Freeform Crochet Tips for Beginners

Freeform crochet is a wonderful expression of your own creativity achieved through fiber. It is often called "painting with yarn" because of the openness of the design. Freeform crochet can be anything that you want it to be. While there aren't any "rules" for freeform crochet, there are some great starting points and tips for people who would like to express themselves in this way but who aren't sure where to begin. This guide will help you get started in the adventure of freeform crochet.

History of Freeform Crochet

Freeform crochet has been around in some form as long as the history of crochet, with the first glimpses of it seen in Irish crochet. Crafters are a naturally innovative bunch, always seeking to invent new ways to approach their areas of interest, so as soon as there were people hooking with thread there were people creating new things. What we call freeform crochet today (by the way, it is also known as "scrumbling") really developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Crochet designers Sylvia Cosh and James Walters began working together at this time and, along with many other artists, really pushed the boundaries of what was being done with crochet. They went on to work together in the 1990's, hosting international crochet workshops sharing their love of freeform crochet; they offer some of the helpful information on the technique through free downloadable worksheets.

The Freedom of Freeform Crochet

Whimsical Chair

There really are not any rules when it comes to freeform crochet. The entire idea is to take your crochet hook (or even to crochet with your fingers) and use them with yarn to create images of your own design. Freeform crochet offers freedom in so many ways:

  • You can create 2d pieces as well as 3d items.
  • You can create functional items, wearable items and items that are merely art.
  • You can use any crochet stitches that you like, in any combination.
  • You can mix-and-match crochet techniques, working broomstick lace and bullions and basketweave in the same row!
  • You can work in rows and in the round, going off in any direction you want, turning pieces or not turning pieces.
  • You don't have to do any counting.
  • You can work the entire item in a single seamless stretch or create many motifs and join them.
  • You can use any yarn or thread as well as all types of alternative materials including wire, fabric, plastic, cord and more.
  • You can make mixed media pieces combining crochet with other crafts including knitting, embroidery, weaving, sculpture and more.
  • You do not need to follow a pattern; in fact, after your beginner steps you likely won't use any pattern.

Freeform Crochet Patterns

True freeform crochet is all about inventing your own designs, rather than using other people's patterns. However, many folks are intimidated to just start with a blank "canvas" so it can be helpful to use patterns to see what other people have created. Freeform crochet patterns use some of the beautiful techniques that are common in the craft to create a fun design with eclectic techniques. You can use one or more of these patterns to get a feel for how this work is done and then build your own designs from these basics.

This Freeform Cropped Topper is a free crochet pattern designed by Margaret Hubert. It will introduce you to many of the basic ideas of working motifs together to create a wearable freeform crochet accessory. In this example, you first crochet a mesh base and then work your motifs on top of it, which is a terrific approach for beginners to freeform crochet.

The Appliques a la Freeform Crochet Scarf is also designed by Margaret Hubert. Note that the recommended yarn for this pattern is discontinued but because freeform crochet is so forgiving you can replace it with any yarn of your choosing (although of course different yarn sizes will affect gauge); see more yarn options at the bottom of this post.

Freeform Crochet Motifs

You can use absolutely any crochet stitches, techniques and styles that interest you when working with freeform crochet. That said, there are some motifs that are frequently used in this niche of this craft. You can take these basic motifs and mix-and-match them in different ways to create your own freeform crochet pieces. This can be done after the fact (when all of your motifs are finished) or you can use your knowledge of JAYGO to connect the motifs as you go. Three of the most common motifs seen in freeform crochet are paisley, spirals and flowers.

Paisley Crochet Motifs

Paisley motifs (as well as the very similar peacock feather) are a beautiful organic shape often used in freeform crochet designs.

The Embellished Paisley Purse pattern offers a graph for one style of paisley.

Crochet Spirals

Spirals made with all different types of stitches are one of the most common motifs seen across freeform crochet designs over the years.

Pinwheels for Table & Tree is a simple spiral crochet pattern great for beginners to the motif.

Crochet Flower Motifs

There is almost no end to the number of crochet flower patterns that are available and once you start working with freeform crochet you may even invent your own! See more examples on our Fabulous Flowers board on Pinterest.

Forever Flowers is a crochet pattern for a fun flower that will enhance any freeform crochet piece.

Popular Freeform Crochet Stitches and Techniques

In addition to the common motifs that are popular in freeform crochet, there are a few stitches that are seen very often in freeform crochet. These include:

Freeform Crochet Exercises

There are many different ways to approach freeform crochet. The only limit is your own imagination. If you aren't sure where to start, here are a few freeform crochet exercises to loosen you up and get you going.

Mix-and-Match Motifs Yarnbomb

Crochet a number of different motifs using colors that will all complement each other. When you have a nice collection of them (say 15-20), dump them all out onto a table and start arranging them into a design layout that you find appealing. You could loosely fit them into a circle or square or you could make a narrower scarf-like strip. The idea is to keep playing around with the designs until you have an art piece you enjoy. Stitch the pieces together and celebrate your first freeform crochet piece!

Combine 3 Patterns

Select three random crochet patterns. Print them out (or save them to a Word doc). Randomly cut out different rows from each pattern. Rearrange them into a new order. Follow this order using any yarn in your stash to create a brand new freeform crochet art piece. As you explore how to combine stitch counts and different stitches that weren't intended to go together, you will not only create a unique piece but will also get terrific hands-on experience for approaching future freeform crochet projects.

Random Stitch Selection

  • Take a set of index cards. Write one crochet stitch on each card (single crochet, dc cluster, bullion, v-stitch ... any stitches you can think of). Fold each card and drop it into a bowl.
  • Grab your yarn and hook, reach into the bowl and pull out your first card; make a row of any length using this crochet stitch.
  • Reach into the bowl and grab your second card. Make three rows of any length, in any direction, using this stitch.
  • Continue on, selecting stitches and working a different number of rows of each. Change yarn whenever you feel like it.
  • You are getting the hang of freeform crochet!

Upcycle an Object

Upcycled freeform crochet bike by Mikey

Find an object in your home that you want to upcycle with freeform crochet. Stools, chairs, boxes, bicycles and lamps are a few great examples of items that you can decorate with crochet. Grab your yarn and just start crocheting pieces, attaching them to your item in different places. Go with whatever feels right when it comes to stitches, colors, fibers, motifs and placement. Continue working until you have covered the entire object!

These are just a few of the possible creative exercises that you can use to approach freeform crochet. Many of the crochet exercises in the book Hook to Heal are suitable practice for freedom crochet.

Yarn for Freeform Crochet

Freeform crochet is awesome in part because you can use any type of yarn in any amount to create your items. It is perfect for stash busting. It is perfect for combining different materials in one piece. And it is perfect for using unique fun novelty yarns that you may have hesitated to use in the past. Here are a few of the most fun Red Heart yarns that would be terrific for freeform crochet explorations:

Scrubby Yarn has unique texture and stretch that adds really unique features to a freeform crochet piece.

Bright neon colors in a tweed-inspired format make Tweed Twist is a super fun yarn for freeform crochet!

Soft Essentials Stripes is a beautiful self-striping yarn. This is especially great for long strips of freeform crochet but would work in smaller motifs as well.

With Love Metallic is a yarn that is soft and easy to work with, perfect for any level crocheter, but the additional sparkle makes it something special that can stand out in your freeform design.