Handmade Conversations — Learning to Crochet with Deb Burger

Posted by on Nov 06, 2012

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The idea of learning how to crochet can inspire thoughts of nights focused around a skein of yarn and a fast-moving crochet hook. But learning the craft can also mean hours of frustration trying to learn the terminology, getting fingers into shape, etc. Deb Burger, author of "Crochet 101: Master Basic Skills and Techniques Easily through Step-by-Step Instruction," tells even absolute beginners how to learn to crochet in this detailed interview.

beginner crochet flower
You write those new to crochet are "training the muscles of their hands and fingers." Why is muscle memory important?

Many people don't realize that learning a new "hand skill" is very like learning a new sport or a musical instrument. They are all activities that use certain groups of muscles in repeated patterns of motion. However, after hundreds of repetitions, those motions become "automatic." 

And here's the reason it's so important: paying intense concentration is hard work ... not much fun. Investing time in enough repetitions to develop muscle memory allows the new skill to move from the "hard work" category to the "relaxation and fun" category of items in our days. When learning a new skill, the best way to develop muscle memory for that skill is to do several fairly short (15-30 minute) practice sessions each day.

What is a common reason someone gives up learning to crochet? Any tips for overcoming this?

In my experience, there are two main reasons that some people give up on learning to crochet. The first is inadequate or inappropriate instruction. Many people have tried to learn from a family member or friend who was an accomplished crocheter but not a talented teacher; and they experienced frustration in not being able to "get it" from the loving guidance of this obvious expert.

The second reason some people quit in frustration is unrealistic expectation. Most adults, whether we're willing to admit it or not, have a fairly well-developed fear of failure. The most effective way to combat this whole dynamic is to "give yourself permission" to be a beginner. Progress slowly; make ridiculous mistakes (often repeatedly), and have results that are not yet perfect.

Reading a crochet pattern is often very difficult due to abbreviations and specialized vocab. Any advice?

I find it helpful to keep the list of stitch abbreviations handy, to refer to it as needed. This was especially true for me when I was learning to read stitch diagrams.

Here are some tips, in addition to keeping the list handy:
1. If you relate well to hearing directions aloud, then feel free to read them aloud to yourself! If you prefer reading written words, then feel free to write out the words, translating from abbreviations, and work from your own written, long-hand version. If you prefer pictures, then work from the chart, or use the written words to draw your own chart for a particular row or bit of the stitching that seems difficult. Some people find it helpful to assign a highlighter color to different types of stitches, mark those in the pattern, and "crochet by color."

2. Take it slowly. There is absolutely no prize for finishing first! Familiarity will grow, but it is not the magic beanstalk and will not grow overnight.
beginner crochet blanket
3. Be careful to use correct names for stitches in your own mind. When I hear crocheters using terms like "single chain" instead of "single crochet," "space thingie" instead of "ch-3 space," I know to expect that this person is likely to struggle with remembering the abbreviations and relating to the written instructions. It is easier to read the written language of crochet, if we are speaking the spoken language accurately.

4. Gradually find the level of comfort you can with a type of directions, and beyond that, accept your own limitations. One of my daughters, a highly intelligent and creative young woman, crochets beautifully and makes lovely items for herself and her family, but she has a learning disability that inhibits her use of written or chart patterns. She can draw a picture and then crochet the item, she can watch a pattern stitch or technique and then repeat it easily, but she cannot, and never has been able to learn to, read a pattern unless every word of every repeat is written out. She is at peace with this evidence that she's only human and has limits, and she enjoys her crochet.

What is the best way to tell if tension is right when learning to crochet?

When tension is loose enough, the hook does not fight to get into stitches, or to pull a loop back through the work. There is no fight to pull through a loop through another one already on the hook. When tension is tight enough, the top of a stitch does not collapse down over the vertical part of the stitch; the parts of the stitch (sideways V at the top, post or vertical legs, horizontal bar on back of hdc, etc.) are clearly visible; and there are no unwanted holes in the fabric. Correct tension means that the yarn is just taut enough to be hooked and pulled by the hook, and that the hands, arms and shoulders are relaxed.

Looking at completed work, correctly tensioned stitches will have a ratio: a double crochet will be twice as tall as a single crochet, and a treble as tall as 3 single crochets. Each single crochet is just slightly wider than tall, with about 4 rows equal to about the width of 3 stitches. Short, squatty stitches are a sign of tension too tight in the middle steps of the stitch.

Image credits (from top): Flickr.com/PinkIsCoco, Flickr.com/DumbleDad and Flickr.com/Twilight_Taggers

cover of crochet 101
Deb Burger is the author of "Crochet 101: Master Basic Skills and Techniques Easily through Step-by-Step Instruction," published by Creative Publishing international.

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