Dora's Crochet Corner- A Stitch Red Crochet Pattern and the Benefits of Flexible Tension

I'm thrilled to announce that my pattern for Little Red Fingerless Gloves is now available here at Jimmy Beans Wool.  These adorable little gloves, made with Madelinetosh's Tosh Lace, will dress up any outfit, and you might learn a thing or two while making them too!  It uses two different lace stitches, one for the cuff and another for the palm.  In order to insure an elegant fit, there is shaping for the wrist, palm and thumb.  Three buttons close the gloves on the inside of the wrist. The pattern includes stitch diagrams as well. 

What makes this even more special is that it's part of Jimmy Beans' Stitch Red campaign. That means for every sale of the pattern, a 5% of gross profits goes to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in support of The Heart Truth, a national campaign to raise awareness of heart disease in women.  If you'd like to buy the pattern, click here.

It so happens that this design illustrates a topic I want to discuss in today's post: flexible tension.  This week I taught in a couple of yarn shops in the Chicago area.  I noticed, when inspecting my students' stitches, that some don't realize how they can mold their stitches to best show off the stitch pattern.  The key to doing so is to have flexible tension when you work.

What does flexible tension mean?  Many people believe that tension is controlled entirely by the hook size, but on a more subtle level, a skilled crocheter can vary the tension with any hook to achieve more pleasing results. Even though we want all our stitches to be even, it doesn't mean that the amount of tension we exert as we form each stitch should be absolutely constant.  For example, the chains you make for the foundation chain should be done loosely, so that they match the stitches you will be making on subsequent rows.  If you generally find that your starting edge is shorter than the rest of the piece, practice pulling out each chain, just a hair, as you make it,  and you'll soon become much better at creating the appropriate size chains.

Another area to watch is the height of your tall stitches.  If you habitually come up short on row gauge, it's probably because you aren't pulling up the first loop of the stitch to sufficient height.  Double and treble crochets look so much better if they sit a bit taller!  The moment to pay attention is after your first yarn over, when you draw the first loop through the stitch -- that's the one that should be pulled up to about 1/2 inch, to get a proud tall stitch.  Nor should single crochet stitches be worked so tightly that they scrunch up and disappear.

I've mentioned working more loosely, but there are times when tighter work is more appropriate. I work chains more tightly when they are part of a lacy pattern, so that they are very neat and clean. 

The Little Red Fingerless Gloves are a great example of what I'm getting at:  on the cuff, the shells at the center are worked tall and loose - can you tell (we are looking at the backs of the stitches in this design)? The chain stitches on either side of them are worked more tightly, however.  This design also includes V-stiutches and on these, the double crochet stitches are not worked as loosely as they are on the shells.  All of this is something I judge by eye as I work, aiming to create the most pleasing result with whatever stitch pattern I'n working. 

Let me point out that the difference in tension is quite subtle, not radical.   It's particularly important when working more complex, lacy stitch patterns, and also with open work motifs.  This kind of crochet involves creating neat, clear lines  so that the pattern is legible to the eye.  For the work to look it's best, pay close attention when making your swatch and experiment with your tension to see what produces the best-looking result.

Of course, if you aren't relaxed when holding your yarn and hook, it may not come that easily.  Some of the  beginners I worked with in class really needed help with loosening their grip on the hook, and exerting more control of the work by using their left hand to hold the working stitch firmly. The job of the hook holding hand is to turn the hook slightly as you grab yarn overs, then swing the hook down so it's easy to pull yarn through the loop on the hook.  The other hand creates stability and control as you work, by holding the working stitch firmly in place. One student I helped with these issues went from struggling to get her hook in and out of stitches to a far smoother and more enjoyable crochet experience.  We were both so proud!

To get the hang of flexible tension, here's an exercise you can try.  Pick any hook and see if you can get 3 noticeably difference gauges with it.  Work a few rows at your normal tension, then work some rows more loosely, and then a few more working more tightly.   Don't exaggerate -- the goal is for all three to look attractive.  Of course, the fabric will change as you change tension as well.  Once you're comfortable with this, pick a lacy stitch pattern or motif, and see if your new flexible tension improves your control of individual stitches and helps you mold them to make the pattern more distinct and neat .   It's just one more way to challenge yourself to be the best crocheter possible, and derive that much more satisfaction from the craft.

I hope you like the design! Happy crocheting!

Dora Ohrenstein is an author, designer and writer whose most recent book is Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit.  Her website  is a great source for articles, interviews and techniques, and where she teaches online crochet classes.

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  1. Lovely write up! Since I am multi textile oriented, I find myself spending more looking at what makes a stitch pattern beautiful and drape (or not) the way I want it to. Your explanation is nice, short, and clear

  2. This is a really interesting post, Dora. I've been experimenting with this a bit just intuitively, but your explanation and suggested exercise gives me something to work on.

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