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Guide to Crochet Shell Stitch Variations with Patterns

by Kathryn Vercillo

The shell stitch is a stitch pattern in crochet that can be worked in a variety of different ways. In general, it refers to a pattern in which multiple stitches are worked into the same stitch from the row or round below to create the "shell" shape. For example, a very common form of the shell stitch is to work five double crochet stitches into the same stitch. The stitches fan out so that they appear to be different heights at the edges, making that shell shape, even though they are actually all the same size. This crochet guide teaches you different variations of the shell stitch and shares patterns for practicing this fun design.

5 Double Crochet Shell Stitch

This is the aforementioned stitch in which each shell consists of five double crochet stitches.

Infinite Shells Cowl Free Crochet Pattern LW4246

The Infinite Shells Cowl uses crochet shells that are made with 5 dc stitches.

The important thing when making shells is to make sure that you get the stitch count right. If you are working crochet shells into your foundation chain, you will need to skip stitches between the shells to get the math right and have an evenly worked project. For example, in the Infinite Shells Cowl project shown above, you'll find the instruction " *skip next 4 ch, shell in next ch; repeat from*". The skipped stitches make up for the four extra dc stitches in each stitch where the shell goes. Some patterns will have you skip two before and after each shell, which is effectively the same instruction.

Crochet Shells Mobius Free Crochet Pattern LW1884

The Crochet Shells Mobius also uses 5 dc shells

The beginning and ending of rows is handled differently in each pattern. One option, as seen in the Infinite Shells Cowl, is to begin and end the row of shells with one double crochet stitch. Another option, seen in the Crochet Shells Mobius, is to work 3  dc stitches at the beginning and end of rows. These can be worked into the same stitch (as done in the mobius pattern) or in subsequent stitches.

One Example of 5 DC Shells (Tutorial)

There are obviously many different ways to work crochet shells. Let's go ahead and practice one swatch together so that you can get a feel for the basics.


Ch 28.

Row 1: 2 dc in 4th ch from hook. *Skip 2, dc, skip 2, 5 dc. Repeat from * across to last st. 3 dc in last st. As you can see, this creates a row of 5 dc shells that are separated by individual dc posts. In this row, the shells are framed at the beginning and end with mini-shells of 3 dc stitches.


Row 2: Turn and ch 3. Skip 3. *5 dc in dc, skip 2, dc, skip 2. Repeat from* across to last st. End with one dc in top of turning ch. You have now created a second row of crochet shells separated by dc posts. The shells are worked into the individual dc stitches from the row below, creating a staggered shell design (discussed further at the end of this guide). The shells are framed by 1 dc at the beginning and end of the row (in contrast to the 3 of the previous row).


Row 3: Turn and ch 3. 2 dc in first dc. *Skip 2, dc, skip 2, 5 dc. Repeat from * across to last st. 3 dc in last st. This is essentially a repeat of Row 1, except that you are working into the shells instead of the foundation chain. You will now alternate rows 1 and 2 to create the shell stitch pattern.

Variations in Stitch Height

All the same height

One of the easiest variations of the basic crochet shell stitch is to follow the same basic pattern using a crochet stitch of a different height. For example, you can make a crochet shell using five half double crochet stitches or five treble crochet stitches.

Out-of-the-Box Throw Free Crochet Pattern LW5278

The Out-Of-The-Box-Throw uses two different crochet shells, one that is worked with double crochet stitches and another worked with single crochet.

Different heights

Shell stitches are typically worked as described with all of the stitches being the same height (all double crochet, for example). However, you can also create shell stitches by working a group of stitches into the same stitch, with shorter stitches on the outside and taller stitches in the center. One type of shell would be to work 1 sc, 1 hdc, 1 dc, 1 hdc, 1 sc into the same stitch. The stitches should be symmetrical so that the tallest stitch is in the center with the other stitches decreasing in size to match on both the right and left sides of the tallest stitch.

Shell Clusters Lapghan Free Crochet Pattern WR1948

The Shell Clusters Lapghan uses a shell of varying heights: 1 hdc, 2 dc, 1 hdc

Variations in Number of Stitches

Another variation is to change the number of stitches in the shell. Instead of five double crochet stitches, your shell may have only three stitches. Of course, you can create different shells by varying both the number and the stitch height; you could have a shell of 7 hdc stitches or a shell of 3 treble crochet stitches.

Cabled & Shell Throw Free Crochet Pattern LW2576

The Cabled & Shell Throw uses a version of the shell worked with 4 dc stitches

Shells made with Chain Spaces

Some crochet shells are created by replacing the middle stitch with a chain stitch. For example: 2 dc, ch 1, 2 dc all worked into the same crochet stitch will create a V-stitch variation of the shell.

A first shell

Example of a 2 dc, ch 1, 2 dc crochet shell as seen in the tutorial for the Shells with Front & Back Post Stitches Square

Shell Stitch Christening Set Free Crochet Pattern WR1974

The Shell Stitch Christening Set also uses a shell that is made using 2 dc, ch 1, 2 dc.

Sparkling Shells Cowl Free Crochet Pattern LW4515

It isn't a requirement that the chain in the center be only ch-1. The Sparkling Shells Cowl is designed with shells made from 2 dc, ch 3, 2 dc.

Crochet Lorelei Shawl Free Crochet Pattern LW2871

The Lorelei Shawl uses two different types of shells, one with ch-2 and one with ch-3 (both in the center of pairs of 2 dc stitches).

Crochet Shells Worked Across Multiple Stitches

In almost all instances, crochet shells are made by working a set of stitches into the same stitch. However, shells are occasionally created by working stitches of different heights across multiple stitches in a row. This is most often seen as a shell border. For example, you might work 1 sc, 1 dc, 1 tc, 1 dc, 1 sc across five stitches then repeat. As when working with stitches of different heights in the same stitch (above), you want the shells to be symmetrical.


This sample shows a row of hdc stitches topped by a shell edging of 1 sc, 1 dc, 1 tc, 1 dc, 1 sc repeating across the row, with each stitch worked into one hdc stitch.

Vertical Shells vs. Staggered Shells

When working crochet shells across multiple rows, you can choose to place them one on top of the other or to stagger them.  The Infinite Shells Cowl (above) is a great example of shells that are stacked vertically upon one another. We see another terrific example of it in the Shells with Front and Back Post Stitches Square: lw4132-9-shells-with-post-stitches

We also see a version of the vertical shells in this video by Kristin Omdahl

The Sparkling Shells Cowl (posted above) shows how shells can be staggered. When staggered, the shells of one row are often worked in the chain spaces of the row below, which is what is done in The Sparkling Shells Cowl. Alternatively, it may be worked into a shorter stitch from the row below. In the sample that we worked on above, the shells were worked into the individual posts of the row below to create the staggered design:


Unique Variations on Crochet Shells

Most of the crochet shell patterns look essentially the same as the others, with only these small variations as described in this guide. However, you will occasionally come across crochet shell patterns that are particularly different from these. Here are a few examples:

Cross-Hatched Cowl and Beanie Free Crochet Pattern LW4123

The Cross-hatched Cowl & Beanie uses a shell that is made with 2 dc, ch 2, 1 sc (as well as the reverse of this pattern).

Graceful Shell Shawl Free Crochet Pattern LW2426

The Graceful Shell Shawl is a shell that consists of two clusters separated by ch 6, dc all worked into the same space.

Blushing Shells Cowl Free Crochet Pattern LW4667

The Blushing Shells Cowl uses a unique large crochet shell stitch made with 9 dc stitches.

Button Up Cocoon and Hat Free Crochet Pattern LW3438

The Button-Up Baby Cocoon and Hat is an advanced crochet pattern that uses a shell that incorporates linked treble crochet stitches.

Additional Crochet Shell Patterns

Those unique crochet shell patterns are definitely fun but it is also relaxing and enjoyable to practice the more traditional crochet shell patterns. Here are some more to keep you busy:

Shaded Shells Super Scarf Free Crochet Pattern LW5415

Shaded Shells Super Scarf

Fringed V-Stitch Shawl Free Crochet Pattern LW4977

Fringed V-Stitch Shawl

Twilight Shells throw Free Crochet Pattern LW4502

Twilight Shells Throw

Baby Shells Blanket Free Crochet Pattern LW4298

Baby Shells Blanket

Guide to Crochet Shell Stitch Variations with Patterns