Sculptural Crochet Primer

Crochet is usually relegated to the domain of hats, scarves, and potscrubbers-frankly, a damn shame given its enormous sculptural potential.

The primary quality that recommends crochet as three dimensional medium is the fact that crochet stitches are not unlike pixels - discrete units that combine to facet the surface of a form. The size of those stitches, and the number of their neighbors in the rows above and below, determines the shape of the work. As such, your design can be quantified as a pattern and easily shared with others. Aside from certain intangibles – tension of the working yarn principal among them – a piece produced faithfully from a pattern will be identical to the original. If you like, you can think of a crochet pattern as a program for highly individual human fabbers.

In addition to this great reproducibility, the fact that only one stitch is worked at a time in crochet leads to fantastic opportunities for improvisation. You don't need to really plan ahead to make your form branch, or squeeze down to a point, or begin to crenelate. Experimentation will show you how to manifest these changes, but it might be helpful to look at how small, repeated changes (stitch height, number, loop worked in, etc) influence the finished product.

So, I made a cabinet to explore the crochet stitch parameter-space. If you are new to crochet, it might be fun to follow the instructions below to make your own "specimens" to give you a feel for how certain stitches can be used to make shapes you want.

The pieces are divided into subgroups, each of which explores a certain variable. All pieces here are worked "in the round" except for the hyperbolic examples. There are two ways to begin working in the round...


  • At top, the chain start. This is made by producing a chain of stitches, and then crocheting in the stitch furthers from your hook (the first one you made). In the example shown, I started with a chain of 6 stitches and then crocheted around it with single crochet stitches, increasing (making two stitches) in each stitch. As you can see, a small hole is left in the center of the work.
  • At bottom, the ring start. There are several variants of this, and I use the "double ring start" - I really like the explanation for how to make it provided in this tutorial. This produces a piece that has no hole. Like the chain start example, I made the example here with 6 stitches in the first row followed by single crochet increases in each stitch in the second.
There are benefits to using each one - you might use a ring start if you are making, say, a round head which you would prefer to have intact. On the other hand, you might like to use a chain start to make a sand dollar to simulate the hole in its center. Naturally, if you are interested in making tubes (most of the examples of the cabinet)

For a really good description of hyperbolic crochet, please take a look at the Institute for Figuring, which has a fantastic discussion on how crochet can be used to model non-Euclidean geometry.

  • In the bottom left, a chain of 15 stitches.
  • In the top left, a chain which has been worked back through with a single crochet in each stitch. To do this, make your first single crochet in the chain stitch closest to your hook rather than farthest away, as you would for beginning to work in the round. Depending on your tension, the finished piece will have a slight curvature.
  • In the top right, a chain which has been worked through with increases in each stitch. By making two single crochets in each of the chain stitches, a corkscrew shape is produced.
  • In the bottom left, a chain which has increases in each stitch for two rows. Though the tightness of the curl is the same, the "threads" of the screw are widened.

These forms are useful for making tentacles, pig tails, fern fronds, etc. The size of the finished piece will determine how many rows you'll want to make.


Making these branching forms simply requires you to start working a second piece of yarn into a hole created by chaining for several stitches instead of single crocheting. At the conclusion of the chain, you simply start single crocheting in the stitch that you would work in if you had been single crocheting instead of chaining. In other words, you generally skip the same number of stitches that you chain, though you can play around with chaining or skipping more or less.

  • For intermediate 1 (in the middle), make a tube 5 rows high from a chain start of 15 stitches, single crocheting all the way up. Somewhere in the 6th row, chain 7 stitches. Then single crochet on the 8th stitch on the 5th row from where you started chaining, effectively skipping 7 stitches.
  • To continue to intermediate 2 (at right), simply keep single crocheting all the way around for another 5 rows or so. As you come back around to the area that is made of slip stitches, make sure to work in only one of the loops so that you have something to work the branch into.
  • To make the finished piece (at left), knot a new end of yarn into one of the loops provided by the hole you've made. I like to start this somewhere at the bottom rather than the top, since single crochets are easier to work in than already-worked in chains. Just single crochet all the way around - you should make a tube 5 rows long and 15 stitches in circumference. If necessary, you can increase or decrease once or twice to maintain a suitable number of stitches if you've missed or gained one.
These branching forms are useful for antlers, coral, legs, - the two branches can be drastically different in circumference to give the desired effect.

N.B. - Unless noted, samples in the height and loops categories begin with 15 stitches and are 5.5 rows tall. That works out to about 80 stitches (except the ones using increase and decreases!)

Stitch Height

Stitch height is produced by pulling more loops through each other before moving on to the next stitch. If you are working a flat piece, using a certain height produces work that has a distinct texture, but I think they're most useful for creating curved shapes (as described in the last example). There are far clearer explanations of the techniques here and in various books and videos, and I have heard of many variations. For my purposes, the main goal is to have in the repertoire a tall stitch, a normal-height stitch, and a short stitch. In order from left to right:

  • Double. The tallest stitch in common use. Yarn over, insert the hook into the loop of the stitch in the previous row, catch the yarn, pull it through the loop, yarn over, and pull yarn through two loops. yarn over, and pull through again.
  • Cheat. This is what I use instead of a double – it's faster for me, and I think the texture more closely resembles that of the single crochet than the half double does. Nevertheless, this stitch is more closely related to the half double in height than the double. Yarn over, insert into the loop of the stitch in the previous row, catch the yarn, and pull yarn through two loops. Then yarn over and pull through both loops.
  • Half double. Yarn over, insert the hook through the loop, catch yarn, pull through stitch, yarn over, and pull through all 3.
  • Single. The standard crochet height. Insert, catch yarn, pull through stitch, yarn over, and pull through both.
  • Slip. The shortest stitch possible. Insert the hook through the loop, catch yarn, and pull through.
  • Curved. Here's what happens when you put tall stitches on one side of a piece and short stitches on the other. Starting with a chain of 15 stitches, I've made 5 “cheat” stitches, followed by 2 single and then 6 slip stitches, and finally 2 more single stitches, in each row.

As you can see from the curved example, stitch height can be manipulated to produce interesting shapes, though you should be careful to match up your stitches to their counterparts in the previous row. Otherwise, the work will just look sort of twisted. You can further exaggerate the curvature by using high tension on the slip side and low tension on the other.

Increasing and Decreasing(upper right of the cabinet)
Increasing simply means that two crochet stitches are made in one stitch of the previous row. Decreasing is slightly more complicated and worth looking up online if you have never done it before, but it essentially involves turning two stitches of the previous row into one in the present row.
  • On the left – increasing once per every 7 stitches, starting from a chain of 15.
  • On the right – decreasing once every 7 stitches. In the last two rows, deceases are done every 6 rather than 7 stitches.

Increasing and decreasing can clearly be used to create changes in the thickness of the work. Modifying the rate of increase or decrease can create different types of shapes, too – for example, if you wanted to create a spherical shape, you'd start out by increasing frequently, and then you'd sharply reduce the frequency. For a flat shape, you'd reduce it more slowly.


There are two loops you can work as you crochet: the “front” (when working in the round, these are facing the hollow part, or the inside of the work) and the “back” (which face the outside). You can work in either one or in both.

  • At left, working in the back loops only. This leaves the front loops exposed in the center of the tubes (not shown), but the outside is smooth.
  • At middle, working in both loops. This creates a texture essentially indistinguishable from the sample worked only in the back loops. The size of the piece is slightly smaller, however, because the work is more compact.
  • At right, working in front loops only. This exposes the back loops to the outside of the piece.
I usually prefer to work only in the back stitch for three reasons: one, the piece is a little bit more flexible; two, the loops can be use to attach things to the inside of the work; three, I just find it easier.

Miscellaneous Examples

The Ball
From a ring start of 6 stitches, increase until there are 15 stitches, then decrease again. This is a great opportunity to play with the rate of increasing and decreasing required to make a smooth curve. The ball is made of 6 rows.

The Hard Turn
From a chain start of 15 stitches, crochet in the back loops. At row 6, decrease in each stitch in the front loops. This produces a hard “edge” which might be useful for modeling mechanical shapes.

The Curve + Decrease
To make this “octopus leg,” begin with a chain of 8 stitches. While using tall stitches on one side and short on the other, also decrease in every other row or so to your taste.

As you work, you'll get a sense of what kind of stitch is called for to achieve your desired shape. A simple exercise you can do to demonstrate this is to try to make a more or less flat circle, beginning with a ring start and lots of increases (once in every stitch, in the first row). As you enlarge the circle, you will need to make fewer and fewer increases. Pay attention to the angle of the stitch your hook is in. A line drawn from the hook to the base of the stitch should intersect with the center of your piece. If it looks like your new line of stitches is “lagging behind,” make an increase. By keeping an eye on this, and on the curvature (or lack thereof) if your work, you can make an object of relatively precise shape without a pattern - simply by taking cues from the work as you make it.

Interpreting this kind of feedback will allow you to sculpt forms naturally and with little effort. Don't be shy of frogging - if what you've made doesn't please you, just pull the working end of the yarn until you're back to where things started to go wrong - you'll make up the difference rapidly. Even with error-correction, I find this method of free-form crocheting to be much faster - and more fun - than counting stitches.



You'll need to be familiar with these terms:
- Chain
- Ring start
- Single crochet
- Double crochet
- Slip stitch
- Increase
- Decrease

If you google the names of the stitches mentioned, you should come up with some nice instructions.

Jessica Polka's blog

Wunderkammer patterns at Etsy

Hyperbolic Crochet

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