Saturday, March 30, 2013

So You Wanna Start Crocheting, Huh?

So you've finally seen enough adorable, crafty, beautiful crocheted things on Pinterest and you're ready to take the plunge into crocheting, huh? Well, congratulations! It's an awesome hobby/craft/career that is relatively cheap and easy to get started in. In fact, for about $20, you can buy everything you need to get started, and have enough supplies left over from your first project to keep you going for a while! So, welcome!

I've put together a couple of photos/reviews/advice for each of the things I believe you need to get started making amigurumis (the cute crocheted dolls you've been seeing all over Pinterest). My opinions are based on several years of trial and error- learn from my mistakes, save yourself money, time and aggravation.

First of all, if you are just getting started, do not think that you need to buy every single crochet hook, skein of yarn and notion out there. Start out small, by purchasing the basics, and USE COUPONS! Every craft store has coupons online and most of them will honor competitor's coupons, so there's no reason to pay full price for any of this! 

Let's Talk Hooks

As a first-time crocheter, you might be tempted to buy one of those really cheap aluminum Boye hooks for $1. I know I did- I figured if I didn't enjoy crocheting or couldn't figure it out, then I hadn't really lost any money investing in an expensive hook. This is just wrong. If you are going to take the time to learn a new craft and really stick with it, spend a few dollars more and invest in a quality hook that will not make your hand cramp or give you calluses. Plus, if you are a smart shopper, you can use 40% off coupons and then it really won't end up costing you all that much anyway.

Spend the $8. Trust me.
I cannot recommend enough the Clover Amour hook, size F/3.75mm. Amazon has it listed right now for $7.47, so even if you buy it full price, it's under $10 and totally worth every penny. The handle is a soft rubber with no seams to rub against your skin and create annoying calluses (a problem I encountered when I was using the Clover Soft Touch hooks, which are still an upgrade from the Boye hooks). The aluminum hook is smooth and won't split your yarn. You want an F-hook to start out with when making amigurumis because your stitches won't be so small you can't see them, and if your tension isn't very tight yet, your finished piece won't be so loose that you can see the stuffing between the stitches. I use an F hook for 99% of my amigurumi pieces. You might also want to invest in a D-hook, for smaller, more detailed pieces, but that can always wait.

What about Yarn?
A few weeks ago, a customer emailed me asking what kind of yarn I recommended for my patterns. The easy answer is "acrylic worsted weight." However, not all yarns are created equal. I have several brands of yarn that I use for different purposes, so I'll try to run through what I use and why.

Red Heart Super Saver
Pros: I like this yarn because it is cheap and indestructible. Most of my toys and blankets are designed to be USED by kids, so I want something that is going to hold up to being dragged around, drooled (or spit up) on, and washed...repeatedly. You can find this yarn in just about every store, too. 

Cons: Did I mention it's cheap? It's really cheap. It might feel scratchy in your hands when you're working with it, so if you're thinking of making a blanket for a newborn or a scarf you're going to wear every day, you might want to consider upgrading. Also, not the most sophisticated color palate out there.

Vanna's Choice
Pros: I really like this yarn. It's a nice, soft acrylic that comes in a wide array of really pretty colors, and it's pretty affordable. 

Cons: It's a little on the thin side of worsted, and sometimes I want my yarn to be a little more...beefy, especially for body parts, like heads, arms and legs. Also, I find it's more prone to splitting (when the individual strands of the yarn get separated when you're working with it), which is kind of a drag.

Loops and Threads
Pros: Remember how I said I like my yarn to be more beefy? Well, this is what I'm talking about. I use this yarn for all of my skin-toned body parts (heads, arms, legs, ears, noses, etc). 

Cons: It's only available at Micheal's, and you can't buy it online. Limited color palate.

The long and short of it is, the more you work with yarn, the more you will learn about each brand's strengths and weaknesses. You can mix and match brands (I do in almost every project), just be aware that they will be different.  You can use cotton or wool, too, but those come with their own special challenges (I hate the way cotton feels when I stitch with it, and pills when it gets washed a lot, and wool has a tendency to felt when washed, and kids can be allergic to it, for example...).

You're really going to tell me about scissors, huh?

Yes. Get yourself a pair of sharp scissors, and hide them from your family. There is nothing more annoying then going to neatly snip off the ends of a piece of yarn and finding your scissors have left it a shreddy yarny mess. You can spend a LOT of money (more than I thought was possible, honestly) on a really quality pair of scissors, or you can be like me and just realize that you will have to replace your worn out scissors every year or so. My husband has been known to grab mine off the table to cut open a package and hand them back to me casually while I stare daggers at him, so expensive scissors that are going to abused are just not in my budget.

Bits and Pieces

Locking Stitch Markers
You can get these in any craft store by the crocheting/knitting notions. They come in a couple different varieties, but I recommend the kind that lock, so they don't accidentally slip out of place while you're working or when your child grabs your unfinished piece off the table and drags across the living room floor. They come in a package of about a dozen, so you will have more than you need. Make sure you are buying crochet markers, not knitting ones, because knitting markers will never work for crochet.

Tapestry Needle
This is used for weaving in your ends and sewing together your amigurumi pieces. I used to use the plastic needles because I liked the flexibility, but then I lost them and the store only had metal ones, so now I used metal. I don't really have super-strong feelings about this. Just make sure they're big enough that your yarn fits through the eye. I usually just pick the biggest one available.

A lot of my patterns call for "jingle bells or other rattle-y devices." At the request of one of my customers, I upgraded from standard jingle bells to child-safe plastic rattles. I get mine through American Felt and Craft on Etsy, and they're a little pricey (about a dollar each), but they will give your finished piece a really professional sounding rattle. I think they're worth it.

Safety Eyes
I prefer Darice safety eyes to all others. They come in a variety of sizes, and they lock together really well. I use 6mm, 9mm and 12mm the most often- check what size your pattern recommends before buying. If you are making a doll for a baby and are worried the eyes might come loose and create a choking hazard, save yourself the heartache and embroider the eyes instead. I have been making amigurumis for about 4 years and have never experienced eyes coming loose, so I feel comfortable with them, but you may feel differently.

Fiberfill Stuffing
So...I forgot to take a picture of this. I use Poly-Fil stuffing. One bag will last you through multiple projects.

Crochet Pattern
Did I mention I sell patterns in my Etsy shop? They're pretty affordable and created with the beginning crocheter in mind. You should try them out.

And that's about it. Like I said, you can get everything you need to get going with minimal investment. If you have ANY questions about my recommendations, or have some ideas of your own, please, please, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you!!

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