Why does crochet have a bad reputation? On the surface, it makes no sense - how on earth does a fibercraft get a reputation, anyway? - but that doesn't change the fact that it does. Usually held up in comparison to knitting (it's even nicknamed knitting's "younger sister," a metaphor that does a fairly good job illustrating the relationship between the arts) crocheting is routinely stereotyped as bumpy, lumpy, ugly, cheap, tacky, stiff and - worst of all - limited. Anyone who's spent some quality time with a hook knows this isn't true, but we also know that in darker moments of yarny experimentation, more than a few crocheters have thrown down their hooks in frustration and cried, "It can't be done! Crochet just can't do that!" Though you may, a moment later, pick up your work and chide yourself for buying into knitting propaganda, the words have already been spoken.
It's easy to blame others for these widespread perceptions. Knitters. The general (uneducated in yarn crafts) public. The truth of the matter might shock you - crochet is being repressed. It's being put down, held back, and crippled. This destructive force, however, is not coming solely from the outside: we are contributing to the damage ourselves.
Think about it: as much as we strive to distance ourselves from these negative stereotypes, they continue to exist because examples of them persist. How many times have you seen the lumpy, scratchy afghan made with insane colors? What about the sweater that stands up with no one inside it? Or the strange, ruffle-covered item sitting on a corner table, collecting dust and looking stranger by the day? You've seen it. Maybe you've even done it. Don't be ashamed - you're probably just a victim of an incomplete education. There are a few things I think every crocheter should know about crochet. I'll start with what is possibly the most obvious, but is certainly the most disastrous if not understood.
1: CROCHETING IS NOT THE SAME AS KNITTING!
See? That seems obvious. It's shocking, though, how often that is not understood. (Or, it gets mistranslated as "crocheting is not as good as knitting.") Crocheting and knitting may both make fabric from yarn using small, stick-like implements, but the structure and process is completely different. When knitting, you set up all of your stitches and leave them on your needle. All of them are 'live' at once, and they are interconnected vertically. It is this connection that both makes knitting vulnerable to dropped stitches and gives it horizontal stretch. When crocheting, you form one stitch at a time and each stitch is whole and complete in itself, beginning from the very first chain. This means that you are free to place your stitches anywhere you like, instead of necessarily progressing from decisions made in the previous row. The ability to change direction and position on a whim has encouraged the growth of techniques like freeform crochet, and is especially suited to the creation of lace and stuffed animals. The fact that only one stitch is live at once reduces the chance of inadvertent unraveling, and makes it easier to recover when it does happen.
Crocheting also takes far less in the way of equipment. With the same hook you can make small pieces, huge pieces, flat pieces, work in the round - anything but large Tunisian pieces. When I started knitting, I routinely found that I didn't have the right needles for the project I wanted to make. If I had ten-inch straights, I needed fourteen-inch straights. If I had a circular needle, I needed double-points. And that was just in one size!
As another point of pride for crocheters, unlike knitting, most crocheting stitches cannot be reproduced by machine. When you take the time to think about it, it's easy to see that crochet and knitting have different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes all you need is an approach that is grown out of crocheting and not 'translated' from knitting to solve your problem. This leads me to my next point:
2: DIFFERENT DOES NOT EQUAL INFERIOR!
I've heard it over and over. Crocheting is so much thicker and stiffer than knitting. Crochet is so much boxier than knitting. Crocheting takes so much more yarn than knitting. Although some of this is just plain wrong (crochet does NOT use three times the yarn knitting does, thanks, at worst only a third more when all else is equal), all of these comparisons hold knitting up as the standard to which we should aspire. Much like the sisters crochet and knitting are said to be, attempts to treat the younger the same way as the older lead to frustration. Let's look at this from another perspective, shall we? In general, a crocheted project is thicker than a knitted project made from the same yarn. This is because crocheting has more layers of yarn in each stitch than knitting does. Though this is often held up as a fault, think how it could be a valuable quality! A crocheted hat made with worsted weight yarn may be so thick that a knitter would need to buy (generally more expensive) bulky yarn to match it. Crocheters are able to create a thicker fabric from thinner materials than knitters are! That's valuable to know.
What about the claim that crochet is boxy? This probably stems from the stiff, sculptural aspect crochet can have when worked with a small hook. When worked with a larger hook, crochet can achieve amazing suppleness and beautiful drape - really gorgeous fabric - and it can do it much quicker than the average knit alternative. Now, it's true that crocheting lends itself more easily than knitting to sculptural projects - toys, for instance; the brims of hats, or baskets - but again this is a positive feature rather than a negative. Crocheting has recently experienced a surge of favorable interest due to the popularity of amigurumi, a super-cute style of stuffed toy originating in Japan. It is the stiffer structure of crochet that makes it ideal for this! By understanding what causes this stiffness, and using it deliberately when required instead of by accident or all the time, you can take control of the texture of your work.
I conducted a survey on a crochet forum board, asking about the way people learned to crochet. Out of more than three hundred respondents, sixty-five percent said that they learned with a worsted weight acrylic yarn and an H (5.00 mm) hook, and of an additional twelve percent that replied they didn't fit in any category listed, several posted that they learned with worsted weight and a hook smaller than 5 mm. That's a huge percentage to have learned with the exact same equipment - a poor choice of equipment. Although 5 mm is comparable in diameter to a size 8 needle (a nice choice for knitting with worsted weight) the crocheted results are tighter and stiffer than their knitted equivalents because the structure of a crocheted stitch requires a larger hook to be supple.
This piece of information is critical, and yet, is not widely known. I took seven skeins of similar yarn in worsted weight out of my stash and looked on the label for hook size suggestions. Three of them didn't even have crocheting information, two recommended a G/4.5mm hook (the exact diameter of the knitting needles they recommended), one recommended an I/5.5mm hook, and one recommended a J/6mm hook. The four brands with hook recommendations are all available at large chain stores and widely used by American crocheters - but their recommendations are contradictory. The recommendations for knitters were within a .5mm range across the board. It's almost as though manufacturers are confused about what to do for crocheters, which brings me to my third point.
3: CROCHET IS A YOUNG ART!
Crocheting is much, much younger than knitting. Despite theories that crocheting was practiced in early societies, no historical or archaeological evidence of crocheting exists before the 1800s. Some seem to wish that crocheting had a history at least as long as (if not longer than) knitting, as though this would earn more validity or respect for their craft - but why does it matter? No one questions the value of email simply because the postal system has been around far longer.
There is one way in which it is significant: with a history only two hundred years long, there's still a lot of uncharted territory in crochet. True knitting has been around for a thousand years; although by no means has it been completely explored, its properties and capabilities are well and widely understood. Back when knitting was new, that was not the case. The purl stitch, for instance, wasn't discovered until about five hundred years after knitting was - before that, plain stockinette was made by knitting in the round and cutting a steek to get a flat piece. Who knows but that a similar revolution lies ahead for crochet?
One such upheaval has already taken place. Crocheting has its roots in threadwork and fine lace - even now the strongest association some have with crochet is the doily. In the middle of the twentieth century, crochet was widely adapted for use with yarn for the first time. The popularity of crocheted ponchos and granny squares in the 1970s ensured that yarn crochet was around to stay - but is it any wonder that the techniques have not yet been perfected?
Recently crocheters have begun to fight the perceptions that lock their craft into an unappealing box, but there is work still to be done. Lumpy, bumpy, tacky, stiff? Crochet is capable of so much more! Good drape, beautiful garments, supple, intriguing fabrics AS WELL AS beautiful sculptural qualities and sturdiness for projects that would benefit from it - crochet can do anything you can imagine. The best way to counter negative perceptions is to create beautiful work and share it with others - and be sure to pass on good crocheting habits to those we teach. A good understanding of the nature and abilities of crochet will empower us to consistently create beautiful work. Experiment! Try larger hooks, smaller yarns, special and beautiful materials. Support companies and designers who are trying to develop crochet's potential. Educate yourselves about breakthroughs and new developments and, if possible, design your own creations and make the techniques accessible to others! It is the work we do that will ultimately convince others - and more importantly, ourselves - that crochet is beautiful, versatile, and truly an art.