How to Filet Crochet: Inside & Outside the Box

Filet crochet is a technique of working a background of crocheted mesh, with open spaces that form a mesh or grid, and filling in specific spaces with stitches to make solid blocks. These blocks create pictures and patterns in your lace. Filet has a long and fine history rooted in decorative-thread crochet traditionally used for home items and as inserts for dainty undergarments and baby things. Fine is also the operative word for traditional filet gauges using size 20, 30, 50, or even size 80 thread, finer than modern sewing thread.

ABOVE: Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Take a traditional thread technique to new levels!

The beauty of filet crochet is in the simple, regular grid structure. Filet patterns are presented as charts resembling graph paper, with blocks left blank to represent open mesh spaces and blocks colored in, or marked with a dot, to represent filled mesh. For example, here’s the filet chart for the banner above, thirty blocks wide by nine blocks high:

filet crochet chart diagram

The chart reads from the right side. Since the crochet piece is worked back and forth, turned every row, you read the chart first in one direction, then the other (backward).

From Chart to Stitches

How a filet chart translates into actual stitches is the key to making filet work for your project but can be the source of aggravation. Traditionally, unless otherwise stated in the pattern, the standard stitch used is double crochet and the matching space is chain 2. The standard rule is that you always crochet the grid walls, which are shared between blocks. This means that when the pattern says it is a 4-stitch filet, an open or empty block equals (dc for the grid wall, ch 2 for the space, dc for the grid wall) and a filled or solid block equals (dc for the grid wall, 2 dc for the fill, dc for the grid wall), as shown in the key at left.

The concept of shared walls is often confusing for newbies. Technically, the crochet stitch repeat as it would be written in full crochet-speak instructions is three stitches for each block, not counting the shared wall. The stitch count for a filet piece will be the number of blocks times three, plus one extra edge stitch that closes up the last block. So, the grid walls are always worked with stitches, and there will be two stitches between the walls.

Some of you, like me, may not love working with thread. After I explain the basics of filet crochet, I’m going to tell you how to work filet in larger-gauge yarns. Th is will include working taller stitches, namely the treble crochet. For this reason, I’ve included the treble crochet option in the following directions.

Filet Crochet: Inside the Box

A piece of filet crochet traditionally begins with a regular chain foundation. Here’s how to work a standard 4-stitch dc mesh:

filet crochet chart diagram

If the first row of filet begins with an open mesh, then the foundation equals 3 chains for each block of filet plus 1 chain for the bottom of the edge stitch plus 3 chains for the height of a dc plus 2 chains for the first open space; for the first row, skip the first 8 chs from the hook, dc in the next ch for grid wall, continue with filet chart.

filet crochet chart diagram

If the first row of filet begins with filled blocks, then the foundation equals 3 chains for each block of filet plus 1 chain for the bottom of the edge stitch plus 3 chains for the height of a dc; for the first row, skip the first 4 chs from the hook, dc each of next 2 chs for fill, dc in next ch for grid wall, continue with filet chart.

In 4-stitch treble mesh, add one more chain to the foundation, then skip that extra chain before making the first stitch, substituting tr for dc in the filet chart.

For filet projects that begin with a complete row of filled blocks, I save myself the agony of working stitches in every chain across by doing the first row in chainless foundation stitches. In 4-stitch filet, the number of stitches equals 3 stitches for each filet block plus 1 edge stitch. For dc filet, use foundation double crochet (fdc, see Glossary); for tr filet, use foundation treble crochet (ftr, see Glossary).

Outside the Box: Lacets and Bars

A pretty little stitch combination that adds variety and lacy appeal to same-old, same-old filet blocks and mesh is the lacet and the accompanying bar, which looks like a gull wing or teeny web. The lacet and bar spans two blocks or meshes, omitting the grid wall in the middle (see Swatch 1, interior).

In 4-stitch dc filet, the lacet is (dc for the grid wall, ch 3, skip 2 sts, sc in next st, ch 3, skip 2 sts, dc for the grid wall).

filet crochet chart diagram

In 4-stitch dc filet, the bar is (dc for the grid wall, ch 5, skip 5 sts or the lacet of the previous row, dc for the grid wall).

filet crochet chart diagram

Note: A lacet below is always followed by a bar above so that the horizontal line is completed and ready for more filet.

For 4-stitch tr filet, expand the lacet ch 3 to ch 4 to compensate for the row height.

filet crochet Swatch 1. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Swatch 1. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Side Shaping Filet Crochet

Beyond straight-sided squares and rectangles, you can increase and decrease the edges of filet crochet rows to create endless shapes and configurations. The suggestions below are just some of the approaches to shaping; these methods are for the step-wise shaping of rows where whole blocks are added or omitted.

Note: Directions are written for 4-stitch dc mesh; in parentheses are the numbers or stitches for 4-stitch tr mesh.

Increasing Blocks in Filet Crochet

To increase one filled block equaling three stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 1, Row 4):

After completing the last st of a row, turn. Create a chain foundation for the added block plus the first stitch of the row by ch 6 (7); skip first 4 (5) ch from hook, dc (tr) in each of remaining 2 ch, dc (tr) in first dc (tr) of row, continue filet chart across.

To increase two filled blocks equaling six stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 1, Row 2):

Ch 9 (10), skip first 4 (5) ch from hook, dc (tr) in each of remaining 5 ch, dc (tr) in first dc (tr) of row, continue filet chart across.

To increase one filled block equaling three stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 1, Row 4):

This technique requires the use of taller extended stitches; fdc for dc filet; ftr for tr filet. The bottoms of the stitches lie down to create the base chains for the added row width, and the tops of the stitches stand up and match the row height.

Work filet chart across, placing last dc (tr) in 3rd (4th) ch of tch, fdc (ftr) in same ch, fdc (ftr) two more times.

To increase two filled blocks equaling six stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 1, Row 2):

Work filet chart across, placing last dc (tr) in 3rd (4th) ch of tch, fdc (ftr) in same ch, fdc (ftr) five more times.

Increasing Mesh

To increase one mesh equaling three stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 2, Row 4):

Ch 8 (9), skip 8 (9) chs just made, dc (tr) in first dc (tr) of row, continue filet chart across.

To increase two meshes equaling six stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 2, Row 2):

Ch 11 (12), skip first 8 (9) ch from hook, dc (tr) in next ch, ch 2, skip remaining 2 ch, dc (tr) in fi rst dc (tr) of row, continue filet chart across.

To increase one mesh equaling three stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 2, Row 4):

Work filet chart across, placing last dc (tr) in 3rd (4th) ch of tch, ch 2, dtr (yo 3 times) [trtr (yo 4 times)] in same ch.

To increase two meshes equaling six stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 2, Row 8):

Work filet chart across, placing last dc (tr) in 3rd (4th) ch of tch (or 6th [7th] ch if previous row was increased in mesh), ch 2, dtr (trtr) in same ch as last dc, ch 2, skip the loops at the bottom of stem of the dtr (trtr) just made, yo 3 (4) times, insert hook in forward 2 strands of stem just above that and complete a dtr (trtr).

filet crochet Swatch 2. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Swatch 2. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Decreasing Blocks or Mesh

To decrease one filled block or mesh equaling three stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 1, Row 7; Swatch 2, Row 7):

Sl st in first dc (tr), sl st in each of next 3 sts, ch 3 (4) to equal first st of row, skip same st as last sl st, continue filet chart across.

To decrease two filled blocks or mesh equaling six stitches at the beginning of a row (Swatch 1, Row 8; Swatch 2, Row 8):

Sl st in first dc (tr), sl st in each of next 6 sts, ch 3 (4) to equal first st of row, skip same st as last sl st, continue filet chart across.

To decrease one filled block or mesh equaling three stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 1, Row 7; Swatch 2, Row 7):

Work filet chart across, leaving last 3 sts unworked, turn.

To decrease two filled blocks or mesh equaling six stitches at the end of a row (Swatch 1, Row 8; Swatch 2, Row 8):

Work filet chart across, leaving last 6 sts unworked, turn.

Here are samples of lacets, bars, increasing and decreasing in blocks and mesh:

Interior Shaping

The grid-like nature of filet crochet lends itself brilliantly to interior shaping and thus to garment construction. There are myriad ways to create increases in filet stitch pattern; the simplest method is to add more stitches in one place to equal an additional block or mesh on either side of that place. Swatch 3 shows of a line of interior shaping that adds two mesh each row, worked in 4-stitch tr filet:

filet crochet Swatch 3. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Swatch 3. Photo by Sharon Zientara.

This is how the written instructions would appear for Swatch 3 (it’s no wonder filet crochet instructions are always given in chart form!).

1st Row: Ch 13, skip next 9 ch from hook, tr in next ch, ch 2, skip 2 ch, tr in last ch, turn—2 meshes.

2nd Row: Ch 6 (equals tr, ch 2), skip first tr and next 2 ch, 7 tr in next tr, skip next 2 ch, tr in next ch (4th ch of tch), turn—4 meshes.

3rd Row: Ch 6, skip first tr and next 2 ch, tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 tr (tr, ch 2) 3 times in next tr, skip next 2 tr, tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch, tr in 4th ch of tch, turn—6 meshes.

4th Row: Ch 6, skip first tr and next 2 ch, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 2 times, 7 tr in next tr, skip next 2 tr, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 2 times, tr in 4th ch of tch, turn—8 meshes.

5th Row: Ch 6, skip first tr and next 2 ch, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 2 times, tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 tr, (tr, ch 2) 3 times in next tr, skip next 2 tr, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 3 times, tr in 4th ch of tch, turn—10 meshes.

6th Row: Ch 6, skip first tr and next 2 ch, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 4 times, 7 tr in next tr, skip next 2 ch, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 4 times, tr in 4th ch of tch, turn—12 meshes.

7th Row: Ch 6, skip first tr and next 2 ch, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 4 times, tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 tr, (tr, ch 2) 3 times in next tr, skip next 2 tr, [tr in next tr, ch 2, skip next 2 ch] 5 times, tr in 4th ch of tch—14 meshes.

Exploded Filet

As one who struggles with tiny, tight gauges, I have been on a journey to make filet crochet work with thicker yarns. It hasn’t always been a journey of love.

To make filet that looks just like the picture in the chart, the goal is to crochet the blocks to be as square as possible. Each block should measure the same in width as in height. I understand this can be done in thread crochet using the traditional 4-stitch dc filet, since examples abound. You may also surmise that thread filet is forced to look so regularly square through serious blocking, pinning, and even starching to stay in shape.

For my first filet project (30 years ago), I wanted to make a blanket for my newborn son. I planned a soft little thing done in baby- or fingering-weight yarn, adorned with alphabet blocks each about six inches square. I would alternate letters with maybe pictures of toys. How hard could it be?

It was virtually impossible! Let’s say the gauge is 22 stitches per 4 inches, typical for baby-weight yarn or size 3 thread (CYCA #1 Super Fine) on an E/4 (3.5 mm) hook. This is the chart for an 11-by-11 mesh that should give me a piece that’s about 6 inches square:

filet crochet block letter D

First Trial

Here it is using 4-stitch dc filet:

Photo by Sharon Zientara.

The letter looks too squat and the block is not square. In yarn, using the traditional 4-stitch dc technique for filet meant my dc would never be the height of 3 stitches. I could not get the grid to be square no matter how tightly or loosely I worked.

Second Trial

A number of vintage patterns and stitch guides suggested an alternate 3-stitch dc mesh, with ch-1 for spaces and one dc for fills between the grid walls. I did not like how the ch-1 spaces nearly disappeared into the fabric, so I went with tight ch-2 for spaces, with one dc as the fill. Here’s the result, with the 4-stitch on top and the nontraditional 3-stitch below for comparison:

Photo by Sharon Zientara.

Indeed, the block is now perfectly square; however, the piece is too small, having two-thirds the stitch count!

Third Trial

Back with traditional 4-stitch dc mesh, I attempted to alter the chart, adding 6 rows to compensate for height. Here’s the chart (11 blocks wide by 17 blocks high), which is no longer square, and the resulting block, which is square but takes a lot more crocheting.

Photo by Sharon Zientara.

The entire ordeal made me feel stupid, like I didn’t know how to crochet. At that point I abandoned the filet idea and went with a motif blanket of stars and moons.

Fourth Trial

Some time later, I stumbled onto authors and designers who suggested that filet be done with treble crochet. Why hadn’t I thought of that? The Filet Love banner at the top of this post is worked in 4-stitch tr filet, with the open mesh as (tr for the grid wall, ch-2 for the space, tr for the grid wall), and the filled block as (tr for the grid wall, 2 tr for the fill, tr for the grid wall). Going back to the original D chart, it works well:

Photo by Sharon Zientara.

However, in order for my 4-stitch tr filet to be square, I am forced to make very compact tr and very relaxed ch-2 spaces, the opposite of my natural style. Also, my tight, tall stitches are “rangy”; they don’t fill in their solid blocks well and tend to tilt.

Fifth Trial

Even later I discovered extended crochet stitches. Here’s the original chart done in 4-stitch extended double crochet worked in my own natural style:

Photo by Sharon Zientara.

To my eye, this is a worthy compromise. The block isn’t quite square, but the meshes are nicely defined, the fills are fuller, and, best of all, I don’t need to change the way I crochet. If absolute square dimensions are not an issue with a project, this would be my choice for exploded-gauge yarn-based filet.

Naturally, you should use the stitches that work best for your yarn and tension to get the results you want. Once you’ve hit your magic formula for a square grid, you can confidently work any filet crochet chart, even your own designs, in any yarn and gauge. Just be aware that when you explode a filet chart intended for thread gauge, your finished project will be awesomely bigger than the thread sample. A design in size 30 thread with five blocks to the inch (60 sts per 4 inches!) will explode in my baby-yarn gauge to triple the size.

Happy Stitching!
Doris Chan

DORIS CHAN’s fascination (some might say obsession) with lace crochet is apparent in her many published designs and in her books Amazing Crochet Lace, Everyday Crochet, and Crochet Lace Innovations. Catch up with Doris at www.dorischancrochet.com and see the latest in her line, DJC Designs.

This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Fall 2012.

Learn more about filet crochet with this sweater!


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