Maker Basics - The Old Yarn and Hook

Materials:

Yarn
Crochet hooks

The Wordy Bit

A lot of people see the work I do (or the work other crafters do) and think: "Wow, I wanna do that!" and they have no idea where to start. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was like that for me, too, when I decided to re-learn how to crochet. My mom showed me how waaaaay back in the 1990s, and I half-assed it, to be honest. I got the itch again in 2015, but I was so overwhelmed with how much information was out there, all the different yarns available, and the multitude of hooks/sizes...that I didn't really dive in a start wading through until 2017. 

So, here I am hoping to be able to clear some of this up for those of you wanting to learn a new hobby. I'll give a quick run-down of my favorite uses of different fibers and a brief explanation of (what I think) are the most important hook sizes to have on hand. I'll even give you instructions on how to start a basic chain (which you'll need to know to start most patterns). Now, I recommend starting simple. Like, crazy simple. I started learning new stitches by making wash cloths. I practiced a single stitch for the entirety of the cloth until I got comfortable with it. 

Fibers

You can find yarn made of anything, nowadays. You can even make yarn from plastic grocery bags! So, before delving into the multitudes of yarns available, first ask yourself: what do I want to make? That will help you determine your fiber. Also, you can find substitutions in the event you (or whomever is receiving your make) is allergic to the fiber suggested.

Acrylic is the basic. It is a man-made yarn that is very durable. It isn't always the softest, but it can almost always been machine washed and dried. Some acrylics feel quite nice to the touch and they come in thousands of colors. I recommend acrylic if price is a concern (as it's usually affordable). I use acrylic yarn for: blankets/throws and amigurumi.

Cotton is the workhorse of the yarn world. Whether 100% rough cotton or mercerized, it is built to last. Most cotton yarns can be machine washed and dried. A lot of them can withstand being bleached, too, so these are the preferred for yarns for wash cloths and dish cloths. Cotton yarns also don't stretch like acrylic (and some wool), so I like to use mercerized cotton (it's softer to the touch) for projects like market bags and purses. When used for garments, though, fair warning: cotton yarn gets heavy and hot quick, so unless it's an open, airy pattern, the garment will be incredibly warm. I use cotton yarn for: dish cloths, wash cloths, rugs, swim covers, purses, market bags, and heavy cardigans.

Animal fibers (wool, alpaca, mohair) and bamboo are a bit pricier than acrylic and cotton...especially once you  get into the hand dyed yarns or the more specialty brands. These are the yarns that require more care (hand washing, laying flat to dry, etc.) and can be a hassle to deal with on a regular basis. I reserve these yarns for specialty items that are seasonal. I included bamboo with these, because bamboo is a great alternative to animal fibers in the event of allergies. I use these yarns for: winter hats, gloves, cowls, scarves, boots/slippers, sweaters, and socks.

Weights

Yarn is classified by weight, but it isn't weight as in how much it weighs, per se. A yarn weight has more to do with the thickness of the yarn. This also helps you figure out what it is best suited for. (A complete breakdown on yarn weights can be found here.)

For the most part, Worsted weight (weight 4) is the most popular and versatile yarn weight. You can use it for blankets, throw, rugs, clothing...pretty much anything, really. I highly recommend starting with a worsted weight cotton yarn, the recommended hook size for your yarn (4.5mm - 5.5mm, generally), and going through the basic stitches to make dish cloths. 

Another popular weight for projects is Bulky weight (weight 5). This can be used for reusable water balloons, blankets, and rugs...or anything! Seriously, there are patterns out there that use it for everything. Those crochet slipper boots I made a few months back are a bulky weight wool blend. 

Hooks

Just like the plethora of yarns, there are thousands of different types of hooks. Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast way to know what kind of hook is best for you. It is a good idea to find ergonomic styled hooks (or hooks with a silicone grip) to start with. That way, you can start to figure out how you'll hold the hook while you work. Some hold their hook like a knife while others (like myself) hold their hooks like a pencil. It all depends on what feels most comfortable for you. 

Above all, you want to make sure you have the right size hook for the yarn weight and project you're learning/working on. A lot of hook have letter sizes, but letter sizes aren't as standard as millimeter measurements. I tend to rely on those, and if a pattern only specifies a letter sized hook, I end up having to carefully swatch my work to make sure I"m using the right size. 

If you don't currently have any supplies, then I would highly recommend an inexpensive kit that contains "notions" and hooks. Notions are little tools used commonly with crochet and knitting. Small scissors, stitch markers, measuring tape, and other items can be bought with a standard size hook set all in a carrying case for as little as $15 (USD). Once you know what works best for you, you can try specialty hooks in the size you use most often  to experiment with different materials and shapes. 

The Wrap Up

Oof! I threw a lot of information at you today, didn't I? That's okay. You can use the info@whichcraft.net email address to send me any questions you have, and I will do my absolute best to answer them. Or, you can comment on this post, and I will answer as soon as I can. The biggest takeaway should be this: the world of crochet is massive and it's up to you how far into the rabbit hole you go. I'm still climbing deeper, myself, and I'm nowhere near the end!

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