Get Out Your Steel Crochet Hooks! Learn to Love Laceweight Yarn
Have you been itching to make that gorgeous lacy design you saw in the latest issue of Interweave Crochet? But then, you looked at the yarn and saw the little yarn-weight ball with the zero on it: Lace! How will you ever finish a project in laceweight yarn?
At first glance, a project calling for such fine yarn and maybe even one of those scary little steel hooks (affiliate link) can be intimidating. But if you take a moment to examine the pattern and design, you may find that it is not beyond your abilities. You could even consider a laceweight project a welcome challenge—a chance to build your skills and expand your crochet horizons. All you need is a little education and encouragement to venture into the lovely world of this delicate yarn. Who knows? You might come to love working with laceweight.
What Is Laceweight Yarn?
Laceweight yarn has a gauge of 32 to 42 double crochets over 4 inches of work, according to Craft Yarn Council (CYC) standards. The gauge varies according to the hook size, which can range from size 8 (1.4 mm) steel to size D (3 mm) standard, although larger hooks may be used to create an airier garment.
Laceweight may appear a bit more like thread than yarn, but it has a good deal more body and heft than thread. Laceweight yarns are much softer and more pliable than crochet cotton, and they are incomparable for delicacy and drape in the finished fabric. They are available in countless fiber blends, textures, and colors. The level of detail that can be achieved at this fine gauge is phenomenal.
Steel Crochet Hooks
Now, about that scary, tiny steel hook. Despite the name, steel hooks are not lethal weapons. Specifically developed for use with thin yarn, hooks of such a fine gauge need to be made of strong material to keep them from bending. The numbering system for these hooks is different from that of their larger counterparts. For instance, steel size 8 (1.4 mm) distinguishes itself from the standard size H/8 (5 mm); the larger the number in U.S. steel sizes, the smaller the hook. It’s just the opposite of standard hook sizes (though the millimeter sizing reliably reflects diminishing sizes).
The steel hook has the same shape and serves the same purpose as any of the other hooks in your toolbox, though the handle may be narrower. Many crocheters find it helpful to make the steel hook handle a little larger and easier to grasp. Slip-on grips, similar to pencil grips, are available, as are ergonomic handles into which you can slide the hook. Some hooks are designed with a larger handle. You can make a larger handle out of polymer clay, felted wool, or even a foam hair curler and duct tape. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just comfortable in your hand.
A finished laceweight project often appears complicated and intricate, but the actual pattern and process is made up of the same stitches that you use in heavier-weight yarn. Because the yarn is so fine and the stitches are so small, it is possible to include many stitches in an inch of work, which allows beautiful detail not possible with heavier yarn.
Many laceweight patterns are charted with symbols as well as written out; this visual reference helps to show the overall pattern. Before launching into the laceweight project, practice the pattern with DK or worsted-weight yarn and an appropriate hook size. Once you have familiarized yourself with the pattern on a larger scale, it is much easier to see how all those little details come together to form the design. You will be able to see exactly where to insert your hook or how those clusters are constructed; the confidence to try the design with the tiny yarn and hook will soon follow. (Also, after seeing the stitch pattern in the heavier yarn, you may decide the heavier-weight sample would make a lovely design for a different day.)
Once you have developed a sense of what gauge change can do, you will see that very simple stitch patterns can look quite spectacular when worked in miniature; let the delicacy of the yarn do the work for you. The result is simple but stunning.
The sheer number of stitches in a laceweight project can be intimidating. Even a skinny scarf in laceweight can feel like a long-term commitment when you think of all those tiny stitches. But many lace patterns are repetitive and easy to memorize, making it possible to speed along a row without constantly referring to a pattern or chart. So, although a laceweight project might not be ideal for a movie theater, it might be great to work on while chatting with your crochet group. You could break a project of great scope into daily segments. You could also keep on hand another project in a larger gauge for an “instant gratification” break. Whatever method works best for you, just remember that this gorgeous lace is absolutely worth the effort.
Blocking Crochet Lace
The lacy fabric in progress can look more like a used tissue than the lovely lace in the photograph. The reasons for the limp-rag syndrome can vary: Some crocheters are hesitant to work with as much tension as usual for fear of breaking the yarn; multiple hook insertions can lead to sloppy-looking holes; sometimes the yarn slips on the slippery steel hook and the stitch just doesn’t turn out right. Often, there is no fault on the part of the crocheter; the laceweight simply needs to be blocked to show its shape.
Whatever the challenge, blocking the fabric when finished will transform the used tissue into lace. To block, fill a basin with cool water and submerge the project, letting the fibers soak for a few minutes. Resist the urge to squeeze it in the water. Just let the fabric float as irregularities smooth away and the fibers fluff up, minimizing holes or inconsistent stitches. Drain the water, gently squeeze out the excess (never wring it), and roll it jellyroll–style in a towel to remove most of the saturation. Lay the piece on a flat surface and shape it to the desired measurements; some designs also benefit from being pinned into place while drying. Voilà! Lovely lace.
It feels good to complete a crochet project of any kind. Completing a laceweight project feels better than good—it’s euphoric, knowing you can handle designs more satisfying and challenging than you ever thought you could.
—Tracy St. John
Tracy St. John lives in Montana, where she has finally perfected the art of crocheting while riding the stationary bike without tangling the yarn in the pedals. This article first appeared in Interweave Crochet Summer 2009.
Featured Image: These delicate, lacy shawls—Margo Shawlette by Kathryn White and Delicate Fans Shawlette by Anastasia Popova—are made with steel crochet hooks and laceweight yarn. Photo by Harper Point Photography
Crochet Lace for All Seasons!