Make Good Crochet Choices

16 June 2021
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Crochet is so different from knitting, but the decisions involved in making a stellar crochet garment are exactly the same: Choose the right yarn for your project, in a good stitch pattern for what you want, and use the right tool to achieve a fabric that serves the purpose you want it to serve and that’s enjoyable to wear.

These considerations may land in different places for crochet than for knitting, though. Crochet stitches are bulkier than knit stitches. Stockinette stitch, for example, involves stitches that loop in a manner that aligns them side by side, in two dimensions. Any basic crochet stitch exists in three dimensions, by comparison—making the stitches involves wrapping the yarn all the way around itself, creating thickness that is unavoidable (not in a bad way; it’s just different from knitting).

So overall, an ideal sweater yarn for crochet will be lighter weight than an ideal yarn to create a similar sweater in knitting. Also, because crochet is 3-D, it requires about 33% more yarn to make a project to the same dimensions as a knitted version. Using a lighter-weight yarn helps to avoid making a heavy garment.

And because crochet stitches can feel bulky, it is almost always a solid recommendation to use a larger hook than you would knitting needles with the same yarn. Using a larger hook gives the yarn room to breathe as it’s wrapped around itself, which improves the drape of the fabric and how it feels when worn.

When I want to feel out of my depth, I sew. I have lofty fantasies of sewing a wardrobe for myself, but the daunting learning curve combined with my, shall we say, lack of expertise in how to drape fabric on the human form, keep me perpetually on the edge of doing it. Goodness knows I’ve got the fabric in a pile waiting for my decision to take the leap.

At the other end of the craft-stress spectrum, for me, is crochet. There’s not a thing in the world I couldn’t crochet if I wanted to, with very little angst.

And yet, I rarely crochet clothing. I don’t knit clothing frequently, either, but my reasons for that are different. I don’t knit many sweaters because they take ages, I don’t enjoy and am terrible at the underarm shenanigans involved, and I have such simple taste in sweaters that I often choose to buy instead of make, because who needs to knit themselves a stockinette sweater in a neutral colour?

Crocheted clothing is often very intensely designed. It involves stitch patterns, and details at hemlines, cuffs and collars.

All of which I appreciate and enjoy in theory, but I mostly wear shades of grey or black, in simple silhouettes, no lace, no frills. I may toss on a lacy shrug or shawl if I dress up for an occasion, but mostly my wardrobe is simple, classic and utilitarian.

When Kate and I started talking about commissioning our first crochet pattern here at Digits & Threads, the thing that struck me about Stephanie Erin’s work is how straightforward and obviously well designed her sweaters are.

We asked her to design a sweater for cold summer evenings in the mountains. While folks in Eastern Canada put their woollens away for the hot summer months, we in the west keep our woollens out. Anywhere above sea level here gets chilly at night even when daytime temperatures are high. And in the mountains, it’s toque- and mitts weather once the sun sets, pretty much no matter what.

So really, we asked Stephanie to design a three-season sweater. Not one for snow days, but one great for layering, and especially great for evening campfire time, before the deep chill of mountain night sets in. Or, for those of you in areas where air conditioning is a thing, a solid layer for overzealous indoor climates.

Crochet is so different from knitting, but the decisions involved with making a stellar crochet garment are exactly the same: Choose the right yarn for your project, in a good stitch pattern for what you want, and use the right tool to achieve a fabric that serves the purpose you want it to serve and that’s enjoyable to wear.

These considerations may land in different places for crochet than for knitting, though. Crochet stitches are bulkier than knit stitches. Stockinette stitch, for example, involves stitches that loop in a manner that aligns them side by side, in two dimensions. Any basic crochet stitch exists in three dimensions, by comparison—making the stitches involves wrapping the yarn all the way around itself, creating thickness that is unavoidable (not in a bad way; it’s just different from knitting).

So overall, an ideal sweater yarn for crochet will be lighter weight than an ideal yarn to create a similar sweater in knitting. Also, because crochet is 3-D, it requires about 33% more yarn to make a project to the same dimensions as a knitted version. Using a lighter-weight yarn helps to avoid making a heavy garment.

And because crochet stitches can feel bulky, it is almost always a solid recommendation to use a larger hook than you would knitting needles with the same yarn. Using a larger hook gives the yarn room to breathe as it’s wrapped around itself, which improves the drape of the fabric and how it feels when worn.

One reason so many crocheted garments are designed in lacy patterns is to accommodate the relative bulk of the stitches. By working them into airy, openwork fabrics, they will drape beautifully and not feel too heavy.

But openwork isn’t and shouldn’t be considered a requirement. Which brings us back to the Willow Cardigan that Stephanie Erin designed for us. It’s made in an allover double crochet pattern, using very lightweight 100% wool singles yarn (Briggs & Little Sport), and a 4 mm hook, which is a full millimetre larger than the manufacturer’s recommended knitting needle size (three standard hook sizes larger). Okay, yes, it also involves a very simple filet crochet motif down the centre of the back. Which provides a *chef’s kiss* amount of detail while maintaining the classic styling.

The fabric of this cardigan feels light as air, yet it’s not at all fragile or delicate.

And here’s some deep yarn nerdery for you:

Most commercial yarn is spun with knitting in mind. There are two directions yarn can be twisted, and spinners refer to these as “s” twist and “z” twist, determined by the angle of the fibres or ply when you look closely at the yarn—it tilts from top-left to bottom-right, like the angle of the centre of an “s,” or from the top-right to the bottom-left, like the body of a “z.”

“S” twist yarn lends itself well to the natural twist involved with the action of knitting. But crochet involves a natural twist in the other direction. This is why, if you’re a crocheter, you may find that some commercial yarns split when you crochet—the act of crocheting subtly untwists the yarn, making it easier for your hook to slip in between plies.

The way yarn is made, the first ply (or singles) is spun in one direction; then when the yarn is plied it’s spun in the opposite direction. Because knitting works so great with “s” spun yarns, most singles are spun in the “z” direction, then plied together in “s.”

Briggs & Little Sport is a singles yarn; it is not plied. And it is spun in the “z” direction, as most commercial singles are. This means that the direction of the twist of the yarn works with crochet, rather than against it.

This is a very lengthy, detailed way of saying that this yarn crochets beautifully. For a lightweight fabric, it feels and looks durable. It’s airy and it drapes well.

I have already started crocheting my Willow Cardigan, and I look forward to hopefully finishing it in time to wear it in the mountains this summer.

If you have questions about the project, or about crochet in general, I’m always here for it. I’ve enabled comments on this page, so please ask away there, because others surely share your questions, and this way all can benefit from the answer.

And tell me about a crochet sweater you’ve made or seen or bought! What about it struck your fancy?

Featured photo credit Kim Werker.

Copyright © Kim Werker except as indicated.

About Kim Werker

Kim Werker (she/her) is a co-founder and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2004 as an editor, writer, instructor and speaker. She's authored six books about crochet and one about making ugly things on purpose as a creativity exercise. Kim lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and son, and their mutt who's named after a tree.

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