A Guide to the Crochet Along

Hello dear readers!  The topic today is the Crochet Along (CAL).   Sharing my experiences, I hope, will provide an insight into what to expect and what is expected of participants.

This is a rather long post today so if you’d rather skip to the top tips, just scroll to the bottom.  😀

A CAL is a crochet event hosted by designers or yarn manufacturers.  The objective is to bring lots of crocheters together, who all work on the same pattern, at roughly the same pace.  The pattern is released in sections, usually on the same day each week.  Project size and complexity vary.

My first experience with a CAL was painfully invaluable and necessary.  Because I’m a helper, I landed myself in a bit of a pickle.

Designer Kirsten Ballering of Haak Maar Raak worked with Scheepjes to create the Hygge CAL 2017.  I love Scandinavian design and the shawl designed by Kirsten beautifully combines two art forms: crochet and cross stitch.  I was excited about the project and couldn’t wait to start.  I chose the rainbow kit (image below – photo credit belongs to Scheepjes)and joined Scheepjes official Facebook CAL group.

The group was long established from previous CALs run by Scheepjes and had thousands of members.  Very early in the CAL, tutorials were popping up – not by the artist, but by participants – making a technical change to the pattern.  My immediate concern: the impact the change might have on successfully completing the project.

My other concern was how the designer might feel about the alteration tutorials posted by the group members.  What I was seeing in the group was not what I was expecting.

I started a thread within the group suggesting the technical alteration might have unintended consequences to the completed project.  Quite a few responded favourably to the heads up.  However, there were also those angry I suggested caution and labelled me the ‘pattern police’ and a ‘stifler of creativity’.  Ouch.

I was even more hurt and confused when the thread I started was removed by the group Admins.  I thought I had followed the group rules and couldn’t see what was wrong with my post.  The members that angrily replied to my post were the ones I thought in the wrong.

Not long after, an Admin posted a similar suggestion.  No adverse remarks were made.  I still didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.  I felt embarrassed and angry at having been sanctioned so I left the group and hid the kit in my stash.

It took a while for me to realise my mistakes.  The first was fairly obvious, the other was a more subtle.

Lesson 1: It was not my job to save other crocheters from what I saw as impending disaster, but that of the moderators.   The negative feedback I received from fellow CAL members taught me that advice regarding other member posts, however generic and well-intended, can be received as criticism and negativity.  Moderators have little choice but to delete such threads to avoid the internet version of a riot.

Lesson 2: it is a widely accepted practice to tweak and share your alterations to an artist’s design.  Follow to the letter or use as a starting point for creating a completely unique piece – unless expressly indicated by the CAL host, the choice is yours.

Lessons 1 and 2 learned, I participated in the Flower Garden CAL,  a Patchwork Heart and Knitting Network collaboration using Stylecraft Special Aran yarn.  I helped others when I could and felt free to alter the colours and finishing touches to suit my taste and how the throw would be used in my home.

I used the Patchwork Heart’s Continuous Flat Braid Join for the first time instead of the join detailed in the pattern.  I substituted the border pattern with Attic24’s Linen Stitch Edging in a way that produced an unexpected but delightful result. I replaced Cream with Parchment for the body of the blanket. I added pom-poms to the centre of the raised flowers when the original pattern left them plain.  I learned what does and doesn’t work when blocking an Acrylic blanket.  (Machine washing and low heat tumble drying to yarn manufacturer directions works – using a steam iron doesn’t because if you don’t do it correctly, you flatten the stitches and ruin the appearance.)  I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and creative process.

A CAL is a great way to learn new stitches and improve your crochet skills.  Participating in groups such as these can offer crocheters support, encouragement and inspiration.  Many participants are eager to help and the sharing of progress is a great motivator.

Top tips for getting the most out of CAL groups:

  1. Always read the group rules before you submit your first comment or post.
  2. Check the group files before asking a question.
    1. Failure to read the group rules or check the files can result in prickly responses from fellow participants or the admins.
  3. For CALs run via Facebook: If your feed is filling up with lots of CAL chatter, you can ‘Unfollow’ the group and turn off notifications. You won’t be leaving the group, only preventing the posts showing in your feed.  The group should appear on your sidebar – just click on the group name to be taken to their page where all the posts made in that group can be found.
  4. Participants can be very helpful and many will post their tips for completing trickier sections. This is where CALs are fantastic. A word of caution – think carefully before following any technical pattern alterations suggested by fellow participants.
    1. Points to consider: will the alteration change the gauge or design balance? Will it increase the amount of yarn used beyond what is included in the kit?  If more yarn is required, is the same dye lot available?  Dye lots can vary and might impact on the appearance of the finished project if different dye lots of the same colour are used. This is especially true of natural fibre yarns.
  5. It generally doesn’t matter if you fall behind with a CAL. If losing access to a pattern after the ‘official’ CAL completion date is a concern, as segments are released, save them as a PDF to your computer or print them off.
  6. Unless the pattern can only be acquired with the purchase of a kit, other than weight, there is no hard and fast rule regarding the brand, fibre type or colours you use.
    1.   Yarnsub is a fantastic tool that does just what the name suggests.  Type the yarn brand you want to substitute into the search box.  The tool produces the yarns that are the closest match.   
    2. Compare the hook size AND yardage/weight/metres the yarn the pattern is written for to the yarn you want to substitute it with.  DK/Worsted in one brand may call for one size hook while another brand in the same weight suggests a different hook size.  Quantities can also vary from one manufacturer to the next within the same weight category.
    3. Using a different hook size, weight yarn or fibre to that the pattern is worked to can affect the appearance and size of the finished project. 
  7. If the pattern states gauge is crucial, you should always crochet a test swatch.  This is especially important if you are not using the yarn called for in the pattern.
    1. If you don’t cut the yarns after your swatch is completed, you can reuse them for the project.  There is a brilliant video on YouTube – How to adjust your stitch size when crocheting to guage – if you’re struggling to obtain the correct dimensions.  Skip forward to 16:25 on the video for the section dealing with adjusting your stitch size.
  8. Lastly, for the best possible CAL experience, do practice good ‘netiquette’, follow the group rules and leave moderating to the page admins.  🙂
    1. BBC Webwise offers great advice for those new to internet socialising or needing a refresher on internet etiquette.  The following is an excerpt from their page: “…it’s always wise to see what the discussion group have been talking about for a week or two before you begin to post your messages.  Online, as in real life, it can take a long time to get past a bad first impression.’  Adding my two cents to that: read through the group threads.  Taking it slow before engaging will give you an opportunity to assess the atmosphere of the group and the moderation style of the admins.    

About the Hygge CAL I abandoned?  My bruised ego is mended and I view that whole initial experience very differently and more positively.  I re-joined the group to take advantage of the many great tips that were posted.   I have the kit in my stash and will eventually start and complete the project. The piece is beautiful art that can be worn or put on display.  Either way, the Hygge shawl will make a wonderful heirloom and I look forward to making it.

If you have any tips you would like to add for getting the most of CALs, please do share them in reply.  In the meantime, hope y’all have a happy, yarny day!

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