Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Of Yarns, Hooks and Hands

When making crochet dolls, one of the most important parts is the yarn. While most doll patterns tell you that 'gauge isn't important' (and it's really not) - what IS important is that regardless of what gauge you're working at, all the parts and pieces should be of the same gauge (unless otherwise noted in that pattern). Your gauge is going to depend on your yarn, hook and hand.

Most of us tend to raid our stashes for the various colors we'll need for the all parts of the doll we're making and that's fine – but beware the downfall of stash raiders - not all yarns are the same.

When making dolls, you'll probably be using at least two colors (but usually three or more for each doll) and it's really important that you make sure all the yarns you choose are the same weight and hand. In my stash, I have yarns that run from tiny lace weight, up to bulky and super bulky. It doesn't matter if that sport weight yarn is JUST the right color, if all the other yarns you'll be using are worsted weight – that perfect color of sport weight yarn just won't work.

Whenever possible, use the same BRAND of yarn as well as the same weight. The 'Weight' of the yarn only refers to the ply count (worsted weight yarn is 10 ply where sport weight is 5 ply). Obviously the sport weight isn't going to give you the same scale as worsted, but just as important as the weight of the yarn, is what's called the 'HAND'.

All yarns have what we call 'hand'. This refers to the texture more than anything. A worsted weight yarn of one brand can have a firm hand while the same weight yarn of another brand will have a soft hand. Now you won't find this information marked on the label like you will weight, grams, yardage and recommended hook/needle sizes. Hand is something you just have to get a feel for … literally.

Firm handed yarns are generally rougher to the touch, only slightly stretchy, and don't 'crush' down as much. Soft handed yarns aren't as rough, are generally a bit stretchier and they crush down a good bit more when worked into a stitch. How do you tell the difference? I roll the yarn in between my fingers to get a feel for how much the yarn 'crushes' … and try to get yarns that feel the same.

You can take two yarns of the same worsted weight (one a firm hand the other a soft hand) and the same G hook, and make a basic gauge swatch of 20 stitches and 20 rows. The firm handed yarn will give you an overall swatch that will be bigger than the soft handed yarn. The reason - the soft handed yarn 'crushes down' more with each stitch.

When choosing yarns for your projects, try to find all your colors in the same brand and weight. What yarns you use is dependant on what's easily available in your area (for me, I always use RedHeart Super Saver). Craft yarns are generally a firmer hand, acrylic yarn and tend to work best for the dolls. The acrylic craft yarns are washable, durable and as a bonus, usually cheaper as well.

Whatever yarn you choose, just try to use the same make and brand of yarn in the various colors of your doll. This will help prevent the problems of the pieces being of the wrong proportions (if you use a different brand of yarn for the arms and legs than for the body, the arms and legs might come out too small or too large in proportion to the body).

What the yarn is made of makes a difference as well. If you're using a wool based yarn for most of the doll, and then an acrylic yarn for the arms and legs, your arms and legs may not match up in size proportionate to the body. Sometimes you have to experiment to find out what yarns will work well together.

If all you have is a DK weight, or sport weight of yarn... that's fine, just be sure to use that same weight/brand for the entire doll and you'll want to use a smaller hook as well. You'll end up with a smaller doll but as long as you have even proportions, it will look just as good.

Hooks are also critical to the overall size/proportion of the doll. You need to use the right sized hook for the yarn you're using. While most yarns recommend a certain size hook for that yarn (usually found on the label) you're probably going to want to go one or two sizes SMALLER than they recommend for your doll. The hook sizes on the label are generally for working with clothing or blankets – which usually work best with a slightly looser stitch to produce a fabric with motion and drape. Dolls however, really need a firmer stitch to create a tighter weave of your fabric so that your stuffing won't come through.

The most common weight/hook combination in crochet dolls is Worsted Weight (10 ply) yarn and either an F or G size hook. How do you know which hook to use? That depends on your individual 'tension'.

Everyone crochets a little differently. We hold the yarn differently, hold the hook differently, pull the stitches through differently – and all this results in different tensions. Tension basically refers to how loose or how tightly you make your stitches. As long as your tension, hook and choice of yarn result in an even and slightly 'firm' fabric you'll be ok. In general, if you aren't sure about a certain yarn and hook combination – make a swatch.

I make a quick swatch of 10 stitches by 10 rows. If the resulting piece is somewhat firm, even and square (or very nearly square) it's probably going to work up just fine. The fastest way to see if it's square is to fold it corner to corner. If all the sides match up fairly well into a triangle shape, you're good to go. Now, very gently stretch the swatch out in different directions – not too much, just a little - and hold it up to the light. If you don't see huge holes or gaps, you should be ok. If you do see large holes or gaps, try the next size smaller hook.

If I'm trying to figure out if a different brand of yarn will work with the other yarns I've chosen, I'll work up a swatch of each color/type. If all the swatches are the same size (or very very close) then it will usually work up ok. If just one or two of the swatches come out a bit larger than the others, I'll try the next hook size smaller on that color, and very often that will get all my swatches the same size. I just have to remember to use the different hook with those yarns when making the doll pieces. Experiment and you'll find what works for you.

As a side note to this, some of us (myself included) like to 'miniaturize' things. I love to take my existing patterns (designed for worsted weight yarn and a G hook) and make tiny versions from crochet thread. If you also like to do this, here's a tip: Use size 10 crochet thread and a size 7 steel hook. I've tried other thread/hook size combinations, and the one that works consistently with the 'standard' patterns is size 10 thread with a size 7 steel hook. Other hook/thread sizes make stitches that are too high or too wide, and the pieces come out oddly shaped.

I'm sure I've not covered all the questions and problems with yarns, hooks and hands here, so if you have a question that I didn't get to, post them below or email me at WolfDreamerOTH@gmail.com and I'll add it to this page.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


  • The stuffing is what makes the doll look like what you want it to.   Crochet is just the 'skin' of the doll...  by itself it has only a slight shape of what you want to end up with.  The stuffing is the 'muscle and bone'.   Always have more stuffing handy than what you think you will need.    As you stuff the doll,  don't just 'stuff'  - shape while you stuff.   If you need a round shape,  stuff it firmly till it's round.  You might need to 'massage' the piece to help the stuffing work in smoothly and to get the shape you need.
  • When stuffing,  don't just grab a wad and shove it in there.  Remove the stuffing from the bag,  pull it apart several times to 'loosen' the fibers and then add it to your piece.  As you're adding it,  move the stuffing material around to get the shape and density you're wanting... your crochet piece won't shape itself,  that's your job  :D
  • If you don't like how the shape is coming out,  pull out all the stuffing,  pull it apart from itself a few times to 'loosen' it again,  and start over.   It might be a pain in the butt,  but it can make all the difference in the world in your finished piece.
  • Choose your stuffing carefully.  Whenever possible,  use 'Low loft'  or 'medium loft'  (often called 'craft quality stuffing').    
  • 'Low Loft' stuffing is firmer and less 'cushy'  but it's much better for smaller pieces because it will conform to shapes faster and easier.    Low loft stuffing is also more effective when using a tool (the back of your hooks,  a knitting needle or chopstick/skewer to poke it into tiny places).   Low loft stuffing has longer individual fibers that will entangle with each other to give you the shape you need in tiny spaces.   The longer fibers don't tend to poke through the stitches of work as easily.
  • Low loft stuffing also has its drawback.  It tends to 'ball'  up,  or get clumpy.   This can give your finished piece a lumpy look.  If this starts to happen,  just remove the stuffing,  pull it apart to loosen the clumps and restuff until you get the desired look.  Adding your stuffing in slightly smaller 'batches'  and shaping it,  then adding more can be helpful.
  •  'High Loft'  or 'Ultra Loft' stuffing   has very short fibers which makes it very 'soft and cushy' and extremely 'huggable'.  This kind of stuffing is really good for stuffing pillows and large areas.  It's really best suited to use with tight woven fabrics.  It can be difficult when used with crochet work,  because the short fibers tend to poke through the gaps in between crochet stitches much more so than low loft.  
  • High loft has its drawbacks too.  While High Loft (or ultra loft)  doesn't clump like lower loft stuffing,  it takes a good bit more of it to get the 'firm' density you want for most stuffed dolls.   When working with smaller areas like necks or legs,  it's harder to 'poke in ' with a tool,  because there's none of the long fibers to use for resistance (your tool will tend to poke straight through it, making it harder to manipulate in small areas) -  and because you have to add so much of it to get the firmness you need for support in necks, arms and legs,  it can sometimes cause 'bulging' of the piece.
  • When stuffing a piece with a larger opening that will be sewn to another piece,  slightly 'overstuff' the open piece  (have a little stuffing bulging out of the opening).   You'll need this extra to make up for the slight gap between the two pieces.   Sometimes you'll want to sew the two pieces together 'almost' closed,  then poke in more stuffing to the small opening left to give the firmness you need for the support  (such as with necks, arms, legs,  etc) - then close up the rest of the opening - poking in what ever stuffing you need as you go.     This will help prevent the 'wobble neck' or weak joints that can plague you when making stuffed dolls.
  • When stuffing your pieces,  pay close attention to corners and other details.  If you have a 'nose'  worked into your piece - make sure the stuffing is getting into these design details so that your shape is correct for the piece.  This is where a chopstick comes in handy.  I use the 'flat' end for most work,  but sometimes the pointy end comes in very handy for tiny little crevices or little fingers/ears and other small details.   An old knitting needle with a nice flat 'stopper' end is great too.   Sometimes just the eye end of a yarn needle is all you need to poke in that teeny bit  into a finger or toe.
  • They DO make 'dark' stuffing material for use with darker fabrics.  These are awesome for use with black,  dark blue or other dark colored crochet pieces.  It is however, hard to find,  and usually costs more.  If you have it,  use it... if you don't - don't fret,  the white stuff works just fine,  just don't 'overstuff'.
  • If you can see the stuffing easily through your stitches,  you're overstuffing... OR you need to work your pieces in a size smaller hook.   If you normally crochet loosely,  you should consider going to a smaller hook size until you can get a fabric that's tight enough to take a firm stuff, without letting the stuffing show through.   Outside of that,  stuff a little less firmly,  until your stitches are staying true,  but not allowing the stuffing to show through too much.
  • You'll ALWAYS see some stuffing if you look close enough.   Don't beat yourself up over it.  If you have a nice looking piece,  and very LITTLE stuffing showing through... you're good to go!  :D

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Having a sale in my shops!

I'm having a sale in all three of my shops...   30% off of all patterns!

Zibbet and Ravelry shoppers,  your savings will be reflected at checkout.   For Etsy shoppers,  please enter this code at checkout:   AUG2010

The sale will run through the end of August 2011.

 Zibbet: http://www.zibbet.com/Wolf​DreamerOTH
Etsy: http://WolfDreamerOTH.etsy​.com/
Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/sto​res/linda-potts-designs
Here you'll find some hints, tips, and tricks to help you while making your dolls from patterns, or creating your own crochet designs. Affiliated with my pattern site WolfDreamer Off the Hook!, hopefully the two blogs together will help you with learning about designing, creating and perfecting your crochet doll making skills!

As I add pages, I will keep a list on the right hand side of the page with links to the various groups of tips (much like the pattern list on my sister site ) . As the list grows, you can find the information you need by scrolling the list for the topic you're interested in.

If you have a question about one of the many aspects of crochet doll making that you don't find help with here, email me at WolfDreamerOTH@gmail.com and I'll answer your question in email, and will add it to the topic page on the site!
I'll keep adding hints and tips here as I think of them, or as new questions get asked! If you have a question specifically about something that isn't answered here, email me at WolfDreamerOTH@gmail.com ... I will try to answer your question in email AND will add new information here as well :D