How to Crochet Starting Chains – Tutorial and Video

Newbies, learn how to crochet starting chains with this photo and video crochet tutorial. You'll also learn the parts of a chain, chart symbols and pattern abbreviations.

Welcome to Day 1 of our Newbie Series! Today is all about how to crochet starting chains. These babies are the foundation of every single project in the Newbie Series, and most projects you’ll encounter. As you become a more experienced crocheter, you’ll learn more about other ways to start your projects (e.g. foundation stitches, magic ring). However, almost all of the other methods can be replaced with regular chains if needed.

image of a crochet hook, yarn ball, and starting chain with the text "how to crochet starting chains - newbie tutorial from you should craft"

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The video and tutorial focus on crocheting foundation chains, but chains are also found within projects. You’ll use a short chain to turn your work and to create spaces or lace within your project (like in my Window Pane Cardigan). Don’t worry about that right now though — we’ll cover turning chains when we learn about the basic crochet stitches.

If you follow along with today’s post and video tutorial, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify the chain abbreviation in patterns and the chain symbol in charts
  • Label the parts of a chain
  • Hold your yarn and crochet hook in a way that’s comfortable for you
  • Crochet starting chains

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Identifying Chains in Patterns and Charts

There are two main types of crochet instructions: written patterns and stitch charts. Patterns use words and abbreviations to describe what to do in each row or round, and charts use symbols to show which stitches to use.

Chains are represented in patterns with the abbreviation “ch” and are denoted in charts with an open oval shape.

Let’s look at a chart:

simple chart with a starting chain and four rows of single crochets

See the blue horizontal ovals along the bottom? Those make up the starting chain. See how there’s one extra blue oval, but it’s vertical? That’s also part of the starting chain.

If we count all of the blue ovals (the horizontals and the one blue vertical), we can see that we need a starting chain of 19.

If we saw a written pattern for this same project, the starting chain would be written as: ch 19

Parts of a Starting Chain

Each chain has three main loops. The top of a chain (closest to the hook in the image below) looks like connected v’s (<<<<). Each “v” or chain has two parts: the back/top loop, and the front/bottom loop.

The back of the chain (furthest from the hook in the picture below) looks more like traditional chain links (like on a necklace chain). The nub that sticks out is referred to as the back bump.

You can crochet into any of these three loops (top, bottom, or back bump), and some patterns will specify where to put your stitches.

yarn, hook, and labels identifying the parts of a starting chain

Supplies / Materials

You can use any hook and yarn to crochet chains, so practice with whatever you have on hand. If you’re following along in the Newbie Series, you can use either your worsted weight acrylic yarn or your worsted weight cotton yarn.

For the tutorial, I used:

Video Tutorial

Here’s a video to show you how to crochet starting chains. It reviews a lot of the information found in this post (like abbreviations and parts of a chain).

Preparing to Crochet a Starting Chain

Chains start off with a slip knot. It’s weird to write out the instructions, but hopefully the images will clarify the description.

  • With your dominant hand, hold the yarn with your thumb and index finger. Create a backwards “D” with the yarn and insert two fingers from the opposite hand
  • Flip the two fingers 180* clockwise, in order to twist the “D” (this will make an “X” in the center)
  • Use the thumb and index finger of your nondominant hand to grab the shorter tail of yarn
  • Pull it through, tighten, and insert your crochet hook

There are LOTS of ways to hold your yarn, but traditionally, it’s held in your nondominant hand. I actually hold both my yarn and my hook in my right hand, which is atypical. I’ve crocheted “the right way” in this series.

When crocheting the standard way (with a hook in my dominant/right hand and the yarn in my nondominant/left hand), I wrap the yarn under my two middle fingers and loop it around my index finger (shown in the image below).

You should try different options to see what feels best. It doesn’t matter how you hold your yarn as long as it’s comfortable for you and gives you enough control over your tension. Here are tons of pictures of possible ways to hold your yarn and hook.

How to Crochet a Starting Chain

We’re ready to actually start crocheting!

NOTE: I’m using the “knife grip,” but hold your hook in whatever ways feels most comfortable to you.

To make a chain, hold your slipknot with your nondominant hand and your hook with your dominant hand.

two hands demonstrating how to crochet a starting chain

Yarn over (image above) and pull through the loop on your hook (image below). This is one chain.

Repeat this process until your chain is the desired length, or the length specified in your pattern.

two hands demonstrating how to finish a crochet chain