Tapestry crochet: a beginner's guide

Tapestry crochet is a technique that allows you to create intricate and beautiful patterns by working with multiple colors in a single row. As someone who’s been practicing tapestry crochet for just over two years, I can tell you that my first projects didn’t come out looking nearly as neat as I’d hoped. Luckily, there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to tapestry crochet, and the tips listed below will help you improve your craft in no time.

In this beginner's guide, you’ll learn the basics of tapestry crochet, including when to carry through your yarn, how to reduce bleeding, how to make both sides of your project look clean, and how to prevent your yarn from tangling. Need more help on how to switch colours while carrying through your yarn? Check out this blog.

1. Understanding Tapestry Crochet

Tapestry crochet is a great way to incorporate designs and colourwork into your crochet pieces. Unlike traditional crochet, where one color is typically used for each row, tapestry crochet allows you to incorporate different colors within the same row, resulting in a detailed and visually appealing fabric. Once you’ve gotten a hang of the technique, you’ll be able to change colours seamlessly, work with any pixel chart you come across, and even be able to create your own graph patterns.

Crochet scarf - Bunny   Crochet bag %u2013 This House Is Not a Home  
Two examples of crochet pieces made using the tapestry crochet technique: the Bunny scarf and the This House Is Not A Home Bag 

2. Tools and Materials

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of materials to start tapestry crochet. All you’ll need is:

  • A crochet hook
    • When doing tapestry crochet, I’d recommend using a smaller size hook; for example, if your yarn calls for a hook between 5 mm and 6 mm, go for a 5 mm hook. You could even downsize with half a mm (so 4,5 mm). The reason for this, is because a smaller hook will make the spaces between each stitch smaller, which’ll make your final design look more clean.
  • Multiple colours of yarn
    • If it’s your first time trying out tapestry crochet, I’d recommend keeping the amount of colours to a minimum – 2 or maaaaybe 3 if you’re feeling feisty. Working with multiple colours can be frustrating as you’ll need to carry more strands of yarn through your stitches.
    • Use a smooth, medium-weight yarn for your first tapestry crochet project.
    • Make sure every colour of yarn has the same weight! If not, keeping an even tension will end up being impossible, and your project will come out looking bulky and wonky.
  • A pair of scissors
  • A tapestry needle (to weave in ends)

3. Getting Started with Basic Stitches

It’s important to get familiar with the basic crochet stitches before you get started with colourwork. Tapestry crochet can take some getting used to, but luckily the technique only uses basic stitches as its foundation: you can either use single crochet (sc), half double crochet (hdc) or double crochet (dc) (all US terminology). Practice these stitches until you feel comfortable with the technique, as they will form the building blocks for more complex patterns.

It’s worth noting that most tapestry crochet is done using single crochet, seeing as the size of one (square) pixel will match the height and width of one stitch. On the image below, you can see the difference using half double crochet instead of single crochet can make when following the same graph pattern; it stretches the image out to almost double the size. Single crochet also ensures a thick, dense (neat!) fabric with small gaps.

Two pieces made using tapestry crochet: one using single crochet, the other using half double crochetBoth tapestries were made using the same graph; the tapestry on the left was made using single crochet, the one on the right uses half double crochet

4. Reading Tapestry Crochet Charts

Tapestry crochet charts are visual representations of the pattern you'll be creating. (Once you get a hang of it, you can even start making your own crochet charts!) Each square on the chart corresponds to a stitch, and different colors indicate color changes. This means you’ll simply need to follow the chart, making one single or half double crochet stitch for each square, and changing colour when they change in the box.

Although tapestry crochet patterns are (usually) reversible, every chart has a wrong side (WS) and a right side (RS). The right side is essentially the ‘front’ of your work, so aim to keep that side the most neat. Most graph patterns should start off by reading the first row from right to left – this’ll ensure that the front side of your work will contain the image as seen on the graph (and not the mirror opposite of that same image, which will be visible on the wrong side AKA the ‘back’ of your work).

As you work up the graph, cross off each row you’ve finished to prevent repeating rows. If you’re using StitchFiddle, use their progress tracker to keep track of where you are while working on your project by simple clicking the space bar every time you finish a row.

5. Tips for Tension and Colour Changes

Maintaining consistent tension is crucial in tapestry crochet to achieve a clean final design. Having said that, it might take a bit of time before you feel totally comfortable with your tension during tapestry crochet. Here are some tips to help you on your way:

  • You’ll want to keep your stitches quite tight when doing tapestry crochet, as this’ll ensure that the yarn you’re carrying through will be less visible.
    • If your project starts scrunching up at the sides, it’s a sign that your tension is too tight.
    • If you’re crocheting a simple shape like a rectangle or square, and the edges aren’t coming out straight, it can be a sign of inconsistent tension.
  • When changing colors, pay attention to the yarn not in use, making sure it's neatly carried through your stitches. You can do so by slightly tugging your yarn before you switch back to that colour. (Don’t pull it too tight, or you’ll risk scrunching up your fabric.)
  • Practice these techniques on a small swatch before starting a larger project to build confidence in your tension control and color changes. And don’t be afraid to start over!

6. Should You Carry Through or Drop Your Second Colour Yarn?

When it comes to carrying through your second colour, there are two options:

Option 1: Pick up the second strand of yarn right before you make a colour change. Only carry the second strand of yarn through the first strand when it’s needed in the graph. Find more information on this technique (including pictures) here.

  • Pros:
    • You’ll need less yarn to finish your project
    • In places where only the first colour is used, your second yarn won’t shine through, making it a good option when your second colour is darker or more vibrant than your first
    • It’s a great method to use when using more than two colours, as you won’t need to carry through endless strands of yarn
  • Cons:
    • It’s difficult to keep your tension consistent
    • The density of your work won’t be consistent
    • You’ll need to keep a close eye on where you’ll need to pick up the second colour in the next row – you might need to colour your second yarn through a few extra stitches so it’ll be accessible in the right spot

Option 2: Carry the second strand of yarn with through first strand all the way across the row.

  • Pros:
    • Your tension and the density of your work will be more even
    • The second colour will always be accessible
  • Cons:
    • You’ll need more yarn to finish your project
    • The second yarn will be visible in between stitches in your first colour
Bunny scarf: one with the secondary colour carried all the way through, one with it droppedTwo versions of the Bunny scarf: the one on the left is made using option 1 (yarn is dropped when not needed), the one on the right uses option 2 (yarn is carried through entire row)

The second option is definitely a great pick you’re just starting out with tapestry crochet, as you won’t need to count stitches to find out when you’ll need your second colour in your work, and you won’t need to pay much attention to your tension.

But, even though there are more cons listed for the first option, it is the one I prefer – once you get your tension right and learn how to read graphs intuitively, it’ll make more sense to opt for the version where you won’t be able to see the second colour through your first colour.

7. Preventing Tangled Yarn

One of the main things you’ll want to avoid when doing tapestry crochet, is tangled yarn. (I’ve spent enough time picking apart and untangling skeins of yarn to say so.) Here are a few ways to keep frustrations to a minimum:

  • Make sure to keep your skeins are separated from each other – e.g., keep one skein to the left and the other to the right side at all times. (Some crocheters use cups or bowls to keep them separated; I personally don’t like using them because my skeins just fly out when I tug them, but give it a try and see if it works for you.)
  • Follow this amazing video tutorial by Catherine Crochets – she explains how to pick up your yarn in such a way that your skeins will never tangle! Works when using more than two colours, too.
  • If you choose to change your yarn a different way, you’ll notice that your yarn strands will twirl around each other. Un-twirl them every couple of rows to avoid a (bigger) mess.

8. Using More than Two Colours

Using more than two colours in your piece can be a bit frustrating. There’s a lot you need to be aware of when when carrying through yarn, and even experienced crocheters can get their yarn in a complete tangle from which there seems to be no return. (Definitely not talking about my own experience! OK, you got me, I am!) So, my advice would be to only start introducing multiple colours when you feel comfortable reading graph patterns and changing two colours.

A few tips when you start using more than two colours:

  • Keep your skeins separate and prevent tangled yarn where possible (see above)
  • Only carry through the non-active yarn when it’s needed in the graph (see option 1 mentioned above). Otherwise you’ll have a very bulky final project, as there will be multiple strands of yarn hidden between each stitch.
  • Alternatively, float the yarn that isn’t in use (see ‘How to float’ below).
  • In some graph designs, there’ll be a clear background colour (for example, the light yellow in the This House Is Not A Home bag pattern). For these patterns, I’d recommend using two different skeins for the background; one for the background colour on the left of the pattern, and one for the right. This way, you’ll have one less yarn strand to carry through.
  • Make sure to tug all yarns when you change colours. This’ll make sure all strands will be carried through neatly, preventing bulking.
  • When finished with your work, fasten off the ends and weave them in under their same colour when possible – they’ll be the least visible this way.

9. How to Float Your Yarn

Floats are when, instead of carrying the yarn through all of your stitches, you drop it on the backside without cutting it. Then, after every few stitches, you carry it through one stitch to secure it, which leaves a little floating tail of yarn on that side. When that colour is needed in the graph, you pick it back up and use it again. It's great for pieces where only one side will be visible, such as a wall hanging or non-reversible piece of clothing.

10. Simple Tapestry Crochet Projects for Beginners

Once you feel comfortable with the basics, you can start with some beginner-friendly tapestry crochet projects. This is where the fun begins: experiment with colour combinations and yarn textures to make your own unique items. Enjoy using your new skill!

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