Hey there crochet newbie! Welcome to the world of hooks and yarn. As a semi-recent convert to crochet myself I know how keen you probably are to get started and make cool stuff. There are so many amazing patterns out there and so many awesome stitches to learn and you just can’t wait to make that cute thing all by yourself right? Awesome. So, without trying to freak you out, there are a few things you should know before you get started.
These are some things I discovered along the way when I was learning to crochet so I thought I’d share them here because they’ll be very handy to know before you get stuck into that super cute pattern. OK? Cool. So here we go…
1. Know which language you’re speaking
Did you know there are different names for the same type of crochet stitches? Just like there is British English and American English (and Aussie English too I guess!), there are different versions of the same language for crochet. The tricky thing is that the same words are used in both ‘languages’ but they have different meanings. For example, a double crochet stitch (dc) in a British pattern would be called a single crochet (sc) in an American pattern, while a double crochet in U.S. terminology is the same stitch as a British treble (tr). Confusing hey?
Here in Australia, we tend to stick with the language from the motherland so apparently most Aussie patterns use British crochet terms, but for some reason I seem to have learnt the American way. Probably because of the plethora of free patterns available online from north America (thanks Pinterest!).
Anyway, whichever system you choose to go by, just remember to check the terminology on each pattern before starting. I once got a fair way through a piece that wasn’t turning out very well before I realized it didn’t look right because I was using American stitches for a pattern from the UK! (Duh!)
If you do find a pattern you like, using the opposite crochet language to the one you’ve learnt it’s easy to find a conversion chart online.
Same goes for hook sizes and wool weight – both are called different things in different countries. Some new hooks sold in Australia now have both the U.S. size name and the measurement in millimeters which makes it easier to find the size you need regardless of which language your pattern is in, but if you have the ‘wrong’ size name on your hook, again, there are plenty of conversion charts online. You can also check out my stitch dictionary here.
2. In the Round vs Rows
Flat pieces are usually made row by row, which means crocheting along in a line until you get to the end then turning the piece around and going back along the line in the opposite direction. Effectively you’re stitching in a zig zag manner. (But still in the same direction because you turned the work if that makes sense?)
Crocheting in the round means you keep stitching around and around in the same direction like a spiral without turning the work at the end of a row, so that it makes a tube. This doesn’t mean you’re limited to making cylinder shapes though – almost any shape can be made by increasing or decreasing the number of stitches at various points.
The dolls and toys I make are all done in the round – except for some of the accessories like coats – using basic single crochet stitch (UK double crochet) so the gaps are consistently small and hold the stuffing in well. The larger the stitch, the bigger the gaps are, hence smaller stitches are used for stuffed toys and larger stitches are usually used for larger pieces (which also makes it quicker to complete). The larger the stitch the more flexible your piece will be too.
3. Where to put your hook
Unless a pattern specifies otherwise, the hook always goes under both front and back loops of the stitch to pull a new loop through.
Have you noticed how each stitch or chain makes a V shape? The side of the V closest to you is called the front loop. The side of the V furthest from you is called the back loop.
The space underneath these two loops – the gap where you insert your hook – is called the top of the stitch.The knotted part on either side of this space that you actually see from the side in a finished piece, is called the post.
So when you put your hook through the top of the stitch there should be two pieces of wool now on top of the hook – these are the front and back loops of the stitch that you are putting a new stitch into. When you yarn over, there should now be three lines of wool over your hook, and when you pull that yarn through, there will now be one line of wool left on the hook. Hope that makes sense?
Sometimes a pattern will specify to crochet through the front loop only or back loop only, but remember, unless it specifies otherwise, always place the hook under BOTH loops.
4. Keep it loose
One of the biggest mistakes made by beginners is to pull the wool too tight. It’s easy to get into this bad habit at the start – especially if you’re worried about the wool slipping off the hook when you’re still getting the hang of how to hold the wool, the hook, and the work in progress all at the same time! But pulling the wool too tight actually makes it more difficult.
The stitches should be loose enough to insert the hook and pull through quite easily and there should be enough give for the work to be slightly stretchy without losing its shape. Staying loose will also prevent your fingers from cramping too much.
5. Use a stitch marker
To follow an amigurumi pattern properly you need to know where each round starts and ends. You can keep track of it by counting stitches as you go, but it’s much easier to use a stitch marker – and takes up less brain space, letting you crochet on autopilot while doing other things like making conversation or binge watching your fave show on Netflix.
You can buy markers made especially for the purpose, but I just use a safety pin and that works fine. Alternatively, if I’m working on repetitive small rounds – like a doll’s leg for example – I’ll use a piece of leftover wool in a different colour instead of a pin, that way I don’t have to stop every 10 stitches to move the pin. I’ve also heard of others using a bobby pin, so really you can use whatever you have handy that doesn’t damage your yarn or get in the way while you’re stitching – whatever works for you!
My other tip here is to be consistent with your placement – decide if you’ll place your stitch marker in the last stitch of each round or the first stitch of your new round and do it the same way every time. I find it easiest to place the marker in the last stitch after I’ve done the first stitch of the new round, that way the hook is out of the way. It means I have to remove the marker in order to complete the round but I know that the stitch with the safety pin in it is always my last stitch for that round.
6. Learn one stitch at a time
When you find a super cute pattern it can be tempting to jump right in before learning all the necessary stitches. And maybe that’s OK if you’re a quick learner, have a great memory and can learn as you go without getting too confused. But for most of us, even though it means having to be a bit patient, taking the level of difficulty into consideration is really helpful.
Start out by learning the basic stitches of slip stitch (ss), single crochet (sc), and double crochet (dc) and master them before moving on to more involved stitches like treble, half double, and so on. Amigurumi tends to use mostly just single crochet so that makes it easy. I’d also recommend learning the invisible decrease (inv dec) early on if you’re planning to do amigurumi as you’ll need it for any spherical shapes like doll heads etc.
Familiarize yourself with the abbreviation and each step of a new stitch and practice it by making a swatch of just that one type of stitch. Doing the same stitch over and over until you’re really confident in it will not only cement the method for that stitch well into your brain, it will give you a good idea of what it’s going to look like in the final product in terms of the pattern it creates and the size etc.
I found it helpful to have a hard copy of the instructions for different stitches nearby to be able to refer to easily. I learnt a lot from online tutorials and watching YouTube videos, but when I was learning a new stitch it was annoying to have to keep rewinding a video to the right spot over and over to re-watch until I got it. Having a printed version with both written instructions and pictures for all the stitches was really helpful to have beside me as I learnt and practiced and attempted my first pattern pieces. My go-to reference was this version of Mollie Makes Learn to Crochet (Thanks again for the great gift sis-in-law!).
7. Basic sewing skills are super handy
A lot of crochet items are made in parts that get sewn together. I have to admit that I am rubbish at hand sewing! Or at least I was when I started making amigurumi. Those limbs on my first few dolls were not very tidy to say the least! So I boned up on some basic sewing skills and it made a big difference to the end result.
I’ll outline the different hand stitching that I seem to use most often in another post, so stay tuned for that.
8. Don’t stress about making mistakes
My first year of learning to crochet was FULL of mistakes. I lost count of the number of times I made a complete hash of things and had to unravel it all and start again. I still have to do that sometimes now. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s part of the process, and how you learn and get better. Plus it’s easy to fix mistakes made in crochet – just unravel to the point where things started going wrong and re-do from there. (This is a LOT easier if you haven’t pulled too tight – see point #4).
Unravelling multiple rows of work may seem a bit disheartening but I reckon it’s easier than unpicking a whole seam in sewing or trying to retouch a messy painting mistake (I make a LOT of mistakes in pretty much any creative project I try!) But that’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy crochet and have stuck with amigurumi (I won’t mention how many unfinished projects of other crafts are taking up space in my house!).
Re-doing a section may seem like a lot of work but it’s worth it if the finished product is something you can be proud of. Sometimes it can be tempting to think “oh well, it’s only a small mistake but it’s done” and leave it as is. But I think if you’re not happy with the way it looks you’ll be forever disappointed that you didn’t try to fix it. Sure it might take a bit of effort to unravel and start over, but it’s totally worth the extra time when you can look at the end result and be 100% happy with what you’ve made.
9. Be patient with yourself
Learning a new skill takes time and practice. It’s unrealistic to expect to be good at something straight away.
I confess when I’ve tried something new to being quite excited when my first attempts turned out better than expected, only to have my second, third and fourth efforts result in disappointment. It can be easy to give up then and think “maybe this is just not my thing after all” but I promise you if you keep at it, and don’t expect to be creating masterpieces immediately, you will get there.
You should have seen my early attempts at embroidered faces on teddy bears. They were so bad I called them scary bears! I still have a lot to learn (and lots more practice needed) in that area but I think – and hope! – that my doll faces are a fair bit better now. Or at least not so awful that they’d scare young children!
So they’re my top tips of things I reckon are helpful to know when you first start learning to crochet. Would you add anything? What have you found most helpful to know, or what advice would you give to a beginner? Leave a comment below and let me know!