Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Hi everyone – I am back after my short Peppergoose Pause with lots of crochet plans!! I want to write about technical crochet geek stuff and thought I would start with gauge. It can get a bit overloading all at once (both for me to write and for you to read) so I will break it into a series of shorter blog posts and each lead image will be the colours of the rainbow, starting with red!
Achieving gauge to match that of the crochet pattern is the first step of all crochet garment projects, and as many have now experienced during the Sashiko Happy Coat MAL – it can be a frustrating process! Just because you use the same hook and yarn as the designer and does not mean you will achieve gauge. The variable element is the human working that hook. That’s you – but it’s all good! stay with me here….
Our hooking action is a product of how we were taught:
How to hold the hook
How to tension the working yarn
How to tension the active loop
How to draw through the loops
How to position your anchoring finger & thumb during the draw through to work-off the loops
There are many ways to do all of these things and the basics of how I hook is simply a consequence what my grandmother taught me to do as a child. After many years of crochet and making gazillions of stitches, that hooking action is pretty ingrained into my crojo, and yours will be too. I have finessed my basic technique by studying crochet (the International Diploma of Crochet with Pauline Turner part 1), by my own observations while experimenting with hooking action, and well – lots of practice.
So, I want to be very clear: This is NOT a blog about how to crochet in a set correct way because in my opinion there is no such thing.
This is a blog (series) of my observations relating to the engineering of the anchors, levers and pulleys we are working during stitch execution so you can use these tips to tweak your individual hooking action. For this blog I want to talk about how to isolate your row gauge and stitch gauge. See – totally geeky stuff!
During the MAL, when a maker could not achieve both row and stitch gauge, I advised to match the row gauge as the priority as my Sashiko Happy Coat is constructed with vertically oriented rows of dc flo sts. Those rows wrap around the bust and arm circumferences which is key for achieving a good fit that is close to the finished schematic measurements in the pattern. Stitch gauge affects length of the coat and sleeves so is a secondary priority. It’s easier to add or remove a few stitches around the straight section of the bodice or lower sleeve.
That was the most practical advice to give in the short term. If all else fails, the gauge that goes around your body is the priority. It allows you to get on with it and then find a straight area of the garment to adjust for length (for a lot more detail on this for the coat, see this blog post). BUT if you are keen to learn how you can isolate your row gauge from your stitch gauge and vice versa then read on…
TECHNICAL CROCHET GEEK STUFF STARTS HERE: with some terminology
I am going to put some key terms in “ “ marks to use them ongoing relating to the anatomy of a stitch in this and in future blogs.
For any stitch, you start with the single “active loop” on your hook, you “load” the stitch (put extra loops on the hook), then you “work-off” the stitch (yarn over hook and draw through loops to remove them from your hook). Every time you “yoh, draw through 2 lps” you create 1 “segment” of the stitch “post”. The post is the vertical body of the stitch.
Let’s go through the example of a dc stitch (all my blogs are in UK terms).
Dc st instruction: insert hook in designated st/sp, yoh, pull up lp, (stitch is now loaded and we begin to work-off the stitch:) yoh, draw through 2 lps on hook.
dc double crochet
yoh yarn over hook
And let’s have a quick revision of hook anatomy and then look at some crochet in action.
Crochet Hook Anatomy:
3. Shaft/Shank (this section’s diameter is the number of mm as indicated by the size of the hook)
4. Thumb rest/grip
Yep it’s scintillating stuff - I know - but it becomes relevant below…
Now let’s look at a video of a dc in slow motion so we can see what’s happening during a double crochet stitch: Thank you to Scheepjes for providing me with the beautifully soft Organicon yarn (100% Organic Soft Cotton; 50g/170m) for this blog. This colour is 217 Fresh Air.
(Lol – do you like my “pixie dust” animation in the title?)
Observations regarding the loops of yarn that make up the stitch:
1. The active loop that was on the hook at the start of the stitch becomes the horizontal “chain-hat” that sits at the top of your stitch at the end. The size/width of your chain-hat(s) all lined up determines how much your crochet can stretch/move horizontally and determines your stitch gauge.
2. The loop that is pulled up to load the stitch becomes the 2 V-shaped “legs” at the front of the (dc) post “segment” at the end. (The dc stitch has 1 post segment and taller stitches have multiple post segments.) The size/height of your segment(s) and resulting post determines your row gauge.
3. The section of yarn that was the “yoh” that was made to draw through the 2 loops on the hook to complete this stitch becomes both the “3rd leg” at the back of the post segment and the new active loop for the next stitch. That 3rd leg also contributes to row gauge.
There is a lot going on during stitch execution. Many small movements of the fingers and hands that contribute to the final stitching technique and gauge, but for the following discussion I just want to focus on HOOKING ACTION.
Consequences regarding hooking action:
• Enlarging the active loop before beginning your stitch (relax the tension on the working yarn a little), or letting it stretch during your stitch (a number of factors contributes to this) loosens stitch gauge. Number of sts/10cm will reduce.
• Controlling the tension of your active loop before and during stitch execution controls stitch gauge.
• Enlarging your post segment(s) during your stitch (pull up a bit more on the loaded loop and relax the tension on the working yarn a little) will loosen row gauge. Number of rows/10cm will reduce.
• Controlling the height of your post segment(s) during stitch execution controls row gauge.
But…. We also have to factor in your draw-through action.
• During the draw through action: the more the hook head is angled down and the handle is angled up (I call this “scooping” I don't know what other people call it), the greater the tendency to shorten the stitch segment by tightening the 3rd leg immediately after the draw through. Scooping partly collapses the stitch segment after you have made it, and this tightens row gauge. Number of rows/10cm will increase. If increasing hook size does not seem to change your dc stitch height much, then this could be you.
• Scooping on the last draw through also means the active loop tends to sit in the throat of the hook instead if the wider shaft area, thereby tightening the beginning of the next stitch, potentially tightening stitch gauge (though it depends on how you proceed with the stitch). Number of sts/10cm will increase.
In my original video (watch it again if you like), the draw through action is pretty flat and is not scooping. This allows the hook’s shaft diameter to determine the size of your active loop and V-segment and avoid overtightening the 3rd leg after completing the dc stitch which is ideal for changing hook size to have the most impact on gauge.
For comparison here is a video of some dc stitches with a scooping action: Look at the angle the hook handle makes relative to the tip of my thumb at the end of each stitch in this video compared to that seen in the previous video.
Scooping like this means the loops are no longer determined by the hook shaft, so if you increase or decrease hook size in an attempt to fix your gauge, it may not change as much as you expect it to. It still makes beautiful crochet but achieving correct sizing can be super-frustrating!
Here is a photo of the row of dc I crocheted in the videos. Never mind my weathered hands – no matching nail polish here – my hands get pretty trashed in my day job. Anyway, moving on - the blue arrow indicates where I switched from a flat action to a scooping action to finish the row.
Scan your eyes right to left across the top row of crochet and you can see an appreciable drop in stitch height to the left of the arrow, and it’s harder to see the 2 front legs of the dc sts in this section as they are shorter. The chain hats look pretty similar on this side, but they have less stretch than the other end as well. These are very small changes in one row, but by the time you have done this over a large piece, your gauge/sizing for a garment will be off.
You know that boring swatching thing that nobody likes to do? Playing around with rows of dc while observing what happens when you tighten/loosen the active loop, flatten or scoop your draw through action and varying the amount of tension on the working yarn during the stitch is a REALLY useful exercise. You could try rows of dc first while you play around (as the anchor point of working under 2 loops is more sturdy) and then try rows of dc flo (like the Sashiko Happy Coat) – or repeat the coat swatch.
That brings us to the end of today’s blog. Hopefully this might help you hone your technique that allows the hook’s shaft diameter to determine the size of your loops if you are having a bit of frustration with re-swatching for gauge. Perhaps you might identify a glitch in your action that can be improved? But most usefully, if you are close to stitch gauge but not row gauge (or vice versa), then it should help you decide how to change your hooking action to isolate the gauge you need to adjust.
I have a LOT more to say about stitch technique, gauge and other crochet geekery, so look out for Stitch Anatomy P2 blog release. Feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a post!
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