Choosing the stitch: Rethinking yarn and hook combinations

Bottom line:  The tighter the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the stitch texture.  The looser the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the fabric texture.

Note:  I say 'within reason' for both because there is such a thing as stitching so tightly or so loosely that the resulting fabric is just silly.  It may have an artistic or other purpose, and it may be fun, so it may be worth making.  But that might be a different discussion.  Back to topic:

Crochet is usually about the stitches, about stitch textures.  There's lacy stuff, with holes between stitches.  There's three dimensional stuff, with posts and popcorn and other raised stitches.  There's color work, too, seeing how different colors interact in the fabric.  But it's all really about the stitches and about how fun it is to make the stitches.

Threadwork, especially, has traditionally been all about the stitches, but most afghans are about the stitch texture, too.  The fabric draws attention to itself, which is great for making an accent piece to accessorize a room or an outfit.

A fabric that draws attention to itself is great for special occasions, but mine is a quieter lifestyle and I often prefer a more subdued fabric for most of what I make, not just accessories. That's when I remember there is another perspective:  the fabric.
Crisp gauge: #10 cotton, size 7 steel hook
14 rounds, 7 inches square

As an example of the first idea, here's a sample motif I like to doodle from time to time:

It's a combination of granny square and pineapple motif ideas, with a hint of filet crochet added at the end, so there are lacy and solid bits (no 3D bits for this discussion).  In order for this piece to look traditionally nice, I want to use a firm gauge -- a small hook with the small thread -- so the stitch texture is crisp and well defined.

Sometimes, I like the look of that texture, but I want it to be bigger and make up faster, so I go to a bigger hook:
Loose gauge:  #10 cotton, 00 (3.5mm) steel hook
14 rounds, 11 inches square

Problem with just bumping up the hook size, making a looser gauge, is that the fabric ends up not nearly as crisp.  It can look almost sloppy.  But it is still drawing attention to itself, because that is what stitch texture is all about.  If the gauge gets too loose, the fabric ends up looking sloppy and confusing, and the stitch texture gets lost.

This is where a different approach to choosing the stitch comes in.  I like to do my random stitch.  It makes a fabric that isn't about how the stitches work together to make a design.  When I work it at a firm gauge, the fabric is very solid.   Great for making tree bark, which is where it started.  (I didn't make a sample of that for here.)  But when I loosen it up -- a lot -- it takes on a whole new personality, and I really like it.

#10 cotton, 00 (3.5 mm) steel hook - solid fabric,
maybe a bit too solid. 9 inch diameter/16 rounds
With the more traditional thread bits, I used #10 cotton thread and a size 7 steel hook (for the first one) and a size 3.5mm hook (like a size 00 steel) for the looser one.  Then, switching pattern stitches, the tighter sample is made using the same #10 thread with the 00/ 3.5mm hook - and it's a bit too solid.

Then I switched to a gargantuan 5mm (huge!!!) hook in random stitch, and suddenly the fabric is all about the fabric -- it's not about the stitch at all.

#10 cotton, size 5mm hook - lacy, soft drape
11 inch diameter/12 rounds

In the context of the shawl (in the photo below), over the large scale of the whole fabric, a pattern does show up -- this shawl was made from a 100-gram hank of lace weight merino (about 1200 yards), worked with a 4mm hook (again, huge!!), but it's not about how the individual stitches interact at the stitch level.  It's about the fabric.

This is a great way to get a grown-up fabric. And the stitch doesn't have to be this complicated.  Even something fairly simple, like (sc1, ch1) where you sc into the sc of the previous row, or into the ch1 space of the previous row (like a net stitch), works up nicely at a loose gauge.  And the chain stitches keep the single crochet stitches from stretching out of shape.

Cobweb weight merino, 4mm hook
The great thing about all this is that, with such a big hook, it works up much more quickly than any stitch-texture-based stitches - totally a win/win!