The big problem with steel hooks is that their sizing is nightmarishly inconsistent (much worse than aluminum yarn hooks!!). 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 steel hook sizes, so one always has to keep in mind that the size number on the hook is only a vague indicator of its actual size. It's more meaningful to rely on measurement in millimeters (mm) stamped on the hook and printed on the package. I've made a steel hook size chart, which shows the millimeter measurements of different brands of hooks. If you'd like to print out just the chart for your crochet notebook, use this page that contains nothing but the chart.
|Boye / Wright's||Susan
|8||3||1.5||1.4 or 1.25||1.5||1.5||0.90||1.25||.|
|9||4||1.4||1.25 or 1.15||.||.||.||1.15||.|
|10||5||1.3||1.15 or 1.0||1.25||1.25||0.75||1.10||.|
|11||5 1/2||1.1||1.05 or 1.0||.||.||.||1.05||.|
|12||6||1.0||1.0 or .75||1.0||1.0||0.60||1.0||.|
|13||6 1/2||0.85||0.95, 0.9, or 0.7||.||.||.||0.95||.|
|14||7||0.75||0.9 or 0.6||0.75||0.75||.||0.9||.|
Judith Combs has a very cool hook size chart, arranged by mm measurement. I think I like it even better than mine! It even suggests thread sizes to go with the hooks sizes.
Here's an approximation of my hook/thread usage. Given the vagaries of hook sizing and the differences in personal tension, it's hard to make more precise recommendations. The best answer is to use the chart for a ballpark idea of where to start, then experiment with your hooks to find the one that seems to work best with that thread. If you're making an item that needs a specific gauge, use the hook that produces the right gauge. But if you're making a gauge-free items (snowflakes, doilies, etc.), you should use the hook that feels best, and makes your work look the nicest.
THREAD HOOK MEASUREMENT size 10............no. 6 - 8........1.6mm - 1.7mm size 20........... no. 9 - 11.......1.2mm - 1.3mm size 30........... no. 10 - 12.......1.0mm - 1.1mm size 40........... no. 11 - 13.......0.9mm - size 50 & 60...... no. 12 - 14....... 0.75mm size 70 & 80...... no. 13 - 15.......0.6mm - 0.75mm size 100.......... no. 14 - 16.......0.6mm - 0.5mm sewing thread..... no. 15 - 16.......0.4mm - 0.5mm
And for something a little different, here's the recomendations from a WWII era publication:
THREAD HOOK bedspread..........no. 7 size 10............no. 8 size 20........... no. 9 size 30........... no. 10 size 40........... no. 11 size 50 & 60...... no. 12 size 70 & 80...... no. 13 size 100.......... no. 14
Note that bedspread weght and size 10 weren't the same size back then. I also notice that this chart runs small to modern eyes, I've also noticed that some of my older hooks are smaller than modern hooks of the same size. I don't take it as any indication that people crocheted looser back then -- if you look at close-up photos in vintage patterns, you can see that the stitching is often visibly tighter than in modern pattern photos.
But how do I know when I have the right hook?
It should fit into your stitches nicely. You should feel a slight "pop" as it goes through, but not have to actually push to get it to go in. If you have to push, go down a hook size. If you can't feel what you're doing, try going up a size.
You should be able to grab the thread with the hook, and pull it through your loops without incident. If the hook grabs only part of the thread, or the thread rolls over the hook tip, the hook is too small for your thread. If the hook also grabs part of the old loop as you're trying to draw the new loop through, the hook is too big for your thread.
There has been a bit of controversy over the "correct" way to hold your hook. Some of us hold our hooks over the top, as one holds a knife. Others hold from beneath, like one holds a pencil. Victorian crochet manuals advise the pencil hold, as does Maggie Righetti (rather vehemently) in her (otherwise pretty good) book Crocheting in Plain English (from these asides, you may have inferred that I use a knife hold). The internet consensus, as well as the position of the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA), is that both ways work fine.
Research by needlework historians has unearthed the basis for the Victorian bias toward the pencil hold -- it shows off a lady's hands to much better advantage than the more brutish looking knife hold. And you should see the Victorian instructions for holding knitting needles -- while attractive, they look like a recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome, so take all of this with a grain of salt. By all means adjust your hold if you suspect that it's causing you hand or wrist pain, or if you're having trouble managing complicated stitches, but if your hold is comfortable and functional, well, why are you worrying about it?
Where Does the Thread Go?
Many thread newbies are unsure where on the hook they should be working their stitches. Many intermediate thread crocheters wonder why the tops of their stitches are loopy and distorted. So I made a picture that highlights the working area on several brands of hook. The working area is green, the iffy part is yellow, and the orange part is what distorts the top loops of your stitches. The red part is the same diameter on all sizes of hook, so your thread definitely doesn't ever belong there!
I suffer from Hook Acquisition Syndrome. I like to sample different brands of hook, I collect vintage hooks from 2nd hand stores, and I tend to buy several of any hook that I find particularly wonderful, since I tend to use my hooks to pin my semi-completed projects to their balls of thread when I get exasperated with them. All of this gradually added up to a lot of hooks, and just keeping them all loose in my mother's old makeup bag wasn't working out anymore -- I had to squint at each of a million hooks before I found the one that I needed.
My solution was to get a bunch of empty bead tubes from my favorite bead boutique -- they charged me a dime or so for each tube, I forget exactly how much, but all the tubes that I needed cost less than a single new hook. I currently have a labeled tube for each size of hook, though I'm thinking of switching to a tube for each millimeter size. Then I put all the clearly labeled tubes into my mother's old makeup bag, since it's pretty, and reminds me of her...
My roommate's solution is a very attractive quilted hook case with big and little pockets, so it holds both steel and aluminum hooks, and rolls up and ties with a ribbon. Someone local used to make them, and if you sew, you might be able to make up something of the sort to suit your own collection. Or if you want to crochet one, there's a really nice pattern for a crocheted steel hook case from Priscilla's Crochet Patterns page (look down at the bottom of the main page for aluminum hook or afghan hook cases. Plus she has other cool stuff...).
If you've got a nifty hook organizational scheme, email me and let me know!
Steel hooks are made of steel, then nickel plated. If the plating wears off, the hooks rust, which is a major bummer. When I rule the world, steel hooks will be made of stainless steel, but until that day, we'll have to make do with interim measures.
Keeping hooks dry is important. My bead tubes work well for this, as long as the hooks are put away clean and dry. Speaking of clean, I happen to be one of those unfortunate people with corrosive hand-sweat -- it etches the nickel plating right off the hooks! So I've learned that it's a good idea for me to wipe down my hooks after using them. Sometimes I use a jewler's cloth, but I'm also looking for a good source of disposable alcohol towelettes.
Recently someone posted some vintage crochet tips to CP:), which included a suggestion to rub your hooks with beeswax then buff with a soft cloth. I can see how this might help seal them against moisture and hand sweat, so I'm going to give it a try. Also, it's supposed to make them have less friction against the thread, which also makes sense -- remember as a kid, sitting on waxed paper to wax the slide? It made you go fast!
So what if you have rusted hooks? I don't have the definitive answer. Some people recommend rubbing off the rust with steel wool, then covering the bad spot with clear nail polish. You'd want to be careful not to remove the nickel pating on adjacent areas, though. I'm also looking into the possibility of having old hooks re-plated...
Another thing that differs from hook to hook is the shape of the hooks shank. The shank is the tapered part between the hooked tip and the flat grip -- see photos below to view how much shank shapes can differ. It differs between brands, and also between older and newer hooks of the same brand (again, see photos). I find that the longer the shank goes before it widens, the better for making long stitches like treble, double-treble, and triple-treble crochets. Unfortunately, the current trend seems to be toward a shank that gets wider rapidly, which makes it hard to make attractive long stitches -- either they come out stringy looking, or with loopy distorted tops (one sees this in sample photos for some of the newer thread crochet patterns). This is particularly noticeable in newer Boye hooks, but less of a problem in Susan Bates hooks. My current favorites are Inox hooks, imported from Germany, which I feel have the optimal shape for thread crochet. They only come in even-numbered sizes, and aren't marked with mm measurements on hook or package, though their sizes are rumored to be the same as Addi hooks'.
Susan Bates size 9 hooks: new and old.
Boye size 12 hooks: new, older, and older still.
Size 12 hooks: Inox, Susan Bates, and Boye, all relatively new -- note different shank shapes and differences in diameter.
Size 14 hooks:
Boye, new and somewhat older -- note different shank shape
Susan Bates, new and slightly older -- both size 14, but upper hook is 0.3mm narrower
Inox, new, from Germany -- I prefer this shank shape over any other hook currently in production (widens a little further up than Susan Bates).
Speak Up for Decent Hooks!
I think we should all write to Boye (now Wrights), urging them to go back to the wonderful shank shape of their vintage hooks. Wouldn't it be great if they discoverd that they had the old hook molds hidden in the back of a warehouse somewhere? They must not have any serious crocheters on their staff, to be selling such unusable hooks. We need make them understand that their current hook shape is undermining their market share. Tell them about which hooks you use instead of buying theirs: Susan Bates, imports like Profi and Inox, or vintage hooks from Ebay and estate sales. Maybe if tons of us write to them and explain this, they will get rid of that current, useless hook shape.
Itty Bitty Hooks
If you're into collecting small and/or exotic hooks, here's where to get various hooks under 0.90 mm. The Needlepoint Joint sells my favorite German Inox hooks, plus different Inox hooks with handles made in Mexico by Imra , size 14 at 0.75mm and 16 at 0.60mm. Lacis also sells the Inox/Imra hooks in small sizes. If you need hooks smaller than that, Lacis sells 0.50 mm and 0.40 mm hooks, the smallest ones I've found for sale online. Van Sciver Bobbin Lace also sells 0.60, 0.50, and 0.40 crochet hooks, on their Tools page (most of the tools on the page are very lace-specific). At time of writing, Handy Hands Tatting is currently the cheapest place to get size 15 and 16 hooks (thanks, Diane!). For a range of small hooks, check out this seller's hook sets on Ebay -- note that they're on an entirely different sizing system, but there's a lot of them available under 1mm. These are the Tulip hooks in the chart up top -- you can also check out the Tulip website. They're from Japan.
Hook Collector's Links
Vintage hook collectors might enjoy a look at Brenda Beckman's Vintage Hook Collection page.
Alorna also has a a bunch of lovely old hooks and tatting shuttles.
CGOA Hook Classification System for collectors.
I didn't know where to put this...
But here's a Japanese/English page showing the steps in crochet hook manufacture!
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