Tunisian Crochet: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide | Red Heart
by Kathryn Vercillo
Tunisian crochet is a type of crochet that holds multiple loops on the hook in a style similar to what is done in knitting. It differs from knitting in that it uses a crochet hook, not knitting needles. The result is a fabric that is beautifully textured using a technique that combines the best of knitting and crochet. Tunisian crochet is also commonly known as Afghan Crochet. It has also been called by a variety of other names including Shepherd's Knitting, Railroad Knitting and Cro-hooking.
A few of our patterns in Tunisian crochet are shown here. Read on to learn how to do Tunisian, and see more patterns at the end of the instructions.
Crocheted in Unforgettable
Crocheted in Aunt Lydia's Classic 10
Crocheted in Soft
Tunisian Crochet Hooks
Most crochet techniques don't require any new tools beyond what you already have in your stash, but a few of them do, and Tunisian crochet is one of those. Actually, it is possible to do a little bit of Tunisian crochet using your regular crochet hooks, but the technique is best done by purchasing a set of special Tunisian crochet hooks. Tunisian crochet hooks are longer than regular crochet hooks, which allows you to hold the loops on the hook as you do in knitting. In this way, they look like knitting needles with the head of a crochet a hook on one end. They have a blocker at the other end so that the loops you hold on the needle don't come off.
When working Tunisian crochet in the round, you will need a double-ended crochet hook. There are straight ones, which look like knitting needles with the head of a crochet hook on either end. Alternatively there are circular ones, with a cord running between two crochet hooks. Note that the cables can also be used for holding lots of loops when crocheting very long rows.
Since this craft is also called Afghan crochet, you will sometime see these hooks called Afghan hooks. It doesn't mean that they're only used for making blankets but rather than they are used for this particular technique of crochet!
Casting On In Tunisian Crochet
Although we don't use the term "casting on" in crochet, it's common language in knitting, and it is used in Tunisian crochet as well. In Tunisian crochet, this means that you begin with your normal foundation chain. Then you work from right to left (if you're right handed); this is the same as in standard crochet. However, as you work this first row from right to left, you will be drawing up loops across the entire row and holding them on your crochet hook rather than finishing each loop before moving on to the next one.
That's what makes Tunisian crochet different; and this is what is called "casting on". You work all the way across the row back to the left side. In traditional crochet, you would then turn the work, right? But that's not what you do in Tunisian crochet. You still have all of those loops on the hook that you have to finish, and you do that by working back across the row, left to right, without turning the work. This is "casting off".
Forward Pass and Reverse Pass
Each "row" in Tunisian crochet consists of both of the parts described above - pulling up the loops as you work right-to-left and finishing the loops as you work left-to-right. Together, these two parts make up one row. Crochet designers have different ways of expressing this in their written patterns. One of the most common methods is for the pattern to name the row (such as R1), give the instructions for the "forward pass" (the number of loops to pull up right-to-left) and then give the instructions for the "reverse pass" where you work left-to-right to complete the row. In this example, the next instructions would be for Row 2, starting with the forward pass and ending with the reverse pass. You can see an example of this type of instruction in the Trip Around the World Throw free pattern by Brenda Bourg. So, each row in Tunisian crochet consists first of "casting on", right-to-left, and then "casting off", left-to-right.
How to Do Tunisian Crochet Basic Stitches
The basic stitches in standard crochet are things like single crochet, double crochet, etc. The basic stitches in Tunisian crochet are a little bit different. The most important thing to understand is where you will insert your hook. In traditional crochet, we talk about "inserting through the loop" but in Tunisian crochet, we talk about working through the bars. Although there is a version of Tunisian crochet that is worked in the horizontal bar, most of the Tunisian crochet stitches are worked around the vertical bars.
So what does the "bar" refer to? When you look at the row that you're working stitches into, you'll see a loop, and there are two parts to the loop and these are called the bars. You will begin your work with a foundation chain and work into that. Once you've completed your first row (which, remember, consists of a forward and reverse pass), you'll see that this work creates vertical bars. These are the bars that you're going to work your stitches into for the rest of the project.
When you look closely, you'll see that each vertical is a loop, with one vertical bar in the front of the work and one towards the back. This is what creates the denseness of Tunisian crochet fabric. And it also allows you to create different types of stitches, depending on which of these bars you work into!
How to Crochet the Tunisian Foundation Row
Basically, when you work Tunisian crochet you'll follow these steps:
1. Crochet a chain (the way that you normally do).
2. Insert your hook into the second chain from the hook.
3. Yarn over and pull up a loop.
4. Leave that loop on your Tunisian crochet hook.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 across the row. This is your "forward pass".
6. At the end of the row, do not turn the work. Yarn over and draw through one loop only.
7. Yarn over and draw through two loops.
8. Repeat step 7 until there is only one loop left on the hook.
Those steps create your foundation row. Then you'll see your verticals, and you will proceed to make different types of stitches in the remaining rows of the work.
This is what the foundation row looks like at the beginning of almost all Tunisian crochet projects
Tunisian Simple Stitch
The red hook show the proper insertion location, in the front of the work, behind the front vertical bar
Tunisian simple stitch (Tss) is worked through the FRONT vertical bar. Complete your base row as described above. Then you will insert your hook from right to left (assuming that you are right-handed), so that the hook goes behind the front vertical (not front-to-back but through the front, with the vertical sitting right in front of it). Note that you skip the "edge" vertical and begin with what is technically the second front vertical. With your hook inserted, yarn over and draw up a loop. Leave it on your hook. Repeat across the row. This completes the forward pass. Then complete the reverse pass the same as the foundation row, meaning that you complete steps 6-8 as described above.
Tunisian simple stitch, loops on hook in forward pass
Tunisian simple stitch after foundation and first row complete
Watch Kathleen Sams' Tunisian Crochet video to see exactly how this works.
Reverse Tunisian Simple Stitch
The red hook shows the insertion location, in the back of the work, in front of the back vertical bar
Tunisian reverse stitch (Trs) is worked in almost the same way as Tunisian simple stitch, except that you work it through the BACK vertical bar. If you are familiar with post stitches, the difference is very similar to the difference between front post and back post crochet.
Reverse Tunisian simple stitch after foundation and first row complete
Tunisian Knit Stitch
This stitch (abbreviated Tks) gets its name from the fact that it's the stitch in Tunisian crochet that looks most like knitting, specifically like stockinette stitch in knitting.
This stitch is worked by inserting the hook front to back in between the two vertical bars. (Note: you work between both vertical bars of the same loop, not between two side-by-side front vertical bars!) Here's the difference:
The red hook is inserted front to back BETWEEN two sets of vertical bars; this is NOT correct
The red hook is inserted front to back between the front and back verticals of the same loop; this is correct
When the hook is through the bars and pointed towards the back of the work, yarn over and draw up your loop.
Tunisian knit stitch after foundation and first row
You can see exactly how to do this stitch when you watch Kristin Omdahl's video tutorial for Tunisian Knit Stitch.
Tunisian Crochet Advanced Stitches
Here are a few advanced Tunisian crochet stitches that you will likely come across if you pursue knowledge of this technique. We won't provide full instructions here in this "basics" guide, but we'll give you an idea of what each of the stitches is so that you can get a foundational understanding and see if you'd like to pursue further knowledge.
Twisted Tunisian Stitches
The basic crochet stitches can also be done as "twisted" versions. For example, there is the Twisted Tunisian Simple Stitch. The difference is essentially that you'll insert your hook in the reverse direction, even though you're working in the same direction as before. So, if you're right handed, you will work right-to-left across the row, but when you insert your hook, you will insert it left-to-right behind the vertical bar. It's a tricky move and it takes some getting used to but in creates an interesting right-leaning effect that adds a bit of intrigue to the basic Tunisian crochet stitches.
Tunisian Purl Stitch
The fabric made in the Tunisian purl stitch (Tps) actually looks a lot like that done by Reverse Tunisian Simple Stitch if you're only working in one color of yarn. However, add in a second color and you'll notice that it creates a big different between the two types of Tunisian crochet stitches. The technique is a bit different, though. You will, of course, work your foundation row. When you're ready to begin working with the purl stitches, these are the steps:
- Skip the first vertical bar (on the edge).
- Bring yarn to the front of your work.
- Insert your hook right-to-left under the next vertical bar.
- Bring yarn to the back of your work.
- Yarn over and pull up your loop.
Repeat across the forward pass, leaving the loops on your hook as you go, and work the reverse pass as normal.
Tunisian Diagonal Stitch
Tunisian diagonal stitch is a variation on Tunisian simple stitch. It involves the same basic steps except that you work back and forth, skipping stitches and then going back and filling them in. It's kind of like the crossed double crochet in that way, where you make a skip a space, make a dc, then go back and dc into the skipped space to give it the "crossed" look. It's essentially the same idea in Tunisian double crochet. Here are the instructions (beginning after you've completed the normal foundation row):
- Skip next vertical bar.
- Insert hook right-to-left under next vertical bar. Pull up loop and leave it on hook.
- Insert hook right-to-left under the vertical bar that you skipped in step one. Pull up a loop and leave it on hook.
- Repeat across row to finish forward pass.
- Complete reverse pass as usual. That's the end of your first row (after the foundation row).
- To begin the next row, insert your hook right-to-left under the next vertical bar. Pull up a loop and leave it on your hook.
- Skip the next vertical bar.
- Insert hook right-to-left under next vertical bar. Pull up love and leave it on hook.
- Insert hook right-to-left under the vertical bar that you skipped in step one. Pull up a loop and leave it on hook.
- Repeat the skip, insert, insert into skipped (the previous three steps) across row to finish forward pass.
- Complete reverse pass as normal. That's the end of your second row.
Note that the only difference in these instructions is the first step in the second row; this creates the staggered look that gives you a diagonal design. Repeat rows 1-2 to continue the pattern.
Tunisian Double Crochet
You can create taller stitches in Tunisian crochet, just as you do in standard crochet. Tunisian double crochet (Tdc). The difference between Tss and Tdc is the same as the difference between sc and dc; it's all in the stitch height. So for Tdc, you'll yarn over, insert your hook from right-to-left behind the front vertical bar, draw a loop through, yarn over and draw through two loop, leaving one on the hook. Just leave that hook there and repeat those steps all the way across the row for the forward pass.
How to Increase / Decrease in Tunisian Crochet
The concept for increasing and decreasing in Tunisian crochet is the same as in regular crochet - you'll be adding stitches for increasing and joining stitches to decrease.
Tunisian Crochet Increase
Increasing in Tunisian crochet is typically done on the forward pass. There are multiple ways to increase in Tunisian crochet. You can work a stitch into the first (edge) vertical of each row. You can work an extra stitch into the last vertical of each stitch. Or you can increase in the middle of the row, which is done by choosing the location where you want to increase, inserting your hook front-to-back through the work between sets of vertical bars and drawing up a loop; this gives you an extra loop to work in on the reverse pass and is an effective increase. You literally increase the number of loops on the hook.
Remember this picture from above? The red hook now shows here you would insert, BETWEEN sets of vertical, to add an additional loop.
Tunisian Crochet Decrease
Decreasing in Tunisian crochet may be done on the forward pass or the reverse pass, depending on preference and the stitch you're working. A reverse pass decrease is possible with almost any Tunisian stitch and is the easier of the two options. In the place where you want to decrease, you will pull your yarn through three loops on the hook instead of the usual two. Continue as normal. That's it!
Instructions for a forward pass decrease will vary, but one example is a Tss decrease in which you insert your hook through two vertical bars, instead of just one, to decrease.
Tunisian Crochet in the Round
So far we've only looked at Tunisian crochet in rows. But, as discussed, if you have different crochet hooks then you can also do Tunisian crochet in the round. You can choose a double-ended crochet hook or a circular (cabled) crochet hook. The main difference between the two is that if you work with a circular crochet hook then you can probably hold all of your stitches on the cable, so you can work a forward pass / reverse pass in the same way that you always do; do the forward pass until you get to the end of the circle and use the hook on the other end to do the reverse pass.
Alternatively, if you use a double-ended crochet hook, then you'll need to complete several steps to finish each row. Those steps are:
- Pull up as many loops on the forward pass as you can hold without distorting the shape of the work.
- Use a second ball of yarn, attach it and start to work your return pass with the second side of your hook, "casting off" back to where you began.
- This frees up your hook to add more loops, so you can now pull up more loops, again without distorting the shape of the work.
- Then you can use that second ball of yarn and work more reverse pass stitches. Do this until you have completed a whole round. Note that stitch markers are very helpful in this type of project!
Tips for Tunisian Crochet
- Remember that each row consists of two parts - the forward pass (worked right-to-left if you are right-handed), in which the loops are picked up and held on your cook and the reverse pass (left-to-right), in which the stitches are worked back off the loop. There is no "turning the work" in Tunisian crochet.
- You always skip the first vertical bar when you work the forward pass in crochet. You begin the loops with the second vertical bar.
- Note that when you work the forward pass, it can sometimes be difficult to see the final vertical bar. Stitch Diva has some great instructions if you're having difficulty with this.
- Watch your tension; working too tight in Tunisian crochet usually results in the work curling! Chez Crochet has some great additional tips for dealing with the curling.
- In general, items made using Tunisian crochet are denser, thicker and heavier than those made using traditional crochet. Of course, this can vary a lot depending on yarn choices, etc., but it's a general rule that you can rely on. So, if you want to make cozy blankets and winter wear, Tunisian crochet is great. If you're looking for a shirt to wear in the summer, it might not be the right choice.
- Remember that you're holding loops on your hook, like with knitting, and this means that if you set your work down mid-row then the loops can fall off and the work can unravel. Don't forget to use stitch markers in Tunisian crochet!
- You can work small sections of Tunisian crochet on a regular hook as long as it doesn't have a wide thumb grip (because this would change the height of the different loops held on different parts of the hook). Tunisian crochet hooks come in varying lengths, such as 10" and 14".
- You can find a lot of additional helpful tips at Cindy's Crochet Pages.
More to Learn in Tunisian Crochet
What you've learned here is a great beginner's guide to Tunisian crochet, but there are many more things that you can learn in this technique. As you explore further into the craft, you might want to try these options:
- Tunisian Bobble StitchesIt is possible to work textured stitches like bobbles and popcorns in your Tunisian crochet work.
- Tunisian Intarsia Crochet You can create beautiful designed worked from graphs using this technique.
- Tunisian Entrelac Crochet This technique offers great color and texture and is all about the direction that the stitches are worked.
- 3 Color Tunisian Crochet Stitch Diva has great information about this branded colorwork technique.
- Tunisian Thread Crochet Note that no special crochet hook is needed in Tunisian thread crochet. The technique is otherwise the same as regular Tunisian crochet but requires some of the deft finger work of regular thread crochet.
Patterns to Practice Tunisian Crochet
This is the most advanced of the patterns shown here, featuring several additional stitches including the Extended Reverse Tunisian Double Crochet and the Reverse Tunisian Slip Stitch.