Friday, October 11, 2013

Forward Loop Chain: an Alternative to Standard Chain Stitch (with Limpet Variations and Tutorial)

First of all, a grateful acknowledgement to the incredibly inventive and generous Vashti Braha, whose newsletter and blog posts sparked the idea for this stitch.*
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"Ch 200." (Or 62, or 135, or whatever the pattern calls for.) These are the words that strike dread into the heart of all but the most intrepid crocheters.

Why dread? Because chain stitches tend to tighten up, making it very hard to work the next row of your pattern.

There are several ways to get around this (I think of them as Starting Chain Workarounds):
  • Chaining loosely - which works very well if you have Perfect Tension Control (I don't).
  • Using a larger hook for the starting chain - can work, but can also leave a sloppy edge.
  • Replacing the starting chain with Foundation Single Crochet or one of its taller variations**, as popularised by crochet genius Doris Chan (may she live long and prosper) - I heartily recommend this technique, but admit that it can be awkward for crochet newbies and oldbies alike.
  • Replacing the starting chain with a band or series of loops, stitched vertically, that following rows can be stitched into - I recommend this technique also (see my Laurel Leaf Scarf for an example of the first, and my Summery Cowl for an example of the second).
To this list of Workarounds, I would like to add:

More elegant than standard chain stitches, and quicker than Foundation Crochet, the Forward Loop Chain has many applications and advantages:
  • Can replace standard chain stitches on many projects (see Caveats below)
  • Automatically creates almost perfect tension for the following row - no need to change hook size
  • Amazingly easy to work into from either side
  • Stretchier than a standard chain
  • Sturdier than a standard chain
  • Will not curl when used for loops or picots
  • Perfect for crochet jewelry projects where a standard chain might be flimsy
  • Makes a lovely decorative crochet cord on its own
  • Highly recommended for straight-edged projects such as table runners, blankets, or cushion covers
Caveat #1: the Forward Loop Chain, though stretchier than a standard chain, does not have perfect recovery. Don't use it for tension-bearing edges that will be repeatedly stretched  - such as hat bands or garment necklines - unless at least one round of border stitches will be added later. A Foundation Crochet stitch would be a better choice for these applications.

Caveat #2: Because of its stretchiness, the Forward Loop Chain works best with stable, grippy yarns: I have had great results with wool, acrylic, cotton, and blends of the aforementioned. Very sproingy yarns should also work well. Exercise caution with slippery yarns (such as bamboo or silk blends), or yarns that tend to compress (Schoppel Wolle Gradient comes to mind); if using yarns like these, make your Forward Loop Chains very firm and tight - they will relax when worked into. (You might even want to size down your hook.) As always, be sure to swatch for best results.

For a super sturdy starting edge, try Forward
Loop Chains with 1 row of slip stitch added
(See Other Ideas below for instructions)

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What gives the Forward Loop Chain its texture? A technique borrowed from knitting: the cast-on loop. Knitters most commonly use a Backward Loop, but the Forward Loop Chain takes advantage of the working yarn's natural flow over the crocheter's forefinger to make quick and easy work of casting on an extra loop with each stitch.

Adding this simple loop to your hook will take your humble crochet chains to new levels of body, stability, and elegance.

(You might be wondering: is there any difference between using a Forward and Backward Loop? Strangely enough, yes. Forward Loop Chains are smoother and more uniform; Backward Loop Chains are more knobbly.)

How to Make the Forward Loop Chain

Video tute:

Photo tute:

Keep working loop on hook and working yarn draped over forefinger. Lift forefinger slightly to form 2 vertical strands of yarn, one in front and one behind finger:

Place hook behind the back strand and use hook to pull strand to the right:

Slide hook up through the loop that forms. Yarn should look like a letter "D" or "O", with the tip of the hook pointing up through the hole:

Remove forefinger from yarn while keeping hook in the "hole":

Gently pull on working yarn to tighten loop until it is snug against the working loop:

Yarn over and pull through both loops on hook (you may need to gently "pinch" the edge of the two loops as you do this):

Very Important Tip: Don't let your loops get choked up around the narrow neck of the hook - keep them farther down, around the full width of the hook (as in the photos above). This will give you the smoothest Forward Loop Chain, with perfect tension for adding your next row.

Working Into the Forward Loop Chain

The Forward Loop Chain offers two sides to work into. The side you choose to work into will determine the texture of your project edge.

1. I like to work into the bottom edge, which consists of a row of linked bumps. These bumps form tiny holes which are are delightfully easy to get your hook through (the holes will appear when the chain is slightly stretched - see video tutorial above for an example of this).

Depending on your yarn, working into the back Bumps can also give a slightly lacy look to your edge, as the holes may open up and form a row of small eyelets. If this is a problem for you, work your Forward Loop Chains tightly, or consider downsizing your hook (I can't believe I'm saying that for a starting chain!). Frogging and working the first row more than once can also open up the holes, so be sure to swatch and work out any potential issues before you start your project.

2. Then we have the top edge, which looks like a standard chain stitch.

Whichever side you choose to work into will leave a project edge that can easily be added to later - no more struggling to get your hook into the tight starting chain!

Regarding Turning Chains

When you have completed your Forward Loop Chain, decide which side you will work into. This will determine whether or not you need a turning chain(s).
  • If working into the Back Bumps with a row of slip stitches, single crochet, or Tunisian - do NOT ch 1 for turning (the final Forward Loop Chain will act as both final starting chain and turning chain - and also provide the first "hole" you work into).
  • If working into the Back Bumps with anything taller than a single crochet - use Forward Loop Chains for all but the turning chain, then subtract 1 from the normal amount of turning chains. (The final Forward Loop Chain will act as both the last stitch of the row and the first stitch of the turning chain.) Example: Your pattern says "Chain 50 + 3 for turning." You would Forward Loop Chain 50, then chain 2 to complete the turning chain. Important note - don't count this entire turning chain as the first stitch of the row, or you will end up with a stitch too many. The entire turning chain (on this row only) is like an extra stitch that sits next to the first "real" stitch of the row (which is made into the first Back Bump at the base of that final Forward Loop Chain). If this sounds horribly confusing, make a small swatch and you'll see what I mean. :)
  • If working into the Top Strands - use Forward Loop Chains for all but the turning chain, and chain the normal amount (of regular chain stitches) for turning. Anything taller than a ch-1 will count as the first stitch of the row.

Suggested Chart Symbol and Abbreviation

The Forward Loop Chain is a non-standard stitch, so it doesn't show up in the accepted canon of chart symbols and abbreviations. But this abbreviation and chart symbol seem to work pretty well:

Forlpch (Forward Loop Chain)

One symbol looks like a macaroon, and the other like a curling stone. Take your pick, and feel free to use them in your own patterns. :)


Exciting things can happen when you start increasing the number of Forward Loops on your hook. Little shell-like shapes, called (rather charmingly) limpets, appear:

Limpets are a long-established but rarely-seen crochet technique, traditionally made with Backward Loops - but as you can see, they work equally well with Forward Loops. Limpets can also be used to form part of a crochet fabric (see links at the end of this post).

Easy Limpet Trim: *Cast on the desired number of Forward Loops, yarn over, and pull through all loops on hook; ch or forlpch 1. Repeat from *. Again, you may need to gently pinch the edge of the Loops as you pull the yarn through.

(Limpets can be made one after the other, but when used as a trim or starting border, I think they look best with some chains or forlpchs between them. This helps to "lock" the limpets and also prevents crowding.)

Try alternating limpet sizes for visual interest:

This sample uses 3- and 5- forlp limpets,
each separated by 2 forlpchains

Same sample, with 1 row of sc added

Tallulah the Turtle's tiny dinosaur costume was made with Limpets separated by Forward Loop Chains:

Note: Limpets work best as a starting project edge rather than an ending edge (in my opinion). Though it's possible to add them to the final row of a project, each limpet must be slipstitched down or attached in some way - which will change its shape and appearance.

Other Ideas:

~ For a super-sturdy, non-curving, only slightly stretchy starting edge (as mentioned above):

Stitch the required number of Forward Loop Chains, then turn and slip stitch in the opposite direction (working in the back bumps). Highly recommended for bottom-up projects such as sweaters, vests, or blankets, this technique can also be used by itself to make a thicker decorative tie. (When following rows are added, front edge will uncurl a bit, leaving a chained edge; back will look like two rows of garter stitch.)

~ Try adding beads to your Forward Loops: cast on the number of desired loops, slide a bead down close to work, yarn over, pull through all loops.

Beaded Forward Loop Chain:

Beaded Limpets:

Detail of a necklace combining Forward Loop Chains and a Tunisian-style Limpet variation:

~ Use Forward Loop Chains as a base row for Tunisian crochet. Pull up your loops in the back bumps of the forlpchs to achieve this tidy chained edge:

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I've been using the Forward Loop Chain (and variations) for several months, and I think it's full of exciting crochet potential. I hope you find it useful too.

Later this month, I'll post an Autumn-themed free necklace/bracelet pattern featuring the Forward Loop Chain.

You may do whatever you like with the items you make using Forward Loop Chains, but you may not re-post the text of this tutorial without permission. (Links to this post are always welcome.)

Thanks for viewing, and happy crocheting! :)

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*Here are the posts, read years ago, that planted the seed of the idea for the Forward Loop Chain (many thanks, Vashti, for helping me find them again!):

An example of limpets used in a crochet fabric, from Margaret Hubert's Complete Photo Guide to Crochet (this link also courtesy of Vashti Braha):

**For further reading on Foundation Crochet and starting chain alternatives, here are a few helpful links:

(You can also Google "foundation crochet" to find a wealth of tutorials on the technique.)

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  1. This is genius. I also kind of "invented " those various chain alternatives some time ago, but wasn't able to put it in words (even in my native tongue) nor in pictures.

  2. Very interesting post. I shall have a play.

  3. Very interesting post. I shall have a play.

  4. Thanks, Sue. I am going to give this a try. Linda

  5. What an interesting post, Sue. I have often had problems with getting my hook into that foundation chain. I'm definitely going to try this next time. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thank you for the tutorial, I will definitely try this, I love Tallulah's costume she really suits it. :)

  7. Wow, thanks, thanks, many thanks! :)

  8. Sue, once again I have to tell you that you are brilliant! I could have used this info this past week while working on two cowls and using the plain old chain method. I want to make another cowl right away to see how it works. Tallulah is already for Halloween, she must be thrilled with her costume.

  9. Sue, you are the most incredible mine of information and ideas, all bookmarked against the day I get the hang of those darn hooks!

  10. So exciting, Sue!!! I am racing to finish Rose's cocoon before she is born, but I want to try this on my next crochet project. Thank you so very much for your brilliant presentation. And I so admire Miss T's costume :)
    Gracie xx

  11. So relieved Talulah has an outfit for Halloween. Very cool helpful tutorial!

  12. Man, this looks hard. I am glad that my tension control is pretty good...I wouldn't say perfect but then, I have been crocheting since I was a teenager!! ;-)

  13. Love love love! So tired of foundation sc and ch issues... can't wait to try. Thank you so much for the tutorial!!!

  14. You are using the tatting double knots from crochet tatting (crotat) for foundation chain!
    Very clever idea!! Many possibilities!

  15. I love this post! So many techniques but it's great to see all info in one place! Thank you so much for sharing!

  16. I'm a newbie to but, boy, am I glad I dropped by today! I am going to start :/ this tomorrow after my surgery. Too much to do tonight, including getting some rest! I've learned foundation chains to deal with those tight chains at the bottoms of project but sometimes they are SO frustrating. This methinks is gonna be FUN! Thanks a GAZILLION!

  17. Thanks for adding to my tool set! Half hitching was all I retained from ancient knitting lessons and only knew it for limpets. Forlpch (Forward Loop Chain) is lovely!

  18. Çok güzel teşekkürler fakat bant kısmını čok merak ediyorum anlayamadım ben.tığ işi olmasına,rağmen şiş gibi çok hoş teknik

  19. Çok güzel teşekkürler fakat bant kısmını čok merak ediyorum anlayamadım ben.tığ işi olmasına,rağmen şiş gibi çok hoş teknik

  20. Actually, the forlpch can be done with the assistance of a circular knitting needle - maybe a little faster.

    The needle size determines the tension of each chain st.

    Steps 1 - 4 is how I do a crochet cast-on for knitting.**

    1. Attach a slip knot to your crochet hook;

    2. Then, holding the circular needle in the left hand and the crochet hook in the right hand, make a chain stitch as you ordinarily would in crochet, but catch the working yarn on the knitting needle as you begin each ch st - in other words wrap the working yarn back to front over the top of the needle as you begin each new ch st;

    3. Repeat until you think your chain is long enough;

    4. Put a locking stitch marker (looks like a plastic safety pin) on the live loop so you can remove the crochet hook;

    5. Slide all the stitches to the other end of the circular needle, hold the end with all the stitches in your lh and use the other end of the circular needle to slip the first two sts to the rh needle, sl the first (rightmost) over the second, slip the next st to the rh needle, sl the first over the second, repeat until there are no stitches left on the knitting needle,and all you have is the forlpch attached to your working yarn and just the one live loop which you can slip back onto the crochet hook and remove the marker.

    6. If you find the chain is too short, add more ch sts incorporating the circular knitting needle as described above.

    So if you were knitting, this would be the most minimalist cast-on-bind-off technique possible.

    ** Steps 1 - 4 combine the two steps of a crochet cast-on since you don't have to hunt down those back bumps - they're already on your needle, but if you are casting on for knitting, make one ch st less than required, don't insert a stitch marker, just slip that live loop on the lh knitting needle as your last stitch, and you're ready for Row 1 or Round 1.


    1. Somehow when I read this it doesn't seem faster, but that's probably because describing an action in words is so much more cumbersome than simply performing it. :) What you describe sounds more like the Crazy Simple 2-Stitch I-cord than the forlp ch (which is where this comment was posted). It would indeed be a very minimalist cast on/bind off. What I find most intriguing is that the same structure can be achieved in more than one way. It's almost magical.
      Thanks for commenting!

  21. Hi Sue, thank you so much for mentioning me in this amazing post. I've visited it before and am here again today because I'm working on a new version of my old post.


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