Dear Crochet Emperor:
In your November 13th post (Vintage Upgrade: Charleston Garden Afghan), you mentioned something about the “back bar” of single crochet stitches. I can’t find any mention of this in the crochet books in my library…could you please explain what is meant by that?
(As a side note, this is the first time that a reader has addressed me as the “Crochet Emperor”. I could get used to that!)
Excellent question! It is true; this is a technique that is rarely used nowadays so it is difficult to find explanations in modern crochet books. The only modern reference I have found to this technique is in the instructions for the “camel crochet” stitch. Camel crochet is a proprietary technique used to simulate the look of knitting. There are more effective ways to do this, though, so let’s lovingly file camel crochet under “nuff said”.
Because crochet nomenclature has only recently been standardized, you may see this technique called “working in the back bar”, “working in the horizontal bar”, or “working behind a single crochet” (you can’t get more vague than that!). To really understand these instructions, we have to go back to basics and study the architecture of the single crochet stitch.
First, we need to know the difference between the front and back sides of a single crochet (aka “right side” and “wrong side” respectively). Since so many modern crochet patterns are worked in rows, the front/back distinction may seem arbitrary to modern crocheters. However, remember that this instruction was mainly written for thread crochet, which is very often worked in rounds. When working in the round it is rare to turn the work, therefore the same part of the stitch will always face to the front. By convention, this is defined as the front of the stitch.
The front part of the stitch kinda resembles a V, while the back of the stitch kinda resembles a Pi symbol (Squint and turn your head to the side and you’ll see it).
The parts of a single crochet stitch
A single crochet stitch is made up of several parts. Please refer to my diagram below as you study the parts.
On the top of the stitch there are two loops, the front loop and the back loop. Although it may seem a bit confusing, the front loop is always the one facing you, regardless of whether you are looking at the right side or the wrong side of the stitch.
The post of the stitch is made up of two vertical bars. “Post stitches” are worked around both vertical bars.
On the back of the stitch, there is a small horizontal bar that sits right under the loops that form the top of the stitch. This is the back bar – the cause of all the hoopla. Doesn’t look like much, does it? In general, it just hangs out and doesn’t do much. It can be put to use though, and in a pretty cool way.
Working in the back bar of single crochet
The most common use for this technique is making crochet flowers like the Irish Rose. These patterns use rows of chain stitches to form the foundations for petals. The chain stitches are attached to the back bars so that only the petals will show from the front of the fabric.
Working into the back bar can be difficult. The back bar does not have as much slack as the top loops of the stitch. A tiny, pointy steel hook slides under the bar much more easily than a big, blunt aluminum hook. If you are making a pattern with yarn and a large hook, you may be in for a little frustration.
One way to loosen the bar and make this stitch a little easier is to slip a tapestry needle under the back bar and pull up a little bit. This will make it easy to insert a larger hook.
Once you have your hook under the bar, you can make any stitch the pattern calls for. (Just treat the back bar like you would one of the loops on the top of the stitch.)
A tapestry needle under the back bar of a single crochet stitch.
A crochet hook inserted under the back bar of a single crochet. I used the tapestry needle to create some slack before I inserted the hook.
A single crochet stitch worked in the back bar.
Thanks for the question, Harper! If anyone has more questions, let me know.
The samples in this post were made using Bernat Handicrafter Cotton, worsted weight, in off white.