(If you still haven't signed up for the crochet along, hop over to this post and add your name to the list of participants! Also, if you have any questions at all along the way, leave them in the comments or write to me at maybematildaquilts [at] gmail.com--I'll do my best to answer them!)
Today is our first stitch lesson for the crochet along! I'll admit, I've been a little nervous about the teaching part of this crochet along--I've admitted before that I don't think I'm a very good teacher, but here's hoping that it's a little easier online, with pictures and text that I can plan out ahead of time, than it is in person, where I fumble through nonsensical explanations and always resort to, "No, do it like this . . . like this! Thiiiiiiiiiis!"
So here's the plan: I'm going to give you my own explanations with pictures, but include plenty of links to other great resources that will probably be much more helpful than what I have to offer. I think videos will be the most useful (watching someone actually do crochet is a completely different learning experience than looking at pictures of crochet), but I'm far too awkward and embarrassed to make my own video (seriously, I don't think you should be subjected to that), so I'll include some good ones for you.
For practicing, I would suggest using a worsted weight yarn that you don't particularly care about--save your project yarn for the cowl itself. Of course, if you only have project yarn, that's fine--you can always just pull your stitches out when you're done practicing, and reuse your yarn on the cowl. I would suggest using a hook somewhere in the F through I range to practice with (if you're practicing on worsted weight yarn). In these pictures, I'm working with scrap worsted weight yarn and an H hook.
Before You Start
Probably the trickiest part of learning to crochet (for me, at least) is working on your tension--you need to be able to hold the hook, work your stitches, and hold your yarn in such a way that your stitches come out nice and even. It can feel very awkward at first to try and hold everything in place, not to mention adding stitches to the mix! And if you pull the yarn too tightly, it'll be practically impossible to crochet more than one or two rows before you can't even work your hook through the stitches because they're so tight; hold it too loosely, and you'll end up with gaps and holes and goofy loops in your work. (Although I'm actually left-handed, I crochet right-handed, so that's what the pictures will show. If you plan to crochet left-handed, you'll need to reverse what you see in the pictures.)
Here's what works for me: I loop the yarn around my pinky finger of my left hand, then drape it over my pointer finger, like so, and hold the hook in my right hand (there are a few different ways to hold everything; just do what feels the most natural to you--here's a link that demonstrates some different ways to hold the hook and yarn):
View from the top:
Do whatever works for you--wrapping it around my pinky finger helps me keep the yarn running smoothly into my project and dispensing from the skein at an even rate. If it feels awkward or uncomfortable to you, or if your stitches seem huge and loose or way too snug, try something else! Here's a video from Crochet Geek demonstrating another way to hold your yarn and control tension, and another video that shows how to deliberately tighten or loosen your tension, and how tension can affect the look and size of your finished work. Whether your stitches are loose or tight or somewhere in between, the most important thing is consistency . . . if they're tight and that works for you, great! If they're loosey goosey and you like it that way, fantastic! The main thing you should focus on right now is that they're all loose or all tight, so your finished work looks even and consistent. One isn't necessarily better or worse than the other, but your work will look silly if you switch back and forth between the two.
A chain creates the foundation of just about every crochet project. Luckily, it's not very hard to do, and you'll be a pro at it in no time! Start by tying a slip knot around your hook (here's a video demonstrating the slip knot if you'd like to see it in action . . . plus the music had me kind of head-bobbing in my seat; further proof that I should never make videos):
Now, wrap the yarn around your hook from the back to the front (make sure you're working with the yarn connected to the ball and not the tail end dangling from the slip knot. . . I've made that mistake before!), and grab it with the end of your hook (this is called a yarn over, and you'll continue using it to make your stitches):
Pull this loop that you just grabbed down through the loop that's already on your hook (I find it helpful to hold the slip knot steady with my left hand as I pull the loop through):
You've just made one chain!
Now keep going--grab a loop of the working yarn and pull it through the loop on your hook. If you'd like to see an action version, here's a video from Lion Brand Yarn showing the chain stitch.
For demonstration purposes, I'm going to work with a chain of 11--count each chain you make until you hit 11, and you should have something that looks like this (when counting your chains, don't count the slip knot at the start, or the loop currently on your hook--just count the finished chains between the knot and the loop on your hook):
Are you a pro at chaining now? Excellent! Let's move on to the single crochet.
We made our chain from left to right--now we work our first row of single crochet back across from right to left (other than when you're making a chain, you'll always crochet from right to left).
Do you see how your chain looks like a row of little Vs? Usually, unless the pattern specifically tells you otherwise, you'll make your stitches by inserting your hook under BOTH parts of the V, called the front loop and back loop.
But when you're making that first row of stitches on top of your chain, it's just too difficult to try to get your hook under both loops. So for this first row, you can just insert your hook under the back loop only of your chain stitches.
So, insert your hook under the back loop of the 2nd chain away from your hook (or, if you're counting in from the left, the 10th chain out of 11), the one marked with a needle in this picture:
Yarn over, as you did when making a chain:
And pull that loop through the back loop of the chain (you'll now have 2 loops on your hook--the one that was already there before you started your stitch, and the loop you just pulled through) (side note: when pulling your yarn through a loop, it's easiest to turn your hook so it's facing down--since I've already pulled it through in this photo, my hook is facing up again, but scroll down to the next picture to see how I hold the hook when pulling yarn through a loop. As you crochet, your hook will constantly be rotating up to yarn over, and down to pull them through; you'll get the hang of it with practice!):
Yarn over again:
And pull it through both of the loops on your hook:
That's a single crochet!
Here's another video from Lion Brand Yarn demonstrating the single crochet, and another from Crochet Geek--it will probably make more sense as you watch someone do it, versus just looking at picture, so hop over and watch the videos while you try it yourself!
Now keep going--work a single crochet into the back loop of the next chain (the one marked with the needle):
And keep single crocheting down the row. When you reach the end of the row, you should have 10 single crochets:
Turning Your Work
Maybe you noticed that we started with 11 chains but only ended up with 10 single crochet stitches (you're so astute!). Since our rows of crochet build up on top of each other, we have to use chains at the end of each row as a sort of ladder to get up high enough to work on top of the previous row. When you reach the end of a row, you'll turn your crochet work so you can go across from right to left again, but you'll be starting at the base of your previous row. So you'll need to create a turning chain to bring you up to the height of the stitches you'll be making.That one extra chain when you began became a little mini-ladder to make you tall enough to work into the stitches for your single crochets.
So, at the end of your row of 10 single crochets, make one chain:
And turn your work (here's a handy little illustration showing you how to turn)--just rotate it around, so you'll now have your ten stitches on the left, and your little chain on the right. The chain gives you some height so you can work your first single crochet into the first stitch of this row. You'll insert your hook into this first space here, marked by the arrow:
If it makes more sense to look at it from this direction, here's the view looking down at the top of your work. The teensy little V on the right is the chain, and you'll insert your hook under both loops of the first stitch, marked by the needle (again, unless a pattern specifically tells you to just work in the front or back loop, and unless you're working into the chain, you'll insert your hook beneath both loops):
Here's what my piece looked like after working my first single crochet in the second row:
Keep on going--single crochet in each stitch across the top of the row, and count as you go--you'll have ten stitches again. Make one chain at the end, turn your work, and continue into the next row. After a few rows of practice, you'll have a little rectangle or square made of single crochet stitches!
Don't worry if they don't look all neat and perfect--that's why we're practicing.
Once you have the single crochet down pat, learning the other stitches will be so much easier--all your basic stitches are just a variation on the single crochet, so keep practicing it and the others will come easily! Remember to be patient with yourself, and hit me with any questions!