First, what is filet crochet? Simply put, it is a series of blocks, some solid (filled in) or open (not filled in). A block is made using a tall stitch, generally double crochet though sometimes triple crochet, and chains. If you change the stitch used in your pattern, you will change the look of your picture. If the block is open or empty it is called a mesh. If it is filled or solid, it is called a block although I have seen some sites using the term "solid mesh" and some places just say "square" or "space". Don't get hung up on terminology.
There are different ways you can create your blocks. One is by using a (dc, ch 1, sk 1, dc) which is called a 3-dc mesh, and the other is the (dc, ch 2, sk 2, dc) which is called the 4-dc mesh. They are named as such because when you fill in the mesh you will have either 3 or 4 dc in a single block.
What may or may not be immediately obvious to you is that if you have blocks next to one another, they will share sides. So in a mesh of (dc, ch 2, sk 2, dc) the ending dc is the beginning dc of the next block. Sound confusing? It is, until you get used to the idea.
To fill in a block, you would work either, (dc, dc, dc, dc) in a 4-dc mesh to make a closed or solid block. You would work (dc, dc, dc) in a 3-dc mesh to make a closed or solid block.
Sounds simple enough, right? So if you can design a picture using blocks, you should be able to create a filet crochet design. I might mention that you could use a cross-stitch design to make filet crochet. Instead of making an "x" on fabric, you would just crochet a solid block where the x would be and open mesh where there is no x or vice versa. Your picture can be made by either the open or the closed blocks. As long as YOU understand which way you want to do it, it's fine. I find it personally easier to "see" my design if I use x's to make the design. This is probably not the way you will see most charts done. I would think it more intuitive to consider the block where the "x" is to be filled in. A nice afghan pattern might be to do half the blocks with the picture made by the spaces, and the other half with the picture made by the solid blocks.
When you are crocheting, you work one row and then you turn. Well, most of the time. You do the same thing with your filet work, unless your pattern says otherwise. So when you read a filet chart, you will read from left to right sometimes, and from right to left sometimes.
If you are right-handed, the first and all ODD rows (right side or front side) are worked right to left, and the second row and all EVEN rows (wrong side or back side) are worked left to right. The foundation chain does NOT count as a row. Therefore, it is important to know what row you are on unless your design is symmetrical - the same on both sides of the center.
Let's repeat that: ODD ROWS - read right to left EVEN ROWS - read left to right
If you are left-handed, you will do the reverse, with odd rows left to right, even rows right to to left.
Here’s a video tutorial, followed by text instructions.
If you’d like to work an actual project, this six-video series will walk you through creating a pink ribbon square with me, for breast cancer awareness. This chart is available in the pattern section of Crochet Cabana, with the Cancer Ribbon afghan pattern.
Here is another video demonstrating filet in a single video using a picture of a fleur de lis designed by my daughter. The video only covers the first few rows but pattern chart is available in the pattern section here under Kate Smith.
Let's say that the following table is your design. It is 7 blocks wide and 5 high.
Before you begin to work, you need to figure out your foundation chain.
But before you do that, you have to decide if you are going to do a 3-dc mesh or a 4-dc mesh. You can work any pattern in any mesh, but it may look different depending on your choice. Besides the width of your blocks, you have to consider the height, which might change the look of your pattern. Some might work better with one or the other.
You will work from bottom to top on most things. You CAN work in any direction you want, but of course if you start at the top your stitches will be upside down. If you work from the side, your stitches will also form in a different direction. This will probably not matter to the casual viewer as long as you can tell what the picture is.
Looking at the design above (which is a symmetrical design), if we are working it in 3-dc mesh you might think 7 x 3 = 21. So I would chain 21, right? Wrong. Remember that each box shares a side. Fine. Let's multiply 7 x 2. 14. That will do it, right? Wrong again. You forgot the first post of the first mesh or block. Every mesh has 2 posts or dcs for itself and shares one. So you have the right idea with the 2. But when you get to the first one, you need to account for that last side with your beginning chains. Then, if your first block is going to be an open mesh, you also need an extra 1 for the top chain.
So to figure your foundation chain: 7 x 2 + tch (3 if solid, 4 if open) = 17, 18 (go into the 4th chain for a closed block, and 6th chain for an open mesh)
You can also look at it as 7 x 2 + tch3 + 1 for the top if you're working open mesh = 18
fch 1st block solid
fch 1st block open
into the foundation chain 1st block open
into the foundation chain 1st block solid
blocks x 2 + 3
blocks x 2 + 4 (tch)
6 (1 bottom, 1 top, 3 side)
blocks x 3 + 3
blocks x 3 + 5 (tch)
8 (2 bottom, 2 top, 3 side)
Here is a picture of the first row for the project above. To detail it, chains 18, 17, and 16 would make up a mesh. But #16 is also part of the next mesh. So 16, 15, and 14 make up a mesh and so on.
Block 7 - 18, 17, 16 Block 6 - 16, 15, 14 Block 5 - 14, 13, 12 Block 4 - closed block, 12, 11, 10 Block 3 - 10, 9, 8 Block 2 - 8, 7, 6 Block 1 - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (1 and 5 are the top and bottom of your open mesh, 2, 3 and 4 make up the first "dc" of the mesh)
Let's look at a 4-dc mesh. We've already gone through the process above, so you know that 7 x 4 is wrong because each box shares a side. 7 x 3 is also wrong because of the first post needed to complete the first open mesh. Every block or mesh has 3 stitches for itself and shares an additional one, plus you have extra stitches at the top and bottom of the mesh.
So to figure your foundation chain: 7 x 3 + tch (3 if solid, 5 if open) = 24 or 26, (go into the 4th chain for a closed block, and 8th chain for an open mesh)
You could look at this also as 7 x 3 + tch3 + 2 (for your top chains if it is open).
As noted, for the 4-dc mesh, with open mesh as your first block, ch 26, dc in 8th chain from hook. Why do I want you to go into the 8th chain from hook? You need an open block. So your end stitch has to have 2 chains on the bottom, 2 chains on the top, and a post to the right made up of 3 chains to act as your first dc. That's 7. You're going INTO the 8th chain, so that leaves 7. Understand? No? Hopefully, if you don't get it yet, you will after you make it. So chain 26. Go into the 8th chain from hook.
It is just a coincidence that there are 7 blocks on this row and also 7 chains on the first mesh. Don't get hung up on that. Note: If you normally work a ch-2 for your turning chains in double crochet, you might want to work 6 chains instead of 7.
Another important point is to keep in mind the materials you are using. If you are using fine crochet thread your piece will be small. But if you make that same design using worsted weight yarn, it will be much larger. I'm saying MUCH larger. For example, a pattern might say to ch 73. It would also normally give a hook size and suggested yarn or thread.
Here's a picture made using a lighthouse bookmarker pattern. The one on the left is worked with #10 crochet cotton and a 2mm hook. The one on the right is worked in Caron Wintuk worsted weight yarn and an H hook. Don't know if you can read the measure but the smaller one is about 9" and the larger one just shy of 20", a tad over twice the size of the other one.
The lighthouse bookmark by Lee Mathewson is at her web site, hugg'ems collectables. It's a great intermediate project. The instructions are clear and detailed with pictures and diagrams.
Below is a Q&A with things I've learned while working some filet crochet pieces.
My Filet Crochet FAQ:
Q: This graph is so small I can hardly see it. A: Enlarge it. Some copy machines allow you to increase or decrease the size of the item you're copying. If the picture is in your computer, you can use a program like Paint Shop Pro to enlarge it. Remember that this is for your own personal use. You can't change the pic and then say it's yours or post it somewhere changed. That picture belongs to the designer. But for your own use as you work the pattern, you can print up a larger copy. (I am not a lawyer. This is just my opinion.)
Q: I keep losing my place in the graph. A: Notice what is on the row below. When you see you have to work a certain number of open spaces, look to see where the open spaces end. Is it one space before a group of solid mesh on the previous row? It can help you keep track of what you're doing. Be sure you are looking at your project from the correct side when you do this. Remember that each row goes in a different direction.
You can also print out the graph and use a highlighter to mark off the rows as you do them. I find that if I use two colors and alternate these with every row, I can keep track pretty well.
Another option is to use a piece of paper, like a post-it and place it along the rows as you finish them. Don't forget to go right to left on odd rows and left to right on even rows! You might consider numbering the rows so you can tell at a glance if it is an odd or even row.
Q: This is not coming out right. I am so frustrated. A: It takes time to learn something new. Perhaps you are forgetting that each mesh has a side in common. In other words 5 dc is two solid blocks in a 3dc mesh pattern because the middle dc counts for each one of the blocks. This makes a huge difference in your counting process. If you are working solids over a row of open mesh, you can use the open mesh to help you count. IMHO, the first row is the hardest because you have nothing to judge it by.
Here's a tip -If you are working many solid blocks in a row, you can use the same method of figuring your foundation chain to figure how many dcs you need to make. If you need 6 solid blocks in a 3-dc mesh piece, then you multiply 6 x 2 + 1. You will need 13 dcs to work 6 solid mesh along your row.
Q: This looks terrible. The stitches are all misshapen. A: If you are working with thread for the first time (or yarn for the first time) your tension may be off. It takes a while to get the hang of keeping the thin thread tight in a new medium.
Q: Ack! My 7" bookmark is two feet long! A: You either totally miscounted or you're using a different material than what is called for in the pattern. That is okay, but your work won't be the same if you use different, and not equal, material. If it calls for #10 thread and a 1.5mm hook, but you use worsted weight crochet cotton and an H hook, it will be larger. If you use chunky yarn and an N hook, even larger. If it's a picture it may not look quite right because the proportions may be wrong. Think of a picture you are working on in the computer. When I want to resize a picture I have to hold down the shift key to keep the proportions the same. If I don't, it looks off. Short and fat, or tall and skinny. Your filet project MIGHT look just fine, or it might not. Just know that if you want your piece to come out the same as the pattern you're using, you should check gauge, and use the materials suggested. It is quite possible you could substitute a similar weight and drape material, but if size is important to you, check gauge.
Q: This doesn't look at all like the picture! A: Odd rows are worked right to left. Even rows are worked left to right. An easier way to remember, if you can tell right from wrong side (your beginning thread is dangling on your left), is Right or front side is worked right to left. Wrong or back side is worked left to right.
If you do not follow this guideline, you will be placing your open and solid blocks in the wrong spot, hence making a totally different picture than you had in mind. Also, some because stitch heights and widths are not the same, a particular picture might look better in 4 dc mesh or 3 dc mesh or with a different stitch or technique.