Tapestry crochet is a technique for creating multicolored fabrics that include mid-row color changes. I enjoy using it as a means to crochet colorwork patterns without creating any floats (strands of yarn) across the back of the work.
The term "tapestry crochet" was popularized by Dr. Carol Ventura, who has written several books about the technique. Her tapestry crochet website is also a valuable source of information.
I've come across other names for what appears to me to be the same technique. Other names I've encountered are "mosaic crochet" and "fair isle crochet." I have seen vintage Alice Brooks publications which refer to this technique as "cameo crochet." You might come across additional names for it as well.
Tapestry crochet is often used when crocheting in the round, because it is nice to be able to work all your color changes from the same side of the work. However, there is no need to limit yourself to only working in the round with this technique. You can also use it when crocheting ordinary flat rows that are turned at the end of each row. In the following tutorial, I'll walk you through the process of crocheting a checkerboard pattern worked in rows using this technique.
You can see a thumbnail photo of my checkerboard chart at left. I invite you to print out the full-sized chart and give this pattern a try. Here is how to do that:
- Go to this page: free crochet checkerboard chart
- When you get to that page, look at the top right-hand side of your computer monitor; there is a printer icon (it's right below the search bar.)" Click it to access a printer-friendly page that does not have any ads on it.
- Print the chart.
- You may also wish to see a picture of the completed project, which is a checkerboard baby afghan square.
This chart has a mind-boggling variety of different possible uses. You are welcome, and encouraged, to use the chart however you like. I'm using mine to crochet multiple squares that will be whip stitched together to create a baby afghan.
If you've never worked from a chart before, it might seem a little cryptic. It's actually pretty simple once you understand what to look for.
Typically, when you do a tapestry crochet design, you'll be working in single crochet stitch. You could use other stitches with this technique if you like, but for the purposes of this tutorial, I'll use single crochet. Each square on your checkerboard chart represents one stitch. You'll notice that there are some blue squares and some white squares on the chart. I'll be using blue baby yarn to crochet the stitches represented on the chart by blue squares, and white baby yarn to crochet the stitches that are shown as white squares.How to Calculate Your Starting Chain: Your chart will tell you how many chain stitches to crochet for your starting chain. Simply count the stitches in the lowest row of the chart, and then add one more stitch to that number. So for this chart, you have 45 blocks on the chart, plus one stitch, equals 46 stitches total. You'll crochet a starting chain of 46 stitches.
I chose to use blue yarn to crochet my starting chain; this is because the majority of the stitches in the first row are blue.
Also, if you look at the first row of your chart, you'll see that the first five stitches are worked in blue yarn.
If you're right-handed, start reading the chart from the bottom up, starting at the right hand side; this is because you'll crochet across your foundation chain starting on the right hand side and working your way across to the left hand side. If you're left-handed, reverse this; you'll start at the lower left hand side of the chart and crochet your way across to the right hand side. Since this chart is symmetrical, the results will be the same for both left-handed and right-handed crocheters.
See Also: How to read a crochet chart
Begin Carrying the Second Color of Yarn
I should mention at this point that there are different possible approaches to this technique. I'm showing you how I do it. You might find other crocheters who approach it differently.
For example, if I'm doing tapestry crochet with two colors, as I am in this pattern, I usually begin carrying the second color from the very beginning. I do so because I've found that this gives me the most consistent gauge throughout the design, from start to finish. It also gives a more consistent look throughout the piece.
This particular design is not the best example of what I am talking about, because there are only five stitches before the first color change. The nested squares pattern would give you a clearer example; in the nested squares design, I've crocheted five rows in the first color before switching to the second color. I carried the unused color from the start. If you look carefully at the first five rows of the design, you can see it peeking through.
There are crocheters who approach it differently; they will not begin carrying their second color until they absolutely need to, which is several stitches before the actual color change takes place. That approach is fine too; it saves a little bit of yarn to do it that way. However, depending on your pattern, it might give you an inconsistent look, and you might also end up with differences in gauge between the places where you carried yarns and the places where you didn't.
If you would like to see an example of a pattern where I did not begin carrying my second color from the beginning, check out this crocheted heart. My first color was white; my second color was light purple. I did not begin carrying the white yarn until I joined the light purple yarn. I didn't carry the purple yarn at all. The result is that my square is slightly heavier in the central heart area where there are two yarns, and a little lighter in the white-only areas. If you look carefully at the finished fabric, you can see where the white yarns were carried in this piece.
So to start my checkerboard pattern, I'm going to begin crocheting with the first color, blue; but I'm also going start carrying my unused color, white, from the beginning.
In the photo at left, you can see that I am holding the white yarn parallel (er, sort of parallel) to my starting chain. The goal is to work my single crochet stitches in blue yarn while sandwiching the white yarn inside of my blue stitches. This will allow me to keep my white yarn easily accessible when I want to switch colors and begin crocheting with it, and the white yarn will also not be making a mess across the back of the work.
The First Single Crochet Stitch in Progress
To begin the single crochet stitch, I'm going to insert my crochet hook into the second chain from my hook, and then I'm going to grab the blue yarn with the hook, as pictured at left. As I do this, the white yarn is still going to be parallel to my chain; the goal is for it to be sandwiched inside my stitch when I am finished.
The next step is to pull the blue yarn up through the foundation chain, as pictured.
...and pull it through both loops to complete the single crochet stitch.
Begin the Next Single Crochet Stitch
Next comes another single crochet stitch in blue yarn, just like the first. I'm going to continue holding my white yarn parallel to, and slightly above, my foundation chain. Here you can see that I've inserted my crochet hook into the next chain stitch in my foundation chain, and I'm getting ready to grab the yarn and pull it up through the chain. Notice that my crochet hook goes underneath the white yarn during this process, and when I grab the yarn to pull it through the foundation chain, I'll also be pulling it underneath the white yarn at the same time.
I had my husband take a picture of the view looking directly down at my hands after I've pulled the yarn through the foundation chain. As you are crocheting, this is not the view you'd normally have of your own work (unless you were to crane your neck and / or purposely rotate your work slightly.) But I want you to see this view because it gives you a clear idea of what's going on with the yarns; you can see how that white yarn is sandwiched into the first single crochet stitch, and you can see how it's about to get sandwiched into the stitch I'm working on.
If you look at that blue yarn which I'm manipulating with my left hand, you can imagine what will happen to it when I grab it with the crochet hook, and then pull it through the two active loops on my hook. See what's going on here?
Note: You can click on the picture at left, or any of the pictures in this tutorial, to see an enlarged view.
Here's how that looks from the front. I've hooked the yarn, and I'm getting ready to pull it through the two active loops on my crochet hook.