Why Do Crocheters Yarn Over?

Why do crocheters yarn over so much?

The short answer is that our Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmothers had to (hehe).

It was around 1998 that I had to ask this question. I had developed carpal tunnel and also had cysts on my wrist that had to be surgically removed. I remember the doctor asking me, "What do you do with your wrist that's repetitive?" Even though I knew the answer I said, "I don't know." I went home, looked at my current crochet project, put it away, and started to cry. Carpal tunnel AND cysts? I thought my crochet days were over. No more crochet club, and no more crochet classes. What bothered me the most was that I couldn't really teach beginners crochet any more either.

About a month after I had the surgery I decided to "try" crocheting. It hurt before I even got done with a few stitches. However, I was in a mood to fix this problem. I tried left handed crochet and it left me laughing (and I knew after 32 years of crocheting right handed I'd never get the hang of left handed). I tried holding yarn and hook in many different ways, and also tried doing 'most' of the stitches with my left hand - just holding the hook with my right.

It was about that time that I decided to slow down and see what part of the process was the part that was hurting.

I had to ask, "Why do crocheters yarn over so much?"

We yarn over once to make a single crochet. Twice to make a half double crochet. Three times to make a double crochet. And five times to make a triple crochet. Add stitch patterns to that mess and we end up with sore wrists, arms, shoulders, and necks. Okay, shoulders and necks probably come from sitting in the same position for hours on end.

YO, insert hook, YO pull a loop through ...

The picture above begins to explain the situation. The top piece of yarn (in yellow) is manufactured with the wonderful machines of today. The bottom piece of yarn (white) is hand spun on a spinning wheel.

Until around 1941 all fiber was either plant based (example: cotton) or animal hair (example: wool). Even though fibers were no longer completely hand spun, the machines that did the work (water frame, spinning jenny, and spinning mule) still mimicked the hand spun process. In 1941 DuPont developed acrylic that could be spun into yarn. Even with the development it wasn't put into large quantity production until around 1950. Sometime between 1950 and 1965 (if someone can find the exact date, please let me know) fibers started being produced like the yellow fiber above. Thin standardized fibers, that when combined, could produce various standardized plys (4 ply yarn, 3 ply yarn, etc.).

So what does that have to do with yarning over?
One Reason Crocheters Yarn Over is to Hold the Twist of the Yarn.

What I Learned About This

When I realized how much I was yarning over I realized that was the repetitive wrist action (go ahead and slow down to watch your own wrist) that was hurting. I found myself wondering if all that wrist action, all the time, was necessary and I started playing with the idea. Naturally, I had to do it (once) to make a half double crochet or double crochet, and (twice) to make a triple crochet. But did I HAVE to do it to pull the loops through? The answer was, NO.

I first tried with Red Heart Super Saver. It took some getting used to (not yarning over). But my little finished project didn't look any different, and my wrist wasn't in extreme pain.

Then I tried Caron Simply Soft (which is a little looser woven) with the same wonderful result. Yarning over, to pull a loop through, was not critical, and my project didn't look any different.

I really started understanding why I yarned over all the time when I tried some beautiful hand spun wool. As I crocheted with the wool (not yarning over to pull a loop through), the wool slowly began to unwind. I would have to release the yarn from my left hand (tension) and allow it to rewind. When I tried yarning over I didn't have to release the yarn, the wind of the wool held.

And that's when I started researching yarn. When you think about it the 1940s, 50s and 60s (see above) weren't that long ago. Our Mothers and Grandmothers crocheted during that time, and they had to yarn over to keep the wind of the yarn they started using when they began crocheting. So it would be natural (and habit) to do this with the "new acrylic" yarns. That habit would remain as cottons and wools started being produced with the standardized fibers.

And guess what, as they taught the next generation (us), they also taught to Yarn Over, pull a loop through.

There are times when you do need to YO, pull a loop through. But with today's fibers it should no longer be our "habit". Yes, I know, some of you will disagree. I'm not saying never do it again. I'm saying, "test your yarn". By eliminating the unnecessary wrist action (as a habit) you will protect your wrist and allow you to crochet for longer sittings and for longer in your life.

The Trick is to Test

The first trick is to practice this with a yarn you know doesn't need it (Red Heart Super saver is good one). Especially if you've been crocheting for a while, your habit is to always yarn over. Slow down and try to break your habit (it took me a while). Take a look at the picture with the yarn ends again (above). The blue single crochet (cotton) piece behind is made with absolutely no yarn overs. You can see that it didn't change the 'look' of the crochet.

If you are working with thinner yarns, or a really small crochet hook hold the stitch close to the hook (with your left hand) to complete. I still yarn over when working with thread as it gives me better control. Better control is the key to this. You can control the stitch simply by holding it closer.

I hardly ever yarn over when making a chain. As a matter of fact it's actually hard for me to remember to do it now. Even when my yarn testing tells me I should, my chains are done without it.

You can do your 'testing' when you're finding your gauge. Although gauge is very important, this would be the time to find out if your yarn is going to unwind by simply pulling the loop through.

Spread the yarn end to look at it. Compare it to the picture above. If you have nicely formed strands that are wound into a thicker strand chances are you can just pull your loops through. If it looks like the bottom picture, where the fiber is simply all woven together, then you'll most likely need to Yarn over.

Most metallic threads in yarn (like Caron Party) will need the extra yarn over. And, yarn from other Countries should always be tested as it is sometimes wound in the opposite direction that we are used to (in the USA).

We yarn over to pull a loop through because our Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmothers had to with the yarn they used. They taught the next generation, and that has passed on down to us. The least we can do is to teach the upcoming generation to 'test' their fiber. 


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