Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dora Ohrenstein: Choosing Yarns for Crochet

Taking crochet beyond worsted weight and acrylic yarns will change how you think about the craft’s possibilities.

Mohair yarn
Photo © John Polak, from The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop
Many crocheters limit themselves to certain weights of yarn, such as worsted or bulky, and certain fibers, such as superwash wool or acrylic. But the fact is that crocheting with a wider range of fibers and yarn weights will greatly expand the quality and variety of the projects you can make.

Most of the stitch patterns today’s crocheters know and love derive from the nineteenth century, when crochet as we know it came into being. Nineteenth-century needle hobbyists enjoyed not only crochet, but tatting, knitting, and embroidery. They generally used very fine threads, thinner than anything manufactured today. During this period, intricate laces were very much in fashion, and the crochet hook turned out to be an excellent vehicle for making lace. From the middle of that century to its end, the growing popularity of crochet demanded more designs and publishers of patterns, resulting in a gradual accumulation and dissemination of literally thousands of stitch patterns, techniques, motifs, edgings, and designs. This is the vocabulary of crochet handed down by our Victorian ancestors.

But by the mid-twentieth century, most yarn enthusiasts were accustomed to working with fairly thick yarns, such as worsted weight. Compared to knitting, crochet is thicker and bulkier — it’s just the nature of the stitches, and no one is to blame!  While technically it’s possible to crochet any stitch at any gauge, many of the more intricate stitch patterns lose their charm when blown too far out of proportion.
Silk yarn
Photo © John Polak, from The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop
Another reason crochet is not always given the respect it deserves has to do with drape. Drape refers to the suppleness and flexibility of fabric; it is the opposite of stiff. Fabric of any kind, whether handmade or manufactured, can range from fluid and flexible to rigid and dense. Neither quality is good or bad, but it must suit the project you have in mind, both in terms of function and appearance.
There are plenty of ways to get good drape in our crochet fabric today, and to sustain the rich store of patterns that call for intricate stitch work. You just have to know how.

Projects will serve their purpose better, and look better, if the quality of drape is carefully considered when choosing yarn, hook size, and stitch pattern.

Using finer yarns allows a great many more of intricate stitch patterns to be successfully wrought: lace stitches, motifs, and edgings look wonderful with finer yarns such as sport, fingering, or lace weight. A range of fibers, too, is important to fully explore crochet’s possibilities. Working with quality fibers that make yarns softer, more colorful, lustrous, smooth, or textured enriches the crocheting experience immeasurably.
Linen yarn
Photo © John Polak, from The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop
Not every project needs drape. A more sturdy and structured fabric is well suited to amigurumi (usually small animals with crocheted outer surface and stuffing), bags, and often (but not always) outerwear like hats and jackets. With outerwear, if the purpose is to provide warmth, a thicker fabric is desirable, and therefore the fabric may not be as drapey, nor need it be. Too rigid, however, and the item, whether a scarf, hat, or jacket, can be uncomfortable to wear, as it will feel heavy and can impede movement.

Projects that benefit from a fluid fabric include shawls and indoor garments such as sweaters, summer tops, and baby clothes. The fabric for these wearables should easily fold and mold around the body, making the item both more attractive and comfortable.

Often crocheters think of themselves merely as hobbyists, but working with a wider range of fibers, colors, and textures can bring out the hidden artist you didn’t even know was there!

Photos © John Polak, from The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop. All rights reserved.

Dora Ohrenstein is the author of The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop and a crochet designer, author, teacher, and publisher. She is the founder and editor of the online magazine Crochet Insider ( and the author of four books: The New Tunisian Crochet (Interweave, 2013), Custom Crocheted Sweaters (Lark, 2012), Creating Crochet Fabric (Lark, 2010), and The Crochet Insider’s Passion for Fashion (Leisure Arts, 2008). Her chic and innovative designs appear regularly in Interweave Crochet and Crochet Today and have been published in several European magazines.


kim dawson said...

I agree 100% with you. I am a knitter and a crocheter and there is this stigma around crochet and the yarn that can be used. I know several crocheters that will not use nicer wool yarns but its "to good" or they do not feel "they are at that level of skill". I admit I am guilty of it too some times. I mostly crochet monsters, hats, decor and knit the clothing type items.

CrochetInsider said...

Thanks so much for your comment Kim! The nice yarns are what allows one to do more great stuff, that's how I got my skills. I'm totally self-taught and as soon as I went into high end yarns my creativity exploded. So that's why I'm always encouraging others to do so. Doesn't have to be every project, but why not a fab one skein cowl or hat every now and then right?