Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Problem of the Telltale Seam in Crochet

Few things are more irksome to the Fussy Crocheter than an obvious seam running down a hat or across a cowl. No matter how beautiful the work, the Fussy Crocheter's eye is immediately drawn to that telltale trail of slip stitches and starting chains. It's the fly in her ointment, the bit of shell in her breakfast egg, the burr under her saddle.

Being a Very Fussy Crocheter myself, I've lately been devoting considerable thought to the Problem of the Telltale Seam, and exploring ways to eliminate it. In the past I've tried to get around it by using spiral rounds or travelling joins* - but some patterns simply don't lend themselves to these techniques.

So here's a post dedicated to exploring some common (and uncommon) round-joining and round-starting methods. If you too are frustrated by Telltale Seams in your crochet, read on.

*A travelling join is my name for starting each round in the second stitch of the previous round, and finishing it in the slip stitch of the previous round, to create a slanting seam rather than a vertical one.

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Note: This discussion is limited to
joined-round projects worked Right Side facing at all times.

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1. Standard Method: Slip Stitch + Starting Chain that Counts as Stitch

This is the join/start method we all learned as beginners: slip stitch in the top two strands of the previous round's starting chain, then chain an appropriate number to start the next round. In this method, the starting chain counts as the first stitch of the new round.

This is my least favourite of all round joins, as it leaves the most obvious trail. Slip stitching into the top two strands twists the starting chain sideways, making it look skinnier than the stitches around it. This creates obvious gaps:

Pros: almost none.
Cons: Difficult to execute (the top strands are hard to get your hook into); leaves obvious seam.
Conclusion: There seems to be no reason to use the Standard Method if something better is available.

Which brings us to....

2. Alternate Standard Method

What if we slip stitch in the back loop and back ridge of the starting chain?

This looks much better. The starting chain is left facing outward, and blends more easily into the surrounding stitches:

Pros: Easy to get hook through back loop and bar; more consistent stitch appearance.
Cons: Joining to the back loop and back bar can sometimes stretch out the top of the stitch, creating the potential for a hole. If used for a large motif or project, the slight variation in appearance (of the starting chain compared to the surrounding stitches) will become more noticeable as the number of rounds increases.
Conclusion: The Alternate Standard Method is a tidy, inconspicuous join, well suited to motifs or to in-the-round garments where the join can be placed in a less-noticeable position.

3. Joanne's Method: Starting Chain Not Counted as Stitch

Joanne over at Not So Granny recently posted a very good tutorial on the round-joining method she prefers. Joanne doesn't count the starting chain as a stitch, but merely as a preliminary step to the rest of the round. When joining, she skips over the starting chain and slip stitches to the "real" first stitch of the round.

Joanne's method is another vast improvement over the Standard Method, as you can see:

Pros: Easy to do; any gap is virtually eliminated.
Cons: A tiny bit of bulk is added along the seam line, which may become more noticeable with repeated rounds.
Conclusion: This is another good, tidy join, much less noticeable than the Standard Method; very suitable for motifs, or garments where the seam can be placed inconspicuously.

4. Mamachee's Method: Staggered Round Starts

Tara Murray of Mamachee recently posted an ingenious new technique for disguising double crochet round joins. She slip stitches across the backs of a few stitches at the beginning of each round, then starts the new round in a new spot, thus staggering the starting chains and making them much less noticeable. You can find her technique and more information here.

I haven't tried Tara's technique, but it looks to be a very creative solution to the Problem of the Telltale Seam.

Next we come to....

5. The Invisible Join

The Invisible Join is, in this crocheter's opinion, the best join of them all (click here for tutorial). It weaves a single strand of yarn back and forth between stitches, forming a seamless, truly undetectable join. (And if you follow the extra steps given in this tutorial, your Invisible Join will link your stitches not only at the top but in the middle too, so that they perfectly mimic the stitches around them.)

Here's a single-round sample (photo from an old post):

Pros: Easy to do; completely undetectable join; adds no bulk to the seam.
Cons: If used on every round, lots of extra ends to weave in. And you still have to get your hook into position for each new round, which means either a new starting chain, or a Standing Stitch of some sort (click here for a Standing Single Crochet tutorial).
Conclusion: The Invisible Join is perfect for finishing any project worked in the round, for ending rounds within motifs, and for changing colour rounds within a project; not recommended for larger projects with many rounds, unless you're willing to weave in all those extra ends. :)

Which brings us to ... (drumroll please) ....

6. Mrs. M's Mock Invisible Join (for Fussy Crocheters who love Invisible Joins but hate weaving in ends)

The Mock Invisible Join is a technique I worked out while completing a recent magazine commission. It has nearly all the advantages of the Invisible Join, AND it eliminates the problematic starting chain. When the Mock Invisible Join is complete, your hook and yarn are positioned behind the work, ready to swoop in and start a clean new row.

Check it out:

The Mock Invisible Join can be used for multi-colour projects too, and allows you to carry unused colours behind your work. Here's a sample worked in two colours - can you spot the joins?

Best of all, the Mock Invisible Join gives the appearance of perfectly seamless rounds when you're stitching in the back loop or back bar:

Where are those joins hiding?

Pros: Eliminates gap; almost perfectly mimics surrounding stitches; less noticeable in large projects with many rounds; works well with repeating colour changes; allows unused colours to be carried behind work; minimizes cut ends; preserves perfect stitch pattern when working in the back bar or back loop; positions hook and yarn behind and above new round, allowing for a standing stitch-type start and thus eliminating starting chains.
Cons: Creates a slight thickness at the join; forms a series of tiny bumps on the wrong side of the work; not suitable for very lacy stitch patterns; fiddly and less straightforward than other methods; requires a bit of tension control.
Conclusion: Though it takes a bit more effort and thought, the Mock Invisible Join offers yet another option for a tidy, inconspicuous join. It works well with large and small projects; especially suited for striped rounds or stitch patterns worked in the back loop or back bar.

In an upcoming post I'll provide a detailed tutorial for the Mock Invisible Join, with a sampler pattern that makes full use of this exciting new technique.

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As you can see from the examples here, there's no single right way to join and start crochet rounds - but there are definitely better ways and worse ways, depending on the project involved. With so many methods available, we crocheters are free to choose and combine the techniques that work best for our own particular projects.

What are your favourite round-joining and round-starting methods?

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