Crochet Lyceum: Crochet 101 – Class 3/6: More Stitches, Gauge, and Pattern Reading

Welcome to Week 3 of Crochet 101, the first CAL/class in the Crochet Lyceum with Underground Crafter series.

Visit this post for the full course outline and more information about how to participate.

Week 3: More Stitches, Gauge, and Pattern Reading

This week, we will learn two more stitches and will begin exploring gauge and pattern reading.  Here is our outline for today’s post:

  • Review homework and questions
  • Half double crochet stitch
  • Working into the back loop and the “third loop”
  • Slip stitch
  • Introduction to gauge
  • Basic pattern reading using a two stitch pattern
  • Homework

Today’s post includes text and video.  As with last week, I recommend that you read through the text first before watching the video.

Review Homework

How do your single crochet stitches look?  Here are some typical problems you might see with the cause and solution.

  • Stitches are all different sizes: Your tension is changing.  The hand controlling the yarn (left hand if you are a righty and right hand if you are a lefty) needs to get a more even grip on the yarn.
  • Very small stitches that are hard to get into: Your tension is too tight.  Before making the next stitch, run the loop on your hook over the thumb rest to stretch it a bit.  Relax the hold on the yarn in your yarn hand.
  • Huge, sloppy looking stitches: Your tension is too loose.  Before making the next stitch, pull the yarn more firmly so that the loop on your hook fits very snuggly.
  • You have fewer and fewer stitches as the piece grows: You are decreasing the number of stitches.  This is generally because you have forgotten to make your turning chain and then skipped the first stitch of the row.
  • You have more and more stitches as the piece grows: You are increasing the number of stitches, usually by working more than one stitch into each stitch from the row before.

I saw some nice pictures posted on Ravelry, so I know a few of you have even completed your first projects!

There were two questions about going into the front loop and whether or not it is “required” for single crochet.  With most crochet stitches, you will have the option of working the stitch into the front loop (which we did last week), into the back loop (which we will do today), or into both loops (which we will do next week).  Each option will produce a different texture, so you will probably develop a favorite over time.  Also, sometimes a pattern will specify which technique to use.  (True beginners: If your eyes are glazing over at this point, it is ok!  Just keep moving through the lesson :)!)

Half Double Crochet Stitch

The half double is another one of the basic stitches of crochet.  It is a bit “chubbier” than the other stitches and it also is the only stitch which has a “third loop.”  Because of that third loop, you can do some very interesting textural things with the stitch.  (Side note: I first learned about using the third loop in 2007 from Helen Jordan‘s wonderful book, Textured Crochet.  In my opinion, it is the only crochet stitch guide which makes wonderful use of this feature.)  The half double crochet has more drape than the single crochet stitch, and it is a bit taller, so your work will “grow” faster than with the single crochet.  It is actually my favorite stitch, and you will see it a lot in many different types of patterns.  I personally love using this stitch with hats.

Several rows of half double crochet stitches. You can see that there is more texture on this stitch than the single crochet.

Download this handout to learn how to form a half double crochet stitch.

Working into the back loop and third loop

After reading through the post and watching the first part of the video (below), you are ready to get started.  Last week we talked about the front loop, and this week we will explore the back loop.

(c) 1984, The National Needlework Association.
This is a view of a row of stitches highlighting the back loop. (Working into the back loop is demonstrated in the video, too.)

In the video, I will also demonstrate how to use the wonderful third loop of the half double crochet stitch.

Slip Stitch

The slip stitch is a very interesting and underutilized crochet stitch.  We will learn more about it in weeks to come, but here is how you form the stitch.

(c) 1984, The National Needlework Association, Inc.

Insert your hook into the stitch (in this picture, the slip stitch is being worked into the chain).  Bring the yarn over.  Draw the yarn through both the stitch and the loop (through both loops).

(c) 1984, The National Needlework Association, Inc.

You will be left with one loop on the hook. If you are working entire rows in slip stitches, you will make one turning chain before starting the next row, just like single crochet.  Tip: Make your slip stitches loose, or they will be very hard to work into once you get to the next row :).

Watch the video and practice

Now that you have read about the half double crochet stitch and slip stitch, check out the video.  Practice by making at least 10 rows of each stitch.

Introduction to gauge

Now that you have some swatches of your half double crochet and slip stitches, let’s talk about gauge.  If you still have something you made with single crochet, bring that out, too.  For this part of the lesson, you will also need a measurement tool.


Illustration (c) 1984, The National Needlework Association. The text is my modification.

For some crocheters, gauge is a bit of a curse word, but it need not be.  Your gauge tells you the size of your stitches.  In the U.S., gauge is generally measured in stitches or rows per inch.  Across the row (horizontally, in the picture above), you can measure your stitch gauge.  Across the height of your project (vertically, in the picture above), you can measure your row gauge.  Not all patterns include row gauge, so for today, let’s focus on stitch gauge.

Your gauge is determined by four things:

  • Your tension (how loose or how tight you form the stitches),
  • Your choice of hook (with a larger circumference making larger stitches, so fewer stitches per inch),
  • Your choice of yarn (with a thicker yarn making larger stitches, so fewer stitches per inch), and
  • The stitch.  (You may have noticed that even if you keep your tension, yarn, and hook the same, the single crochet, half double crochet, and slip stitch will all be different sizes.)

Changing any one of those four things will change the number of stitches per inch.

Lay your swatch down on a flat surface, and place your ruler above it, towards the center of the swatch.  Why? You want to measure where you will have the most consistent tension, so that would be once you get comfortable and “into your groove.”

Measure across the row, for two inches.  Then, divide the number of stitches by 2, to get the average number of stitches per inch.  In the picture above, there are 6 stitches in 2 inches, or 3 stitches per inch.

Well, this is all very exciting, but what does this number have to do with anything?  When you look at a pattern, having the correct gauge ensures that your project will turn out the same size as the one in the pattern.  Having the wrong gauge means your queen sized blanket could end up a baby blanket, or your baby sweater could fit a teenager.  Linda Permann recently had a great example of what happens when you don’t check your gauge in this blog post.

What do you do if your gauge is different than the pattern’s recommended gauge?

  • If you have fewer stitches per inch than the pattern recommends, it means your stitches are bigger than those of the pattern writer.  To make your stitches smaller, you can use a smaller hook, a thinner yarn, and/or a tighter tension.
  • If you have more stitches per inch than the pattern recommends, it means your stitches are smaller than those of the pattern writer.  To make your stitches bigger, you can use a larger hook, a thicker yarn, and/or a looser tension.

Basic pattern reading using a two stitch pattern

The first big hurdle in reading a pattern is understanding the gauge.  Now that we are past that, what about the rest?  For today, we are going to talk about pattern abbreviations.  Most patterns in the U.S. are written, and use a system of abbreviations.  Reading patterns is kind of like learning a secret code language :).  This handout gives you the key to the secret code.

Let’s try a simple two stitch pattern, using the half double crochet and slip stitch that we learned today.  This stitch pattern is usually called the crunch stitch.

This picture shows the crunch stitch over many rows. The combination of half double and slip stitches, with their different heights and textures, produces a really interesting crocheted fabric.

Start with any multiple of 2 chs, plus 1 for the foundation ch.

(Side note: If you have a project in mind, start with a small swatch of about 15 chs, then check your gauge!  You can make the piece as large as you need by calculating the number of inches you would like the project to be and multiplying it by the number of stitches per inch in your gauge.  Add 1 chain to that total number to get the number of chains you should start with for your project.)

Row 1: Sk 2 chs.  *Sl st in next ch.  Hdc in next ch.*  Repeat from * to * across to last ch.  Sl st in last ch.

Row 2: Turn. Ch 2.  Sk t-chs and 1st sl st.  *Sl st in next hdc.  Hdc in next sl st.*  Repeat from * to * across.  Sl st in t-ch.  Turn.

Repeat Row 2 until your project is the desired length.


For next week:

  • Practice reading patterns by making the crunch stitch (as a swatch, or as part of a project).
  • Explore different textures.  Make one sample swatch where you make at least 2 rows of single crochet in the back loop and then at least 2 rows of single crochet in the front loop.  On the same swatch, make at least 2 rows each of half double crochet in the back loop, in the front loop, and in the third loop.  Look at the differences in textures.  What method (front, back, or third loop) do you like better for each stitch?
  • If you are feeling adventurous, alternate going in the front or back or third loop within the same row.  For example, in a half double crochet swatch with 15 stitches, work 5 in the front, 5 in the back, and 5 in the third loop.  With just a few stitches, you can make things that look very different!

You can post a reply here, on Flickr, or my Ravelry group if you have any questions or want to share your pictures of your stitches and projects.

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