5 Things I Wish I Had Known as a Crochet Newbie

By Claire Ortega-Reyes – 18 Comments

Pliny the Elder had written, “Experience is the most efficient teacher of all things.” I personally discovered that statement true enough—specially when it came to my crocheting. As a newbie I didn’t know much about the “proper” way of doing things. I made a LOT of mistakes that resulted in catastrophically funny FO’s (finished objects). Here are five things I learned, the HARD way:

1.  Getting the correct gauge and using the right materials is VITAL to crochet success.

Ever an impatient person, I didn’t bother to learn about gauge when I first tried crochet. Heck, I didn’t even know that using different kinds of yarn with different kinds of hooks had any effect on my work! A few Lillyputian hats and one giant fingerless glove later, I learned the reason why my projects never came out the same size as the pattern indicated. Wish I had paid more heed to the resource books and sites I came across!

2.  Never take shortcuts in finishing crochet work.

I had made a shrug for my mom—my first ever “serious” garment project. I was ecstatic that I had been able to finish the project! My mom was, if possible, even more excited than I was. She said she would wear it the moment I finish it. I just sort of tucked the ends in somewhere (the shrug was lacy so I didn’t have the patience to weave the ends in properly). Off my mom went, proud as a peacock (peahen?), wearing her daughter’s creation. And then, disaster struck. The yarn end on one sleeve had emerged, and the sleeve somehow had started to unravel! Good ol’ mom tried to solve the problem by tugging at it (GAHH!) which of course made the problem worse. Lesson learned: ALWAYS hide the ends properly—it is so worth the time and effort.

3.  Read the pattern through before making an attempt.

It can be very frustrating when you’re halfway through the pattern and you realize that you lack some materials to complete the project. Also, some pattern writers put important information in different areas of the pattern as pattern notes. As you develop your own preferences and skills in crochet, you realize that you can tweak patterns more to your liking. Reading the whole pattern through can really help. For example, I was able to make a seamless project out of a pattern that had required sewing. Reading the pattern thoroughly before working on it reduces the number of UFO’s (unfinished objects) and can even minimize your work load.

4.  Just because the yarn looks cute as a skein doesn’t mean it would look great when crocheted.

Ah, I had to learn this lesson oh so painfully. I had purchased many a “pretty yarn” (and they were NOT cheap) that ended up looking like sparkly rainbow puke as a crocheted item. Lesson learned: always try to look at gauge swatches provided at the store. If they don’t have any, take the time to do your research by looking at finished crochet projects online.

5.  Always test your limits!

I had wanted to learn crochet because of all the inspiring crochet work I had seen online. You know that feeling you get when you see pure crochet awesomeness? I always experienced that! Along with the appreciation for the beautiful crochet work, a thought would always occur to me, “I could never do that!” For some time I had always chosen easy patterns because I had felt that I couldn’t possibly tackle more complicated ones. And then courage grew in my heart—I looked past the “skill level” portions of patterns, and simply tried everything I wanted to try. When I came to a part I couldn’t understand, I did everything in my power to overcome it, and I didn’t stop until I did conquer it. As a result, my knowledge and skills in crochet grew with each pattern I triumphed over. So always think you can do anything, crochet-wise! Never close yourself to learning opportunities from crochet sources and fellow crafters.

What about you? Do you have crochet insights you wish you had known when you started crocheting? I bet you all have funny newbie stories. Happy crocheting everyone!

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18 Comments

  1. Beathen says:

    There are two things that I wish I’d known before starting projects…

    The first is how to pick the right weight of yarn for each project. Despite the fact that the patterns told me to buy a specific brand and color I wanted to do it in colors that I liked. Unfortunately that usually meant buying a different brand. I’d spent months on projects (a sweater & a lacy duster) that when finished were so thick and stiff they could’ve stood upright on their own. I was able to redo the duster in Caron Simply Soft and it flowed a lot better. The lighter weight yarns are great for wearables, but leave the yarn-by-the-pound skeins for afghans and other miscellaneous items.

    The second thing is how to minimize tying in ends when changing colors or skeins in the middle of a project. Of all the things to do in crochet this is the most frustrating for me. Fortunately when I was working on the Piano Scarf I read the directions on how to hide ends in the next row of stitches. I was so pleased with how it turned out (and I didn’t have to weave in a gazillion ends!), especially because several people asked me to make them a scarf once they saw me wear it. Hiding the ends in the next row saved me SO much time.

  2. Jodie says:

    I was a crochet newbie as a child and thought I was doing it wrong. I wish I would have known that left handed stitches and right handed stitches looked TOTALLY different! My mom was teaching me and I thought I was doing something completely wrong! Imagine all the years I wasted when I could have been crocheting!

  3. Lane† says:

    Haha, poor Claire. :)

    I had problems with No. 1 too, when I first started. I had made my first wearable thing and was SO PROUD of myself for actually making it. Well, I started out and everything was going great. Half-way through I noticed it looked a little small but thought it would stretch since yarn usually gives some. I FINALLY finished it and held it up for “everyone” to see and said. Hm, I don’t know if I can fit in this…. After that I’ve always checked my gauge, or at least things that NEED to have a gauge.

  4. cowgrlw says:

    Great article! But, oh my god… I’m still laughing so hard at “sparkly rainbow puke”! : D

  5. Sarah Dee says:

    Great article! I’m still a victim of using the wrong yarn. Hee, hee.

  6. windie says:

    i wish i woud have known about using a stitch counter for bigger or more detailed projects! i was horrible at patterns that had a specific count to follow as i always forgot where i was! when i purchased a “teach yourself how to knit” kit it came with a counter. even though i’ve never sucessfully learned how to knit (apparently i’m a left handed knitter due to crochetting as i HAVE to hold the yarn in my left hand!) i’ve used the counter on detailed crochetting projects with great results!

    oh – i also figured out it was easier to use plastic coded paper clips for stitch markers than anything else! :)

  7. Olivia says:

    I wish I had known you were supposed to put the hook through both loops on top of the stitch. There were lines through my work.

  8. Lori says:

    I’ve been crocheting a set of string bags with a “solid” single crochet base. I finally bought my first row counter – such a big help!

    When making afghans, I often forgo gage, and even the recommended yarn. I follow the pattern stitch, use the yarn and hook combination I like, and keep working until the afghan is the size I want. Almost every baby afghan I have ever made has actually been adult size, so the child can use it until it wears out.

    I take gage seriously for garments because it REALLY matters.

    For Olivia: Several years ago, after a long hiatus from crocheting, I picked up a hook and yarn again. I started to crochet a test swatch in rows. I couldn’t remember whether to go through one, or both, loops. I tried the back loop only, and of course, got ribbed work for my trouble. I had to find one of my how-to books to refresh my memory!

  9. Matilda says:

    I totally agree with all of the above comments but I would add one more….finish your project before starting a new one. I have the hardest time with this one, I love yarn and I’m always looking for the perfect yarn for my next project and once I buy it, I want to start using it right away. Right now, I have a trail of unfinished projects all around my house. :P

  10. Lynne says:

    I’ve only been crocheting for a couple of years, but I really get frustrated with how different
    patterns rate … beginner, easy, etc. I have run across some “easy” patterns that I have ended
    up flinging across the room in frustration, and some “intermediate” ones that are stupid-simple!
    I wish there was something a little more standardized. It took me a while, but I finally made a
    “real” garment (a loose vest) … after much frogging, and adjusting the number of rows, IT FITS !

    I’m another one who discounts gauge in afgans … if it’s wide enough, I can make it long enough!
    I have also successfully made adult hats out of baby patterns by using heavier yarn or larger
    hooks (I make chemo caps to donate to a local hospital, and I love using new/different patterns).

  11. Carey says:

    The one mistake I made was not leaving enough tail to weave in. I thought if it was short than it would not be so much trouble. Now I leave very long tails and make sure that it is long enough that if it gets damaged that I can pull some of it out later and the yarn is as old as the rest. Matching yarn up years later is very hard as the color has now been changed.

  12. Debz says:

    highly amusing and soo so so true hehehe ur mom’s story hade me chuckling as i have looked at things and wondered the same hehehe

  13. Peggy says:

    Another hint is to check the gauge recommended on a skein of yarn, especially if you’re substituting a yarn — which I’ve often done due to expense or availability.

    I’d also look for hints on going from one row to the next in a pattern — do you turn the work or not, do you make chains when beginning the next row — and how many. Too often patterns fail to include information key to beginners (and non-beginners too) such as that with the result being sides that are not straight.

    I keep a good crochet question/answer book with my project, in case that happens. (After crocheting for 50+ years, it still does.)

    I also keep notes on a pattern after I’ve finished a project. Recently I adapted a granny square pattern to use with an inexpensive yarn not as soft as called for originally and used a larger hook with it. The result was better than shown in the pattern illustration. I made sure to note those changes.

    Reading through a pattern first is critical, as some patterns don’t list all the needed materials at the beginning (they should, but they don’t). Very annoying but real.

    This is a great topic where we can “download” the results of our crocheting experiences for newbies and for those of us with handy pointers others don’t have.

  14. packrat1 says:

    Beginnging crochet tips I wish I had known…

    * there are more than two ways to hold the hook.

    * different brands of hooks can have different shape heads.

    * frogging to fix a mistake is almost always worth the effort (and really isn’t so bad).

    * start more than one project so you have something appropriate for your mood, level of concentration, lighting levels, amount of interruptions, and the various places you can carry a project bag. (I get a lot more done now.)

    * don’t spend a LOT of time on a project you have already decided you don’t like/want to do for whatever reason (I am still learning this one!).

    * it’s OK to spend a LITTLE time on unfinished projects you don’t like if you can donate it or gift it to someone else it fits better.

    * you CAN go back months or years later to finish your abandoned projects if you really want them (from when you were a newbie and didn’t have the skills or got lost in a complicated pattern), otherwise toss it out or frog the yarn for something you’d like better.

    * you can make many of the same item if you really, REALLY like it and use a different color. It helps you increase your speed, and your knowledge of how the basic item is constructed.

    * trade, sell, or donate yarn, or make a donateable project, with any yarn that you have fallen out of love.

    * buy enough yarn the first time, even if you have to walk out of the store with nothing.

  15. Kitty says:

    How well I can relate to many comments here. My first crocheted piece was a small rectangular rug made from Aunt Lydia’s rug yarn, natch lol. I was so proud…”WoW look what I made!” One side was so horribly uneven it could’ve passed for a ripple afghan wannabe. That was about 45 yrs. ago, and it didn’t take long for me to become “hooked.” I was pregnant with first daughter at the time and I wanted to make sweaters and hats and booties and and all the cute stuff. After the rug fiasco, I suddently became an expert. I was making baby clothing that I should not have been able to do according to some of the older ladies. So, yes! test your limits. Have patience, be prepared to rip out stitches and re-do, and one of the most importan things I learned is patterns can and DO have errors in the directions. But it won’t be long before you’ll realize that and will be able to fix/correct the problem yourself.

  16. Rumyra says:

    Wow there’s some great stuff here.

    I have to agree with chucking yourself in the deep end. I started crocheting after xmas when I was bought a book. As soon as I got the hang of it I made loads of little swatches of all the different stitches in the book, then made a couple of little pieces. After that I actually went through the book to find the hardest pattern, just to challenge myself. It was really worth it as far as the learning curve goes.

    I also agree with keeping a notebook or at least some record of what you are doing/did with patterns. I have altered a lot of the patterns I’ve used, with some great results, that I know I need to write down because otherwise I’d forget.

    I have to say there is one thing I wish I knew when I started which I know now – and that’s the foundation single crochet. (http://www.crochetspot.com/how-to-crochet-foundation-single-crochet-fsc/) Crocheting into the chain can be soo fiddly and hard and I’ve never really got a pleasing result from it. I am glad I learnt it, but I pretty much always use fsc now.

  17. David says:

    I still consider myself a newbie, but I encountered a mistake that other newbies will _definitely_ want to avoid.

    It is very easy to rip stitches from the end of a crocheting project- you just grab the end of the yarn and pull.

    However, during one project (it was the Casual Girl purse from this site), I felt that I needed to rip stitches from the _beginning_ of the project. I figured it should be as simple as ripping from the end. It is not.

    Pulling on the starting end of the yarn simply makes the stitches tighter, so you have to pick the stitches apart with a needle. If you rip a couple rows in this fashion, you end up with a row of half-completed stitches with extra loops hanging out. In order to make your row of stitches look like normal crochet stitches, you have to take a needle and weave the end of the yarn around each loop.

    It is complicated and painful- don’t do it!

    However, I was able to get it fixed, and I finished the project.

  18. Laura says:

    I learned to crochet because I was tired of knitting scarves. I started with a fish. Suddenly I knew how to do single, double, and treble crochet. I could crochet flat and in the round. I knew how to increase and decrease. I could do ANYTHING! Except make an item the size it should be. My fish, which should have been 4 inches, was about a foot long. It definitely would have been nice if someone had told me about gauge and yarn and hooks and how they all work together to make the item the size it should be.

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