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 (the problem, not the seam, that is). 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 features joined-round samples
worked Right Side facing at all times,
but some of the joins can be used for turned rounds as well.

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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; may be used for both turned rounds and RS-facing only rounds.
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; may be used for both turned rounds and RS-facing only rounds.
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; may be used for both turned rounds and RS-facing only rounds.
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 when used for RS facing only projects.

Next we come to....

5. The Invisible Join + Shorter Starting Chain or Standing Stitch Start

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; works best for RS-facing only projects but can probably be adapted to turned-round projects (though I haven't tested that last bit).
Cons: If used on every round, lots of extra ends to weave in. And you still have to get your hook and yarn 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.

Caveat: This join works only on projects stitched Right Side Facing at all times.

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: Works only for projects stitched RS facing at all times; creates a slight thickness at the join; forms a series of small 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 (click here to be taken to tutorial), 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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  1. Brilliant, as always! I'm probably going to link to this in my sidebar, then update it when you post your tutorial, unless you come back and link your tutorial to this. (Hint, hint, hint!) I've been playing with the chainless dc start since my second pair of crocheted socks because the seam line irritated me so much. I definitely will have to give your mock invisible join a try on my next pair of crocheted socks!

  2. Oh, wow,! Thanks! I had begun calling my seams the Linda Trademark. Now you have taught me several better ways to hide the seam. Have a good day! Linda@Wetcreek Blog

  3. Hello Mrs. Micawber! This post of your coaugth my eye of course, as I also face the same issue when crocheting. As of now I am still using the begiining chain method and joining in the top of a chain... Yea, I have that frustarting gap in few of my projects... Thanks for educating on new techniques, and I look forward to your tutorial. :)
    Have a nice day!

  4. Me, I'm a fussy crocheter....I confess.....I will definitely give your new method a go....thank you Sue!

  5. I feel like a superstar having my method mentioned! :-) I use my method when working in the round and turning which is slightly different. I admit I much less frequently work in the round RS facing unless its amigurumi so don't have a special method in this case. Very much looking forward to seeing yours.

    1. Thanks for making that point, Joanne - several of the methods can be used for turned rounds, but I was rather focused on the buildup to the new technique and hadn't given it much thought! I've changed some of the text to reflect this.

      And thanks for letting me cite you without prior permission. :)

  6. It depends on what I'm making, I usually use the seamless join and I sometimes use Joanne's method too which I prefer when making hats. I'm looking forward to seeing your new method. :)

  7. Hope its okay, I've saved this into my favourites for future use. thanks for the tutorial.

  8. Yay, well done Sue, I'll be looking forward to your detailed tutorial - obvious joins have always annoyed me, no end! A big thank you! Joy x

  9. Awesome! Thank you for taking your time to show us this. :)

  10. Thank you for these great tips, Sue. I actually had no idea there was more than one way (the first you showed above) to join rounds in crochet. I'll have to try something new next time.

  11. Sue-- I'm so glad that you've figured out a better way for seamless joins-- I've always struggled with totes, as you can see the very obvious joins at each row. This looks like it will be wonderful!!!

  12. I think this must be the most helpful and brilliant crochet article ever!! Thank you!

  13. I think this must be the most helpful and brilliant crochet article ever!! Thank you!

  14. Can't wait, after having crocheted a shawl on the circular and that seam did and does bug me.

  15. I must try this. I don't like the joins jog either. Great post!

  16. This is fantastic! I, too, am bothered by the seams when working in the round; usually I chain 1 less than usual to make it less gappy, and when I get back around, I slip stitch really tightly into the back loop and back bump, like you mentioned in #2. My method definitely has issues, so I'm looking forward to your tutorial. I still think you have the best crochet tutorials in Blogland. :)

  17. I always thought that it was me. Little did I know that the standard join leaves that trail for everyone. You are really a crochet genius!!! makes me want to get my hook out right now. Well maybe after the tutorial. :)

  18. Not being a crocheter myself I have little to say on the matter except that it is great you are passionate about crochet and obviously very good at your craft. keep it up!

  19. I don't crochet a great deal, but have certainly noticed *that line*. Thanks for this; I've learned a huge amount and am definitely keeping the information handy.

  20. I agree...I don't like the seam left when changing rows. It is so annoying! So I appreciate your review so much, and will be looking forward to the tutorial of the innovative option :-)

  21. I'm currently working on a set of coasters using aran weight cotton and crocheting pretty tightly. This means joining methods that add bulk are pretty much out of the question, but I've been happy with a simplified version of your Mock Invisible Join:
    I've followed your directions and started with a sc+ch, but skipped the actual Mock Invisible Join and instead used a sl st into the 2nd stitch of the round, followed by a ch. This creates a nice, although not invisible, join. The final ch keeps the sl st nicely in place, minimizing weird holes. The first st of the next round is crocheted into the same st as the sl st.
    I love that I can make coasters where the ugly join seam doesn't catch my eye everytime I look at them! Thank you for a very helpful and thourough post and for sharing your clever joining method.
    Nina, Denmark

  22. Hi. Im an amateur crocheter n am looking for a seemless join for in the round crochet. Ive tried this: last stitch (dc), pull loop up to create tall loop, remove hook. From front pick up both loops of top ch on first stitch (ch2), pull tall loop through, remove hook. From back pick up back loop of second last stitch (before tall loop), pull tall loop through. Now the join looks like a ch. Does this make sense?

  23. Replies
    1. You're welcome! I've also become a big fan of the "slipped slip" join. :)


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