Sunday, 11 March 2012

Tangles, Tantrums and Times Tables

The Anatomy of a Spiral 

For a long time, designing the perfect spiral eluded me. I just couldn't seem to get them right. Sure, I could follow a pattern all-right, but DESIGNING a spiral confused me. I'd get lost on which row I was supposed to be working on and almost always ended up frogging anything that I had managed to do out of sheer frustration.

As usual, I like to be a little difficult and wanted a spiral with more than the usual three or four colours.
I wanted a spiral with eight colours. Again, I went in search of a pattern or image to work from (I'd rather not reinvent the wheel) but found NOTHING.  :(

Being the geek that I am, I've searched high and low for information about the anatomy of a crochet spiral- and the mathematics behind it all, but alas, I kept finding complicated equations for Hyperbolic crochet (not very practical for blankets or garments really - with the exception of a few cool ideas bouncing around in this nutty head of mine -  and the Fibonacci theory; none of which really makes sense unless you are AWESOME at algebra and geometry and can understand what all of those weird little symbols mean.

I searched for patterns, tutorials and numbers and finally came across something that made the anatomy of a spiral "CLICK". Ahhh! So that's it!

I eventually found a tutorial  from the amazing Elisabeth Wetsch of Nadelspiel , (a German knit and crochet cooperative) of a spiral granny square. which is a really cool take on the 'circle to square' that I had been playing with last week. The video is in Deutsch and my German is VERY rudimentary - I only had one year of lessons when I was in the 7th grade and that was a long time ago now. However, my language skills were good enough for me understand most of the video, for what I couldn't understand I just had to wing it.

So I reverted to my mathematics again. 

But where to start???? 

No, no, don't run away.... I couldn't understand anything unless the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)  principle applied to everything - All of the sums you need to do are very basic. If you know your times tables and/or can use a calculator, you'll be just fine. 

Step 1: 
Decide how many colours you want in your spiral. 
In my case, I wanted 8 colours. 
My first number is 8. 

Step 2: 
You will need a foundation circle to get you started. You need 3 stitches in your foundation circle for every colour you want to use. 
Multiply the number of colours by 3. 
In my case: 8 x 3 = 24
The stitch count of my foundation circle needs to be 24. 

Step 3: 
Make your foundation circle, applying the law of circle to ensure you get off to a good start. 
In my case, I used a Magic Circle, 
Row 1: 12 SC
Row 2: [INC, SC] x 6 (18sc) 
Row 3: [INC, SC x 2] x 6 (24 sc) slst to join. 
Now, you will notice in almost any pattern that calls for a spiral, the first 2 or three stitches are shorter than the rest. This is why I used Single Crochet as my foundation circle. The increase in the height of the stitches gives the spiral the 'lift' it needs to get out of being a plain old circle. 

Step 4: 
Regardless of how many colours you have chosen, using the equation  above for your foundation circle, when colours are added, each colour is worked in the same manner. 
Row 4: Section 1 - first colour (same as your foundation circle) *Ch 1, SC, HDC, 2DC into next stitch, place a stitch marker or pull up your loop so that stitches are not dropped *
For all additional sections/colours - join new colour into same st as 2DC using slst, then  repeat ** 
I used 8 colours, so each section in Row 4 is repeated 8 times. 

This is the foundation circle with the first coloured row (row 4).
Hahaha I know I know - you can only see 6 colours right??? Look closer. I used the white and rainbow yarn  twice! :) 

Step 5: 
This is the really cool part. You remember the Law of Circle? Increase (inc), 1, increase, 2, increase 3 etc. etc... 
It STILL applies to the spiral! 

What had me confused (before it clicked) was the differentiation between the increase for each section and how it just didn't seem to fit. 

We finished our first coloured row on an INCREASE, and this is our first round that builds upon the spiral,  so each section in your following round should start with ONE stitch into the ch 1 sp, then an INCREASE, then One stitch into the next stitch. I'll give you the example again using the 8 colour spiral. 

Row 5: *2HDC, DC into next st, 2DC into next st,* repeat ** eight (8) times (5 st in each colour)
See how we are applying the law of circle? inc, 1, inc, 1? 

Row 6: *DC into next st, 2DC into next stitch, DC into next 2st's, 2DC into next* repeat ** eight (8) times (7 st in each colour) 
See how we are applying the law of circle? inc, 2, inc, 2? 

Continue in this manner for as long as you like. 

Remember that your rows are worked on top of one another, so you if you want to check your work,  count on a single colour line the spaces between each increase. Your spiral should literally have from the first coloured row to the last (excluding your short stitches), the law of circles applied. You should have 1, inc, 2, inc, 3, inc, 4, inc, 5, inc, etc... all on the one colour. 

Can you see on the image below? 
Looking at the while row and counting backwards from the last increase, there are 5 double crochet's before another increase. Keep going backwards, you will see that there will be 4 Double Crochet before the next increase. 

When you have finished your spiral, as you work  the last row, slowly step down using shorter stitches to bring the spiral back to a true circle. For example, if your next row needs 20 stitch in each colour, work 10 stitches in your tallest stitches (DC in the case of the 8 colour spiral), then 5 stitches in  the next shortest stitch (HDC) then the last 5 stitch in SC, slst to join.

HINT: The only real problem you might incur when working in a spiral, is the entangled trap you set for yourself as you spin your work around! The yarn works itself around each other and can in some cases get so bad that you'll need to cut and rejoin your yarn if you aren't careful.

To avoid at least some of the tangles I've used 2 gift boxes with holes punched in the sides to try and keep the yarn tidy. I have four colours in each box, in order of their placement in the WIP. By keeping half of the yarn in one box, and the other half in another, and sitting with one box either side of my body as I work, the tangles are reduced (I said REDUCED - not eliminated altogether) and there wont be quite as many tantrums on your part.

Don't forget I love to see your work, so if this information has been useful and you have created something special, why not share your work on my Facebook page (there is a link at the top right of this page)?

Happy Crafting!


  1. I saw this on Ravelry this morning and it was definitely a wow moment. One of the things that keeps me from designing is the math thing. Math is very seriously not my thing, but it seems there's hope as I do know my rudimentary math and I can use a calculator LOL. I won't be trying this tomorrow, but I am definitely going to have to tackle this spiral. Thank you for figuring this out. It's really beautiful and very, very cool.

  2. Wow and wonderfully simple now you have explained it, well done! Thanks again for sharing this, definitely on my to do list! x

  3. That's great!! I've never done a spiral at all, so now I want to try one. Maybe 1-2 colors?? Haha :) Thanks for explaining, I love when ppl do that as opposed to just stating the pattern. It makes us all better creators!

    1. :) That is what I was aiming for! I believe that everyone can design!

    2. Eileen Brown Park3 March 2013 at 01:38

      now iiiiiii want to do a spiral TOO ... it reminds me of a potholder we used to have when i was little ... we used to put it on our heads and shout "Pancho Via" ... he was a Spanish character in an old western back in the 1950's

  4. Thank you all :)

    @Mommafo... that was EXACTLY the response I was hoping for. Sharing info like this will help us all improve what we do. <3 I love finding tutorials on HOW to do things that can be adapted to anything. <3

  5. beautiful......this is so cool!!!!! Thank you for sharing!!!

  6. after 3 hours of searching for a spiral that doesn't have a broken link I found you! yah!testing tomorrow-

  7. This is so cool! I found it today on Pinterest. I've been crocheting for many years, but I'm not sure if I could do this!!

    1. Give it a try kazred, I am certain you can! <3

  8. Aha! Just what I was looking for! Hope to play later!

  9. You should get an award for all your hard work in figuring this out and THEN posting as a free tutorial. Bravo! and thank you.

  10. This is fabulous!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I love to design my own patterns but the math is NOT my strong suit so the things that really require the numbers, I have to depend on the kindness of others to help with. This is so beautiful!

    1. You are most welcome Jennifer! I have been working on crochet math for some time (still figuring it out) and am SLOWLY working on a book of the same nature.

    2. Laura...I have never designed using math...I am totally intrigued! Thank you for sharing this & please let me know when your crochet math book comes out :-)

  11. thsat is seriously cool. thanks for a great blog, and a very clear tutorial. love your color choice and i am so very envious of your even stitches. beautiful

  12. This is such a beautiful blanket! Thank you for sharing your pattern and thought process! I was just wondering, approximately how much of each color yarn did you use and how large is the finished blanket? Also, any ideas on how to square off the blanket? I crochet well enough to follow a pattern but not well enough to figure out the squaring off myself! Thanks again!

    1. Hi MUTiger!
      I didn't complete a huge blanket, so it will all depend on how large you choose to make it.

      As for squaring off a large circle... its all about the math. Take a peek at my post "Accommodating Curves". This gives you the formula to figure it out. With very large squares, as in the case of a blanket, you may need to repeat the squaring process for 2 or three rows before it becomes the correct shape (making sure you make the appropriate increases in the corners).

      I hope this helps a little.

  13. i have found a way to eliminate all,yes all,tangles.....i work with my blanket on my legs..i have an elastic band on each of my balls of yarn/wool..i place 4 balls of wool/yarn on either side of my legs...when i come to the colour i need take the elastic band of the ball of yarn/wool,work the number of stitches and put the elastic band back on the ball of wool/yarn...turn the work anti clockwiseand move the all the balls one step anticlockwise....and move on to next does sound like alot of bother but i havent got tangled once ...hope this makes sense..

  14. Wow! I bow down to you! Having done 4 colours, I can only imagine the pain 8 would cause!

    I wont be doing it again in a hurry, but when I do, I'll know where to come :)

    Thanks so much :)

  15. This is gorgeous! What brand/colors of yarn did you use? Thanks for the free pattern!

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  17. Hi, just want to let you know that I featured this post on my Facebook page.

    Best wishes for lots of happiness and success,

  18. Thanks for this lovely pattern. I used it for a mandala weel for Yarndale ( See Attic24 blog) , it was not hard to do thanks to your tutorial!

    1. Thank you so much @Jetje it is beautiful! Have you spotted it on Attic24's Facebook page? There are loads of compliments for your mandala too! :)

    2. Thanks, also, Jetje! When I have done other kinds of projects that involve lots of strings, using lace-bobbins to hold lengths of string or yarn has helped manage the tangles, but you have to have a sense of how much length might be needed and the the time to wind up the bobbins, but ... just another choice. Prickly Patti

      prickly patti

  19. Wow - so glad I found this! I too have spent a few hours this morning trying to work out the maths! Thank you soooooo much! Em x

  20. Thank you; this is written so clearly. You have simplified a complicated idea!

  21. Well that just made total and complete sense! Spirals don't seem so scary now and I think I might be brave enough to try it! Thank you!

  22. Well that just made total and complete sense! Spirals don't seem so scary now and I think I might be brave enough to try it! Thank you!

  23. I have been searching high and low for a pattern and decided to try Ravelry, I should have known better! I will be trying this out after I finish a diamond in the square afghan I have been working on. Thank you very much, the instructions are very clear and should be easy to follow.