Don't Use a Pattern, Just Make This Bag.

27 Sep 2011

vickie_howell_yarn3 patternless_crochet14

patternless_crochet13 patternless_crochet12

Earlier this year, I did a review of Vickie Howell's new yarn line, Sheep(ish), for CRAFT. In the process, I whipped up a little crocheted clutch (the light blue one above, in fact).

Vickie, being an extremely nice person, said "People are going to want the pattern for that bag!" Pattern? What? I just kind of improvised it. I'm actually pretty bad with crochet patterns – reading them, that is. The abbreviations and symbols and complete lack of explanation as to why I have to add that weird increase on Row 10 – this stuff still boggles my brain all the time, and I've been crocheting five years.


Finally, it dawned on me: this little made-up bag is exactly the kind of project I would have liked to encounter when I'd reached the point where I was getting competent at crochet, tired of making scarves, but not ready to take on more complex patterns yet.

So I decided to write up my process of improvising, and Caron was nice enough to send me some more Sheep(ish) to play around with. (I'm working with Pumpkin(ish) and Camel(ish), to be exact. The turquoise is one of the many mystery yarns from my garage.)


OK, so, to begin, you need one rectangle of crochet. What gauge? What size? Don't worry about it! What stitch do you like best? Make a base chain that's a little shorter than the width you want the finished bag to be. Then start crocheting. Continue until it's the length you need. Then stop. Block it if you need to, and weave in any ends.

You can use literally any stitch pattern here. If you look up above, you'll see one I made with alternating stripes of double and single crochet. You can use a lace pattern meant for thread – that's what I've done here. Nobody can send you to jail for that. If you have a scarf pattern you like, make just a section of it. Play around. Change colors. (One thing I love about Sheep(ish) is that it takes repeated frogging beautifully.)


Next, fold your rectangle in half, so that the side of your crochet design that you like best faces out. Don't worry about what the "right" and "wrong" sides are supposed to be. Just pick what you like. You can even turn the pattern on its side if you like. The striped bag up top there, I made with what's supposed to be the wrong side facing out, and I turned it on its side. I liked how it looked better. Crochet needs to get over its own rules sometimes.

Also, remind yourself once again how nice it would be if you remembered to apply hand lotion before taking photographs.


Now we'll seam up the sides of this bag. Single crochet works great for that. If you're crocheting into the sides of your rectangle, as I am here, it may be difficult to see where, exactly, you're supposed to put your hook through. Don't worry too much about it! Try to space your single crochet fairly evenly, putting your hook through the rectangle wherever you need to in order to do that. If you use a color that matches your rectangle, it won't show.

If you aren't familiar with single crocheting a seam, this how-to is excellent.


Once you have both sides seamed up and the ends of the seams woven in, it's time to add a flap to your bag. Look at the top opening, and decide which edge is the back. Then, start a new row of crochet along that edge. You can use any stitch you like here – I usually use half-double or double crochet. (This is all U.S. terminology, by the way. Do not get me started on why stitch names in the U.S. and U.K. are so confusingly different.)

Crochet your flap until it's almost the length you want. If you want a buttonhole in this thing, you'll need to add that into the second-to-last row of stitching.


…And to do that, you'll need to know where the center of your flap is. That's not hard; just count how many stitches you have in this row.

If it's an odd number, the center point will be a stitch, as shown here.

If it's an even number, the center point will be the spot between two stitches.

Either way, life is good. Put some kind of marker there.


Then, on your next row, you'll skip a stitch or two on either side of that center point. Make a chain for each skipped stitch. Then continue stitching as normal.

How many stitches do you need to skip? Well, that depends on the size of the button you want to have on this puppy. Take a moment and rummage through your button stash and find a beauty. How big is it? Your buttonhole should be just a little smaller.


When you add the last row of stitches, just stitch into the opening you made. Since I skipped three stitches here, I made three half-double crochets into the opening. Or, you can make more stitches into the opening and create a little shape there. Try stuff – it's good for you.


Since we're working without a pattern, we can improvise anytime we like. Sometimes improvements are an additive process. See how the flap came out a little too small here? I could have frogged it and tried again, but instead…


…I added a border. Problem solved!

Remember, you can add a crochet edging anywhere. You can switch yarns anywhere. You can do anything you want.


If you're using a lace pattern, or planning to carry something that can poke itself out between the crochet, then you might want to line your bag. I just make a simple fabric bag that's slightly smaller than the crochet, pop it in, and hand-sew the top edge to the crochet. Then sew on the button and you're done.

Is this show-quality construction? Nope. But that's not the point. The point is, you made this without having to rely on a pattern. It's your original creation! What else can you make patternless?


A few notes on the yarn:

I'm really liking this Sheep(ish). It's 70% acrylic/30% wool, and has a pleasing handspun look. It's extremely soft and makes a nice, drape-y fabric, even in single crochet, and even as tightly as my Type-A hands like to crochet. The color range is gorgeous! Very retro and saturated.

You can find this stuff at indie stores, Jo-Ann, and some Michael's. (There's a handy map on Vickie's website.) I just scored some in those blues and greens above to make a new blanket. Without a pattern, I might add. Stay tuned.



Thanks for the great tutorial, Diane! I haven't had very good success with crochet patterns either, so this is just what I needed. I also appreciate that although you don't have a specific pattern for this bag, you were able to walk us through step-by-step how to make one and then let us each add our own personality to the bag! Thank you so much!

Thank YOU, Arielle! I'm so glad it was useful. And it's awesome to learn that I'm not alone in my pattern-following issues. :-)

Thanks for the easy to follow tutorial, these little bags look great! I just might have to locate my crochet hook and some leftover yarn and try one. Or more. I bought a book of different stitches a while back and have been wanting to try some of them out.

For many years I crocheted away, not following patterns. Then I wanted to do more complex stuff. In fact the book I learned all about guage and reading crochet patterns, and charts etc. was Vicki Howell's book on crochet. I love that you show that you can improvise with crochet, as its a very forgiving art form. I think that sometimes we are afraid to experiment with our crafts and focus too much on following someone else's pattern or book and recreating exactly what we see. Doing that can help you learn or produce some very nice things, but once you have some skills its fun to step out there on your own and make your own way a bit, ramble off the beaten path so to speak. Worse case senerio in crafting I've found with experimenting, I make something not great, and use up some materials, but sometimes its sheer genius and no matter what the finished product, I always learn something. Your little clutches are so cute.

That purse is so cute! Great colours & stitching. Thanks for sharing!

PS I see you have quit using Disqus! Any big reason for that? A few friends have said they can never sign in and of course that stops them from leaving comments. I'm wondering if it's time to also stop using it.

Yes! My long love/hate relationship with DISQUS has finally come to an end. I was having the same issues you're describing - certain people couldn't log in, and sometimes DISQUS would go down for a while, which meant no one could leave any comments. DISQUS tech support, while always courteous, never actually resolved any of these issues for me, except to say, "well, everything should be working again soon." So I gave up. I miss some of the functionality, but the end of headaches outweighs it. It's too bad - it's a stellar comment system when it works.

I love to crochet and rarely use a pattern. I just do it. I made a few scarves and a few baby blankets. I used the wrong yarn on my son's blanket though - cotton and that blanket was super thick and heavy. I can think of a few stitches I'd like to use on something like this!

See, that's something else I'd like to have in a "crochet cookbook," because I've made the same kinds of yarn-choice mistakes. Imagine a chart showing how various fibers generally perform in various common stitches, and the best uses for that.

You've done it again, Sister Diane! Very inspiring! :)

My sister in law sent me a link to this, and I'm now in love with you. Not in a creepy way. I love, love, love this! I recently started attempting to crochet and I'm running out of room for all of the scarves I'm making. I even started making them for animals. Hey, it's a great way to use up the left over pieces. =] This is a perfect stepping off point for myself between scarves and "real" (Silly) patterns. Now, can you rewrite the patterns for all of the things I want to make? You rock!

Thanks so much, Skye! Heh! I WISH I could re-interpret all those patterns for you. But I lack the skillz. :-) Sure liking the idea of animal scarves, though - my cat totally needs one!

i'm a self taught, begginer crocheter(if that's a word) and i can't read a pattern to save my life. seeing this gives me hope that i can give gifts other than scarves to my friends and family!! do you know of any websites that can show how to make things without having to read a pattern??

I wish I did, Melissa! Seems like there would be a good market for that, doesn't there?

LOVE this!

I almost never have an actual pattern to follow... I make it up as I go along... Currently, I'm working on 3 blankets. One a king size 4 yarn thick monstrosity that is waiting for cooler weather to be picked back up, a woven look that is crocheted on the diagonal to use up some baby weight stash, and a granny square in black, heather grey, and 3 tones of purple. The closest thing to a pattern for any of them was the tutorial google translated from French to English on the diagonal stitched one.

Break the mold, invent something new!


All three of those sound awesome, Kara!

Nice work! I have a question. What stitch did you use on the pumpkinish bag with the camelish flap? Its really cool looking.I'd love to use it for a scarf or something, so....if you could email me with it I'd be forever greatful.

Thanks, Dana! It's called the Boxed Block Stitch, and there's a tutorial here: (There's also a left-handed version in a different video.)

I think I misspelled grateful....oops

Yay, crochet!! Your bags are gorgeous. I love the colors. I'm about to finish a little iphone cozy today that's pretty much the same idea, orange yarn, big wooden button & all. :) In Tunisian. I was going to put up a mini tut, but maybe now I'll just point people here....

On another note, you perspective on crochet, and learning crochet fascinates me. I've never thought of crochet as having rules. That's one reason I like it - you can do whatever you want. I don't feel like I'm breaking rules so much as exploring. Also, you want more explanations in patterns? Do you like the symbol charts? I love those. I'm wondering if every pattern needs 3 versions: the symbol chart, a "just the facts, ma'am" pattern, and a long version or explanation section. It seems like a toss up - the extra explanations someone like you might like would make my eyes glaze over with a "too much!" feeling. What do you think?

Once again, sweet bags!

OOh, I can't wait to see your cozy!

Those are great questions about explanations in patterns. I work much more easily from the symbol charts, but still, the one element that's always missing for me is some idea of where what I'm doing now will be leading me. It's hard to explain, but when a pattern tells me to do something odd, like add an increase or decrease, or stitch a row asymmetrically, it would really help me to know WHY. It's just how my brain works, which is not linear-ly. :-)

What I'd love is a symbol diagram where I could click on certain areas for deeper explanation. That'll translate well to print! :-)

Patterns? We don't need no stinkin' patterns!!
Crocheting a bit over 40 years (cannot have been that long!) and much prefer to make it up as I go along, though I love to see pix such as yours for inspiration!

I love free form crochet. Most of the stuff I make is done like this. It's easy and fun, and I love it. You can be creative. That is one of the things I love about crochet so much, it's so easy to make it up as you go along, and it's soooo easy to tear back!

I love that aspect, too! Initially, I thought of frogging as a kind of failure, but now I see it as an easy chance to make things better.

Hi, I just found your blog from a Joann's link & was intriuged by the title b/c I NEVER (well hardly ever) use patterns! I'm sooo glad I'm not the only one. :-) I've been crocheting for 16 years now (since 6th grade) & have taught many others how to crochet through my more "unconventional methods" & techniques. I love drapey finished crochet peices too, I'll have to try the sheepish yarn soon. :-) Thanks for sharing! Glad I found your blog, I love meeting other creative crafters who yarn craft also :-) Take care! ~Nadir~

Thank you for stopping by, Nadir! You're making me wonder whether there are any pattern-free crochet books out there that aren't freeform crochet. I'd love a recipe book of simple joins and shapes I could mix and match into useful things.

I'm ridiculously good at writing patterns; have been crocheting since I was around 6 years old making granny square pot holders for my Grandmother to sell at her craft shows. If you ever need someone to write patterns for you, I'd be glad to help (^_^)

Great turtorial! I've been enjoying Sheep(ish) also. I just made a fun hat and scarf for a kid in Black(ish) and Chartreuse(ish). Try saying that 3 times fast!

That is my kinda process! Just make it! I don't like being boxed into a set of rules. So thanks for affirming that this is OK!

I LOVE the bags. They are so pretty, Diane, and they look great all grouped together like you've done here. If I ever make one, I'll have to make four just to be able to photograph them like you've done!

I've never heard of Sheep-ish (a really great name). Thanks for the review!

That is super cute! I'm going to have to make one now:)

Y'know, I loved this tutorial. I'm a fly by the seat of my pants kinda gal and a very new crocheter. It's always wonderful to have dispensation to be Self Creative and see where it goes. These are fabtastic and I can't wait to give it a run! Thank you!

Yay! I love improv! Hope this inspires some creative riffing.

Me too! I feel no ownership over any of this process or my designs. I'm just using building blocks created by others here.

LOL - I love that you just improvised that. I've yet to master crochet. I'm much more comfortable with knitting. I feel that if you learn one before the other, than the one you learn first will always be easier!

Totally agree with that. Crochet is still orders of magnitude simpler for me to comprehend. I finally had to learn Continental knitting, so I could tension the yarn with my left hand like I do in crochet. But with knitting, I live in terror of dropping a stitch. In crochet, I love being able to rip stuff back anytime.