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.