There are several different phrases, expressions and abbreviations relating to "back loops" that you might see used in various crochet patterns:
- Back loop
- Back loops
- Back loop only
- Back loops only
- Work through back loops only
- Work in back loops only
- Crochet in back loops only
Crochet in the Back Loops Only? What Does This Mean, Exactly?
Let’s clear up what is meant by this mystifying set of instructions.
When you crochet a stitch, you automatically create a set of loops at the top of the stitch. This happens whether you realize you're doing it or not. Many new crocheters don’t realize it, because it’s something that isn’t always clearly explained when you get started with crochet.
If you crochet a row of stitches and then tilt the work so that you can look at the very top of it, you’ll see this set of loops.
In the picture at left, I'm working a variation of double crochet stitch; I've tilted the left part of the work so you can see the tops of my stitches.
Usually, the “default” way of working is to crochet into both of these loops; you insert your crochet hook under both the front and back loop to work your stitches. If your pattern doesn’t specify which loops to work into, it’s a safe bet that you’ll probably work through both loops.
But, you don’t have to do it that way.
Back Loop Only vs. Front Loop Only: The loops on the upper edge, on the side of the work facing you, are the front loops. The other loops behind those are the back loops.
When instructed to work into the "back loops only, " you’ll want to insert your hook ONLY under the back loop, without the hook going under the front loop. That's what I'm doing in the photo at left. I'm forming each double crochet stitch as usual, EXCEPT that after I wrap my yarn over my hook to form the first part of the stitch, I'm only reaching under the back loop, and then completing the rest of my stitch.
If you look at the newly-formed stitches on the right hand side of the picture, you can see that the front loops are unworked; they are visible if you look for the little ridges under each stitch.
"Front" and "back" are relative, and they depend on the position from which you are viewing the work; the back of the work could possibly change at any time if you flip the work over to the other side.
When you’re only working into back loops, it typically means that you will work into the back loops no matter which side of the work you are working from.
Your pattern will usually give you specific guidance about whether to work through the back loops throughout the piece, or perhaps only in some specific parts of the project.
The Appearance and Performance of Stitches Crocheted in Back Loops Only
With some of the basic crochet stitches, such as single crochet and half double crochet, working into the back loops only gives your crocheted fabric an interesting ridged appearance. Also, fabrics created in this way are delightfully stretchy in the vertical direction. To take best advantage of this stretch, you can crochet various projects in the horizontal direction, then flip them in the vertical direction when you actually use them. If this sounds confusing, the best way to understand it is to take a look at the photos shown in a couple of projects made using this technique. A couple of examples:
The team spirit hat is worked in straight horizontal rows of back loop single crochet stitch. To finish the hat, you join the top of the work to the bottom, and then close one side. Then you flip the piece so that the entire thing is vertical when you wear it.
I invite you to take a look at the pictures in this image gallery to get a clearer understanding of how the piece is crocheted and then how it looks when finished. You can see a close-up picture of the fabric here.
This is another project where the piece is used vertically to take best advantage of the stretchiness of the back-loop-only stitches. This headband is interesting to crochet, because you combine the tapestry crochet technique with stitches worked through the back loops.
If you'd like to see more examples of interesting stitch variations you can create using the loops on your crochet stitches, check out these pages:
And a couple more related pages:
References and External Links:
The concept of crocheting in the back loops goes back hundreds of years (or maybe more.) I've found it used in various vintage crochet manuals, such as The Dictionary of Needlework, 1882, by Sophia Frances Anne Caulfield and Blanche C Saward. This book gives instructions for the stitch that I refer to as "back loop single crochet"; they call it "ribbed stitch" or "Russian stitch." The book also incorporates back-loop-only stitches into various projects such as a "square for a quilt." The authors describe this technique as "working upon the back of the stitches so as to form a ridge."
Back loop stitches are covered in The Harmony Guide to Crochet Stitches by Sylvia Cosh and James Walters. Instructions plus stitch diagrams for back loop single crochet, back loop half double crochet, and others can be found in this stitch dictionary, along with general instructions.
This page at the Craft Yarn Council’s website confirms the standard abbreviation for BL when it is used in contemporary crochet patterns.