You’re happily crocheting your blanket, scarf, dishcloth, or practice swatch, and you notice your rows are shortening. Your project is narrowing, getting smaller as it goes up. Now it looks like a trapezoid or triangle instead of a rectangle. Frustrating – but you’re not alone. Even experienced crocheters run into this problem from time to time.
Crochet rows can get shorter for a number of reasons. The most likely culprit is that you’re accidentally making fewer stitches per row. This is an easy mistake to make if you haven’t been counting your stitches, or if you’re overlooking places you’re supposed to be working into. Other possible causes of smaller rows include issues with tension, or using the wrong crochet hook.
To begin narrowing down which of these causes it can be, count the number of stitches you have in one of your completed rows that is too narrow.
If the stitch count matches up with the number of stitches you’re supposed to have according to the pattern, then it may be an issue with tension, an issue with the foundation chain, or you may be using the wrong hook. These will be explained in more detail in the beginning of the article.
If you find that your stitch count is off, then the most likely culprit is that you’re missing stitches. The causes we just mentioned may still be playing a part, but most likely, the largest contributor to the problem is these lost stitches, which we cover in greater detail in “Missing Stitches” section.
Let’s examine these causes a little more closely.
Tightening your tension partway into a project can cause your stitches to come out smaller than before. This can cause more tightly worked rows to end up looking narrower than previous rows.
How tightly you work can be affected by a number if things:
- Mood (including stress, excitement, or anxiety)
- How cold it is in the room
- How tired your hands are
- Being distracted
- Being new to the craft
You may also be so focused on making each stitch perfectly that you unconsciously pull everything tighter. I find this sometimes happens to me if I’m learning a new stitch.
Beginners often struggle with having consistent tension. Generally, after enough practice, everyone settles on a consistent tension. Until then, if you’re still learning and your tension varies, you can change hooks to compensate. If you know your tension is tighter than it was before, you can use a larger hook to “loosen” your stitches.
Using the Wrong Hook
Are you certain you’re using the same hook you started this project with? If you accidentally picked up a smaller or different style of hook, your stitches can end up smaller. This can cause your rows to look shorter. Size matters – and here’s a more in depth explanation as to why.
Loose Foundation Chain
If your foundation chain is too loose, your work will appear to narrow as you go up. This can be solved by either deliberately working with tighter tension when creating the foundation loop, or you can go down a hook size or two when creating the foundation loop. Then, return to using a larger hook when you start the first row.
One telltale sign of this happening is when your crochet starts to curve upwards, like a smile, where the foundation chain is at the bottom.
The most likely reason your crochet rows are getting shorter is that you’re missing stitches. This can be the trickiest cause to understand, but luckily, once you understand it, resolving this issue should be fairly straightforward. ‘
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you’re making something that’s 10 stitches wide. Each row is supposed to have 10 stitches in it. But if you’re somehow accidentally missing a stitch each row then your crochet is going to get narrower.
Most often, this happens at the end or the beginning of the row, and it’s usually due to confusion caused by the turning chain.
Two ways you can end up missing stitches are:
- The turning chain is counted as a stitch, so on the following round or row, you’re supposed to work a stitch into the top of it. But you aren’t, leading to a missing stitch in that new row.
- The turning chain is NOT counted as a stitch, so you’re not supposed to be working into it. You aren’t (which is good), but then you also accidentally skip working into the base of the turning stitch on that same row, causing you to lose a stitch.
If either of these explanations leaves you confused – don’t worry! I’ll explain what a turning chain is. I’ll also explain how to figure out if the turning chain is counted as a stitch.
If I didn’t lose you, and you already know what a turning chain is and how to tell if it counts as a stitch, feel free to scroll down to “Where’s the Missing Stitch?”
What’s the Turning Chain?
The turning chain is the series of chain stitches made in the beginning of a row (sometimes at the end) that is used as a method to get the hook up to the level of stitches to be formed on the next row.
You can usually identify the turning chain in a written pattern. It often looks something like this:
|… chain #, then turn …|
where the # symbol is any number between 1 and 3, but sometimes more.
In single crochet, the turning chain is usually just 1 chain stitch. For half double crochet, the turning chain is usually 2 stitches. In double crochet, it’s often 3 chain stitches. For treble crochet, it’s 4 stitches, and so on.
Turning chains are necessary (particularly for taller stitches) because if you don’t bring the hook up to the height of the stitch you’re making, then your rows are going to look “squashed” instead of even and level.
Think of your crochet rows as stories of a building. If you’re constructing that building, your walls all need to be of a certain height so that when you build the ceiling, it’s going to be nice and flat, and at the right height.
These turning chains may also serve a second purpose. Sometimes, the turning chain can counts as a stitch. This means that despite being just a bunch of chain stitches, it’s supposed to be considered one of the stitches in that row.
So if your project is made out of double crochets, then your turning chain (made up of 3 chain stitches) is supposed to count as a double crochet (even though it doesn’t look exactly like one.) Or, in the case of your project being made out of single crochets, your turning chain (of 1 chain stitch) is supposed to be considered a single crochet.
Whether or not the turning chain counts as a stitch matters because it dictates where the rest of the stitches in the project are supposed to go.
How Can I Tell Whether Turning Chain Counts as a Stitch?
The pattern should say whether or not turning chains count as stitches.
Sometimes, this information will show up in the actual pattern instructions. For example, the second row of the pattern may read:
|“Row 2: Ch 3 (counts as a dc) …”|
or, the author may mention it in the pattern notes
In this case, the turning chain does count as a dc. The author may not mention this in every row, because generally, it’s assumed that this will apply to the rest of the pattern, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Sometimes, patterns will have a “Notes” section in the beginning (before the actual crochet instructions). In here, authors may state whether or not turning chains count as stitches. This is generally the case in downloadable pattern PDFs.
Turning chains count as a stitch.
If the pattern doesn’t explicitly state one way or the other, you can still figure it out using some sleuthing.
Look at the end of each round or row of crochet instructions and see if there’s a total stitch count for that row. In the following example, there is, and it’s 10.
|Round 2: Ch 3. dc in next 10 stitches. (10 sts)|
Then read the instructions for that row and see if the sum of the stitches equals that total stitch count. In this case, it does, so the turning chain (Ch 3) doesn’t count as a stitch.
If, on the other hand, the total stitch count was “11 sts” instead of “10 sts,” then the turning chain would count as a stitch.
A basic rule of thumb is that if the pattern is using almost exclusively single crochets, then turning chains generally DON’T count as a stitch. Single crochet turning chains are short and often hard to work into, so it’s usually used just to reach the top of a new row, but not as a stitch.
On the other hand, patterns that use many taller stitches like double crochet and treble crochets often count turning chains as stitches.
Where’s the Missing Stitch?
If the Turning Chain Counts as a Stitch:
If the turning chain counts as a stitch, then it’s going to be the first stitch of the new row. When making the second stitch, don’t work into the base of the turning chain. The base of the turning chain is going to be the top of the very last stitch of the previous row. In the picture above, it’s what the red arrow is pointing to.
Instead, you should work into the second stitch – where the green arrow points. This is also the second-to-last stitch of the previous row.
If you do accidentally work into that base, you’ll be adding an extra stitch and your crochet rows will get wider, assuming this was the only mistake you made.
Additionally, on subsequent rows, the last stitch you make in each row is going to be worked into the turning chain. More specifically, you’ll be working into the topmost chain stitch of the turning chain. This is because the turning chain counts as a stitch, so you have to work into it, just like you worked into all its other brethren stitches in that row.
Now here is where you might have made a mistake. If you don’t work into the turning chain, you’ll be missing this stitch, so your crochet will get narrower. If you repeat this mistake for a few rows, your rows will get shorter and shorter until you end up with a trapezoid or triangle, assuming nothing else went wrong.
[pic of not working into turning chain even tho it counts as a stitch] s-4
This is an easy mistake to make because it can be tricky to figure out where the top of the turning chain in the previous row is.
In this swatch, there are four stitches left to be worked into.
By now you may have learned that most crochet stitches have that sideways “v” that you work into.
But the one all the way to the left is the turning chain. From above, the chain stitch at the top of the turning chain doesn’t always look exactly like the rest of the “v”s.
This is in part because when you turn your work, the chain gets slightly twisted.
Since that “v” is a little more warped, it can be easy for you to overlook, and accidentally skip working into (leading to your rows getting shorter.)
An easy fix for this is to insert a stitch marker into the topmost stitch of your turning chain right after you make it. I generally like to put a stitch marker into both loops of the chain stitch so that the stitch marker shows exactly where my hook needs to be inserted when I work into it.
You can color code your stitch markers, too, and use yellow to indicate “work into this stitch before stopping” and red to indicate “do not work in this stitch.”
The following pictures show you how to use stitch markers to mark the top chain stitch of the turning chain.
If the Turning Chain Does Not Count as a Stitch:
If the turning chain does NOT count as a stitch, then the first stitch of that row is going to be worked into the base of the turning chain. In other words, the first stitch of that row will be worked into the top of the very last stitch of the previous row.
Here’s where you might have made a mistake. If you accidentally skipped working into the base of the turning chain, and instead you work in the second stitch of that new row, you’ll be skipping a stitch. This would cause your crochet to get narrower. If you repeat this mistake for a few rows, each row will get shorter and you’ll end up with a trapezoid or triangle.
If you accidentally skip over working into there, and instead work into that row one stitch to the right, you’ll end up with something like this.
If you’re struggling with figuring out which stitch is the base of the turning stitch, here’s an easy fix. When you work the last stitch of a row, before you make the turning chain, insert a stitch marker into the top of that VERY LAST stitch of the row.
I like to insert the stitch marker under both loops or legs of the “v”. This indicates where you need to be inserting your hook into when you’re making the first stitch of that row (after you make the turning chain.)
This is what it’ll look like after you insert the stitch, then make the turning chain.
Since the turning chain doesn’t count as a stitch, when you to the end of the row, don’t work into the turning stitch of the previous row (unless it’s some special case and the pattern explicitly states otherwise.) These turning chains are just supposed to just blend in with the rest of the fabric, like a supporting extra working in the background of a movie scene. (As an aside, if you do work into the turning stitch by accident but you make no other mistakes, you will be adding an extra stitch, and your crochet rows will get wider.)
If you don’t think you’ll remember not to work into the turning chain, or you think you wont be able to tell it apart from all the other stitches you need to work into, you can mark the topmost stitch of the turning chain with a stitch marker. I like to color code my stitch markers. For me, a red stitch marker usually means “stop – don’t work into this stitch.” While a yellow or green stitch marker means “be sure to work into this stitch.”
The Importance of Understanding Turning Chains
Turning chains are important to understand, even if your stitch counts are adding up properly. It’s possible to end up with the right number of stitches if you make more than one mistake. Two mistakes can cancel the consequences of each other out, in terms of stitch count.
For example, if you accidentally skip one stitch somewhere but then accidentally add another extra stitch elsewhere, since you lost one stitch but gained an extra, your stitch count still comes out as correct. But this is like the math class equivalent of getting the right answer even though your work was wrong.
I Found the Problem. What’s the Fix?
If your issue was a difference in tension, you may be able to get by with blocking your work.
You can give this a shot if it’s something that doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect in terms of presentation, like a washcloth or dishcloth that only you’ll use.
On the other hand, if your project narrowed because you accidentally skipped making stitches you were supposed to, or the item is a gift or a piece of decoration you definitely need looking perfect, then your best option is to undo it.
You can frog your project back each row and count the stitches in the latest row to check if you are still missing stitches. Keep frogging rows until you end up with a row that has the correct number of stitches according to the pattern. Then you can start over safely.
This can be painful and time consuming, but given the nature of crochet, there’s no good way to perform corrective surgery on the item without the rest of the project falling apart.
Double Check Your Work By Counting
Save yourself time and frustration when you crochet by counting the number of stitches at the end of each row, and making sure they match up with the number of stitches the pattern told you to make in that row.
It may sound tedious, but I assure you, it’s not as bad as realizing 6 long rows later that you lost a stitch somewhere, and that the only way to fix it is to undo the last 6 rows.
Plus, as you work, you’ll have peace of mind. After your first frogging debacle – knowing you didn’t miscount will put you at ease.