Here’s how to secure your work temporarily when you have to put it down, how to finish off your project securely, and what to do with those pesky ends.
Note: Thanks to Barbara, Lil, and Winnie for giving me the scoop on using this slip knot to secure my work.
Sometimes it is not possible to sit down and create something from start to finish in one sitting. You have to put your work aside and cook dinner, or bring the kids to soccer, or get that load of clothes from the washer to the dryer, or any one of dozens of other things. We all have lives outside of crochet.
Have you ever left a project, only to find it followed you? I have! On numerous occasions I put down my hook and yarn, which has inexplicably wrapped around the strap of my shoe, and people start yelling "your yarn!" Looking down I see a long trail of yarn that has followed me down the hall or to the kitchen. Sometimes the hook even stays in it and it clomps along next to me. I have hearing loss, so I don't hear that clomping. LOL In any case, sometimes I lose some of that hard earned work.
I used to put a safety pin or stitch holder or paperclip or something to hold the stitch, but now I almost exclusively use Lil's Knot, which is essentially a slip knot, to keep my yarn behaving. I learned this technique from Barbara, who learned it from Winnie, who learned it from Lil, so I have called it Lil's Knot. See how crochet is a sharing affair? This method may not prevent your work from following you though!
You just made the last stitch in the last row of your project. Hooray! To finish off, all you have to do is cut your yarn, making sure to leave a LONG TAIL, yarn over, and pull it all the way through. This keeps it from unraveling. Then, you’ll weave the long tail back into your work.
Here’s how NOT to do it: Do NOT knot and cut your yarn, leaving a tiny piece which is not long enough to sew in. Here are a couple of pics to demonstrate the incorrect method.
Why do we not like knots?
First you should understand what I don't mean by knotting. I don't mean the finish-off that I described above, or loosely tying two pieces together when you've joined a new skein of yarn, to hold them together temporarily while you continue working, then weaving in each of the long tails in later. If you are making a project for donation to a charity and are not sure what your particular group means when they say knotting, ASK, because some groups have strict rules about knotting and you want to be clear on this as you want your hard work to be used.
What I do mean by knotting is tying your two strands together tightly and/or then tying them again. Or tying your single strand into a knot. In either case, if you cut the strand right after the knot, this is bad, bad, bad. Whether you choose to tie, leave a long strand and weave it in, or you choose not to tie and weave your long tails in, I won't cause a fuss. There is a lot of controversy about which is best so you have to do what you feel is right. But please do not knot and then cut right there because that just won't work. Your lovely work will come undone. I believe that right and wrong is a blurred line in most things crochet - if it works for you, it is okay. But some things are wrong at the core because they will not give you a quality finished product that will bring pleasure to you or the recipient for many years.
Knotting and cutting at the knot is one of these. Knotting and leaving a 1" piece of yarn is another. ALWAYS, always leave a long tail as noted above.
But WHY? Why is this bad, you want to know? Here's why.
1) They can pull apart, before, after, or during a washing -- no matter how tightly you think you've tied them. I've had squares come apart while assembling an afghan of donated squares.
2) If you did tie them tightly, this can weaken the strand and it may break. I have also seen this when, in order to save the square, I've tried to sew in strands that have been knotted. If you pull too tightly on them the yarn breaks. You can see this yourself if you pull tightly on yarn. Some kinds are more susceptible to breaking than others, of course.
3) It creates a bump that you can feel. This is actually painful to sensitive skin (cancer patients and preemies for example) and even if you do not have sensitive skin it is not good to feel that hard bump in an otherwise soft, smooth piece.
4) Knots are hard to crochet over, particular in adding to a piece (for example, a charity assembler adding an edging to a square) or joining squares or strips or clothing pieces.
5) After washing, the tip of the sewn in tail sometimes pokes out and can be clipped if you have sewn in a long strand. In the case of two ends that have been knotted, occasionally the section where the knot is will come out. This is next to impossible to sew back in, because there is no "open" segment to thread.
The preferred, professional method of finishing is to weave in long tails.
Why do I have to leave long ends?
There are several reasons that I, and other experienced crocheters, suggest leaving long ends. Dee Stanziano, of Crochet with Dee, put these into list form for us. I have received permission to share them with you in my own words.
1. The more you weave in, the less chance your afghan/sweater or whatever will later come apart. (added note: some folks like to weave a few inches and one direction and then head back in the other direction for extra stability.)
2. If you left a long tail at the beginning of your foundation chain, and you find you made too few, you can make more chains with the beginning long strand. As Dee says, "it's a plug on amazing "fudge-ability" crochet has to offer over knitting".
3. In later years if a hole develops or repair is needed, the crocheter can use that long tail to make the repair, matching the fiber and color exactly.
Amy Ries also gives some insight into why the long ends (reprinted with permission) from the viewpoint of an assembler joining squares.
Assembling is like building a house of cards. You make a square with a certain yarn, a certain tension, a certain pattern. Several other people also make squares with a different yarn, a different tension, a different pattern. Then I [the assembler] come along and add yet another card to the tower with my yarn and a joining method. It creates stress on your square that wouldn't normally happen if you just made a stack of squares yourself and joined them all together. I've seen the best intentioned squares unravel, and it's horrible to have it happen once the ghan is complete. That's why I say that making a complete ghan is your chance at individuality. Making squares is all of us coming together making something as similar as possible. That's why there are rules about squares. Not to cramp your style, just to make sure we create something that will last. If your square comes to me with a problem, it takes me extra time to fix it. That adds up to less ghans that I'll have time to assemble.
Those Pesky Ends
When you begin a project, you make a slip knot, leaving a longish tail. I suggest at least 6". My friend Pam suggested leaving the length from your wrist to the top of your middle finger. I think that's a great idea! Just fyi, that length on me is 6 1/2". Here’s what to do with that end, the tail you'll have at the end of your work after finishing off, and any of those that show up in between.
Here is a video demonstration on how to take care of those pesky ends.
Moving on to the other kind of ends. You have finished that beautiful, beautiful afghan. You have crocheted the last row and finished off. Oh, it took soooo long but it really came out great! Dad (Mom, Hubby, Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Brother, Sister, Friend, Boss...) are going to LOVE it! But wait, what's that? You didn't sew in the ends? Bummer. Then you are not finished and depending on your pattern, you may have just a few, or a whole lot of ends to sew in which may take an hour or two to a few days to take care of. If you are working on a project with a deadline - don't forget to account for time to sew in the ends and do the edging etc. This will sometimes take several days if you have limited time for crocheting.
Here are some generalities about taking care of those pesky ends.
First, when you are getting near the end of your project and you have not taken time to sew in your ends, start being really nice to everyone in the house who can hold a needle. Fill the house with cookies, their favorite dishes, sleepover guests, whatever makes them happy. Then look very sad and sigh a lot. They will want to know why you are doing this and you, of course, will note that you have all these ends to sew in. If only you were 2 people, or 3 or 4, it could be done so quickly. :-) Okay, that probably won't work, but sometimes you might be able to get a child, usually a daughter, who might have pity on you and give you a hand. Don't count on it though. LOL
Seriously now - a few points:
1) When you sew in your ends, please try to make it as invisible as you can. The invisibility factor may be a tough one - especially if you are using variegated yarn. Sometimes it is nigh on impossible. Just do the best you can.
2) Sew ends in on the wrong side of your work. That makes it easy for you to make sure you did them all and none are sticking up after washing, and it also makes for a nicer, finished look when displayed with the right side showing.
3) Don't just sit your white yarn on top of your navy blue yarn and think no one will notice. Take the time to go up a row or find some way to hide that yarn. Make sure it is SECURE.
4) I am a believer in leaving super long ends (6" or longer) and sewing in as much of them as possible (go in one direction, turn around and go back in the other). I keep my afghans a long time and I want others to enjoy theirs for a long time as well. Remember that people who do not crochet will still wash their afghans and little pieces may stick out every now and then. If they clip the pieces and you only left a small strand, soon there will be little left and it may come apart.
As noted above, Pam Wingard recently commented that the length from your wrist to the end of your middle finger is long enough. I loved that explanation. So easy. Most everyone has a wrist and fingers so if your ruler is not handy, it's a fine measurement. Thanks to Pam for that tip. (Note: Pam coordinates Love Afghans for Pine Ridge Reservation, a very worthy charity effort benefitting Native Americans.)
5) Pay attention to the way your fabric stretches. Beth Ham suggests you "mimic the stitch" as you are weaving in for a few stitches in this video.
6) Also, don't sew over two strands at once, because it gives a bulky look and ruins that pretty piece you just finished. If you want to sew over both ends, then you might sew over one of the strands and then bring the other one up to the next row or round, and sew over it there. You would thread the second end, weave it through the stitch above it and then lay it across the row or round you are currently working on. The exception to this might be in working tapestry crochet.
7) When I talk about threading the needle here, I am talking about the long, rather thick needle - I like the steel #16, 2" needles. I keep a pack in my crochet bag. The ones I have in there now say Susan Bates, 2", 5cm, No. 16. I find these are not too sharp and just long enough. That doesn't mean you can't like a different kind or size. That's just what I use. I am always losing them so I have several Chibi containers and others in my crochet arsenal.
8) Don't pull too tightly as you weave or your work may pucker.
Here are the different methods I have used to hide those ends. Why are there so many methods to do these things, you ask? It's because no one can agree on which is the right method so, in fairness, I feel I must allow you to see all those I know and make up your own mind.
Method 1 The experts (people smarter than me) usually suggest you go a few inches in one direction and then weave back in the other direction. In this case, you thread the needles and work your yarn through the center of your stitches in one direction. Then turn around and go back in the opposite direction - be sure you are not undoing what you just did. You might go around a stitch. One organization calls this the S method and has you go back and forth along the same horizontal row three times. I will sometimes go up or down(to the row above or below) through a stitch and then go back the other way.
Here's a little bit different view.
Some of you will notice that the pink and white afghan is upside down. Sometimes I do sew my ends with my work upside down as I prefer to sew right to left. (That may be strange. I really don't know as I've always had that preference.) You do it whichever way is the easiest.
At this point, I turned my work around so that the previous top was on the bottom.
See that strand on the far left in the picture. That is the second strand from the joining. It just happened in this case that I had a knot in the yarn and had to clip and join in the same color here. I left that piece in the picture so you could see how far I went in both directions. In the second picture, can you tell where the yarn was sewn in?
Method 2 (variation of Method 1) Thread your needle and go up and down a few stitches, rather than left to right or right to left.
Just keep going up and down through the stitches until you've gone through a bunch of them.
Method 3 This is for those of you who want to get rid of some of those ends as you go.
Joining and end tails go hand in hand so to speak. In this view, you take the yarn that matches the color of the row you are going to be working on (very important) and pull it up and to the left,laying it over the work between chain-1 and the first stitch.
Place your hook in your stitch, going under that strand you just pulled up. Sew over it for a few stitches (say 3) and then thread your needle as noted before. Insert your needle behind the front loop of the next stitch, and come out the bottom. Continue in that manner for about 4". I like to do several stitches at once, inserting my needle over and under several front loops at a time and then pulling through. When I've gone far enough, then I clip the thread and stretch the piece just slightly so that the end goes into the fabric. (You may choose to go down and up each stitch individually, which is fine.) Then I go back and pick up my crochet hook and continue to work the pattern, going through both front and back loops and working over those woven in ends. The ends are invisible - if it is done with same color strand - and tucked firmly into place.
Here are the steps in pictures:
Step 1: Insert needle, top to bottom, through front loop.
Step 2: Two ways to go here - either bring needle through several front loops at a time, or go through each one individually, bringing needle down and up through each one.
Step 3: If you have done several at a time, then gently pull yarn strand through, being careful not to stretch it too much.
Step 4: Go back to the where you were before you began sewing and work your pattern stitches over both front and back loops. (It shows here because I used a contrasting yarn so you could see what I was doing.)
Here is an example using same color yarn and single crochet stitches.
That is one method of taking care of those "pesky ends" if you want to do it as you go along instead of at the end when you have finished your project and go, whoa. Well, even if you only do some of your strands as you go along, you'll have less of a challenge in front of you as you work to finish that project. Obviously when you join yarn there are going to be two strands - one will match the last row, and one will match the upcoming row. When you do that second strand you can weave it up and do the same with it.
Method 4: Another means of crocheting over ends as you go -Lay your strands over the top of your stitches, sort of angling them down a bit so they are well covered, and continue crocheting.
Method 5: Also crocheting as you go - Weave your strand in and out of the front or back loop of the stitches on the row you've just finished. Then you will crochet over them as you make the stitches for the next row. This gives you double protection and is better than just laying them over, but does take a few extra seconds to do.
Of course, after you've finished each of these, I am sure you realize you must clip the yarn. I usually wash my afghans when I've completely finished them. Then after they come out of the dryer (low heat), I check for any ends that are poking out and clip those. Then I feel good about giving it away. :-)
Method 6: Beth Ham has a unique method of sewing over tails in the granny square. She has a video at YouTube so I will just let her demonstrate this method to you. YouTube is a wonderful place to find videos demonstrating various crochet ideas. Beth has a great number of them as does Teresa at the Art of Crochet.