Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hook size, gauge, and drape

My "County Fair" scarf
Crochet gets a bad rap for producing thick, stiff, ugly fabric--suitable for an
afghan, maybe, but too awkward for garments or anything requiring drape. And it's true--there are a lot of bad sweater patterns that seem to bear this out.

But it doesn't have to be true. And it's actually really, really easy to fix.

Certainly, crochet lends itself nicely to projects that need structure. It's ideal for amigurumi and other stuffed toys for this reason. I love my dense single-crochet potholders, too. But as the patterns in the new Holla Knits crochet collection prove, it's also easy to make beautifully drapey crochet fabric as well. (Seriously, check out Rohn Strong's lovely "Betty... Betty Grable" and admire the way that fabric falls.)

"Drape" refers to the way a fabric flows, and, well... drapes. In crochet, as in knitting, it's affected by several factors: yarn weight, fiber content, stitch pattern, blocking, and hook size, among others. Today, we'll just focus on hook size.

In the picture below, I've got Henri the artist's model showing off three different swatches. All of them use Lion Brand's Cotton-Ease, a worsted weight cotton/acrylic blend (the same yarn I used in my County Fair Scarf, modeled above), but they're worked up with three different hooks. From left to right, they are: J/10 (6.0 mm), H/8 (5.0 mm), and F/5 (3.75 mm).

Work that runway, Henri.
Even without feeling the fabric in your hands, it's easy to see how the swatch made with the F hook barely drapes at all, while the swatch from the J hook flows quite nicely. I chose the H hook, in the middle, because that's the recommended hook size on the ball band. It makes an okay fabric, but here's a secret: when yarn manufacturers include a recommended hook size at all (and many don't), it's usually the exact same as the recommended knitting needle size. But since crochet and knitting produce fabric in very different ways, and with very different characteristics, making a one-to-one swap like that doesn't always work out well. Often, you'll need to go up a size or two from the recommendation to get a fabric with a drape that's comparable to the knitted version.

From the picture, it's easy to see how a small change can make a huge difference in the finished product, and how important it is to consider how your yarn, hook, and stitch pattern will interact in the fabric you're creating. I wanted my County Fair Scarf to be drapey and super squishy--so I pair worsted weight yarn and a granny stitch pattern with a K (6.5mm) hook. This made the fabric thicker, but also airier--exactly the sort of "squish factor" I was hoping for.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, take a look at Ann Leachman's pattern "Prim" from the collection--the small hook gives her collar the stiffness and structure it needs to hold its shape. It's a great way to harness crochet's natural sculptural qualities and use them for good and not evil. Or at least for cute accessories instead of toilet paper cozies.

Don't be afraid to experiment with hooks and yarns until you find a combination that's perfect for your project. I promise, there are no crochet police who are going to ticket you for ignoring the recommended hook size.

BONUS TIME: As your reward for wading through this little essay, I'm giving away a free copy of the pattern for my County Fair scarf. It's easy pattern, very suitable for beginners, and uses surprisingly little yarn for its size (less than a skein of each color). Just leave a comment below, and be sure to include a way for me to get in touch. I promise I will ONLY use your contact info if you're the winner--no spam here. The contest will be open until midnight eastern time on July 23 (one week from today). Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. I love this pattern! I'd love to win a copy :) zombiequeenieATgmailDOTcom