Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Crochet - choosing yarn and hooks

Knowing where to start with crochet can be quite daunting.  There are so many hooks and yarns out there that it can be quite difficult to decide what to buy.  If you're reading this post, I'm assuming you're new to crochet and just want to get started without worrying about getting the tension right for a particular project.  Your priorities no doubt will simply be to enjoy crochet as much as possible.

Choosing yarn

It can be very tempting when starting out, to buy the cheapest yarn available.  This is not always a good idea because cheap yarns can be very difficult to work with, sticking on the hook making it difficult to draw it through smoothly.  It can also cause quite a lot of static and feels quite unpleasant against the fingers.  If a yarn doesn't have neat, smooth finish, it can often be difficult to distinguish one stitch from another making it hard to keep track of what you're doing. I do not by any means suggest buying the most expensive designer yarns, but if you're going to put your time into making something, it's worth spending a bit of time choosing a yarn with which you will enjoy working.

There are four main categories of yarn fibres: animal, plant, synthetic and mixed.
  • Animal fibres like wool, alpaca angora are so lovely and warm, but most are not usually machine washable and depending on the animal, can be quite itchy.  Working with them is such a pleasure but they are not usually a good choice of material for children's toys or clothes.
  • Plant fibres like cotton, linen and bamboo have a beautiful smooth, shiny finish that provides wonderful stitch definition and are breathable so are fantastic for making clothes.  A lot of cotton yarns are very sturdy but as a result are not very stretchy so can be very tiring to work with for making toys (when the work needs to be very tight).  
  • Synthetic yarns like acrylic and polyester are popular choices for beginners, babies clothing and toys because they are cheap and fully machine washable.  When choosing a synthetic yarn, be sure to feel the quality of it - some are so scratchy to work with that could well put you off crochet if you are just starting out.
  • Mixed fibres can be a very good choice.  There are many yarns that blend in synthetic fibres with natural fibres and can often be more affordable than 100% natural alternatives.
With a bit of practice, you will learn what you like working with - often it's just a matter of choice.

Many books and sites mention worsted, sport, fingering weights etc.  To be honest, I have no idea what any of these terms mean.  I just look at the ball-band to see what size knitting needle is recommended to be used with it.

The ball band above recommends 3.5-4 mm knitting needles.  Obviously the chunkier the yarn the larger the crochet hook you'll need and thus the quicker your project will work up.  When starting out, it is very satisfying to work with yarn recommended for a 5mm knitting needle or bigger.

Choosing a crochet hook

There are so many different crochet hooks out there made in so many different materials.  The main types you are likely to see in shops (and more affordable for beginners who don't know what they like) are steel, bamboo, wood and plastic.

Personally, I would never use a wooden or plastic hook because I find them difficult to work with.  I have quite a large selection of steel and bamboo hooks that I have amassed over time, some that have been handed down to me, some that have been bought.

It is definitely worth having a number of different size hooks because a difference in size of 0.5mm can make such a difference to how comfortable it is to work with your yarn.  Different people work to different tensions and you might find you prefer using a 5mm hook with a 4mm yarn.  If you are not ready to buy a big collection of hooks, and lucky enough to have friends with extra hooks, ask if you can borrow a selection of theirs.  After you've chosen your yarn and if you are happy to buy a range of hook sizes, go for the size recommended on the ball band and one size on either side.  For example, if you buy a 5mm yarn, buy a 4.5mm and a 5.5mm hook too.  Try your yarn with all three hooks before deciding which hook you're going to use.

No matter what hook I am using, I always bind some plaster tape around it to provide a bit of cushioning.  I have been known to use zinc oxide tape in emergencies, but try to get the fabric plaster on a roll.  It makes working so much more comfortable and seriously reduces the thumb and wrist strain in the working hand.  If you haven't tried it yet, I recommend you give it a go!

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