MillWorks: Filet Crochet

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Filet Crochet

Did you know that you can use crochet as a way to make pictures? It's amazing, but . . . you can do it, and one of the nicest things about it is how complicated it looks but how simple it is to do.

Below, you can see the very first filet crochet I did. I'm showing it to you so you can see that it's not hard to do. This one is from Lion Brand's 1916 Lion Yarn Book. Available as a reprint, it's for historical curiosity only, with no modern translations for hook sizes, so they don't plan for any of the patterns to really be used. I did this quite some time ago because I thought it was so cute and wanted a challenge using leftover crochet thread. It's not large enough to be used as anything functional. I used size 10 thread and a small crochet hook. The original design had three rabbits. Theirs was all written out as a pattern, but it's easy to work these from a graph.

Can you believe that women used to make large items using thread with this technique? They did! The largest example I have seen is the one my step-great-grandmother made. It features just about any animal you can think of. At right you can see some of the animals: flamingos, cats playing, a cat and dog sitting together, elephant, camel, a pig jumping out of his pen, and a goose.

Another nice thing about filet crochet is that, unlike with a lot of crochet techniques, the finished products pretty much look nice on either side, as long as you don't do something like letters or numbers.

I'm not going to provide you with a pattern. Where's the fun in that? Instead, the instructions of how to make it just involve a little bit of math. This is math I struggled with (I'm not good at math!) so that it would be easy for you. You can be a washcloth designer, an afghan designer, a bag designer . . . whatever you'd like! You can custom make something to fit your or a friend or family member's interests. So, what are we waiting for? Let's begin!

The Basics

This first step isn't just practice. It also makes a swatch, so it's really important to use the yarn you want with the recommended hook size. You can find the hook size recommendation on the yarn label.

You'll want to start with just a basic 10 x 10 grid swatch. You'll come back to this step of making a swatch each time you switch to a new yarn and want to start creating your own pattern. Always make a swatch!

Begin by chaining 36. Double-crochet in the ninth nub from the hook. (I like to crochet in the nub or bottom loop of a crochet stitch. It makes for a nicer edge.) Chain 2. Skip two nubs and then double-crochet into the third. Repeat from here: Chain 2. Skip two nubs and then double-crochet into the third.

When you get to the end, chain 5 to turn (this creates the look of a double crochet on the edge, one chain for a corner, and then two to replicate the chain 2). Double crochet into the next double crochet. The rest is pretty straight-forward. You will chain two when you see a chain 2, and you will double crochet into each double crochet. Remember to chain 5 at each corner.

I highly recommend, though, sometimes putting a double crochet into those two chains. This will help since the gauge can go off a bit when a picture is put in it. You don't need to worry about what picture you're making yet. Just put in some double crochets in the chains at times.

Once you have a grid that is 10 squares by 10 squares (100 squares total), you have a handy swatch! Now you can estimate how big of a grid to use to chart out your design.

Some Math

Here is the equation to do:

____ (Future project's desired width) x 10 squares (this number will not change) / (divided by) _______ (size of swatch's width) = Number of grids ("squares") for width

You will also need to do it for the height:

____ (Future project's desired height) x 10 squares (this number will not change) / (divided by) _______ (size of swatch height) = Number of grids ("squares") for height

Bigger yarn equals less work and less squares (I'm calling them squares, but they're really rectangles).

You'll need to run the math for how many squares your grid will need for the width and height. Filet crochet tends to widen at the width and be shorter along its height. Even if you're doing a square project, you'll typically need to do this. The graph paper I made and included with this article helps to accommodate for some of this distortion, but you may need to tweak the measurements until you're happy with the way your items turn out. Always make something small first to see how your filet crochet appears.

Create a Grid

Create a grid that is bigger than the number of squares you need for the size of your project by printing out this designer grid (PDF). Print out as many as you need, cut them on the light grey lines (leaving a border of paper around the grid is helpful for jotting down notes and crossing off lines when completed), and tape them together. You should tape on the back side, so as not to get tape on the front.

You'll notice that the grid is made up of rectangles rather than squares. It looks funny . . . but this is intentional! Filet crochet doesn't create squares in the way we might think it would. Because the double crochets making up the vertical lines also add width, once you "fill one in," the look is more of rectangles. If you design on square graph paper, you'll end up with a finished picture that's wider and flatter than expected. This grid is set up to the approximate gauge I have when doing filet crochet. Because of that, it may not work exactly for you. Remember to start with a small project--it would be better to realize this on a small project than a big one!

Before cutting to the final size you need, draw your design by filling in squares with a pencil. Then carefully cut out the squares to the desired size in order to center it. Each filled in square will represent two double crochets that will go inside the grid. Each vertical line represents one double crochet. In other words, you will do four double crochets in a row each time you are doing a part of the design, to fill in that box (two extra, plus the one on either side you would normally do). Often, those vertical lines will be counted more than once. For example, if you're doing two filled in boxes in a row, that's not 8 double crochet, it's 7 double crochet.

You can also use negative space by making your picture the absence of stitches instead (as seen in the wash cloth in this article).

If you're creating a huge design with many squares, such as a blanket, you can draw the design. Then fill in each square the design goes through. With smaller designs, you'll need to be more methodical about the design than this.

Once you have this done, your pattern is finished and you're all set to go!

Your First Project

You'll need to read backwards for every other line. Unless you do something symmetrical--which is great for your first try! Write down what you're doing on your graph. For example, on odd lines I will read right to left, on even I'll read left to right. It's like zig-zagging. If you prefer, you can draw arrows on every other line. For example, on odd numbers, an arrow will be on the righthand of the sheet of paper, whereas for even, you'll put arrows on the lefthand. This just shows you where to start for that row. Work with the paper grid pattern from the bottom up. That seems odd, but it just mimics the way your crochet will build up from the bottom.

Aside from marking off each line as you go, it's also a good idea to use a scrap piece of contrasting yarn to tie a bow on the right side of your fabric. That way you can put your project down sometimes (you'll want to!). You won't need to mark the front if your design is completely symmetrical.

For your project, you'll be making a grid just like the one you have practiced on for your swatch. There's one important change, though. Each time you reach a darkened in section of your grid, you will need to double crochet in both of the chains (or double crochets, later on), creating a filled-in square.

Before you do a huge project, you may want to aim small with something like a cotton wash cloth. This is one I made using these instructions. It's a closed wash cloth, which is a bit more tricky to do than an open mesh. But think how many ways you could do a design! A heart like this could be done four different ways:

  • Solid background and solid interior, with the heart just outlined (as seen)
  • Solid heart only with open mesh background
  • Open background with open heart interior (mostly mesh--just the solid outline of a heart)
  • Solid background with open heart
  • This was crocheted with worsted weight yarn and an F hook over a 15 (wide) x 23 (high) grid, and made a washcloth approximately 11" square. Because it's symmetrical, a heart design is super-easy to practice with.

    You'll need to do another math problem before you begin crocheting. Don't worry--it's not quite as complicated as the other one!

    The math for how many stitches you need to chain to begin goes like this:
    Number of squares total x 3. Then add 6.

    From there, the pattern is all on that graph paper design you did. You're all set to start your project!

    Closed Grids

    Do you like the wash cloth? Well, the math is different. Instead of the above final math problem, do this:

    Number of squares total x 3. Then add 4.

    When you do your first row, go into the 5th, 6th, and 7th stitches. That will create your first four double crochets.

    Important for open and closed mesh designs: When you turn, if your first box is filled in, chain 3 instead of 5.

    Closed grids are tougher to do, so I recommend doing open mesh first until you feel like you have the hang of it. Then it will be more obvious what's going on with filet crochet. Closed mesh is really good to learn, though, because it will make warmer items, plus there are certain things (like a wash cloth) where a closed design makes more sense.

    An Easy Height Fix

    There's an easy correction for adding on height when you're all done--and this goes back to why it was important to crochet your first row into those back nubs! Here's how to add height:
    1) When you're all done with crocheting, but before you finish off, decide on the finished height you want to have.
    2) Subtract the current height of the "finished" product.
    3) Divide this number by two. Remember this number!
    4) Measure how many rows on your finished work equal that measurement. This is how many rows you will add to the top and bottom.
    5) Continue to crochet, adding that many rows before finishing off.
    6) Go back to your cast-on edge. Reattach the yarn to the same end of where your beginning thread is hanging from.
    7) Crochet that many rows on the beginning end as well.
    Your design will still be centered from top to bottom! The bottom end will have upside-down stitches, but it's hard to see these, and it works in a pinch better than ripping out all your work and re-centering on graph paper.


    Add a decorative border if desired.


    It's amazing to see the type of workmanship ladies did many years ago. But don't lose hope if you like this technique. To make your project go faster, use a larger yarn. The technique is suited to any "normal" (not special, like fuzzy) yarn, as long as you keep true to gauge and end up with a square grid to work with. Below, you can see the one that my great-grandmother made. You can tell from this distance that it was made in a modular manner, with one design at a time. One family mystery that has never been solved is why she seamed it together going in two different directions!

    Have fun!

    Providing crafts since October 2011. Filet crochet instructions are from July 2012. Copyright 2011- and all contents by Millie. Resulting products can only be kept or given away as gifts. Always keep safety in mind.