Thread Crochet

For Beginners

Snowflakes are a wonderful introduction to thread crochet. If you've learned the basics of crocheting yarn, but are seeking an entry to the intricate world of thread crochet, snowflakes are a great place to start. I've made this beginner's page just for you.

Learning To Crochet

If you haven't learned to crochet, let me enthusiastically encourage you to learn how (Good for your blood pressure! Make gift-oids!). There are inexpensive how-to leaflets (right-handed, left handed, and both-handed) at most craft stores and at some of the websites on my links page. There are also hook/yarn/book "Learn How!!" sets at craft stores, or even a rather more expensive CD-ROM and supply set one can occasionally find in stores but always order on the web. For the dedicated geek, there are a couple of web tutorials complete with drawings showing you how to crochet , and even a site with quicktime video -- you supply the hook and yarn. The videos are at StitchGuide.com. Old fashioned text /picture guides are the Crochet Guild of America site, Craftown, and at Crochet Musings. There are also good illustrations of the basic stitches at Fast and Fun Crochet and at the Crochet section of About.com. To start with, learn to do chain stitch, slip stitch, single crochet, and double crochet, then try half-double crochet and treble crochet. These are the basic building blocks -- almost everything else is a combonation of them.

If you want my advice, I'd recommend finding your local crafts store, choosing a cheap leaflet, getting a size H hook and a ball of worsted weight yarn, and sitting down with it all on a rainy day. If you have a relative, neighbor, or coworker who crochets, take that same yarn and ask them to help you. Then use the leaflet to remind yourself when you get home. Make something easy like a scarf as your first project. After that, try something like a simple baby blanket, or easy afghan. If you don't have a friend or relative to help you out (or even if you do) it's good to sign up on a crochet mailinglist so you have a place to ask for help when you need it.

Note that I'm telling you to learn with yarn, not thread. In the past, people used to learn using bedspread cotton and a size 7 steel hook, but that was before television destroyed our concentration, so I can not in good conscience recommend that plan to all and sundry. But if you're learning to crochet only because you love doilies, and your experience with other sorts of needlework has demonstrated that you have that fine motor coordination thing down, well, give it a try.

The Transition to Thread

First, I'll talk about the materials, and then about actually doing anything with them. Learning to work with thread is much easier if you have the right thread and hooks -- I've heard horror stories of beginners cheerfully coming home with balls of thread that would challenge experienced threadies. Rayon thread, for example, is beautiful but very slippery to work with, and other threads are just too small for most beginners to cope with.

If everything just seems too much small, or you're having trouble seeing what you're doing, you might want to look at my Lights and Magnifiers page. A better light or an inexpensive magnifier are sometimes all it takes to make the transition a lot easier. I use a magnifier whenever a new project is in significantly smaller thread than my previous project. After a while I don't need the magnifier anymore, but it does wonders at the beginning of the transition process.

About Thread

Crochet thread is made of cotton (rayon thread being a rare innovation), and is quite a bit thicker than sewing thread (this is a good thing). Most of the common brands come wound around big hollow cardboard tubes, so keep in mind that the size of the ball can be deceptive -- look at the yardage on the label when calculating which kind is a better value. The most common size called for in most snowflake (and other) patterns, is size 10, also called "bedspread weight". This is the best thread for beginners, since size 20 thread is thinner than 10, and size 30 even thinner than that. Plan to try them someday, but plan to postpone that day until you get used to working with thread.

I recommend DMC Baroque bedspread cotton for beginners to thread crochet, since it is a smooth, thick thread, which helps ease the transition from yarn crochet to thread. It's not wound onto big tubes like other kinds of thread -- instead, it's wound into little sausage-shaped skeins like yarn. They sell it at JoAnn's. Aunt Lydia's is another nice thick thread, and a great value for those 1000 yard balls -- by the time you use that up, you won't be a beginner anymore. If you can't find these threads, or want to use what you already have, Knit-Cro-Sheen is the right size, along with any other thread that says "size 10" or "bedspread cotton" on the label. Avoid Southmaid thread if you can -- I find that it makes even experienced crocheters' work look funky.

Even if you're just starting thread crochet, you'll be doing yourself a favor if you buy good quality thread. I've found that threads by DMC are of much better quality than most of the threads made by Coats & Clark, though DMC threads are harder to find, and a bit more expensive. But considering the hours of crocheting that one gets from a single ball of thread, the extra price probably comes to less than a nickel per hour. The disadvantages of cheap thread are either that it's stiff, like Southmaid and Knit-Cro-Sheen, which makes it hard to crochet smoothly and evenly, or else it's not twisted very well, like SouthMaid or Grandma's Best, which makes it easier to split stitches (where your hook punctures the yarn). Good thread should still look smooth and shiny after it's been crocheted, never limp and fuzzy-looking, even if you've had to rip out a mistake and re-crochet. But if you've had to rip and re-crochet the same bit more than 3 or 4 times, you should probably just throw away the thread and start over, since even the best thread will show signs of wear after being ripped and reworked over and over. At least snowflakes are small, so you won't be wasting much work...

If you're having a hard time adjusting to thread crochet. Speed-Cro-Sheen is thicker (size 3), and might be a good thing to try (with a larger hook -- alas, I don't know off the top of my head which size would be best). Luster Sheen is acrylic, not cotton, but it's sport weight and might ease the transition. Children (and the truly thread-challenged) have been known to make snowflakes out of yarn -- kids seem to find those sparkly Christmas yarns are particularly appealing. Snowflake patterns aren't gauge sensitive, so you can make them in whatever size thread you prefer, working your way to finer thread as you gain confidence. But I worry that stiffened yarn might not look very attractive.

I've put more specific thread recommendations in the sections for experienced threadies.

About Hooks

Hooks for thread crochet are called "steel hooks", as opposed to the larger, colorful aluminum hooks usually used for yarn crochet. The first confusing thing to remember about steel hooks is that larger size numbers mean smaller hooks -- so as the hooks' measurements in millimeters go up, their size numbers will go down. Bigger hook, smaller size number. Smaller hook, bigger size number. The other confusing thing about steel hooks is that different manufacturers size their hooks differently -- one brand's size 7 can be the same as another brands size 8. Susan Bates hook sizes run smaller than Boye/Wright's hooks, plus Susan Bates' hook sizing has changed a couple of times since I've been tracking the issue, so steel hook sizing is kind of a mess. Just remember that the size number on the hook is simply not the most reliable indicator. It's better to rely on the measurement in millimeters (mm) stamped on the hook and printed on the package. If you get confused by this discussion, refer to my steel hook size chart, which shows the millimeter measurements of different brands of hooks.

Most patterns recommend a size 7 hook to go with size 10 thread or bedspread cotton, but a fair number say size 6 or 8. Basically, it depends on your personal tension, and on which manufacturer made your hooks. For size 10 thread, you want a hook around 1.6 mm, which means a Boye 7 or a Susan Bates 6. Some bedspread cotton (like Baroque) is a bit heavier, and you might want to try a slightly larger hook (Boye 6 or Bates 5) -- remember that a larger hook has a smaller hook size number! If you suffer from HAS (Hook Acquisition Syndrome), this is an excuse to acquire and experiment with a range of hooks between 1.5 mm and 1.8 mm (Boye sizes 6-8, Bates sizes 4-7). If your crocheting looks too loopy or feels too tight, try moving up or down a size. If your work is too loose, try a smaller hook (smaller mm measurement, bigger size number) If your work is too tight, try a bigger hook (bigger mm measurement , smaller size number). Once you figure out which hook you like best with each kind of thread, you should just use the hook/thread combo that you prefer, regardless of what the pattern says -- unless you're making something that must be a specific size, like a christening dress. In that case, experiment with your hook collection to find the one that gives you the right gauge with the recommended thread size. Never just use the hook size that the pattern recommends, assuming that will make everything work out for the best -- it won't, not unless you're very very lucky....

Where Do I Work On This Hook?

Many beginners are confused as to where to work on the hook. On a yarn hook, your loops of yarn spend most of their time on the part of the hook between the taper and the thumb-rest. But if you look at a thread hook, this doesn't seem like the right thing to do -- and you're right. The working area on a thread hook is betweeen the hook tip and the tapered part. If you work on or above the taper, the tops of your stitches will be distended. I made a picture to demonstrate where your working loops of thread should be on the hook.

You should be working mostly in the green area, occasionally slipping into the yellow, but avoiding the orange and red.

As for how to hold the hook, some people hold it like a pencil, some hold it like a knife. Some people say the pencil hold gives you better control, others say that the knife hold prevents carpal tunnel problems. The Crochet Guild of America endorses both hook holds, so don't sweat it. Just do whatever feels best to you!

How Do I Hold On To It??

The hardest part of a thread crochet piece is getting started, so don't worry, just try to have faith that it will all get better as you go on. The problem is that at the beginning, you're either working into some long series of chains which sucks even if you're doing it in nice fat yarn, or else you're trying to crochet into the center of a ring of chains which is effectively too small to hold on to, much less accurately poke your hook into. Just repeat to yourself: "I'm not bad at this! The real problem is that what I'm doing is truly not easy." Meanwhile, I'll share some hints on how to hold on to your work, aim your hook, and keep the thread under control.

I find it helps a lot to use a very classic hook and thread hold with thread crochet -- hook in your dominant hand (so we'll call that hand the hook hand, whether you're right or left handed), and thread wrapped around the fingers of your other hand to regulate the tension (so we'll call the non-dominant hand the tension hand). This finger-winding is particularly important in thread work. Thread is so much finer than yarn that most beginners find that it just slips insubstantially through their fingers, easily getting loopy and out of control. I've seen all kinds of finger-wrapping patterns, but the basic idea is that thread winds up and down between the fingers, often looping around the pinkie for extra tension. I find that the loop around the pinkie is particularly helpful in thread work, and when I started with thread, I actually needed to go around the pinkie twice. If you feel that your thread is not getting enough traction, try an extra pinkie loop.

To aim your hook into the correct stitch, you want to hold the crocheting you're working on with your tension hand, very close to where you're going to insert the hook. I pinch it with the very tips of my thumb and forefinger, but I've seen people use thumb and middle finger, even thumb and pinkie. You may or may not hold your work this way when you crochet yarn, but in thread I find the pinching particularly vital -- I actually aim the hook not only by sight, but by feeling for the target hole with my fingertips as I pinch. I also find it easier to count chains with my pinching fingernails than by sight -- they're fat at the end and thinner in the area where you put the hook. Now, I'm not suggesting that you learn thread crochet with your eyes shut, but it's really not a bad idea! In any case, keep in mind that blind people can crochet just fine. The information is all there to your fingers as well as to your eyes, and you might as well use it, especially since many people find that thread is a bit harder to see than yarn. This is particularly helpful if you like to crochet in the evenings under normal room lighting, or if your health plan doesn't supply new glasses as often as it should.

The final complication is that the hand you're pinching with is still the hand that's all wound up in thread, and you're going to need to be able to conveniently grab that thread with your hook if you want to get any crocheting done. Therefore the final detail of finger wrapping is that you want the thread to go over the top of the finger that ends up being closest to your work. Normally this would be your index finger, but if you're pinching with your thumb and index finger, make sure your middle finger is underneath the thread, holding it up so that you have a nice expanse of thread to grab with your hook and make stitches with. If you pinch with thumb and middle finger, lift the thread up with your index finger. If you find yourself fishing around with the hook and having trouble finding or grabbing the thread, just remember to lift up that middle or index finger to give yourself that nice expanse of thread to grab on to. Sounds simple, but it's the problem I see most often in new crocheters -- they aren't giving themselves convenient access to their own thread!

Finally, since people do tend to ask, here's how I wrap my hand: I start with the thread on top of my hand (on the knuckle side), and go down between my pinkie and ring finger to the bottom (palm side) of the hand. I go all the way around the pinkie, then under the ring finger (to the palm side), then back up to the knuckle side to go over the tops of my middle and index fingers. I pinch with my thumb and index finger, and lift up my middle finger to make that nice expanse of thread to grab with my hook.

Tension

Now let's talk about tension, and the difference between thread and yarn. Yarn is fluffy and full of air, and kind of stretchy -- it has a certain bounce under your hook. Thread is more hard and solid than yarn. It doesn't stretch at all, and it has no loft. Loft what you call the air-space inside yarn, which is what makes it soft, stretchy, and fluffy instead of just solid like crochet thread. With yarn, the key is to crochet loosely enough that it still has room to stay soft and stretchy, and yarn's natural bounce can help you do it. Staying soft and fluffy is not a problem with thread, since thread has no loft to begin with -- indeed, if you work loosely in thread, your crocheting will just look loose, since thread can't fluff up to fill in the gaps. So it turns out that the trick with thread is getting enough tension, whereas working yarn with that much tension would stretch the yarn out, destroying its loft and making your work feel hard and stiff.

Now, it's possible to work thread too tightly. You know you're doing it if it feels impossible to cram the hook into your chains or other stitches, or if your work looks unpleasantly kinky with tension. Similarly, you'll know that you're working too loosely if the tops of your long stitches (dc, trc, dtr, etc) are loose and loopy, or if their bottom parts look like bundles of loosely twisted string. It's also possible to have both of these problems at once! If the tops of your long stitches are loopy, work on tightening them, and if your chains are impenetrable, try to loosen them up. One thing you may or may not know is that most crocheters' chains are a lot tighter than their long stitches, and this becomes particularly apparent in thread work (especially filet -- this is what can make your filet look squat and squashed). So don't feel like a mutant if you have both of these problems-- it's kind of like having dry skin and zits at the same time -- perplexing, but all to common! In any case, it's probably a good idea to do the starting chain for filet with a larger hook, just as one uses a larger hook for the starting chain of an afghan.

It helps to become aware that you can increase tension on your thread by pressing the fingers on your tension hand together, or decrease your tension by relaxing your fingers apart. Try crocheting with something familiar like yarn, and notice when you feel the yarn sliding through your tension hand, and when in the process of making a stitch you hold the yarn back. Then play with this as you do thread crochet. Note the points at which the thread feels out of control, and try to remember to press your fingers together before you do that step in the next stitch. This is something that's so unconscious for me that it took me years to notice that I was doing it at all, so don't worry if it feels unnatural at first -- once you get the trick of it, you won't ever have to think about it again. Just start by increasing your awarness that you can stop the thread to increase your tension when you feel out of control, and then relax and let it flow when you need more thread. You've probably been doing this all along with yarn crochet, but thread is so small that it takes a bit more effort to stop its flow through your fingers.

That Horrid Little Center Ring

Now, the thing that most people have trouble getting used to with snowflakes, doilies, and other round thread work is getting started. There are two traditional beginnings. The first is to make several chains, and join with a slip stitch. Then you start cramming stitches into that little ring. The problem is that it's really hard to find the center of the ring, and hard to hold on to it without covering up the center. I find that it helps a lot to make the join and then take a moment to carefully find the center of the ring with the tip of the hook, even removing the hook from my work if necessary to use it as a probe. When I've found the center, I push the hook in all the way up to the grip, to get the center of the ring nice and open to crochet into. Then I pinch the far side of the ring from the join with my fingernails (which are quite stubby, so you can't use no fingernails as an excuse!), and proceed to start working stitches into my newly enlarged hole.

The second traditional beginning is to make an extra chain stitch at the beginning, and work all the stitches of the first round into that first chain. For example, if you were making a ring of hdc, you would chain 3 -- two of the chains count as the first hdc, but the first chain is the place where the rest of the hdc will be worked. For a ring of [dc, ch2] you start with 6 chains -- three are the (fake) first dc, two are the chain 2 between the (fake) first dc and the next (real) dc, and the first chain is the center into which all the rest of the dc's will be worked. You can substitute this beginning on any snowflake or doily that has a tiny hole in the center, the ones that start relatively few chains in the starting ring. If the picture of the snowflake shows that it has an open center, substituting this beginning won't work so well, because it always makes a closed center. It's also not so easy if you have to cram more than 6-8 stitches into that first chain.

If You're Still Having Trouble

Try doing a project with a thick thread like Speed Cro Sheen (size 3) or a size 5 thread (Coats Opera comes in size 5).

Warm up with a potholder done with cotton yarn like Sugar'n'Cream, Kitchen Cotton, Peaches'n'Creme, etc. These yarns are worsted weight, but since they're cotton they're less bouncy than acrylic or wool. This will get you used to thread's lack of give.

Warm up with a project in Luster Sheen, Sport Weight or Baby Yarn. These yarns are finer, and get you used to working small.

Filet, Anyone?

If snowflakes are stressing you out, try doing some filet crochet to get used to thread. Filet is thread crochet, but the only stitches you need to do are dc and ch. You make pictures by filling in squares of a grid with dc, or leaving them empty by chaining a couple of stitches. Don't let my inadequate description befuddle you, it's really really easy! Here are some websites that explain it much better than I can:

Filet Instructions She sells really cool filet patterns too.
More filet instructions and patterns too.
Even more filet instructions here, and more patterns to buy.

For free filet patterns, go to Martha's filet page

And remember -- do your starting chain with a bigger hook, and remember that it's helpful to tighten up the long stitches and loosen up the chains.

 

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