Posted on

Crash Course in Crochet

So you’ve decided to take up crocheting. Congrats! You’ve picked a great time to start: March is National Crochet Month, and it’s coming up fast! Before you pick up your hook, you’ll need to understand the pattern you are reading. To ready yourself for a month of crochet hooks and yarn, I’ve put together a small crash course in crochet: how to read a pattern and things every beginner should know!

Please note: This post is an informative one. That means rather than a step-by-step how-to, I’ll be explaining terminology to you and going over basics like what kind of yarn to use for your first project or what the different hook sizes mean. There is a tutorial video included to help you get started, but you won’t find any patterns in this post. You should still bookmark it for later, though, because it will help you read future patterns and is an all around great guide!

Reading a crochet pattern for the first time can be a bit like reading another language. It gets tricky and overwhelming for someone who doesn’t know what the many, many abbreviations stand for. At the beginning of most crochet patterns, you’ll see a small key listing what each crochet short hand stands for, but you may not know what those terms mean. To help you on your way to crochet-stardom, I’ve put together a list of some basic abbreviations, terminology and definitions. This alphabetical list includes the most common things you’ll see (in bold), along with other terms your pattern may refer to.

What do these terms mean?

[ ] = repeat pattern steps inside brackets as many times as instructed

( ) = repeat pattern steps inside parentheses as many times as instructed

{ } = repeat pattern steps inside braces as many times as instructed

* = repeat steps following single asterisk as instructed

* * = repeat steps between two asterisks as many times as instructed, OR repeat a given set of directions

alt = alternate

approx = approximately

beg = beginning

bet = between

ch = chain; Used to begin most crochet projects, and so usually the first thing you see on a pattern. When several chain stitches are grouped together at the start of a project, it’s called a “starting chain”, “base chain”, or a “foundation chain.”

cont = continue

dc = double crochet; Tall, versatile stitch and most commonly found in many patterns.

dc2tog = double crochet 2 stitches together

dec = decrease; Subtract one or more stitches.

dtr = double treble

hdc = half double crochet; This stitch is shorter than a double crochet, but taller than a single crochet.

inc = increase; Add one or more stitches.

join = join; Join together two stitches (usually done with a slip stitch).

prev = previous

rep = repeat

rnd(s) = round(s); There are two ways to work a crochet project: in rows and in rounds. Rows refer to a straight project with straight rows- like a scarf or blanket. Rounds are round projects like a hat.

row = row of stitches; Pattern instructions can be broken down in to what to do on each row, e.g. Row 1 (instructions go here), Rows 2-7 (instructions go here), etc.

sc = single crochet; Basic short crochet stitch found in most patterns.

sc2tog = single crochet 2 stitches together

sk = skip

sl st = slip stitch; Used to join one crocheted point to another, e.g. forming a ring. This is the very first stitch you will ever do, as it’s how you get the yarn on to your hook. It isn’t usually listed on your pattern as the pattern begins assuming your yarn is already on your hook. Fun fact: Before it’s tightened, this stitch looks like a pretzel!

st = stitch

tch (or t-ch) = turning chain = used between rows of crochet stitches

tog = together

tr (or trc) = triple (or treble) crochet; taller than the double crochet and a little trickier to make, but beautiful for blankets and the like.

turn = Turn your work so you may begin working back the next row.

yo (or yoh) = yarn over (or yarn over hook)

But how do I hold the hook?

Now that you know what the terms mean, we can move on to the supplies you’ll encounter. Whether you are right or left handed matters little when reading a pattern. Most patterns are written for us righties, as you hold your crochet hook in your dominant hand. But don’t worry, lefties! Your motions will be the same, you’ll just do them with your left hand instead of your right. This means watching and trying to mimic a video of a right-handed crocheter may not be as helpful to you, but don’t be discouraged. When I was trying to teach my mom to crochet, she (a lefty) sat facing me (a righty) to try to mirror what I was doing. It worked out pretty well, until she took a wrong turn somewhere and her scarf ended up in a big knot. That’s where she gave up, but you don’t have to! Once you get down the basics, the world is your yarn-covered oyster.

While your dominant hand is busy holding the crochet hook, your other hand will be responsible for holding the yarn. It doesn’t sound hard, and yarn isn’t exactly heavy, but you’ll find it somewhat uncomfortable and sometimes your hand will even cramp up. If you feel this beginning to happen, finish off your row and take a break. If you push through the pain, your work will likely suffer anyway- so it’s best to come back to it when your hand is less hurty.

There are two ways to hold the hook and yarn. Either works and one may be more comfortable for you than the other, so they are both worth trying. After you’ve attempted both you’ll fall in to whichever one feels most natural for you. Here are the two positions:

  1. Over-the-hook: This position has you holding the hook like you’d grip a knife- your hand will be over the crochet hook, with it’s handle resting against your palm while your thumb and middle finger grasp the flat thumb rest. Your index finger will extend towards the tip of the hook.
  2. Under-the-hook: This position has you holding the hook just like you’d hold a pencil- with the finger hold between your thumb and index fingers, and your middle finger towards the tip of the hook.

If these positions make absolutely no sense to you without a visual guide, here’s one showing both!

Make sure your hook is facing slightly towards you and not away. Grip it tight enough that you don’t drop it, but you don’t have to go crazy and give yourself arthritis either. Just get comfortable!

What about the yarn?

For your first try (or even first few tries), begin with a light to medium worsted-weight yarn. These are easiest to work with and you don’t want to give yourself any other impediments right off the bat. Practice all the stitches you’ve learned several times before beginning a pattern.

Learning how to first hold, loop and begin using your yarn is easier shown. Until I get the time (and nerve!) to make my own tutorial videos, I’ve found a fantastic tutorial for beginner crocheters from Mikey Sellick at The Crochet Crowd, where he shows you very clearly how-to’s on hook holding, yarn holding, and doing a simple chain that eventually progresses into an easy way to remember a double crochet stitch (wrap-through-2-and-2!) Be sure to watch the full video to get a better sense of these basics!

What is this “J Hook” he’s talking about?

You watched the video! Great! Isn’t he helpful? The “J Hook” he talks about refers to the size of the crochet hook. Each pattern should give you the recommended yarn you should use (when none is listed, typically any type of yarn will work), the recommended crochet hook size, and the gauge (if important to the final project).

Different crochet hook sizes will give you different results. A very small hook, like the E 4, will make small tight knots, while the large Q will make large bulky loose knots. In the US, crochet hooks are marked by mm size, with a number and/or letter combo.

Millimeter size Hook size (number) Hook size (letter)
2.25 mm 1 B
2.75 mm 2 C
3.25 mm 3 D
3.5 mm 4 E
3.75 mm 5 F
4 mm 6 G
4.5 mm 7
5 mm 8 H
5.5 mm 9 I
6 mm 10 J
6.5 mm 10.5 K
8 mm 11 L
9 mm 13 M/N
10 mm 15 N/P
12.75 mm 17
15 mm 19 P/Q
16 mm Q
19 mm 35 S
25 mm 50

It’s very possible after this not-at-all-short-now-that-I’ve-finished-it post that I’ve put you in a state of panic, deterring you from taking a jab at crocheting. Please, reconsider! Find a simple pattern to start with, (like my 5 Minute Crocheted Hearts), look at the abbreviations in it and what they mean here, and try it out. You only need to learn a few stitches to begin crocheting- and it’s such a relaxing hobby.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can move on to cluster stitches, lace work, shell stitches, fringe and all the lovely textured fancy-pants stitches you like! Before you know it, you’ll be making afghans like a pro, crocheting cute toys for your kids, and perhaps even coming up with your own patterns.

Stay tuned in March for an easy coffee cup cozy pattern, my 5-hour-blanket pattern, and more! If you have pointers to share about crocheting, leave them for fellow readers in the comments!