Tuesday, April 28

The Main Event: Knit vs. Crochet

There's no Main Event, of course.  Just happens to be the first topic I thought of, and coincidentally I was asked this very question just today by a West Coast relative who is also quite the DIM herself.

Plus, this is one area in the vast world of DIM-ing where I do actually have a split opinion.

The contenders?  Knitting vs. Crocheting.

The battle?  Not sure, actually.

Sometimes the question is, "Which is better?"

Sometimes, "Which is easier?"

"Which comes out nicer?"

"Which is faster?"

In certain camps, you will get a fixed and resolute answer to the countless questions, but from me you will get neither.  Just the kind of haughty wishy-washyness that could only come from someone decently versed in both.

(Full Disclosure:  In researching the answers of others prior to the reckless writing of this post, I occasionally encountered those who are similarly ambi-competent in these two yarn arts who will also cry useless with statements like, "It's hard to say," or "I can't really choose because I like both." Candidly speaking on behalf of such multi-talents, all I can say is that this is a lame cover for subversive bragging.)

But I shall give you a Fo' Real answer right now, and this answer applies to any knit vs. crochet question that can be concocted by the universe:

"Whichever one you're better at."

Anyone trying to learn one or the other should definitely learn a little about both and then go from there.  Anyone who feigns medium-to-extreme levels of expertise in one of the two fields should definitely learn a wee bit about the other.  'Coz I like to think of knitting and crocheting as closely related, just differing in technique, equipment, and end results.  Other than that, it's just your time-old tale of a craftsy-type person armed with a ball of yarn and plenty of time on their hands.

OK, so not to be like a total asshole, I intend on giving you more information than you will ever need to form your own opinions on that matter.


Weapon of Choice

Both use a stick in some fashion; crocheting uses one, knitting requires two. (Insert asterisk-mark-level comment here: each craft could go into the use of multiple "sticks" at any given time, but if you're reading this post, then such information exceeds your need-to-know status.)

Crochet employs a hand-length stick with a shallow hook at one end, and appropriately this item is commonly referred to as a "hook"; knit makes use of two "needles", both with tapered ends.

Needles and hooks can be composed of a variety of materials and can often be handmade; personally speaking, there are no dead-on-balls specific requirements for exactly how one should be constructed, as long as it gets the job done. Unless of course you're following a pattern, then using the "correct" needle for the job would best elicit your desired result. For the most part, any red-blooded crafter can walk on in to your local Craft Doodad store of choice to find needles/hooks made of aluminum, plastic, and wood.

Knitting needles come in a variety of sizes, ranked by number, starting from 1 and going all the way up to something under like 3000. I think the numbers do not exceed three digits, because it is usually embossed somewhere into the head of the needle, and it would be a stupid waste of space. Because knitting needles can vary in length depending on your project, these numbers represent the thickness of the needle. Girth, if you will.

To give you an idea, a Size 10 knitting needle is about the width of your standard ETS-approved #2 pencil. Gah, OK fine I just looked it up. Per Wikipedia, it looks like the needles go up to Size 25. There.

Most knitting needles that readily available to purchase are generally 13" in length. They also come shorter. They also come much shorter, but a plastic cord or wire might be attached to the end of both needles, connecting them like a useless jump-rope with two pointy things on each end, producing a siamese-needle type affect. Some even have points on both ends. Further discussion on these products is currently unavailable to the novice reader such as yourself.

In the world of the crochet hooks, most average about 6" in length and are scaled by letter, starting with the beginning of the alphabet. The common "entry-level" crochet stick is usually a "K". And according to other confusing systems of Crochet Hook Measure, "K" is also known as a "10.5". Yes. As in, "a value slightly more than ten." And yes, that is cross-applicable to the Knitting Needle Measure... which means the "K" crochet hook is just a smidge bigger than your everyday pencil. A full smidge. Amazing, right?! #associativeproperty #couldalsobetransitiveproperty

The basic shape of each type of needle is conducive to the most common motions in each art (a phrase that will only make more sense once you get down to the actual "doing" part.) In knitting, the smooth tapered point at the end is preferable because you'll be digging that thing in to the sometimes-miniscule space between the yarn and the other needle, and you'll later need to smoothly slide the yarn off said needle; in crochet, you need the hook to pull yarn through holes you made earlier, and the pointy-but-not-too-sharp tippy top of the hook to drive through the yarn-hole in the first place.

Could you make your own needles? Yes, you could. If you were lazy, cheap, curiously inventive, and/or bored. But again, back off for now, you nerd.

(And by the way, this does also mean you could knit with a pair of pencils, but you're getting way ahead of the class, so settle down.)


Any type of fiber in a long continuous strand will work for both of these art forms, but it is much preferable (and probably much more sanitary) to stick with natural or synethetic textile fibers sold in reputable stores. They will often be bound in a neat mass called a skein, or "a ball of yarn". Yarns come in a variety of sizes, textures, and colors. Choice here is a matter of preference, taste, and purpose. For example, if you have a shitty aesthetic, there's even a yarn for you.

Yarns are classed by a single digit number, 0 through 6, in an elaborate multi-tier system devised the International Conglomerate of Yarn Deciders (I'm not certain of the exact name) based on texture and "gauge". Textures range from "Lace" (0) up to "Super Bulky" (6). Your average homemade blanket by some nice old person is likely using a "Medium" (4) yarn. As for gauge... gauge is... better described elsewhere (like here, so read at your own leisure.)

Important Thing To Know/General Life Advice: "The Band"

In dealing with store-acquired yarn, always always always and occasionally always save The Band. The strip of paper affixed around the skein when you get a brand new ball. Unless you plan on using the yarn for a dumb doomed-to-fail Pinterest-inspired craft project, or you are a child who will be starting a really messy and eventually-ugly piece of "art" for your mommy, then NEVER discard The Band until you are abso-fucking-lutely done with whatever it is you're working on. Think of it with the same reverence you would regard the tag on your pillows. The Band is your font of very important information. Namely, the brand of the yarn. The exact name of the color of the yarn. These things are extremly importante when you are hoping to acquire more of the same exact yarn. Also, there's a thing called a "dye lot" (don't ask, just go.)

In a better analogy, it is like the who-knew-it-displayed-really-important-info sticker on a brand new car. So actually, think of your yarn more like a car, and less like a pillow.

In addition, the yarn class will also be printed on The Band, sanctioned by the aforementioned ICYD (again, not certain). You'll also find recommended needle sizes that best work with said yarn of said bulk and texture, as well as a gauge (somtimes even more than one) will also be provided by the manufacturer based on recommended needle sizes. It's a veritable explosion of information in tiny print that is always useful... as long as you still have The Band. Completely useless once you toss it in the trash. Completely, utterly useless.


The most general way to describe what happens in both knitting and crocheting is that you are either using one stick or two to manipulate yarn repeatedly in a regular fashion. That's it. With slightly more specificity: you're using the sticks to push and pull at the yarn, moving the yarn on and off the sticks, making loops.

Here is the Simple Person breakdown of each:

In crochet, you start with a hook in one hand, and the yarn in the other. You make a super simple slip knot around the top of the hook, then pull some yarn through that slip knot to make a new loop. Lather rinse repeat, always ending each step by pulling yarn through the hole (yes, THROUGH. THE. HOLE.) and ending up with a new loop on your hook. With this maneuver, you can make a long (or short) "chain". This chain is what comprises your first row.

You'll know you're doing it right because you can slide the loop off the hook, easily tug at the yarn, and the whole business will begin unravelling. That's how you'll know, coz you'll be screaming bloody murder as it starts sliding apart the first time you drop a crochet hook then accidentally yank on the yarn.

So the chain-thing you're only going to do once, just to make do Row 1. All subsequent rows will instead go like this: flip your entire project over so you can continue working in essentially the same direction always (right to left, for most peeps), making the same exact motions (motions that I will explain in the next paragraph, so shut up for a sec) ... where was I? Yes, making the same exact motions over and over 'til you reach the end of the row, then you'll turn the whole thing over again, and more lathering rinsing repeating follows.

"All subsequent rows"

So, I explained that the basic motion of making a chain stitch is starting with a loop on your hook and pulling yarn through it. This is the basic cornerstone upon which all crochet occurs. Except by "pulling yarn through it" I can better express this by using even more words, and very specific crochet-cognoscenti-approved phrases like, "with a loop remaining on your hook, wrap the free yarn from your other hand around the hook, and using the curved end of the hook, guide the yarn through the loop." Each time you do this (wrapping/pulling/ending up with one loop) you are creating the basic unit measure of all textiles: a stitch.

So... you got that part, right?

The only difference between doing all that stuff over and over again in the "chain stitch" (aka "Row 1") is that in all subsequent rows, you're using your crochet stick to —first!—make a hole somewhere in your chain, then wrap yarn around the hook and do the "pulling yarn through the loop" thing. You're doing this over and over again, with holes you make further and further down the chain until you reach the end of the row.

"make hole" + ("wrap yarn" + "pull through loop") = a stitch

Crochet basic math.

When things get more complicated or advanced (in intermediate-crochet-speak), all you're doing is simply increasing the number of times you wrap-yarn/pull-through-loop in each "stitch". (And YES, you might on occasion wrap the yarn twice. It's fucking crazy.) Depending on the number of times you're wrapping and pulling, you may be doing a single crochet, a double crochet, a triple crochet, and so on. Crochet employs a variety of stitches based on this naming convention.

But for all you Simple People, you're just repeating the crochet basic math I outlined above, over and over again. In the same direction until you reach the end of the row, flipping it over, then doing it again and again. Until whenever you decide you're done. Or bored.

In knit, instead of working with a single loop on one stick and adding more yarn (one loop at a time), here you're setting up a whole slew of loops on one stick all at once, then adding yarn to each stitch as you move each loop to the other stick (one loop at a time).

When you're knitting, the piece you're working on doesn't just lamely hang there off to the side while you crochet your way, back and forth across the top of it. No way, Hispanic Joe.

When you're knitting, all your work is constantly hanging down from one of the needles while you're using the other needle to pick at the yarn of each loop. You're essentially just moving each loop to the other needle one at a time (each loop-transfer is a stitch). And this is why you need two sticks for knitting. One stick, holding stitches; the other, picking at stitches. Bam.

At the end of each row in knitting, all the loops will (should) be on the other stick, so you flip the whole dang thing around and start over. (By "flip", I mean you're just swapping the needles from one hand to the other.) The needle that was empty in the previous row now has all your work hanging from it, and your now-empty needle is the one you'll be doing the picking with.

So let's back up to the very beginning. To begin knitting, you again are starting with a single slip knot on one needle, and the goal here is to line up a bunch of slip knots on one needle. The line of slip knots along one needle is your Row 1 here. And there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, some involving both needles, some involving only one needle (this method is especially challenging and demoralizing for amputees, as is this entire craft. But I digresss...), and sometimes this is even best accomplished with a crochet stick of all things. Anyhow, regardless of method, this step of producing your starter row of loops is known as "casting on".

Once you have cast on your desired number of loops, this is when you pick up the other needle, and officially begin using Stick #2. The basic motion of a knitter's stitch begins by sliding the pointy end of Stick #2 into the side of one of the loops on Stick #1—and yes, with two needles jammed into one loop at the same exact time, it occasionally gets damn toit up in here. Especially in the beginning. Fact of life.—then wrapping yarn over Stick #2 that you can pull out of this loop.

Yes. You're using a straight tapered point to maneuver yarn through a loop. And this stick doesn't even have a convenient hook on one end to make this task easier. WTF, right?

It is sorta counter intuitive, but it can be done, unfortunately. And even more unfortunately, it has been done. For eons. By many. Successfully. So quit hatin' on the game; hate on the game pieces.

The key to the maneuver is holding the sticks and the yarn at angles/heights/tension-levels that enable you to do this movement in relative, smooth ease. (And brace yourself, 'coz I haven't even finished. We're still mid-stitch here.)

The Second Half

SO. You've now teased a new loop of yarn through the hole with Stick #2. The second half of this move is to slide the loop that you just raped with yarn off of Stick #1.

I guess for all intents and purposes we can say I explained this incorrectly. I know I made it sound like the same loops are just moving back and forth in a slow parade of stick sliding. They're not. For lack of a better description at this moment: you're using each loop to yarn-rape, forming a new loop from the intercourse of fiber that now gets to live on Stick #2. And what about that first loop? No one cares about that bitch. (Kidding.) You simply pull it off of Stick #1. That's all.

Each and every loop on Stick #1 is getting used and discarded... to make new loops on Stick #2. Cruel, yes.

(ed. note: I realize that I will take so much shit for above explanation, but I would love to know if that explanation did not just make it easier to understand. And I am not trying to be glib, so if you can provide an-easy-to-understand alternative that any moron can follow, I will be happy to replace it.)

["impale loop with needle #2" + ("wrap yarn" + "pull through loop on needle #1")] + "slide original loop off needle #1" = one stitch on needle #2

Knitting basic math.

The variations for stitches in knitting will come from which direction you jammed the pointy end of Stick #2 into the loop, and yes, here too, there may be a time or two where you're wrapping yarn around the pointy end a couple of times. I've used the wordy phrasing "knitting stitches" or "stitches in knitting" because this next piece is important to know and might further confound you: there are two basic forms of stitches, and their names?

"Knit" and "Purl".

Way to be confusing, right?

Just to highlight, when you knit a stitch, you're raping that loop from the front, driving that needle towards the back; when you purl you're coming in through the rear, so the pointy end is aimed up at you. Shit proceeds to get more complex from there if you choose.

Armed with these two moves, a variety of textures can be created, depending on when and where you either knit or purl. Sure. You could just knit knit knit, back and forth. All the live long day. Vice versa. You could alternate a legit knit stitch all the way down one row, then purl your way back in the next row. The variations are endless and dizzying.


So now you should get the gist of both yarn arts. Lots of similarities. At the onset, however, it would seem that knitting is "harder", starting with the introduction of that damn second stick. With knitting—more so than crocheting—as you ascend the levels of ability, you'll discover that knitting at times involves a bevy of additional tools. Like those previously mentioned pointy-on-both-end needles, cable needles, row markers, etc.

Also to confuse matters more, there exists such an art often known as "Tunisian crochet" or "Afghan crochet", one or both of which names could be abjectly racist—unless of course, you're using aforementioned style to create a comfy blanket not to be referred to as an "afghan". #evenmoreconfusing—this style of crochet is like a naughty knit/crochet hybrid, crocheting your way across a row of loops in a orgy-esque variation of yarn-raping. It's pretty hardcore, and fully inappropriate for this rudimentary level of discourse.

Another item of consideration is that crochet technique tends to be limited to the way I (attempted to) describe above, with a single variation for left-handed or dyslexic folk. With knitting, while you also have the option of employing a similar mirrored version, there is also the choice of knitting in one of two styles, English or Continental, varying in where you are holding the ball o' yarn ("skein"). Again, simply a choice of preference, although this can be an additional boon for voracious Anglophiles.

Insert bullet points here

So without additional fanfare, I shall now rattle off a list of quick & dirty basic differences:

  • Crochet uses more yarn per stitch.
  • The end result of knit tends to be more fluid and "drapey" in texture.
  • The end result of crochet tends to bulkier and dense, making it great for warm-weather apparel or blankets.
  • Crochet is always reversible.
  • Knit is usually not reversible, unless you're following some fancy schmancy pattern that is meant to yield reversible results.
  • Knitting is discriminatory towards amputees, especially those who have endured uniform amputation in the upper torso.
  • Crochet sticks look an awful lot like your basic Tupperware orange peeler, particularly if you have bad eyesight and are standing at just the right (or wrong) distance. Ergo, your crochet hook can be quite handy during peak orange-eating season, especially if you are hampered by short fingernails, or have hangnails that will sting if touched by acidic liquids.
  • When you get comfortable with knitting at a relatively decent clip, by using aluminum needles you can create a pretty cool metallic swishy sound.
  • Even though both arts can be done pretty much anywhere—except, maybe, swimming—travelling with a skein and a single crochet stick is much easier.
  • In that same vein, crocheting is easier to accomplish when in tight spaces, like crowded subway cars, elevators, behind the driver's wheel of a compact sedan, etc.
  • In a pinch, a knitting needle can be used in lieu of a conductor's baton, especially in moments like a last-minute orchestral-related emergency. #lifehack.
  • As proven by classic literature, knitting is also a handy form of note-taking, specifically that of long lists of names, and especially if you have difficulty with memorization.
  • The crochet stick is less "threatening" than knitting needles in appearance, although both are now TSA-approved and currently permissible for air travel in carry-on luggage, as of this writing.
  • Knitting offers a vast-oh-so-vast array of patterns and stitches, which, when employed in concert, produce a large variety of finished textures.
  • Crochet gets boring faster.
  • Since crocheting requires the constant use of one hand, your movements can go interrupted if you have an itch or need to give someone the finger.
  • Also, knitting is better if you gravitate towards kinesthetically-beneficial and symmetrical body movement. Your chiropractor would say the exact same thing.

So there it is. My short-answer-longer opinion on this matter.

(And yeah, I know. It might sound like I'm saying that crocheting may come out ahead for a number of reasons. But I personally prefer knitting. I think it makes me look cool.)

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