Getting Started: The Equipment
I remember the first time I walked into my local yarn store. Shelves filled to the brim with yarn in every colour, size, and thickness imaginable. I must have spent hours in there, that first time. Wandering from shelf to shelf, looking at the ball bands, wondering how to decipher the hieroglyphics on them, trying to match hook to yarn. "Lace", "4ply", "aran" the words meant nothing to me, at least in this context and I simply had no idea where even to start. Six years on, my best advice for new crocheters as to where to begin is two fold:
1. Start with a pattern you want to make. Starting from something is so much easier than starting from nothing. Plus, finding a project that you really want to see finished is a great motivation to learn the skills needed to complete it. We will talk later in the course how to go about identifying good patterns to start with.
2. Ask for help. Be it online or in person, a friend, a blogger or the staff at your local yarn store, people who crochet (or knit) usually want to share the love. When in doubt - Ask!!
Starting out can be slow and frustrating, like any new skill, but in the end you will hold something in your hands that YOU made. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.
No matter which pattern you start with, you will need the 2 basic supplies of yarn and hook to get going.
The pattern you have chosen should tell you the kind of yarn you need. In the case of the Cherry Delicious Pot Holders, we are using Aran weight cotton. Yarn is graded by its thickness - starting at extremely fine lace and cobweb yarn and moving up to Super Chunky/Bulky.
Yarn is graded on how many "wraps per inch" one can measure. In a nutshell, if you were to wrap your yarn around an object, and line each wrap up as above, how many times around would measure 1 inch? Now, this isn't something you need to know or memorise when you are buying yarn, but it can be a useful tool for thinking about how the thickness of each yarn weigh compares.
Generally speaking, thin yarn makes smaller stitches and a thinner, more drapey fabric. Thick yarn makes bigger stitches with a thicker, often stiffer fabric.
When picking a project as a beginner, it is a good idea to start with a smooth yarn that is a DK, Aran, or Chunky/Bulky in a light colour. This is a nice middle ground, where the yarn isn't too thin that you can't see what you are doing, but not too thick that it is unwieldily. A light colour (and a smooth texture) will enable you to see what you are doing.
With the rise in popularity of knitting and crochet, there has also been an increase in the kinds of yarns available - from fuzzy eyelash yarn to wool in every sheep breed imaginable. Broadly speaking you will find manufactured fibers, natural fibers, and some combination there of in your online or local shop.
Acrylic yarn is a manufactured fiber that is very light, very cheap and readily available. A few dollars or pounds can buy enough for a child's jumper - hard to match in any other material. Acrylic is hypoallergenic, vegan and rarely requires special washing techniques.
There are some drawbacks to working with acrylic. It can sometimes feel a bit strange on your hook, often referred to as "squeaking", it has a tendency to pill, and can result in static. Using a yarn that is a blend of acrylic and wool can minimise some of these factors.
From the softest Merino to the naturally tweedy Shetland, the variations available in 100% wool is astounding. Wools is often lovely to work with, with none of the "squeak" of acrylic. The amazing properties of wool has been documented elsewhere, but it is an excellent temperature regulator and can resist and absorb water, without the wearer getting wet. Also, as a beginner, it is very resilient and can be pulled out repeatedly (if you need to).
Wool yarns can be more expensive than acrylic. They also may require special care, so check the ball band for washing requirements. Superwash wools have been specially treated not to felt. Wool is often blended with other fibres to give the yarn the qualities of both, for example nylon is often blended with wool to create harder wearing materials for socks.
Cotton and Bamboo:
Cotton yarn is very smooth, giving great stitch definition. It doesn't have much stretch in it, so if you are a tight crocheter, it can be a bit tricky. Quite inexpensive and resilient, cotton makes a great material for homewares. Bamboo has many of the same properties as cotton, but tends to have more sheen and drape.
The list of fibres that can be made into yarn or blended with one of the above, is endless. Silk, alpaca, soy, milk, cashmere, and mohair (even camel!) fiber adds interesting and unique textures to yarns. These types of fibers do tend to be more expensive, but they can be worth it for that special item.
The best yarn for starting out will be smooth, with a good amount of twist in it. Wool, Acrylic, or Cotton blends are good places to start.
Of course, you can't do much with your yarn if you don't have a hook to go with it. You will find the size of hook you require in your pattern or on the ball band of the wool.
Sizes of hook are determined by their diameter generally in millimetre increments, though Americans also use letter and number hook sizes. Most hooks will have their size written on them, but a hook or needle gauge can help you figure out the size of the writing has worn away. The size of hook determines what amount of yarn is taken into the stitch. A smaller hook takes less, a larger hook takes more. However, this is a very personal and changeable equation based on how you crochet and the yarn you are using. We will talk about this more in week 3 and 4 when we look at gauge.
Hooks can be made out of plastic, bamboo, metal (usually aluminium) or hard wood. Plastic and metal hooks tend to be the cheapest, with hard wood being the most expensive. Generally, the type of hook you use comes down to personal preference. Starting out, I usually recommend metal, as they glide quite nicely through most yarns.
A pair of sharp scissors and a tapestry needle are also important pieces of you crochet supplies. They can be bought at most yarn shops and sewing stores, even the grocery store. For a tapestry needle, look for a large eye and a blunt tip so you don't snag your work as you weave in ends. A hook gauge and stitch markers aren't crucial kit, but can be handy depending on the project. Locking stitch markers are suitable for crochet.