Crocheting together – an example of social learning

My most popular blog to date has been  on the combination of crochet and climate change data, but crochet is relevant to the teaching and learning side of my working world too. Having taken part in a variety of Crochet ALongs (CALs) in recent years, and having interest in the broader issue of social learning as educationalists, Professor Shirley Williams and I reflect here on the history of craft-alongs, and  their place in the evolution of learning towards becoming more informal and more social.

Crochet’s resurgence crochet1

Crochet has undergone a revival recently, especially in relation to the benefits of crochet (and knitting) for relaxation. There are even books and articles on mindful crochet and crochet therapy. However, there is no clear evidence of the origins of crochet (Marks, 1997), although there are a number of theories of origins ranging through developments in Arabia, China to South America. Certainly crochet came to popularity in Europe during the nineteenth century, Potter (1955) cites Caulfeild and Saward’s “Dictionary of Needlework” dating its popularity to 1838, with even Queen Victoria crocheting (Canadian War Museum, n.d.).  


One of eight scarves Queen Victoria crocheted for presentation to members of her forces fighting in South Africa. This is the scarf awarded to Private R.R. Thompson on display at the Canadian War Museum. Photo from Canadian War Museum Ottowa

Developments in various countries have led to different ways of identifying hook sizes, and to multiple names for the same stitch, including some terms used in both US and UK crochet referring to different stitches. There is no worldwide standard for abbreviations of crochet terms and  corresponding symbols (Hazell, 2013).  Thus the world of crochet has its own terminology and “jargon” that needs explanation to the beginner similar to academic disciplines, and perhaps lends itself particularly well to social learning.

Crafters, the internet and the birth of online Craft-alongs

A Craft-along is a group of crafters working, initially simultaneously, on their own realization of the same piece of work. Facilitated by the internet, participants work together on their own instantiation of an artifact (such as a crochet blanket), following instructions available online and sharing their experiences across an Internet platform such as Facebook, many participations start as soon as an along is launched, but completion times vary.  Craft-alongs are usually called by the name of the craft involved; crocheters join crochet alongs (CALs), while knitters join knit alongs (KAL).

In fact, crafters in general were early adopters of  the Internet, establishing and using Usenet groups, with lists such as alt.sewing and rec.crafts.textiles in the early 1990s (Rheingold, 2000). In 1998 a book was published “Free Stuff for Quilters on the Internet” (Heim & Hansen, 1998) and subsequently revised in a second and third edition, variants of the books were produced  for other crafts (for example a version for a range of needlecrafts (Heim, 2003)). By 1998 it is reported quilters were using the Internet to collaborate on designs (Williamson, Glassner, McLaughlin, Chase, & Smith, 1998), while the Knitting Bloggers NetRing was established in early 2002 (Wei, 2004). Kucirkova and Littleton (2015) use the term “Community-Oriented Digital Learning Hub” (DLH) to describe online communities such as the yarn based Internet site Ravelry (Humphreys, 2009; Ravelry, n.d.) where members share their guides and patterns (“how to guides”) before and after the production of the artifact, and the community can “like”, comment and develop supplementary materials.

Many of these communities are examples of technology-enabled communities of practice (Le Deuff, 2010; Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009) using varied Internet-based resources and products as the home for individual communities; these technologies have changed considerably over recent years and some of the products used by early communities are no longer available (Wenger, 2001; Wenger et al., 2009). In one of the few texts combining craft and the digital world, Gauntlett (2011) suggests both that: Web2.0 offers a platform on which to share creative artifacts, and that creative projects are invaluable for human happiness.

Within the literature Brown and Brown (2011) dated the emergence of the term “knit along” to 2003/4:

“The term knitalong emerged out of the Internet knitting culture of blogs and discussion groups around 2003 and 2004, when it was used most often to describe the practice of knitters in different place working on the same project during the same time period.” (page 7)

While Wei (2004) identified the term as in use by bloggers in the period 2002/3. The emergence of the term in relation to other crafts is not possible to establish from the literature, but within social media hashtags including quiltalong, knitalong, crochetalong are now in widespread use.

We should also note that some people (Brown & Brown, 2011) use the term knitalong to refer to events which are purely physical, such as meetings of knitting groups in cafes and pubs; elsewhere (Minahan & Wolfram Cox, 2006) the term stitch’n bitch is used to describe physical and virtual groups in which knitters exchange ideas, resources and chat, while other authors (Kelly, 2014) use this term for only physical groups. The term stitch’n bitch was used as a title for a book (Stoller, 2003), some credit this as the origin of the term (Minahan & Wolfram Cox, 2006), however the use of the term pre-dates the book, for example Castleton (1990) mentions:

“…a monthly “Stitch ‘n Bitch” get-together with friends…” (page 95),

but the term became more widely use after Stoller’s book was published. However, we focus on internet based alongs in our consideration of the social learning aspects.

Crochet alongs as mass social learning. 


Completed Dances on the Beach CAL involving learning several different types of stitches. Completed by Ellie Highwood, 2017 

At any one time there are many “alongs” in various stages of maturity on the internet. Ravelry (Humphreys, 2009; Ravelery, n.d.) lists over 2500 Alongs (562 of which are classified as active), with 1484 knitalongs (467 active), 302 crochetalongs (95 active), and a small numbers of other crafts. A study in 2012 (Orton-Johnson, 2014) noted that amongst respondents each  belonged to an average of 2 CALs on Ravelry. The closed Facebook group: CAL – Crochet A Long (n.d.) has some 45,000 members and lists about one new CAL a month, each with hundreds or a few thousand “guests” registered, many of these CALs also have a presence elsewhere on the Internet. This group serves as a focus allowing people to continue following CALs, and crucially learning from the CAL, outside the official time period. At any one time, people on this group are working on both current CALs and those from several years ago.

Learning takes place usually after provision of initial material (pattern) which is sometimes released in sections, and usually involving the course initiator(s), and a much larger group of participants. Learning includes not only the techniques and terminology, but colour combinations and yarn choice. Participants often provide translations of patterns (officially sanctioned or otherwise), and some provide videos of particularly challenging sections. Very rapidly, learning and teaching is spread across a vast group of participants.

Interestingly, this type of relatively informal, social, learning also occurs in Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) which cover a wide range of subjects, and usually involve awareness raising, knowledge and skill transfer, but rarely involve the production of a physical artefact. CALs and MOOCs share some characteristics, but also can learn from each other. We are writing a more academic comparison of crochet-alongs and MOOCs for publication in a social learning journal.


Brown, L., & Brown, M. J. (2011). Knitalong: Celebrating the tradition of knitting together: Open Road Media.

CAL – Crochet A Long. (n.d.). Facebook [Group]. Retrieved from

Canadian War Museum. (n.d.). Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902 : The Queen’s Scarf of Honour.   Retrieved from

Castleton, A. (1990). Speaking out on domestic violence. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 23, 108-115. Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is connecting: Polity Press.

Hazell, S. (2013). 200 Crochet Stitches: Search Press.

Heim, J. (2003). The Needlecrafter’s Computer Companion: Hundreds of Easy Ways to Use Your Computer for Sewing, Quilting, Crossstich, Knitting, And More! : No Starch Press.

Heim, J., & Hansen, G. (1998). Free Stuff for Quilters on the Internet: C & T Publishing.

Humphreys, S. (2009). The economies within an online social network market: A case study of Ravelry.

Kelly, M. (2014). Knitting as a feminist project? Paper presented at the Women’s Studies International Forum.

Kucirkova, N., & Littleton, K. (2015). Digital learning hubs: theoretical and practical ideas for innovating massive open online courses. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-7. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1054835

Le Deuff, O. (2010). Réseaux de loisirs créatifs et nouveaux modes d’apprentissage. Distances et savoirs, 8(4), 601-621.

Marks, R. (1997). History of Crochet. Chain Link Newsletter, reproduced at

Minahan, S., & Wolfram Cox, J. (2006). Making up (for) society? Stitch, bitch and organisation. Paper presented at the ANZAM 2006: Proceedings of the 20th Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference.

Orton-Johnson, K. (2014). Knit, purl and upload: new technologies, digital mediations and the experience of leisure. Leisure Studies, 33(3), 305-321.

Potter, E. (1955). English Knitting and Crochet Books of the Nineteenth Century. The Library, 5(1), 25-40.

Stoller, D. (2003). Stitch’n bitch: The knitter’s handbook: Workman Publishing.

Wei, C. (2004). Formation of norms in a blog community.

Wenger, E. (2001). Supporting communities of practice. Retrieved from

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities: CPsquare.

Williamson, M. B., Glassner, A., McLaughlin, M., Chase, C., & Smith, M. (1998). Constructing community in cyberspace. Paper presented at the CHI 98 Conference Summary on Human Factors in Computing Systems



#climatechangecrochet – The global warming blanket.

Q. What do you get when you cross crochet and climate science?

A. A lot of attention on Twitter.

At the weekend I like to crochet. Last weekend I finished my latest project and posted the picture on Twitter. And then had to turn the notifications off because it all went a bit noisy. The picture of my “global warming blanket” rapidly became my top tweet ever, with more retweets and likes than anything else. Apparently I had found a creative way to visualise trends in global mean temperature. I particularly liked the “this is the most frightening knitwear I have seen all year” comment. Given the interest on Twitter I thought I had better answer a few of the questions in this blog. Also, it would be great if global warming blankets appeared all over the world.

How did you get the idea?

The global warming blanket was based on “temperature” blankets made by crocheters around the world. Their blankets consist of one row, or square, of crochet each day, coloured according to the temperature at their location  . They look amazing and show both the annual cycle and day-to-day variability. Other people make “sky” blankets where the colours are based on the sky colour of the day – this results in a more muted grey-blue-white colour palette.

I wondered what the global temperature series would look like as a blanket. Also, global warming is often explained as greenhouse gases acting like a blanket, trapping infrared radiation and keeping the Earth warm. So that seemed like an interesting link. I also had done several rainbow themed blankets in the past and had a lot of yarn left that needed using.

Where did the data come from?

I used the annual and global mean temperature anomaly compared to 1900-2000 mean as a reference period as available from NOAA This is what the data looks like shown more conventionally.


I then devised a colour scale using 15 different colours each representing a 0.1 °C data bin. So everything between 0 and 0.099 was in one colour for example. Making a code for these colours, the time series can be rewritten as in the table below. It is up to the creator to then choose the colours to match this scale, and indeed which years to include. I was making a baby sized blanket so chose the last 100 years, 1916-2016.


1929              1940-46        1954-56                                       1991/2  1997/8

If you look closely you can see the 1997-1998 El Nino (relatively warm yellow stripe), 1991/92 Pinatubo eruption (relatively cool pink year) as well as cool periods 1929, and 1954-56 and the relatively warm 1940-46. Remember that these are global temperature anomalies and may not match your own personal experience at a given location!

Because of these choices, and the long reference period, much of the blanket has relatively muted colour differences that tend to emphasise the last 20 years or so. There are other data sets available, and other reference periods and it would be interesting to see what they looked like. Also the colours I used were determined mainly by what I had available; if I were to do another one, I might change a few around (dark pink looks too much like red in the photograph and needed a darker blue instead of purple for the coldest colour), or even use a completely different colour palette – especially as rainbow colour scales aren’t great as they can distort data and render it meaningless if you are colour blind Ed Hawkins kindly provided me with a more user friendly colour scale which I love and may well turn into a scarf for myself (much quicker than a blanket!).


How can I recreate this?

If you want to create something similar, you will need 15 different colours if you want to do the whole 1880-2016 period. You will need relatively more yarn in colours 3-7 than other colours (if, like me you are using your stash). You can use any stitch or pattern but since you want the colour changes to be the focus of the blanket, I would choose something relatively simple. I used rows of treble crochet (UK terms) and my 100 years ended up being about 90 cm by 110 cm. You can of course choose any width you like for your blanket, or make a scarf by doing a much shorter foundation row. It goes without saying that it could also be knitted. Or painted. Or woven. Or, whatever your particular craft is.



How long did it take?

I used a very simple stitch, so for a blanket this size, it was a couple of months (note I only crochet in the evenings 2 or 3 evenings a week for a couple of hours with more at some weekends). It helped that the Champions League was on during this time as other members of the household were happy to sit around watching football whilst I crocheted. Weave the ends in as you go. There are a lot of them, and I had to do them all at the end. The time flies because….

Why do I crochet?

I like crochet because you can do simple projects whilst thinking about other things, watching TV or listening to podcasts, or, you can do more complicated things which require your full attention and divert your brain from all other things. There is also something meditative about crochet, as has been discussed here ( I find it a good way to destress. Additionally, a lot of what I make is for gifts or for charities and that is a really good feeling.

What’s next?

Suggestions have come in for other time series blankets e.g. greys for aerosol optical depth punctuated by red for volcanic eruptions, oranges and yellows punctuated by black for solar cycle (black being high sun spot years), a central England temperature record. Blankets take time, but scarves could be quicker so I might test a few of these ideas out over the next few months. Would love to hear and see more ideas, or perhaps we could organise a mass “global warming blanket” make-athon around the world and then donate them to communities in need.

And finally.

More seriously, whilst lots of the initial comments on Twitter were from climate scientists, there are also a lot from a far more diverse set of folks. I think this is a good example of how if we want to reach out, we need to explore different ways of doing so. There are only so many people who respond to graphs and charts. And if we can find something we are passionate about as a way of doing it, then all the better.