Tapestry crochet is a very versatile crochet technique to learn. You can create simple and intricate designs with it, and you can “draw” as well as “write” with it. The possibilities are truly endless! Most tapestry crochet patterns use the single crochet stitch, so it is really not that hard to learn! In this introductory tutorial, we will be exploring what is tapestry crochet, how to do tapestry crochet, how to read tapestry crochet graphs, and some tips and tricks to help you along the way.
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TABLE OF CONTENT
- WHAT IS TAPESTRY CROCHET?
- TYPES OF TAPESTRY CROCHET
- STITCHES USED IN TAPESTRY CROCHET
- HOW TO READ TAPESTRY CROCHET GRAPHS
- HOW TO CHANGE COLORS IN TAPESTRY CROCHET
- TIPS AND TRICKS FOR TAPESTRY CROCHET
- WHAT’S NEXT
PIN IT FOR LATER
WHAT IS TAPESTRY CROCHET?
Tapestry crochet is a type of crochet colorwork where at least two contrasting color yarns are used together at the same time. It is important for the colors to have good contrast for the design to show. One of these colors is called the active color – the color with which we do the stitches. The other color is called the inactive color – the color we are not using to work the stitches. The inactive color is carried flat along the top of the row/round and crocheted over with the active color. The roles of active color and inactive color alternate as we change colors throughout the project.
In the image below, the peach yarn is the active color while the white yarn is the inactive color.
In the simplest form of crochet colorwork, the color changes happen at the end of each row/round to create a stripe effect. However, in tapestry crochet, the color changes happen mostly in the middle of the rows/rounds. This is how we can “draw” or “write” with this technique.
Tapestry crochet is, therefore, a color change technique defined by what we do with the inactive color – we carry it flat along the top of the row/round and crochet over it with the active color.
TYPES OF TAPESTRY CROCHET
Tapestry crochet can be worked in the round as well as flat in rows.
TAPESTRY CROCHET IN THE ROUND
When worked in the round, tapestry crochet is usually done in a continuous spiral, as a flat disc or a tube. This means that we are always working on the right side (RS) of the work. Many tapestry crochet beginners start with these kinds of projects because they don’t have to worry about which side is the right side (RS) and which side the wrong side (WS).
The image below shows the Valentine’s Jar Cozy worked with this method using single crochet back loop only. Click HERE to get the free pattern and learn how to tapestry crochet in the round.
FLAT TAPESTRY CROCHET
There are two main methods to do flat tapestry crochet: 1) Going in one direction only (one-directional flat tapestry crochet); 2) Going back and forth in rows (two-directional flat tapestry crochet).
ONE-DIRECTIONAL FLAT TAPESTRY CROCHET
This first method is similar to what we do in mosaic crochet: we work flat in rows in one direction only on the right side (RS) of the work. This means that we won’t be turning at the end of each row. Instead, we will be fastening off and cutting the yarn at the end of each row.
This method will leave us with a lot of ends to deal with when we finish the project. We can either weave them all in (who wants to do that?), try to hide them (if our project is double layered), or repurpose them and use them as fringes (think mug rugs, scarves, blankets, etc.). Some very skilled crafters who can crochet with both hands actually switch hands at the end of each row to minimize the number of ends.
The image below shows the Valentine’s Mug Rug worked with this method using single crochet back loop only. As you can see, instead of weaving the ends, I’ve repurposed the ends and converted them into fringes. Click HERE to get the free pattern and learn how to do one-directional flat tapestry crochet.
TWO-DIRECTIONAL FLAT TAPESTRY CROCHET
For those who don’t want to deal with all the ends of the previous method and can’t crochet with the non-dominant hand (me!), there is a solution! We can also do flat tapestry crochet by going back and forth in rows.
This method requires that we turn our work at the end of each row. Therefore, we need to be aware that there is a right side (RS) and a wrong side (WS). The designer should let us know which side is which. But as a rule of thumb, the side on which we work the odd number rows (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc.) is the RS, while the side on which we work the even number rows (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) is the WS. When reading the graph, we read the odd number rows from right to left (<–) and the even number rows from left to right (–>).
When we turn our work at the end of each row, we will be carrying the inactive color with us. Therefore, we need to remember to always keep it on the WS of the work. This will ensure neat edges when we finish our project.
The image below shows some Valentine’s Coasters worked with this method using regular single crochet. Click HERE to get the free pattern and learn how to do two-directional flat tapestry crochet.
Many of my premium patterns, like the Chinese calligraphy patterns and the pillow cover patterns, use this two-directional flat tapestry crochet method as well. Be sure to check them out before you go 🙂
STITCHES USED IN TAPESTRY CROCHET
Since tapestry crochet is a colorwork technique defined by the use of the inactive color, we technically can use it with any stitch as long as they are more enclosed. However, most tapestry crochet patterns use the single crochet stitch because it is the smallest stitch available. This means that we have more room to get detailed designs in a given space and that we will be able to hide the inactive color better.
There are several variations to the single crochet stitch when it comes to tapestry crochet. The most common ones are 1) regular single crochet, 2) single crochet back loop only, and 3) modified single crochet. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
REGULAR SINGLE CROCHET
This is the single crochet stitch we all learn when we start crocheting. To do this, we insert the hook through BOTH loops in the designated stitch, yarn over, pull up a loop, yarn over, pull through both loops on the hook.
This stitch is mostly used in two-directional flat tapestry crochet.
SINGLE CROCHET BACK LOOP ONLY
In this variation of the single crochet stitch, instead of inserting the hook through both loops in the designated stitch, we insert the hook into the BACK LOOP (the loop furthest to us) of the designated stitch. This stitch is a little taller than the regular single crochet.
To do a single crochet back loop only, we insert the hook in the back loop only of the designated stitch, yarn over, pull up a loop, yarn over, pull through both loops on the hook.
This variation of the single crochet stitch is mostly used when we do tapestry crochet in the round and one-directional flat tapestry crochet.
MODIFIED SINGLE CROCHET
The modified single crochet is basically a single crochet back loop only, but instead of yarning over to close the stitch, we yarn under. There is not much visual difference with the single crochet back loop only, but when worked, this stitch is smaller and tighter.
To do a modified single crochet, we insert the hook in the back loop only of the designated stitch, yarn over, pull up a loop, yarn under, pull through both loops on the hook.
The image on the left shows how we normally do the yarn over: we wrap the working yarn around the hook and pull through the loops on the hook. The image on the right shows how to do the yarn under: we leave the working yarn in front of the hook and pull through the loops on the hook.
Many designers use this stitch instead of the single crochet back loop only when working with more than two colors, especially for tapestry crochet in the round. This is also the method I use to change colors when working with regular single crochet and single crochet back loop only.
Below are a few pictures that show the difference between the stitches mentioned above:
HOW TO READ TAPESTRY CROCHET GRAPHS
Most tapestry crochet patterns come in the form of a grid-style graph (sometimes also called “charts”). These graphs are more popular than the line-by-line written instructions because they provide better visualization of where the color changes happen and what the final design looks like. Each little square inside the graph equals one stitch.
We start reading the graph from the bottom right corner and go upwards. If the graph is designed for tapestry crochet in the round (tube shape) or one-directional flat tapestry crochet, we read all the rows from right to left (<–).
If the graph is designed for two-directional flat tapestry crochet, we usually read the odd number rows from right to left (<–) and the even number rows from left to right (–>).
Tapestry crochet patterns for flat circular designs also come in the form of graphs. These graphs are circular instead of square or rectangular and we read them from the center point out.
HOW TO CHANGE COLORS IN TAPESTRY CROCHET
There is a lot of color-changing involved in a tapestry crochet project. This is how we can create amazing crocheted “pictures” or “write” with crochet. It is important to master color changing for the final product to look neat and professional.
WHERE AND WHEN TO CHANGE COLORS
Let’s look at Row 3 of the graph below:
We are reading Row 3 from the right to left (<–) and we see that there are 7 stitches in white, then 3 in red, then another 7 stitches in white. We will be changing colors where the “stars” are, by pulling the new color through the last two loops on the hook to close the stitch.
HOW TO CHANGE CHANGE COLORS
As a disclaimer, not everyone uses this method that I am about to share with you. However, I find that by using this method, the images come out more defined, we can prevent slanting when using the single crochet stitch, and we can reduce the bulging of the inactive color.
Continuing with the Row 3 pictured above and using a regular single crochet stitch as an example, follow the steps below to change colors:
- Work 6 regular single crochet stitches with the active color
- On the 7th stitch, work one last single crochet with the same color but STOP before the last yarn over (two loops on the hook)
- Bring the active color forward so that the yarn is laying on the front side of the work
- Close the 7th stitch by yarning under the inactive color and pull it through both loops on the hook
- The inactive color now becomes the active color and vice versa
- Continue crocheting with the active color over the inactive color as normal until the next color change
Below is a short video demonstrating how I change colors using the technique stated above:
If the stitch we are using is the modified single crochet, then there is no need to make this adjustment when changing colors. The second part of the modified single crochet already calls for a yarn under instead of a yarn over.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR TAPESTRY CROCHET
HOW TO MINIMIZE THE INACTIVE COLOR SHOWING THROUGH
One of the questions that I get asked the most is how to avoid the inactive color showing through the crocheted fabric. Well, with tapestry crochet I don’t think there is a way to completely avoid this, but we certainly can minimize it. Below are some tips that might be helpful:
- GIVE THE INACTIVE COLOR A GENTLE TUG: Check your work every few stitches. If you see the inactive color bulging through the stitches, give the yarn a gentle tug to flatten the bulge. However, make sure that you don’t pull too tight. If you do so, it may affect the tension and the final shape of your project.
- USE A SMALLER HOOK: Smaller hooks make smaller and tighter stitches. Therefore, this will minimize the show-through of the inactive color. Of course, this is only applicable if gauge and size aren’t essential for the project you are working on.
- CARRY THE INACTIVE COLOR ON THE WS: Instead of carrying the inactive color on top of the row/round, you could carry it on the wrong side (WS) of the work. However, make sure that you remember to grab this yarn when you are working your stitches because since you can’t see it as well, you may miss it and end up creating “floats” of yarn on the WS of the work.
- CHOOSE THE COLORS OF YOUR YARN CAREFULLY: If the two colors you are using have a very sharp contrast (picture on the left below), the inactive color will be more noticeable. But if the colors you are using don’t have such a sharp contrast (picture on the right below), the inactive color won’t show that much. You could also use a speckled yarn that matches the color of your other yarn to trick the eyes into not seeing the inactive color.
HOW TO MAINTAIN EVEN TENSION
Another question I get asked a lot is how to keep an even tension throughout the work.
- WORK WITH TWO STRANDS OF YARN AT ALL TIMES: Even though the color changes won’t start until a few rows in, it is recommended that you carry the inactive color from the very beginning (Row 1) and throughout the work. This will ensure that your final product has a more uniform shape and tension.
- DON’T PULL TOO TIGHT: Don’t pull your inactive color too tight when trying to reduce bulging. Also, don’t pull too tight either when turning your work at the end of the row (in two-directional flat tapestry crochet).
- PRACTICE: Practice makes better. Practice your tapestry crochet skills starting with smaller projects. The more you practice, the better the results.
HOW TO AVOID YARN TANGLING
Yarn tangling is part of tapestry crochet unless you are very careful with what you do with each of the yarn strands. Personally, I just untangle my yarn after every few rows due to the color-changing technique I use, but there is a way to avoid it. Below are some YouTube videos with some tips and tricks that I found helpful:
- This video from Catherine Crochets shows how to avoid yarn from tangling when working with two colors. She uses the double crochet stitch in her video.
- This video from All Tapestry Crochet shows how to avoid yarn from tangling when working with more than two colors. She uses the modified single crochet stitch in her video.
OTHER BLOG POSTS IN THIS SERIES
Now that we know the theory behind this beautiful way of crochet, let’s make some projects and practice this technique!
- Make the Valentine’s Jar Cozy and learn HOW TO DO TAPESTRY CROCHET IN THE ROUND (TUBE)
- Make the Valentine’s Mug Rug and learn HOW TO DO ONE-DIRECTIONAL FLAT TAPESTRY CROCHET
- Make the Valentine’s Coaster and learn HOW TO DO TWO-DIRECTIONAL FLAT TAPESTRY CROCHET
- HOW TO DO A TAPESTRY CROCHET FLAT CIRCLE (coming soon)