Friday, 8 March 2013

Fashioning The Fab Four (Part 3): Read The Pattern

First things first! When starting a new pattern certain time-honoured tricks will help to head off many problems.

The initial steps were done:

1. Find a pattern with a musical theme: something easy and small, quick to crochet, allowing for the possibility that unpredictable health problems could take weeks out of the timeline.

2. Get permission to use the pattern for fundraising. Read about that step in Part 2 of Fashioning the Fab Four: Fine Print.

What next? I was itching to just grab a hook and yarn and get going, but for important projects it is a good idea to keep a level head and plan carefully–back to basics:

3. Read the pattern

Sounds simple doesn't it? Even though I had asked "Will it fit my purpose?" and decided that this was the pattern for me, it pays to READ THROUGH THE ENTIRE PATTERN AGAIN with a critical eye before investing money in materials.

There is nothing worse than enthusiastically launching into a project only to make horrifying discoveries later; e.g. like a complicated technique that you don't know–guaranteed to slow your progress (no good for deadlines), or extra materials or tools that you don't have.

Don't let your momentum be broken by delays such as long waits until you can get to the shops, or waiting for the item to arrive in the post, or needing to save more money to afford the necessary tools. These sorts of delays are great for quashing motivation and puts your project in danger of getting lost in the WIP* pile forever!

I will explain my observations as I read a pattern (headings marked with &) and then apply them to the Fab Four Amigurumi. This is a long post because I want to be comprehensive. If you are an experienced crafter, you may find new ideas or have more ideas of your own to add, or you may like to skip these tips for reading a pattern and go straight to the Fab Four details towards the end.

Reading a crochet pattern effectively

Pattern name, author and publication details
A photocopy has plenty of room for my own notes.
A rule on the edge of the page adds convenience,
especially when out and about.

No matter where a pattern has come from, I like to work from a photocopy because I can scribble notes onto it, or mark off the rows I have completed etc. without damaging the original. I like to carry my projects around with me so that I can get bits and pieces done in those tiny blocks of 5 minutes here and there. If the paper gets lost or damaged along the way, I know I have the original safe and sound at home.

This is especially important when it is a library book–no one needs a fine for damaged or lost books! If it is a library book, noting the publication details on my photocopy will help me to find the pattern again next time, either in the library or to purchase my own.

Library borrowing gives me a chance to inspect a publication and try out the patterns. The pattern writing style and layout can make a difference to the usefulness of a book. Sometimes these things are not apparent until I try to work from them and a lot of the time it relates to how the personalities of the author and the reader connect.(Some have more diagrams, others more text descriptions etc.) Many of the books that I now own are the ones that had I borrowed repeatedly.

When purchasing books, ISBN codes makes internet searches easy and are an easy reference to give a bookseller when ordering, so take note of the ISBN code of your publication.

Watch out for different editions and different printings. The edition should appear on the cover or title page, but often will appear on the reverse of the title page along with the publisher's details, ISBN, copyright notices and lists of reprints.

Beware of the first printing of a first edition when it comes to crochet and knitting pattern books. Sometimes errors get through the first printing and are not discovered until the readers or designer(s) contact the publishers! If there is a choice between titles, a later printing is often preferable.

There may be significant differences between editions and reprints of a publication so noting the correct one makes returning to the pattern easier. Include any information that may be useful to you in the future.

Finished measurements

How big is this project going to be? (If it were clothing, this would be critical because it needs to fit a specific size!) In my case the dolls would stand approximately 29 cm (11.½") high. Is that going to be: big enough to display? Portable? Easy or difficult to store? Is it too small, requiring a lot of fine finger work? Are arthritic hands capable of handling projects to a tiny scale?  How fiddly is it?

In the case of garments, are the measurements pertaining to the finished size of the garment, or the size of the body it is supposed to fit? The amount of 'ease' in the pattern will describe how close-fitting the garment will be and should be included somewhere in the pattern. Any photographs of the garment being modelled can also give clues. (E.g. a bust measurement on a top might be 34 cm for the garment to fit a 32cm bust. The amount of ease will be 2 cm.)

Introduction and preliminary notes
As exciting as a project may be, it is imperative to read this section of a pattern. This is where you will find:

  • instructions that pertain to the project as a whole
  • tips to help you achieve a satisfactory result
  • definitions, non-standard abbreviations and instructions for pattern stitches. Most publishers will have a list of their standard abbreviations somewhere in the magazine or online if they are not listed in the pattern itself.
  • explanations of why certain techniques and stitches are used
  • construction details
  • skill level required. The Craft Yarn Council of America has devised a four-point rating system with 1 being the easiest for beginners and 4 as the most advanced level. Most modern American publications use this standard to rate their patterns.
  • Sometimes the techniques within the pattern are not obvious and one needs to read through very carefully. The list of tools and materials will also give you a clue. If it lists knitting needles or hairpin loom, it is easy to guess which techniques are involved. A very thick knitting needle, above 15mm wide, and crochet hooks might indicate broomstick lace.
  • Examine the way the pattern is organised and the order in which each part is made. Look at all the photographs, illustrations, schematics and stitch diagrams. These all help with making sense of the project and knowing what's to come.
Materials: hooks and tools

Double check the crochet hooks and other tools required. Are the correct sizes on hand? If not, where can they be sourced? Are they affordable? How long will it take to get them?

I like to have on hand hooks that are a size or two larger or smaller than the recommended size as well. If the recommended hook does not produce the correct result with my working tension, I have some other hook sizes to play with to reach the desired results.

If there is more than one size of hook listed, read through the pattern carefully to see where and when each size is to be used. This avoids getting halfway through the work only to realise you've been using the wrong hook! The wrong hook size will cause problems with the size of the finished
item or the amount of yarn required.

If an additional hook size is for working a border or some additional embellishment, it may not be necessary to go out and buy it at all. I might like to improvise a different border or embellishment using a hook size that I do have.

Materials: notions

Notions are any materials that are not hooks or yarn. They might include a wool needle for weaving in ends, buttons or fasteners, bag handles, safety eyes etc. It is worth ensuring that all the materials are to hand at the start otherwise work out a substitute.

Materials: yarn requirements
  • Yarn Weight
    When examining 'yarn weight', it does not mean the actual weight in grams per skein. The term 'yarn weight' refers to the size and type of thickness of the strands of a yarn. 

    Different parts of the world have different ways to describe the yarn types. The publication details of a pattern will tell you where the pattern is from and give a clue about the correct meaning of the terminology.

    The Craft Yarn Council of America has its own standardised system. The details can be found at Like the skill level scale, modern American publications all refer to yarn weights in terms of a numerical scale where 0 is the finest 'Lace' and 6 is the thickest 'Super Bulky'.

    In Australia and the UK we refer to yarn thickness as x-ply where '2-ply' is 'fine' and '10-ply' is an 'Aran' weight. The USA equivalents would be #1 Super Fine and #4 Medium/Worsted.

    I am not going to elaborate on the technicalities here but will include links to further information. It is important to understand the type and thickness of the yarn being used for the project.
  • Type of fibre and its properties
    Which fibre has been chosen for the project; e.g. wool, cotton, acrylic? Why? Different fibres have different properties which affect their appropriateness for different applications. Acrylic is often used for amigurumi because of the wide colour range, it is lightweight but robust, machine washable and quick drying.
  • Amount
    How much yarn will you need? Do you have enough in your stash or do you need to buy more? What is your budget? Is it affordable? The type of fibre, the sizes of the skeins and the origin will affect the price
  • Availability
    If a publication lists a particular yarn by name, it will usually have a list of distributors or sources for that yarn somewhere, often towards the end of the publication. If it does not list sources in your own country, there are other places to seek the yarn; e.g. LYS*, yarn companywebsites, internet forums, online shops etc.

    If it is an older yarn and out of production, see if you can find out the properties of that yarn in order to find a suitable substitute. Sometimes yarn manufacturers have information available about discontinued yarns and suitable substitutes from the most recent range. Sometimes second hand bookshops have old pamphlets and pattern books which may help.
  • Yarn substitutes
    Most patterns will recommend a yarn by name and brand. If that yarn is easily available and affordable for you, that's easy! If not, you will have to find a substitute. There are a number of tutorials on the internet for working out how to choose a substitute yarn, but how much to buy?

    An inexperienced eye may read 4 x 100g skeins of Brand A acrylic medium yarn, go out and buy 4 x 100g skeins of any brand acrylic medium yarn and wonder why the yarn ran out before the end of the project.

    When finding a substitute yarn, the length of the yarn per skein is the critical number, not the weight of the skein in grams. The pattern will tell you the amount required of each yarn. If one cannot find the exact yarn brand, you can work out how many skeins to buy based on metres if you need to substitute a different yarn.

    I like to buy a few extra skeins for safety. Many yarn shops will let you return unused skeins if you keep the receipt. It is better to have too much yarn for your project than to run out and discover that the dye lot required is nowhere to be found.
  • Pattern instructions
    Read through the actual crochet instructions. If they are broken up into sections, in what order are they? What part of the project will be made first? How do the sections relate to each other? Are sections repeated?

    Read the individual instructions line by line. Do you recognise the abbreviations? Do the written instructions correspond to any stitch diagrams or schematics?

    Take note of wrong and right sides (WS/RS). Are the right sides even- or odd-numbered rows? An awareness of these issues can help to navigate the pattern and the work and be useful for error-spotting.
Once you have read through the pattern, other considerations include:

Overall cost

What is the total cost of the project including the yarn, notions, tools etc.? Is it worth the expense on the type of project that it is?

Pattern corrections and foibles: do your homework!

Armed with the publisher's website information one can investigate whether any errors have been found in the original printing. Many craft publishers will have a section on their website for 'corrections' or 'errata'.

Other sources for pattern corrections are online crochet forums. Find out what other people are saying about the pattern and their experiences with it. Avoid repeating others' mistakes.

Decision time

Do I still want to make this project? If the answer is 'yes' then it is time to get everything together.


Reading the Fab Four Amigurumi pattern

Pattern: "Fab Four Amigurumi" by Monica Rodriguez Fuertes, page 36, Crochet Today magazine Jan/Feb 2012,, Future US Inc. 4000 Shoreline Court, Suite 400, South San Francisco, CA 94080,

Finished measurements: According to the pattern, each doll is approximately 29 cm/11½" tall. My Fab Four dolls ended up on average 20 cm/8" tall because I used a different yarn with a different sized hook.

Skill level: Skill Level 3 – 'Intermediate' (These projects use a variety of techniques, such as basic lace patterns or colour patterns, mid-level shaping and finishing.)

Pattern notes: The reader is informed that the patterns for the instruments are available either online or by correspondence with the magazine. Fortunately there is no extra charge for the instrument patterns. Other notes in the Fab Four Amigurumi pattern give advice on tension (Work tightly so stuffing does not show through sts), construction (worked in a spiral) and instructions on how to use stitch markers and join rounds.

Pattern instructions: The pattern is divided into sections for different clothing and body parts.

Hook: The pattern recommends a 4 mm crochet hook with the important qualification (or any size to obtain correct gauge). Americans call it 'gauge'; in Australia we call it 'tension'.

Tension/Gauge: The pattern suggests a tension of 14 dc (UK/AUS) sts and 12 rows in a swatch measuring 10 x 10 cm/4 x 4 inches using the 4 mm hook. Gauge is not critical for this project. Dolls do not need to have precise measurements in the same way that garments do.

Notions: The notions list has 9 items including basics like stitch markers and yarn needle plus specific items for crafting dolls–glass eyes, filling, buttons, sewing thread or fabric glue, felt to make rosy cheeks. I decided that I prefer embroidered details so would not need to buy glass eyes or sewing thread/fabric glue for stitching on felt cheeks. I would use yarn for embroidering the details. I knew there was a bit of red yarn for the mouths in my stash.

Yarn requirements: The yarn recommended by the pattern came in skeins of 198g/7oz of acrylic fibre which was rated at #4 Medium according to the Craft Yarn Council of America. Yarns in this category are also described as worsted, afghan, aran in America and 10-ply or Aran in Australia.

Just about every mass-produced skein of yarn will provide a recommended knitting needle size on the label. The recommended knitting needle size on medium weight yarn is 3.75–4.5 mm and crochet hook size range is 5.5–6.5 mm. Notice that the pattern recommends using a 4 mm hook with this yarn because the dolls need to have tighter stitching so there are no gaps for filling to leak out.

Each of the recommended skeins was 333m/364yards in length I needed to use 1 skein of buff coloured yarn, 2 skeins of black, 1 skein of white and 1 skein of light grey. The recommended yarn is an American product and I have not seen it in my local shops.

10-ply acrylic is readily available so I decided to buy whatever is available in the correct colours. To do that, I need to know how much of each colour to get in terms of metres.

Therefore, I needed 333m/364yards each of buff, white and light grey; with 666m/728y of black. Not too hard at all. Most skeins have the length of yarn on the label. The generic, bargain-bin types may not have much information on the label at all, leaving you with guesswork!

Once armed with this important information, I was ready to head down to the shops which turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected.


WIP: Work(s) in progress

LYS: Local yarn shop/store

Amigurumi: A Japanese term for a crocheted or knitted stuffed toy, usually in smaller sizes, worked with basic stitches in spiral rounds. Wikipedia gives an excellent detailed description of the features that distinguish amigurumi styled toys from other knitted and crocheted toys. It also lists useful reference books.

I have only read one of the books listed but can recommend it for learning to make amigurumi and reading amigurumi stitch charts: Annie Obaachan (2008) "Amigurumi Animals: 15 Patterns and Dozens of Techniques for Creating Cute Crochet Creatures", Macmillan, ISBN


Amigurumi resources:

Crochet Today magazine:

Craft Yarn Council of America:

Hook sizing information:
Cotton & Cloud (UK): (Canada):

Monica Rodriguez Fuertes–refer to links at:

Skill level information:
Craft Yarn Council of America:

Yarn standards and guidelines (USA):

Yarn weight information:
Australian Country Spinners:
If you browse by brand you will find examples of yarns sized according to ply rating.

Bendigo Woollen Mills has a chart with examples of their yarns showing knit tension and recommended knitting needle sizes:

Craft Yarn Council of America:

Lion Brand:

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