Let’s start with yarn! So many sizes, colours, and fibers to choose from. How do I know what yarn to use? Does it matter? Why are some more expensive than others?
What do you call a ball of yarn?
While you can still call it all a ball of yarn (you do you, boo) yarn can be categorized in four main forms: balls, skeins, hanks or cakes.
A ball of yarn is just what it sounds like. It is round or spherical wound yarn. It can either be pulled from the outer loose end, or the center. Some crocheters will wind the smaller bits of yarn they have left for a project into a ball to prevent it from tangling as it gets smaller.
A skein (pronounced like plane – sk-ane) is wound into oval/oblong shaped yarn. You can either take the label off and use the loose end of yarn from the outside, or hopefully, you can find the end of the yarn in the center of the skein and pull from the middle. This is preferable as then the skein doesn’t roll all over the place. It can be placed in a bag, a yarn bowl, or next to you and does not need to move since you are pulling from the center.
A hank is a coiled loop of yarn. It is not ready to use in this form. Trust me. I learned this the hard way when I bought my very first hank of expensive merino wool. You must wind a hank in order to use it, otherwise it will turn to a tangled mess! Without a yarn winder, this is a very labour intensive task, but can be done using your feet, or a friend, and an empty toilet paper roll. Most commercial yarn is already wound in a skein, so if you are a beginner you likely won’t have to do this.
A cake is yarn wound into a round sided, but flat top and bottom ‘cake’ shape. These are typically center pull making them convenient as they do not roll around.
Yarn isn’t limited to just these terms though. Sometimes you see ‘pull skein‘, ‘donut‘, or cones, among other terms.
Yarn is categorized by it’s thickness/weight. Mainstream yarn retailers will have a label on the yarn containing symbols for the weight category. Below is a symbol chart for standard yarn weight category symbols from the Craft Yarn Council (CYC). You can visit their site directly for tons of information for both knitting and crochet.
[Source: Craft Yarn Council’s http://www.YarnStandards.com ] [www.CraftYarnCouncil.com]
The chart above shows that as the yarn increases in thickness, you will typically have the following:
- Increase your hook or needle size as the yarn thickens
- You will crochet fewer stitches per inch
- Not shown, but commonly you will also have less yards/meters per skein of yarn as it increases in thickness
When starting out, you often make dish cloths and hats. The most commonly used weight of yarn for things is a Category 4, Worsted Weight Yarn. Not all worsted weights are created equal though. If you are making an article of clothing and you are swapping the yarn you want to use, it is always smart to do a swatch to double check your gauge. Have no idea what I just said? Don’t worry, we will get to that.
A common cause of confusion when starting out is “how much yarn do I need?”. Yarn labels will show the length of yarn contained in the skein/ball/cake/hank. It is commonly shown in yards, meters, and grams. Most North American patterns utilize yards as their unit of measurement. A pattern should show how many yards are required per size item you are making. If you choose to swap one yarn brand for another, make sure that you are purchasing the right amount as number of yards per skein can vary greatly among brands.
There is an incredible array of fiber types to crochet with! Picking your type of yarn usually depends on a few things:
- Project Type – Are you making a winter sweater? Summer top? Bathing suit? Kitchen towels? Blanket? The type of yarn you select will depend on what you will use the finished item for.
- Fabric preference: Natural Fibers vs Synthetic.
- Structure of finished make: Do you want the item to be stiff/structured? Flowy with drape? The yarn chosen will affect the feel of the finished project.
- Budget: Natural fibers of course are usually more expensive than synthetic.
Acrylic tends to be the most affordable type you see. It is typically easy to work with and can often be found machine washable and dryable. You can find premium acrylic yarns that have a nice softness and stitch definition, and you can find cheap acrylic which tends to be not as soft and doesn’t have as nice of a structure once crocheted. There are also novelty acrylic yarns like faux fur yarn. Acrylic yarn is great for beginners.
Things that will go in water such as bathing suits and dish cloths are typically made with cotton yarn. It has a lot of structure and strength. In my experience, I don’t typically order 100% cotton yarn online. They can vary greatly in softness, so this is a fiber I prefer to feel with my hands in person before buying depending on the project I want to use it for.
Bamboo yarn has a beautiful softness, sheen, and drape. You will sometimes find it blended with cotton to combine those features with the durability of cotton. Great for warmer weather makes.
For a more luxurious item with warmth you can utilize real wool, alpaca, or if you are really spoiled, muskox.
There are of course endless types and many blends of yarns. Sometimes this is the perfect fit for a specific project. I used a beautiful merino wool/nylon blend for a fitted top with stretch and softness. Experiment and find what you like!
Standard Crochet Hooks
Crochet hooks come in various sizes. They have two different measurement units: US Size Range and Metric Size Range. On many crochet hooks, both of these are written on the side of hook somewhere. I find I typically pay attention to the metric sizing as this is the most commonly used one in patterns.
The chart above shows generally what size hook you would use per yarn weight, however most commercial yarn labels will also provide you with the recommended hook size.
You can find hooks made out of wood, plastic, and metal. I personally prefer a metal crochet hook. I like the way they feel and find the glide through the yarn easier. That being said, I would love to own a beautiful wood or bamboo interchangeable Tunisian crochet hook set someday. Anyway, this little set from Michael’s is great to get you started.
Tunisian Crochet Hooks
Speaking of Tunisian crochet hooks! What is that? Tunisian crochet hooks differ from regular crochet hooks only in length really. While they use the same metric measurements (i.e. 6mm, 9mm, etc.) they are usually longer because in Tunisian crochet you keep all your stitches on your hook. This means that the width of your crochet item depends on how many stitches can fit and stay on your hook at once. You often see these hooks referred to as Afghan hooks as well and sometimes they are double ended. When I decided to give Tunisian crochet a try (which I HIGHLY recommend you do as well once you get into crochet) I bought this inexpensive set of bamboo Tunisian crochet hooks with flexible cables. So far they have met all my needs.
So now that we have covered the two major supplies (yarn and hooks) let’s talk about the other handy little items you will need. You can get all of this stuff from Michael’s or Walmart or wherever you like. They don’t have to be fancy.
You’re going to need to get used to measuring things. If you want to start crocheting garments this is vital. I recommend a 60″ seamstress type measuring tape so that you can use it for body measurements.
Get yourself some nice sharp little scissors. I actually use inexpensive hair cutting scissors that are nice and sharp, or if I am traveling I use cuticle scissors. They are small enough that you are allowed to have them in your carry on!
Stitch markers are little pins that help you keep track of where a stitch pattern changes, where you might need to decrease or increase, or where the row ends or begins. They are incredibly helpful and as a beginner I would use them to help me identify where the last stitch in the row was. This can be difficult to see when you aren’t familiar with what you are looking for, and missing the last stitch can cause your piece to get smaller and smaller unintentionally as you ‘drop’ stitches. This is a very frustrating thing so the stitch markers help prevent that! Also, you do not need hundreds of these. A small pack of 10 or 20 should be plenty.
When I started crocheting and made my first hat, I assumed that to sew up a hat I needed a pointy needle and thread. This is not the case. You need a blunt needle and you will use the yarn you made the item with to seam it up. Not too bad right? I found this little set of a large and small blunt needles at Walmart and I use them for basically everything. The only time I have had to use smaller (and sharper) needles is when my button holes are too small for my blunt needles. Something like this duo should be plenty for a beginner though.
Blocking Mats & Blocking Pins
You do not need these as a beginner getting started. Blocking means to wet your finished item either by spritzing it with water, steaming it, or fully wetting it and pinning it in place until it is completely dry. You do this mainly to garments or shawls to finish the item. Sometimes projects curl while you are making them from the style of crochet (Tunisian tends to curl a lot) or the tension used, and blocking helps relax it into the final shape it will take. You don’t block hats or anything like that so as a newbie you won’t need this. It is just something to consider down the road as blocking really finishes off a piece!
So what do I need?
If you are brand spanking new to crochet and trying your very first project, I recommend buying an inexpensive Worsted Weight (Category 4) yarn from Walmart, a 6.0mm hook (or a basic hook set like the one recommended above), any scissors, any measuring tape, a blunt needle, and some stitch markers. All in all you should not spend more than $30.00. This way, if you find it really isn’t for you, no biggie.