Crafts, Crochet, Knitting

Yarnie Basics

This is something that has been on my mind for a while, so I figured maybe it was time to go ahead and post it.

My sister is basically a knitting guru (in my opinion anyway) and she has two popular knitting blogs and a very popular knitting tutorial youtube channel. She is often sharing the comments and questions she gets on her blogs/youtube videos with me. I thought perhaps I’d cover a couple of the most common questions on here; I know at least one of my followers is a fellow fiber nut, so there are probably some other readers who find their way here who could find this information useful if they’re new to knitting or crocheting. Yes, while these questions have been asked on my sister’s knitting blogs/youtube, they apply to BOTH crafts. (I both knit and crochet so you can trust me on this one ok?)

What size needles/hook should I use with (insert yarn name/type here)?

The ball band will give a recommended needle/hook size, however the answer is you should use whatever size gives you the proper gauge (which is listed with the pattern you are using) OR whatever size gives the piece the look and feel you are going for. For example, Caron Simply Soft yarn is a medium/worsted weight yarn with a recommended needle/hook size of 5mm (size 8 knitting needles or size H crochet hooks). Using this size needle/hook will probably give you good results for most projects. However, going down in needle/hook size will give you a denser fabric. If you go up in needle/hook size, you will get a lighter, more open fabric. Using this yarn with an N crochet hook for example would give a lacey look to the final piece and the stitches would be very open. Experiment to find the needle/hook size that will give you the final look and drape you’re after for any given project. With some practice and experience, you’ll eventually “just know” what size needles or hooks to use with any given yarn to get the results you’re looking for without having to try several different sizes first.

This is not a question my sister has gotten on her pages, however I did read a post from someone else regarding this issue that made me cringe a bit because this person (who I am not naming) had the ability to word things as if they really know what they’re talking about but it was painfully obvious to me that they really lack the experience they claim to have with knitting and crocheting. And it’s related to the above, in determining what size needles/hooks will be best for a given yarn. This person stated – as if it were a fact – that crochet pieces are ugly and stiff and do not have any drape. Having several years of experience with knitting and about two decades of experience crocheting I can tell you that – regardless of the craft you’re working with – if your piece is stiff and has no drape, you are using needles/hooks that are too small for the yarn you are using! Of course, depending on what you are making, you may WANT the piece to be dense and stiff. Coasters and  trivets for example you would want to be very thick and stiff to hold their shape and protect your home’s surfaces from moisture/heat. (PS never ever use acrylic yarn for pot holders/trivets – it will melt! Choose cotton instead!) But for wearable items like scarves, sweaters, shawls etc. you want them to have a nice drape. If you’re trying to make something that needs good drape and your piece is stiff, you need to either choose a lighter weight yarn or go up a couple needle/hook sizes. As for the “crochet is ugly” comment this person made…. well. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I have to say if someone can generalize that all crocheted pieces are ugly they probably have absolutely no clue what crochet is really all about and have not seen nearly enough of the craft to pass judgment!

Regarding specific stitch patterns: What can I make with this stitch pattern?

This one is super easy to answer. Because the answer is you can make anything you want from any stitch pattern you like! You will have to do a little math to figure out your cast on/beginning chain, and you may have to do a little testing and experimenting if your piece will require increases and/or decreases. Converting the stitch patterns to be used in the round might be a little tricky. But once you find a stitch pattern you love, you can make ANYTHING you want with it!

What is gauge and why does it matter?

Gauge is the number of stitches and/or rows per inch. Everyone knits (or crochets) in their own way and the tension at which you work the yarn may not match up with that of the person who wrote the pattern you are using. So the pattern will state what the gauge is. Before you start a project, you should always swatch the stitch pattern and measure your gauge against the pattern gauge. If the pattern states, for example,  that 5 stitches = 1 inch and your swatch matches that, you can start the pattern with no adjustments. If your swatch has say 7 stitches in one inch, your gauge is tighter. You can correct this by going up a needle/hook size or two, swatch and check again and repeat this process until you measure 5 stitches per inch. If your initial gauge swatch measures for example 3 stitches per inch, your gauge is looser and you can fix this by going down a needle/hook size. Again, do another swatch and keep adjusting your needle/hook size till you reach the proper gauge.

An important note on this: If you are substituting the yarn (using a yarn other than what the pattern calls for) this can affect the gauge as well. Try to stay with the same weight yarn if possible; if you are using a different weight yarn adjust needle/hook size to maintain the correct gauge. Also take fabric drape into consideration!

Why is gauge important? Gauge will affect the final size of your item. With some items, like scarves, gauge is not quite as important. But if you are making a sweater or socks, you’ll want to be sure you have the proper gauge so the finished item fits properly. If you just start knitting/crocheting without checking gauge first, your finished item may be too big or too small. So, while swatching (and re-swatching several times as the case may be)  to check your gauge might seem like an annoying waste of time, it’s really an important step you shouldn’t skip. Would you rather spend half an hour checking your gauge and finishing with an item that fits properly, or skip checking your gauge and end up with a finished item you can’t wear because it’s too big or too small?

What kind of needles/hooks should I use?

There are several kinds of knitting needles and crochet hooks on the market. They can be made from wood, plastic, glass or metal. What kind should you use? Whatever kind you like best. I personally stay away from plastic needles and hooks as I feel they’re not durable enough and I’ve had several of them break while I was using them. But if they work well for you, then there’s nothing wrong with using them as your preferred tools. Try each kind of material available and see what you like best, and once you know what you like best you can begin building your collection and buying other sizes of that material.

Not as question so much as a comment, but a common misconception is that “You can do more with knitting than with crochet.” Not true. Each craft does have it’s own unique look. However there are a couple aspects of knitting that some people do not realize you CAN do with crochet, too. Cables and ribbing. Some folks think they can only be done in knitting. It might take a little practice, and the finished look IS a bit different (obviously!) but both these techniques are in fact very doable in crochet and can be done to look quite similar to their knitted counterparts. So if you’re a crocheter who wishes you could apply those techniques to your work – you CAN. Do some googling – the information is out there.

I think that was all I wanted to cover. If you have any other general knit/crochet questions feel free to ask. While I have been crocheting pretty much my entire life (my mom taught me at a very young age (3) and it’s stuck with me) I certainly do not know absolutely everything there is to know about it, and I’ve been knitting a couple years and in fact still have loads to learn about knitting. But I will do my best to offer answers or advice to any questions you may have regarding either craft.

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