Saturday, June 06, 2009

How to Increase Crochet Stitches Like a Pro

I wonder how many crocheters are aware of small refinements they can make at row edges to improve an angular shape, such as a triangle? I wasn't aware of it myself until 2006, when I designed the trapezoidal "Swingy Ruffles" bag for Jean Leinhauser and Rita Weiss. My first swatches resulted in rounded blobby shapes. No matter how dramatically I increased and decreased stitches in each row to create diagonal lines, the row edges restricted the shape.

As you can see above in the 1st photo, the left and right edges of the greenish swatch are too tight and the top edge bows. (These are tunisian crochet swatches, see mini photo tutorial below.)

The simple, obvious solution for regular (non-tunisian
) crochet is to add a turning chain or two to loosen up the row edges, and it works. Diagonal lines created by increasing or decreasing crochet stitches need room to flex and breathe. This is especially important for fashion crochet! Some elegant garments depend on truly angular edges that drape for their dramatic flair.

Maybe you knew this already. If s
o, please tell me if you found advice like this in crochet books or sites because I like to alert crocheters to sources of great information.

What about corner-start tunisian crochet? I'm currently designing a triangular wrap in which you begin at the bottom corner of the wrap and steadily increase at each edge to create a big triangle. In tunisian (a.k.a. "afghan crochet"), there is more than one way to add stitches at the beginning and end of a row. The most common usually works fine, except in cases where you are increasing a lot (that's the greenish swatch in the 1st photo).

The way I think of it is that adding stitches repeatedly is like creati
ng a vector which has a momentum. A small momentum can be absorbed by the stretch of the fabric, but a greater momentum needs room to fully expand. Shell stitches have this momentum too.

A way to look at it geometrically is that when we crochet a square with the same number of stitches in each row, the rows stack up and stitches fill their little slots. When we (rarely) crochet a diamond shape in which each row increases for awhile then decreases to a point, each added stitch at the edge is launching off on a diagonal angle.

Here's a way to steadily increase stitches in tunisian simple stitch that helps the added stitches do their shaping job (like the bluish swatch in the 1st photo). Stay tuned for a wee photo tutorial when we get to the left edge. I've been experimenting with it this week, using different gauges and fibers. I like that:
  • it has enough flexible drape for fashion designs
  • it's substantial enough to support an added edging later
  • the left edge and the right edge have equal tension and look equally nice to me (a tricky thing for tunisian crochet!)

To increase 1 stitch at the beginning of a forward pass, chain 1, insert hook in first vertical bar and pull up a loop to create the added stitch; then continue across the row, pulling up a loop in each vertical bar across. So far, so what, right? No surprise maybe? Some crocheters already increase by working into the very first vertical bar instead of skipping it. I recommend that you chain 1 first. It gives a more flexible edge, especially if you will be adding more increases to this edge in each row. It seems to control the tension of the 1st stitch. To my eye, the chain melts into the diagonal edge and adds a little substance.

To increase 1 stitch at the end of a forward pass, I borrowed a stitch from macrame called a Half-Hitch Knot; in knitting it's known as the Simple Cast-on (or Backwards Loop Cast-on). In my testing, two half-hitches added to the hook at the end of the row work great as one increase. If you add only 1 half-hitch, it will be a flimsy, loopy edge. I'm unable to find a video that would show you how to do a half-hitch while happily crocheting along, so until I create one I hope my 3 photos help. It's cool. I enjoy crocheting half-hitches. I like what they look like.

How to make a Half-Hitch: Your goal is to add a loop onto your hook that has a twist in it so that it stays on your hook. All I do is instead of doing a usual yarn over with the strand of yarn from the finger controlling the tension of the yarn, I yarn over with the strand behind my tension finger. I "scoop" it from the palm of my hand. I know, sounds weird, and a little video would clear it up instantly! In photo 1 of 3, I added two loose half-hitches to the hook at the end of the forward pass. In the 2nd photo I simply tightened them. Aren't they cute?

How to crochet the return pass with the half-hitches: yarn over and pull through both half-hitch loops on hook (1 increase stitch worked off of hook), yarn over, pull through two loops on hook at a time until one loop remains on hook. In the 3rd photo you can see what the two half-hitches look like now that I've pulled the yarn through them to begin the return pass.

How to crochet into the half-hitches in the next row: when you get to the end of the row of your next forward pass, insert hook in the 2 far left loops of the half-hitch pair. To add another stitch to this row, make another pair of half-hitches.

When half-hitches are used to augment a
widening left edge, you can see how they'll blend into the edge in a slightly bumpy, pretty way, and match the look of the chain 1 edge on the right edge. It's easy to add a nice edge too (pictured is just a quick slip stitch + chain 1 edge.)

I hope that you'll try this and let me know what you think. If you've learned about this elsewhere, please tell me about it.