Crochet is the art of stitching thread or yarn onto itself to make patterned fabric. The process uses a single tool, called a crochet hook, to make loops out of the thread and pass the loops through each other. While the basic steps are the same, varying techniques result in different patterns. Crocheted material becomes doilies, afghans, curtains, and clothing. It is an art that has existed for centuries, but remains popular today.
Some researchers speculate that crochet derived from tambour embroidery, but the process is very different. Tambour embroidery requires a taut fabric and a needle-like tool to stitch the thread on the fabric in a design. Some claim crochet came from the convents of France and Italy, and called nun's lace. Many credit the invention to Mademoiselle Riego de Blanchardiere. She designed patterns to make lace without a needle or extra material. There isn't any concrete evidence of these claims. What researchers do know is that crochet gained popularity in 19th century England when patterns popped up in books. Crochet played an important role during the Irish Potato Famine. Women would crochet lace and sell it to help pay family expenses. Popularity grew throughout the world, including evidence of crochet work done by German-Russians in the early 20th century.
What You Will Need
While crochet has many variations with thousands of different outcomes, it generally requires only two tools: Hook and yarn. Crochet hooks come in a variety of sizes. The width of the shaft, measured in millimeters, determines the size. In the U.S., hook sizes are letters ranging from B to Q, although some hooks use numbers. The larger the size hook, the bigger the stitches. The throat on the hook is either inline or tapered, but has nothing to do with the outcome of the craft. Hooks are made from cheaper aluminum, plastic, and steel or more costly hand-carved wood or bamboo. The material does not affect the craft. Some prefer the cheap alternative, while others enjoy the warmth on the hands from wood or bamboo. Browse Paradise Fibers entire collection of crochet hooks for sale here.
Yarns, and other threads, come from natural, animal, and synthetic fibers. Cotton Fleece yarn from Brown Sheep Yarn Company is very popular as well as the Nazli Gelin Cotton Yarn Crochet Number 10 thread. Yarn bought in stores generally comes listed in size 1 through 6, ranging from ultrafine to very bulky. To measure yarn, wrap it tightly around a ruler up to 1 inch. The more wraps per inch (WPI), the smaller the size. Yarn size does affect the crochet pattern. Patterns recommend a hook size for the best outcome.
Besides hooks and yarn, there are a few other optional crochet tools. Stitch markers mark rounds, stitch holders prevent loose stitches from slipping, and cable needles are necessary for the cabling technique.
Types of Crochet
Crochet has a large variety of types. Afghan stitch, or Tunisian crochet, resembles knitting in that several stitches begin on the hook. It requires a special hook, called an afghan hook, because it is longer than traditional crochet hooks. It is one of the easiest crochet types because the work is never turned. Amigurumi is a newer crochet type. It first gained popularity in Japan. Amigurumi is the process of crocheting tiny objects, usually animals, and stuffing them. Bead crochet involves working beads onto the yarn while stitching. While it is an older technique, dating back to the 19th century, bead crochet is gaining popularity today for making jewelry. Lace, especially Irish lace, uses crochet techniques. The thread is tiny and requires a small hook. Filet is also a type of crochet lace using two simple crochet stitches. Doilies resemble lace, but use a slightly thicker thread called crochet cotton.
Beginners only need to learn a few basic crochet stitches to create beautiful work. The slipknot comes first and places the yarn on the needle. After that, stitches include single, double, triple, chain, and slipstitch. Patterns that are more complex have harder stitches to learn. The difficulty with crochet is with gauge. Gauge refers to the tightness of the stitches and changes based on the how tightly one holds the hook. Patterns require a certain gauge, measured in stitches per inch, or else the finished project is the wrong size. Patterns use symbols for each stitch, such as a dot for slipstitch and an oval for chain. Patterns always abbreviate to shorten the pattern, such as "inc" for increase or "rd" for round. Most symbols are universal, but always check the pattern for the symbol and abbreviation list before beginning.
Camps and Teaching
Teaching Crochet to kids and teens is very popular at summer camps and workshops. You can find a complete listing of Arts and Crafts Resources for Camp Directors here and links to craft suppliers. You can find supplies for craft classes including crochet hooks and crochet thread on paradisefibers.com.
"The Art that Saved the Irish From Starvation"
Crochet Work Among German Russians
Digital Resources From the Knitting Reference Library WSA
Anatomy of a Crochet Hook
What Size Yarn is This?
Crochet Using the Intarsia Method
What is Amigurumi?
Bead Crochet History
The Priscilla Filet Crochet Book
Crochet Chart Symbols
How Do I Crochet Basic Stitches?