of the first ch-3 turned on it's side - but that's just because I didn't straighten it out when I took the picture!)

You can try this with a hdc and a tr, and the results would be the same.
There is one thing, though, that I would caution you to do, just as I caution my students - be consistent! If you chain at the end of the row, and then turn, do that all the time. If you turn, and then chain at the beginning of a row, do THAT all the time! :-)

Any questions?
The Crochet Doctor is in!