Craftsy Class Review, Mastering Foundation Crochet Stitches

I had the opportunity to take Marty Miller's Craftsy Course, "Mastering Foundation Crochet Stitches," and I'd like to share my experience with you. The class has seven lessons (Extended vs. Foundation; Basic Foundation Stitches; Using Foundation Stitches; Eyelets; Foundation Stitches in Pattern; Foundations in Filet, Mesh, and More; Tunisian, Colorwork & Beyond). I learned a lot and will use the new techniques in my future projects. Marty is an experienced, organized instructor who explains things very clearly. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, foundation stitches are what you do to start your crochet work, typically on the first row. Most of us make a long chain and then work stitches back into the chain. Sometimes we go through the top chain loop, sometimes the back bump, sometimes both, but we still use the chain in some way.

There are other--better--ways to start a project. What are the advantages of using foundation stitches instead of a long chain? For one, you don't have to worry that you mis-counted your chain and will have too few when you get to the end of Row 1. (No big deal if we're talking 10 or 20 stitches, but some patterns have several hundred chains and it is easy to mess up). When doing foundation stitches, do as many as you need. You still have to count them, but just add more until you have the right amount. Another advantage is the stretchiness of the fabric. My foundation chain is always tighter than the rest of my stitches. I've tried going up a hook size for the chain, but usually I forget to switch back to the smaller hook. If the foundation chain is too tight, the piece gets wider as the rows go up. Not good. A third plus is that the bottom of the piece looks exactly the same as the top, with all the V's lined up. You can also use foundation stitches for handles, like on a basket or bag, and for buttonholes, and to add stitches at the end of a row. It is also Marty's preferred technique when starting a project with novelty yarn. You can feel where to place the stitches, and in a chain you'd never figure out where they go.

The way to make a foundation stitch is basically to create a chain as part of the stitch you're working on, and use that as the entry point for the next stitch. Rather than start with that, Marty takes us through extended stitches first. An extended stitch has an extra chain inserted in it to make it taller. For example, to make a regular double crochet the instructions are yo, insert hook where indicated, yo, pull up lp, [yo, pull through 2 lps] twice. For an extended double crochet, it's yo, insert hook where indicated, yo, pull up lp, ch 1, [yo, pull through 2 lps] twice. By practicing with extended stitches we begin to see where that extra chain is. That's the chain we'll use when we move on to foundation stitches.

I was familiar with extended stitches but haven't used them much. Marty presents some good reasons to do so. One, if your stitch gauge is accurate but your row gauge is too short, you can fix that by using extended stitches. A more compelling reason is because the work goes faster! Look at the swatches below. (They are unblocked so you can tell nothing is fudged.) The one on the left uses double crochet stitches; the one on the right uses extended double crochets. The same number of rows, but look how much taller the second swatch is. A time-saver for sure!

Regular and extended stitches


Next we moved on to foundation stitches. Here again, I was familiar with them but hadn't used them much. I think I was only going through one loop of the stitch, which made my stitches messy. Watching Marty I could see that I should go through both loops. Marty's advice to look for the chains on the extended stitches was right on, as it was much easier to find where to put things on the actual foundation swatch.

(By the way, I highly recommend a pointy hook when doing foundation stitches. The blunt top of a typical metal hook slides off the stitch too easily.)

I hadn't thought of eyelets as a foundation, but my perspective on that has changed. I like the look that Marty came up with using those.

But let's skip to the part of the class that made me jump up and down: foundation stitches for filet crochet! That's a mesh pattern with a lot of openwork. I had always heard that foundation stitches could only be used when there was supposed to be a stitch in every chain. In other words, if any foundation chains were skipped in a regular pattern, foundation stitches wouldn't work. Au contraire, Pierre! After much puzzling over it, Marty (a former math teacher) figured out a way to make this work. It's worth the price of admission just for that. Here's my filet mesh swatches using the method she developed. One swatch skips one chain, the other skips two:

Filet mesh using foundation stitches

This is really great! And it can be used with other patterns that typically skip chains, like V-stitches.

The lesson on Tunisian crochet and colorwork was helpful as well, but not as new to me as some of the other techniques. I also watched the granny rectangle segment in an earlier lesson but found the pattern too open for a bag...and I'm too lazy to put a lining in. I might use that technique for a different item.

I made a little basket with handles using the pattern that came with the class. The handles are created with foundation single crochet. (I'll weave the ends in and block it tomorrow.)

Handled basket

I give the class a rating of excellent. For any of you who don't know Marty, she has plenty of crochet street cred. She's a former president of the Crochet Guild of America, and she teaches classes all over the country, including at The National NeedleArts Association shows and Chain Link conferences. An author and designer, Marty also has a Ph.D. One of her blogs is here and another is here. She was a big inspiration to me when I rediscovered crocheting about ten years ago. I took one of her classes in Valley Forge--sure wish they would have conventions there again!--and was encouraged by that experience.

Marty's preparation is unmatched. She had her Craftsy lessons all laid out, with her swatches labelled and her yarn and hook at the ready. Having been on HGTV, I know how much time goes into thinking about and making all of those step-outs. Bravo, Marty! The pace of the class gives you enough time to follow along. I was actually able to watch at 1.5 speed for some of the lessons. She not only explains what to do, but why. That understanding of the structure of stitches is very helpful. The class taught me more than I expected, and helped me understand some techniques that had eluded me before. The handouts were thorough. I didn't ask any online questions during class but other people did, and Marty answered them promptly and thoroughly.

As for the Craftsy platform, certain lessons seemed to get stuck and wouldn't play through smoothly, while others worked fine. (I had the same problem with another Craftsy class. Yes, all of my other windows and browsers were closed, and no, my computer memory or buffer zone is not an issue--my in-house tech support, a.k.a. husband, has seen to that.) Changing the play speed didn't help. I tried to be patient (insert maniacal laughter from anyone who knows me well). I like the freedom to watch the lessons when it's convenient for me, and to go back to segments at will.

Now I have to decide how to incorporate foundation stitches into my own projects and designs. For the projects it's a no-brainer: of course I will use foundation stitches and the other techniques Marty taught. It's a little dicier in my published patterns. If I specify foundation stitches, I have to include instructions on how to do them, and probably photos, too. Ideally everyone will take Marty's course and I wouldn't have to explain anything, but realistically I know people will complain if I don't give step-by-step instructions. On the other hand, I don't want to hold back specifying a technique that I think will improve the look of their finished item. I always try to make my patterns as helpful as possible. Designers, what do you do?

What are you waiting for? Go take this class! The link is

Whirlwind Book Tour for Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets

Ah yes, the book tour, in which the author visits dozens of exciting cities, gives talks to adoring fans, has a publicist to take care of all logistics, has all travel expenses paid for by the publisher, and signs record numbers of books. Right? Not exactly, at least not for the authors of crochet titles. Although I'm not on tour myself, my book is enjoying an exciting journey to crochet bloggers all over the country. I'm honored that Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets has made it into the blogs of these movers and shakers in the crochet world. Here's some of what they have had to say about the book. Read the full reviews at the links shown (remember that some of the giveaways may be finished by now):

I absolutely love this book!  I think that the patterns are all timeless baby patterns, and would work in a variety of colors, not just the ones shown.  Each pattern has photo help to help you understand each special stitch given, so you aren’t hunting on YouTube for video how to!  Patterns are easy to read and the designs are just gorgeous.  I wish I had this book when I was working on blankets for my 2 new great nephews earlier this year!--Karen Whooley,

And from Tammy Hildebrand, VP of the CGOA:

If you haven't seen Sharon Silverman's new book yet, you're in for a treat! Eight beautiful Tunisian baby blankets including cables, ripples, stripes, bobbles and basket weave. There are four "easy" designs, three "intermediate" and one "intermediate plus". There is truly something for everyone. And what's really great is that there are also online technique videos available to help should you need them. -- Hot Lava Crochet

Here's what Eurona posted on her blog:

Another pleasant surprise in Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets is a jaw-dropping stranded colorwork pattern for those of us who would like to take our stitching skills to the next level. --Hands in Delight

Kathryn Vercillo had this to say:

I was familiar with the basic look of Tunisian crochet before this but had no idea that it could be used to make such a variety of different patterns including popular crochet stitch patterns like the basketweave stitch. Bobbles, cables and ripples are also all included in these patterns, each with a slightly different look from their traditional appearance since they are done in Tunisian crochet. What a great unique gift for the baby who already has a lot of handcrafted items from others!--Crochet Concupiscence

My well-traveled book

No less a luminary than Gwen Blakley Kinsler, founder of the Crochet Guild of America, reviewed the book on her blog:

I love Tunisian crochet and I’ve been doing a lot of it lately. This beautiful book by Sharon Silverman gives me a few more items to put on my “to-do” list!--Crochet Queen

Marty Miller, Past President of CGOA and one of my inspirations--I took her class at the first crochet show I attended in Valley Forge, PA--did a thorough review. Here's some of her evaluation:

Sharon is one of the "stars" of Tunisian Crochet, and her newest book certainly shows that. Eight baby afghans, each one a different Tunisian technique, each one a different Tunisian stitch or combination of stitches....Then, this week, I brought the swatches to class, and showed my students. They all liked the Tunisian stitches with the variegated yarn better than the regular crochet stitches with variegated yarn. And then, I showed them the other afghans in the book – they all oohed and aahed over them, but the two afghans that they were really interested in crocheting were the ripple afghan on the cover, and the Tunisian Full Stitch afghan - Purple Garden.--Not Your Granny's Crochet

Here is the evaluation posted by Karen McKenna, I Hook Design. Karen also swatched several of the projects and includes pictures of her projects:

This has been a great experience expanding my crochet skills, who says you can't learn new techniques. Thanks Sharon and Leisure Arts for making it easy....

I highly recommend this book for beginners and experienced as well.  What I love about the blankets is if you make them a little larger they are all perfect as a throw for yourself.--I Hook Design

And just today, Jocelyn Sass from Cute Crochet Chat/Crochet Cafe posted her interview with me. She asked me how I got familiar with Tunisian:

I discovered Tunisian crochet in a stitch dictionary while I was designing projects for my first crochet title, Basic Crocheting: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started. I learned the basics from that book, then sought out other sources to extend my knowledge of the technique. It was really exciting to see the fabric that Tunisian crochet creates. I never liked projects with rivers of double crochet stitches—too loopy!—and Tunisian had a totally different look.--Cute Crochet Chat 

If you aren't regular readers of these blogs, I urge you to become one. It is refreshing to find thoughtful, experienced crocheters who share their experience so eloquently and generously.

More blog book tour stops are coming up later this month. Please check back here and on my Facebook page, Sharon Silverman Crochet, for information about those reviews and giveaways.

Maybe it's a good thing I'm not on the road myself. With the snow we've had this winter, I might not have been able to make it out of here!

Beautiful snow

Book Review and a Giveaway, Crochet Wraps Every Which Way

Full disclosure: Author Tammy Hildebrand, current Vice President of the Crochet Guild of America, provided a glowing blurb for the back cover of my book, Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions, Various Techniques. Crochet Wraps is published by Stackpole Books, with whom I have done five crochet titles (and a sixth in the works). That said, the purpose of this review—as in all my book reviews—is to give crocheters an objective, accurate assessment. Here we go! For starters, the book is beautiful. It has a nice clean look with a good balance of text, photos, and white space. The size and style of the typeface make it very easy to read. Color bars at the top of each page provide a subtle yet effective way of designating each project.

If a book can radiate joy and energy, Crochet Wraps does that. You can tell that Tammy loved all of the projects she made, and is excited to share them. It's a happy feeling to leaf through the pages and discover one gorgeous project after another.

Part of the book's appeal is its variety, not just in the size and shape of the eighteen finished garments but also in skill level, time needed to complete an item, and technique. It's always fun to learn something new, and Tammy gives crocheters a great opportunity to do that here. I have never attempted hairpin lace but it's been on my to-do list for a while. Crochet Wraps has given me the excuse I've been waiting for—I just ordered a hairpin lace loom. I had never thought about working hairpin lace in the round, and I can't wait to try Tammy's "You Are My Sunshine" pattern. Really stunning. The other patterns that drew my eye right away are "Midnight Azaleas," which puts a twist on motif crochet by adding a ripple edging, and "Chianti," done in broomstick lace.

Mystic Stars

I love Tammy's color choices. "Mystic Stars" fits right in with Pantone's 2014 designation of "Radiant Orchid" as the color of the year. There are blues, greens, purples, yellow, and white in "Shimmering Pearls"...soft colors and vibrant ones...autumn hues and spring palettes...and attractive color combinations. Equally impressive is the variety of textures, from light and lacy to warm and chunky.

With three patterns in each of six techniques (traditional, motifs, hairpin lace, broomstick lace, Tunisian, and double-ended), this book truly has something for everyone. Instructions in the back of the book, thoroughly illustrated with photos, provide excellent tutorials. It's helpful to have the visual index. (Kind of unusual, though, to have the items listed there in columns rather than rows. I'll have to ask Stackpole why they made that decision.) Tammy used yarn from eleven different sources, some of which I was not familiar with. I'll make it a point to check the websites for those companies, conveniently listed in the "Resources" section, and see if there are possibilities for my own designs.

As I do with all books I review, I tested some parts of a couple of patterns. The instructions for "Midnight Azaleas" were easy to follow. I didn't get as far as the finishing, but looking over the instructions for the Bottom Ripple I am pleased to see that Tammy tells us how many of each type of stitch we should have at the end of Row 1. That way crocheters can be sure to count the right thing without any confusion.

I was intrigued with the interesting look of "Cascading Rivers." A lot of my work has been in Tunisian crochet, and I hadn't seen a windowpane type of texture like this before. The one-shoulder poncho style interested me, too. I followed the instructions for Row 1 with no problem, but I ran into trouble starting with the return pass of Row 2. After puzzling over the instructions for a while, I contacted Tammy and she tried it out for me. It turns out that there are serious mistakes on Row 2 return and also later in the pattern. We were both disappointed to discover that. As a designer, I know the sinking feeling when a published mistake comes to light, especially if it has been edited and tested. Sadly, these things do happen. To her great credit, Tammy has acknowledged the errors and has made the corrections.

Cascading Rivers

I told Tammy that if I published a review I would have to mention the problem, and I offered to not review the book at all. Tammy responded, "I don't want to sweep this under the rug. I want people to know that I will provide whatever pattern support they need so they can make this project!" That's a classy response to an unfortunate situation. Tammy and Stackpole are working together to create and issue errata, which I assume will appear on Tammy's website, FB page, and Ravelry page; and on Stackpole's website and FB page. Future editions will have the corrected information. (As long as they're going to this trouble, I hope that they will take the opportunity to include some technique photographs for how to work behind the previous row to do a Tdc 2 rows below—a picture or two of hook placement would be helpful.)

With pattern corrections, Cascading Rivers looks great in progress!

If you are interested in making this beautiful garment, make sure you obtain the corrected version of the pattern first.

My experience with "Clementine Shells," the beautiful Tunisian crochet wrap that appears on the cover, was much more positive. It worked up fast and the instructions were clear. It's interesting how two different ways of saying something can both be correct. Tammy says "Ch 4, draw through next 5 loops on hook" where I would say "Ch 3, yo, pull through 6 lps." The outcome is the same. In her version, it may be easier for a crocheter to count the 5 loops and stay properly positioned; in my version, the last two steps are combined so the hand motion is uninterrupted, but perhaps it is harder to see 6 loops easily.

I highly recommend Crochet Wraps Every Which Way to any crocheter looking for beautiful projects to make for herself or for gifts. Mother's Day isn't that far away!

Midnight Azaleas

You'll find new takes on traditional methods and may also be inspired to learn a new technique or two. Be aware that there are some flaws in the instructions, but don't let that stop you from enjoying this exciting addition to your crochet library.

Want to win a copy? Leave a comment here, and a winner will be chosen at random on Friday, January 24th. Make sure you check back here and on my FB page (Sharon Silverman Crochet)--I'll need your mailing address so you can receive your prize. (US addresses only.)

Crochet Wraps Every Which Way by Tammy Hildebrand. Paperback: 112 pages. Published by Stackpole Books, January 1, 2014. ISBN-10: 0811711838; ISBN-13: 978-0811711838

Purchase from Amazon here.