March 30, 2013

Guides for Self-Taught Crocheters: Just How Do I Hold the Hook and Yarn Anyhow?

It's about time I do something for the crocheters out there.  I tend to focus on knitting for these posts since I learned how to knit in recent memory, and so I come across stuff in my own travels.  On the other hand, my mother taught me to crochet when I was 8.  It's been awhile.

However, I was in a conversation recently about how one hold the yarn and hook in crochet.  Turns out there's a lot of unofficial variation out there, despite there being only two ways to both hold the hook and to actually crochet.  So I figured that it would be a good idea to not only cover the official ways, but some of the variations out there as well...because, you never know, you may like it better!

Styles vs Variations vs Whatever You Call It
First note that no matter what you may think, the term crochet style is not used the same way the term knitting style is.  A knitting style, as you may know, is how you hold and manipulate the yarn to produce all your stitches.  Crochet style...let's just say that it isn't used much to mean how you hold the yarn and hook to produce your stitches.  That would make too much sense.  Unfortunately, searching fails here.  After searching for the term crochet style on Google, it seems like no one uses it the same way at all.  The first entry is a Pinterest board and the second is a eHow article where the author calls both Tunisian crochet (a different yarn craft with different tools and stitches) and free-form crochet (I could see the usage, but I would call this an approach) 'styles'. It doesn't get any better, on the first two pages at least.

The truth is, there isn't a comprehensible term because the 'styles', in the knitting sense, aren't modular packages like the knitting styles are.  You have the hand you use to hold the hook, and then you have variations that you can pick and choose to use with the hand-style.  I'll call the first the base, since all variations follow from this.

Speaking of such, variations are things like how to hold the hook and wrap the yarn around your fingers. Basically, variations of the standard way of crocheting.  Some of these may be 'official', but some may just be the way you learned or fell into.  I'll cover some of the more popular ones here.

The official ways of holding the crochet hook are sometimes called positions or holds as well.  As you can see, terminology really isn't consistent in crochet.

The Base of Crochet Methods
All variations to crocheting start with what hand you use to hold the hook.  The hand you use to hold the hook is usually determined by your dominate hand, so unless you're ambidextrous or have problems with one of your hands, you'll probably have learned or will learn one base and stay with it.

For example, say you're like me and you're severely right-handed, you'll start with the hook in your right hand, and use your left hand to hold tension in the yarn.  This is usually called Right-Handed Crochet.

On the other hand (ha), you are dominantly left-handed, you'll do the opposite: you hold the hook in your left hand and the yarn in your right.  This is called Left-Hand Crochet.

If you don't favor one hand over the other much, you could pick and choose.  However, I would recommend that you go with the right hand.  Why?  Because almost all crochet patterns presume right-handed crochet. One of the consequences with choosing a base is that it determines which way you create the loops and therefore build the fabric.  With right-hand crochet, you work from right to left, and vice versa.  This has little overall consequence for the final product, or even what variations you use, but unless you're good with spacial thinking, left-handers may find it difficult to picture what's going on in the instructions or provided pictures.  That, and depending on the pattern writer, they may use 'left' instead of 'next stitch' or other similar phrases that assume right-handedness.  Left-handed crocheters have to watch out for that and mirror as needed.

Though, as you may suspect, handedness isn't the end all be all of it.  Since the non-dominate hand does the work of holding the yarn (and usually the work-in-progress), you may find that you prefer the hold the hook in your non-dominate hand instead so that the yarn is in your dominate hand.  Hand-ness is more important in crochet than, say, knitting, but it isn't everything many make it out to be.

Since to give real instructions means introducing some of the variations (after all you still need the way to hold the hook and yarn to start), I don't have any guides here, but here's a good list of myths associated with left-handed crochet.

So how do you hold the hook and hold tension in the yarn? Well, that's a lot more complicated.  There's a lot of variation, and it has little to do with the base or necessary technique usage and a lot about preference or what your teacher (both meatspace and not) used.  The only effect on the final product these variations have is personal to the crocheter...that is, you may find that one method produces neater stitches for you vs another.  Therefore, I won't make any broad recommendations as to which one to try first or learn.  You need to play around to find your best fit.

Holding the Hook
There are two official methods of holding a crochet hook: the knife method and the pencil method.  These are no way the only two variations in holding the hook, but they are what you'll run into if you learn from most sources, and I'd say the many of the variations are variations of these two methods.

The knife method, also called the overhand or over-the-hook method, is called that because you hold the crochet hook like you would a knife.  See the second set of pictures on this site and this site (also the third set there), and the first set on this site for slightly different variations on this method.  The key is that the shaft is under the palm of the hand with your thumb and some forefinger or set of forefingers on the grip.  While some sources will say to use your index finger and thumb, you can also use your middle finger and thumb, or all of them.  The other fingers aren't technically involved in the classic style of this method, but you may find yourself wrapping your pinky, ring finger, or both around the shaft of the hook (for stability and/or to help guide or move the hook).  Another connected variation is holding it 'fist like', like many of the commenters in the second link.  The hook can be facing you (see the first and third link), towards the floor (see second link), or the opposite of both of those (I guess, though I haven't see it).  However, hook position will be more of a consequence on how you hold the hook instead of a direct choice.  You may also turn the hook as you're crocheting.

The pencil method, also called the underhand or under-the-hook method, is also named after the common utensil in which the grip is similar.  See the first set of pictures in the first two links above, and the second in the third link for examples.  The key here is that the shaft is resting on or floating around the area between the thumb and forefinger, and only those two fingers are holding the crochet hook.  This method is a little less popular and so there seems to be less examples of variation to it, but it's possible.  For example, you can use your middle finger to grip instead of your pointer, and use the pointer to guide the hook (I tried it and found it easier that way than standard pencil grip, actually, but then again I'm weird and use my middle finger and thumb to grip all hooks and needles).

Holding the Yarn
On the other hand, there's no 'official' methods to hold the yarn, and the variations are endless.  However, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it.  This is because the way you hold the yarn has a direct effect on how tightly or loosely your stitches will come out (for the knitters out there, this doesn't hold as true for knitting due to how the stitches are produced, but that's a different topic).  Use the wrong hold, or the wrong one for you, and your stitches may be uneven, too loose, or too tight.

I say the wrong one for you because a right method that works for a million people may not work with your hand, especially since this is the non-dominate one we're most likely talking about.  Hands vary in size, shape, or strength, and that will have an effect on which method you prefer. For example, you might have cause two of your fingers to be stiff and prone to locking up because you rammed that hand into a bookcase years ago (ok, maybe that's just me). Things like that all can have an effect. The style you'll like may also change over time and incidents.  That's fine.  As long as you're getting good results, it doesn't matter.

One common way to hold the yarn is to wrap the yarn first around your pinky, and then over one of the other fingers (index, usually, but the middle can also be used) as a guide.  The fourth and fifth pictures down on this site shows this, as well as the first yarn hold method on this page (scroll past the hook holds).  Another variation is the second picture in this link.  The pinky wrap provides the tension, and the other finger is a guide to hold your yarn so that you can grab it with the hook. This method may give you a tighter tension than others, but it can also impede yarn flow as the yarn has to pull through the twist around the pinky finger.

Another is to pull the yarn between your pinky and ring finger, and then pull the yarn from under your fingers up and over your index (or middle) finger.  Grasping the yarn between the last two fingers provides the tension, and again, index or middle is your guide.  You can see this variation in the third picture of the first link in the last paragraph.  This way provides a looser tension, depending on how hard you grip the yarn with your last two fingers.  It may be too loose or you may find that you grip too hard to be conformable with this method.

A third is to hold the yarn with your last two or three fingers (bent towards the palm to hold it), and again, put it up over your index finger.  The third example in the third link above, and the second yarn hold method in the second link show this way.  This way is even looser in tension, if you need that.

There, are, of course, many other methods out there...way too many to list.  The last example on this link (same as the third above) is another, more unique way (the comments are sources for other variations and methods as well).  This link is a variation on the second one I listed that involves having the source of the yarn under the palm instead of over (makes more sense when you look at the picture).  This one shows the crochet just holding the yarn between the index and middle finger. 

If you really have no clue about which one to try, start with one of the three discussed above and modify from there (and if it's unconformable, then try another).  Don't get too frustrated at first, though.  Learning how to control tension in crochet takes some practice no matter what way you hold the yarn.

All in all, crochet methodology is fluid and you may have to experiment to find the way you like.  Have fun with it; after all, it's most likely your hobby.  Or will be, I hope.

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