Thread Crochet

Beginnings and Endings

My Terminology, and a Note

What I call "the tail" is the cut-off tail end of your thread, and the "working thread" is the thread running through your tension hand back toward the ball. You hook hand is the hand that holds the hook (usually your dominant hand), and the tension hand is the other hand, the one that holds the string (if you crochet in a traditional manner). I use hook and tension hands instead of right and left so that lefties stand a better chance of understanding what I'm saying. My roommate (and most of my friends) are left handed, so I try to be as lefty-sensitive as a righty can be.

When I refer to the "initial pseudo-stitch", I'm talking about how you ch 3 for the first dc of a round, or whatever number of chains is right for the stitch you're mimicking.

Note: Among other tips, this section includes three starting methods from the "Crochet Basics" pages of any issue of Magic Crochet or Decorative Crochet, because if you're like me, you never actually ever read these pages, thinking "I already how to chain and make a dc...". But there are a couple of cool tricks camouflaged among those lovely illustrations of how to do a double crochet, so pull a copy out if you want visuals to help you through the written descriptions.

Starting Chains

Starting to Chain Without a Slip Knot

Yaay! We don't have to have that ugly little knot at the beginning of all our work anymore!! This is a hint from Magic/Decorative Crochet, so if you have the magazine, look at the first entry under the heading "Three Ways to Start". If you don't have these magazines, well, I'm pretty good at being exhaustively descriptive about this sort of thing, so don't be afraid if that description looks long -- I'm just trying to cover all possible points of confusion!

Hold the thread wrapped around your tension hand as usual, and pinch the tail with the thumb and forefinger of the tension hand. Use your hook hand to grab the thread that's stretched out where you would normally grab it with the hook, and flip it over to make a little tiny loop. The tricky bit is to flip it in such a way that the working thread lies on top of the tail -- if the working thread ends up under the tail, try again, flipping it over the opposite way. Now use the thumb and forefinger of your tension hand to pinch the spot where the thread overlaps itself to make the loop, and use your hook hand to pick up the hook and put it thru the loop just like it was your normal starting slip knot. Start crocheting. Really, it works...

Once I figured out how this works, I soon found it easier to do it this way: pinch the tail with the thumb and forefinger of my tension hand, then grab the thread with the hook and flip the hook back toward me as if I were about to draw a loop thru a stitch that isn't there. This makes a loop around the hook that's oriented properly, with the working thread on top of the tail. Alas, the hook is poking thru the loop in the wrong direction -- so I take it out, poke it thru in the right direction, and start crocheting.

This really is all much easier than it sounds, and looks much better than the traditional "Start with a slip knot" method.

Warning: There is one weakness of this start which can happen when you work into the first chain, the one that would traditionally be next to the (absent) slip knot. If you look carefully at the very end of this first chain, you'll see the tail going through a loop, looking much like what happens when you finish off at the end of your work. If you insert your hook between the tail and the loop it goes through, the tail will pull through the loop, the stitch will stretch out, and things will not be under control. But if you take a moment to be sure your hook goes through the same loop that the tail goes through, the chain will stay completely stable.

Starting Chains for Non-Round Items (edgings or filet)

Use a Bigger Hook

You've probably heard it before, but I thought I should include it hear for good measure. Most crocheters chain more tightly than they work their other stitches. Therefore it's almost always a good idea to use a slightly larger hook for the foundation chain. Some crocheters go up a single hook size, others need to go up two (or more) sizes. Trial and error will show what works best for you.

Make Extra Chains, and Take Them Out If You Don't Need Them

Have trouble counting, even when your starting chain is festooned with safety pins and other markers to help you keep track? Give yourself a safety margin, and work some extra chains before you start the first row. The unneeded ones can be picked apart when you've finished the first row. It helps to use a no-slip-knot beginning, but it is possible to pick apart a slip knot too -- just don't pull it too tight when you begin.

These chains don't frog happily just freeing the tail and pulling -- you have to extract the tail from each chain. But it sure beats having undo the whole first row, then re-counting all those chains...

Do Foundation Crochet, and Skip the Starting Chain

Hate working into the starting chain? Then don't make one. Foundation crochet lets you start without a starting chain. There are even ways to do it for fairly complicated pattern stitches. For now, I'll refer you to this excellent web site on foundation chains.

Five Ways to Start
Crocheting in the Round

The first two methods are probably familiar to you. Their advantage is that you can work over the tail as you make the first round of stitches, then cut off the tail any time after completing the first round. The three final methods are cooler, but if you use them you should keep the tail, and plan to weave it in strategically when you're done.

The Way the Books Usually Tell You To Do IT

Do X number of chains, join in first chain. This method is pretty much required when you want an open center of a very specific size. I also use it instead of the last two (cooler!) methods on items that I'm planning to block out very tightly . As a rule of thumb, I like the number of chains in the initial ring to be about half the number of stitches I plan to cram into it on the first row. That keeps any of the stitches of the ring from showing through between the stitches that cover it. Your mileage may differ -- by all means, use the proportion that works best for you.

If you use this start with a chain that doesn't start with a slip knot, reread the warning about working into the slip-knot-free first chain,. This beginning chain ring is much less lumpy when the chain has no slip knot, and completely stable -- just as long as you're sure to put your hook through the same loop that the tail goes through. If you happen to do it the wrong way, the slippage will be pretty obvious, so just undo it and redo it correctly.

A hint for this method: before you start making stitches into the center, use your hook as a probe, and find the true center of the ring (this can be hard with smaller rings). Then poke the hook into the center all the way up to the grip, to enlarge the center and make it easier to stitch into. When using this method, I wrap the tail around the ring and work over it, so that I can cut it off as soon as this first round is done. If you hold the tail close to the join as you make the first chain after joining (the first chain of a fake dc ch 3, or the chain that you take before making a sc), the tail crosses thru the chain and is held in place.

The Usual Variation

Do X number of chains, then start making stitches into the first chain so it acts as the center. Here I'm assuming that our chain starts with a slip knot; the next variation assumes that it doesn't. I think this works great for centers that only have 6 or so stitches in them. I don't even like it for more than eight stitches, but maybe you're better at this than I am. I have one pattern where she says to stuff something insane like 36 dc into that first chain -- sorry, it doesn't work for me -- at least not if I start with a slip knot chain! I always feel like that first chain is about to burst...

When using this method, I like wrap the tail around so that it's held down by the first stitch hat I put into the chain. First I work a stitch over two strands of the chain and the tail, then let go of the tail and work over just two threads of the chain until I reach the slip knot, where one of the threads disappears into the knot and becomes the tail, So when I work around the other half of the chain I work over the single remaining thread of the chain and and over the tail, pulling on the end of the tail to make it fit close to the stitch. Again, this lets me cut off the tail as soon as I'm done with the first round. But remember that the no-slip-knot variation is different, so you can't just cut off the tail.

A Warning

The three final methods are tantalizingly cool, and in many cases look much nicer than the two more familiar methods. They also let you adjust the size of the center ring, at times a major advantage. But there's a problem: I've had centers done by these methods loosen up on me when I've blocked my snowflakes, and the results look really crummy. I'd worry about similar problems using these methods for centers of squares or medallions when I'm making items that are going to be worn and/or laundered with any regularity. On the bright side, these problems can be counteracted by careful weaving in of your tail -- see the finishing section below.

A Variation on The Usual Variation

Start without a slip knot, make the first chain big and loopy, then chain normally to make the initial pseudo-stitch. As you work into the first chain, you can purposely let it stretch out more to let you fit even more stitches into it. As with any situation when you're working into the first chain when it has no slip knot, make sure your hook goes through the same loop that the tail goes through.

As I mentioned in the slip knot version, it's a good idea to wrap the tail around so that the first stitch you make into the chain covers not only two of the three threads in the chain, but also the tail. Then you just work over 2 threads -- since the tail was wrapped around, you're working over 2 threads all the way around. Don't expect that last sentence to make sense unless you have an example of this right in front of you -- normally when you work into a chain, you work over the side that has 2 threads, pass the slip knot, and work over the remaining thread and the tail. Since we have no slip knot and we've wrapped the tail around, it just looks like 2 threads all the way around.

Unlike starting with a slipknot chain, you can easily cram as many stitches as you want into the first stitch, and pull the tail to adjust the size of your center ring. But don't just cut off the tail when you're done with the first round. You will have to carefully finish off the tail when you're done with the project -- this and all following methods are not recommended if you prefer to just work over the tail on the first round and then cut it off!

Single Loop Start

This is structurally the same thing as doing the method above -- just a little different to do. If you have that issue of Magic/Decorative Crochet around, pick it up -- this is the second example under "Three Ways to Start". What they have you do is make a loop just like the one you do at the beginning of a no-slip-knot chain -- one where the working thread passes over the tail. Insert the hook into this loop, pull the working thread through, and make your initial pseudo-stitch. When you start working into the first loop, insert your hook in such a way that you're crocheting over the tail as well as the thread that made up the first loop. When all your stitches are in there, just pull the tail to close it up. Don't cut the tail when you're done -- you're going to need to finish it off cleverly so your loop doesn't slide open again.

I call it the single loop start even though you're actually crocheting over the tail as well as the loop of the chain, because at the join you have a only a single thickness of thread crossing the gap. Here's the problem: if you fill the loop with longer stitches like dc, there's always a bit of zigginess at the joining -- that single thread connecting the first chained pseudo-stitch to the last one before the join is just not enough to draw the two smoothly together. This can be fixed when you weave in the tail, by sort of sewing into the bottom of the bottom chain of the pseudo stitch.

Skip this paragraph if you aren't looking at the magazine, or it will confuse you to death! In the illustration in the magazine, they show you filling the loop with sc. The first chain acts as the ring to crochet into, then they do 2 more chains that act as a pseudo single crochet. This isn't something you see often -- usually single crochet rows are weird in that you chain one at the beginning to lift yourself up (so the first sc isn't squashed), then make a real (not-pseudo) sc in the first stitch of the previous row. In this illustration you're making a pseudo sc thus: the first ch gives the lift, the second one acts as the top of the stitch, the place that you crochet into to join. I understand the theory, but it doesn't work for me -- the second chain squashes in such a distorted way that it's all but impossible to join into it. It's easier for me to do the more normal thing: ch 1 to lift myself up, then start single crocheting.

Double Loop Start

Wrap the thread twice around your finger, and slide it off. Hold this double loop so that the thread is running in the direction that you normally go when you crochet in the round. If you're right handed, you probably want the thread to go counterclockwise, with the tail is to your right, and the working thread is to the left. If you're left handed, you probably want it to go clockwise, tail to your left, and working thread to your right. Poke the hook into the double loop just like any ring you're crocheting into, and start crocheting around it. When all of you stitches are in there, pull on the tail a little bit and see which of the two threads in the gap moves -- grab the other one with your hook, and pull it to draw the ring shut. If the tail starts getting sucked in, you've got the wrong thread -- you want the one that shuts the ring, and that's not the one that moves with the tail. When the ring is closed, pull on the tail to get rid of the extra loop of thread hanging off the side. This is the second example in Magic/Decorative Crochet's "Three Ways to Start".

This version loosens less easily than the one I call the single loop start, but it still can loosen under enough stress. I recommend leaving the tail around, so you can weave it in strategically.

Finishing

What does everyone hate even more than picots?? Weaving in the ends. Here are ways to avoid some of the pain, and hints for making those ends stay put for good. Alas, these techniques tend to be hard to combine effectively -- the truth is that you can do it fast, or you can do it well. Your choice...

Finishes For Slackers

Work Over The Tail (not always so slack!)

Whether you're starting a doily or a filet piece, you can often make the stitches of the first row cover at least part of the tail. Depending on the eventual fate of your work, this may be enough to hold it -- say, if your work is going to hang on a tree for a few weeks out of a year, and experience very little stress in its life. But if its fate is ever going to include much washing or strenuous blocking, it may be a good idea to work over the tail, then leave the rest of the tail hanging. If you're not a slacker, you can come back later and weave that end in more soundly (more on that later).

As I mentioned in most of the descriptions of starting to crochet in the round, you can always loop the tail around and pin it down with the first stitches into the ring, or loop it around then capture it in the first chain you make after joining to hold it in place. Then you make sure that the stitches you make into the center ring also cover the tail that you've looped around. If you want to be very very thorough, you can loop the tail around, catch it in the first chain after joining, and work the stitches in the ring over both the loop you made first and the tail that's left over -- if you're this compulsive, you will naturally make sure that the first loop is adjusted to precisely the right length to fit the ring, since it can be a little tricky to adjust midstream.

I find that if my center ring made by one of the 2 traditional methods (not the the latter methods that I gave the warning about), I can just cut off the tail as soon as I've finished the first round of center stitches. I've machine washed items made this way on heavy-duty cycle (during my stiffener removal experiments), and the tails have not come lose. On the other hand, if I cut off the tails after making any of the "drawstring" starts, the centers loosen as soon as I start blocking. Drawstring starts need more serious finishing.

Hairpin Loop

This is a variation of working over the tail, but for for the end of your piece. Take a piece of thread that's hopefully a bit thinner than what you're using for your piece. Fold it in half so it looks like a hairpin, and when you approach the end of your piece, lay it along the top of the stitches you're about to work, with its U bend extending past the stitch where the join will go, and its cut ends extending past the last stitches worked. Crochet on top of the "hairpin" as you do the last stitches of the last row. join as usual, and use your hook to draw the tail down thru the last stitch to meet the U of the "hairpin". Us your hook to pull the tail thru the U of the "hairpin", and then pull on the cut ends of the "hairpin" to pull the tail back thru the stitches you just made. If you piece is going to lead a non-stressful life, this may be enough to hold the tail, but otherwise you may wish to secure the end some more.

Cheat With Glue

Some crocheters hate weaving ends so much that they just glue them down with fabric glue. This is not recommended for pieces that you wish to be heirlooms, since glues often degrade faster than thread. But if you stiffen your work with glue or commercial stiffener, this is obviously not an issue. And if you fear and loathe end-weaving so much that you do a bad job of it, what eventually happens is that your ends work free, they get snipped off in annoyance, and then your piece unravels. So do whatever works for you!!

Conscientious Finishing Techniques

Tools

Some people weave in their ends by threading the hook through their stitches, grabbing the tail, and pulling the thread through using the hook. This method sidesteps the exertion of having to get out of your chair to locate a needle, and the subsequent necessity of preventing said needle from puncturing or disappearing into your children, pets, or upholstery. If you prefer to weave ends with a hook, it's easier if you have a somewhat shorter tail to work with, but certainly not so short that you have trouble keeping hold of it.

Other people use sharp needles to weave ends, either sewing needles (small eye, bummer), or sharper embroidery needles like "chenilles" or crewel needles (nice big eye, mmmm!). The theory here is that piercing the threads of your crocheting makes it harder for the tail to unweave itself, because the pierced threads kind of clamp around the tail and cause friction to hold it in place. If you do this, work from the back, making sure that neither the tail nor the pierced threads are visible from the front.

Others prefer blunt tapestry needles, and weave the ends either invisibly through the bottoms of the stitches, or even up down through longer stitches, cleverly following the paths of the threads that comprise these stitches. Again, it's probably best to do this on the back, checking the front regularly to make sure nothing shows. With this kind of needle you'll definitely need to pay attention to the methods below, which tell you how to prevent your ends from sliding free under stress or wear.

If you use a needle, it helps to use needles with nice big eyes, and to have needles that are the right size for the thread that you're using. I think I use size 20 or 22 needles for #10 thread, 22 or 24 for #20 thread, etc. I use those hard to find #26 needles for tatting thread or sewing thread snowflakes. I'll try to get more specific, next time I visit a store and see some packaged needles. The reality is that I do a fair amount of embroidery on evenweaves, so I sewed a jeweler's cloth needlebook that's full of all sizes of needles (jeweler's cloth helps prevent them from tarnishing, and apparently I have very acidic fingers. My favorite steel hooks have my finger marks tarnished into the handles). I pick my needle by eye, choosing one that 's just slightly thicker than the thread I'm using. If you don't do much embroidery, choose a packet of embroidery or tapestry needles that has a selection of sizes, to go with your various sizes of thread. If you only use #10 thread, choose #20 needles, I guess...

With needle methods, it's better to leave a generous tail. I know, we hate tails, and thus we want to make them short. But longer tails make it easier to thread the needle and keep it threaded as we weave our hated ends. When you're done, you will be throwing away several inches of thread, which feels wasteful. But really, thread is cheap, and time and sanity are priceless. Make it easy on yourself, and leave a yourself a decent tail to work with!!

Methods

An excellent method is to run the tail under a series of identical stitches, then do a tiny backstitch, making a loop around a single thread in bottom loops the stitch you just emerged from (do this on the back). Then run the tail under some more stitches, take another tiny backstitch, etc etc etc. After the final backstitch run under a few more stitches, then cut off the tail.

Another good method is to go under a cluster of stitches, go around some loop at the end of the cluster, and then go back the way you came. If it's a nice fat cluster, you can go back and forth a few times without visible distortion, and then cut off the tail.

Sometimes you finish off in an odd place, away from any nice cluster or series to hide your ends in. Then you need to travel down through some long stitches like dc or trc to get to a promising cluster or series. Travel through the backs of your stitches, mimicking the threads that comprise the stitch. This is sort of confusing for beginners, but soon it becomes second nature. Just think stealth, camouflage, sneakiness, hiding...

In The Center

As I mentioned above, working over the tail is perfectly fine if you used a stable center, like a chained loop. It even works if you made lots of stitches into a first chain -- if and only if the first chain is made with a slip knot. If you used one of the nifty "drawstring" methods that allow tighten or adjust the size of the center, you're going to need to make sure the center stays the right size. The backstitch method is a very stable and subtle way to anchor the tail on centers of the drawstring variety

Special Thanks to maddie, for her observations on beginnings and endings -- being self-taught can be an opportunity to learn what nobody else can teach!

 

Write to me at noelvn@teleport.com with suggestions, complaints, links, patterns, reviews, etc.
© Copyright 1997, 2000 Noël V. Nevins