“Hey I go by feel
Sometimes it seems like a mystery
I just close my eyes and it comes to me
There’s something I don’t even understand
I just open my heart and it flows right through my hand.”
Blues singer Buddy Guy could be crooning about bead crochet and the tension needed to create a bead crochet necklace in his 2013 release, “I Go By Feel.”
If you’ve never tried crochet, you may not be aware what happens when you pick up a crochet hook and begin to pull thread through a bead. The thread is transferred from one side of the bead to the other via tension and the use of a crochet hook.
Because the crochet hook is longer than a typical needle, it seems cumbersome, difficult to regulate. For those new to the process, threading one bead is okay, two requires concentration and with three, one’s shoulders creep higher, fingers tighten and internal tension starts to get in the way of the work.
The long tool is unfamiliar to most beaders who more easily relate to flexible wire or beading string. When a catch occurs, the tendency is to pull on the thread, forcing it to move in the direction of the pull. Pliable, natural fibers when taxed in this manner stretch. A brittle fiber such as wire, breaks. The crocheted piece that survives looks weird, misshapen and amateurish.
Master craftswomen rarely talk about tension, in part because they feel it. They demonstrate in a smooth, rhythmic style. When their stitches get a bit lax, they tighten automatically. If they crochet too tightly, they consciously relax. It takes practice to go by feel.
The more relaxed you can be, the more even your tension. One secret may be mindfulness. As you crochet, stay present. At the moment of a “catch” pause. Be curious about the problem. Did you pick up only a portion of the thread? Is your loop overly large and caught on a piece of clothing? Could there be a knot in the fiber? The root of the problem, the catch, is nearby.
Tension, defined as the act or process of stretching something tight, is personal. We create it for ourselves by stretching worry across our system. It gets in the way of the work.
When I teach bead crochet, I have a simple exercise to help release tension. Pick up the 50-70 beads set aside for your necklace. Arrange them in order. In the process, we release worry and anxiety and get present to design.
Relaxing to do good bead crochet work makes a huge difference. From that space, I show participants how to hold the crochet hook, make a slip knot and begin.
From there, in the words of Buddy Guy, “I go by feel.”