A turning chain is typically worked in between rows of crochet stitches. Its purpose is to make the transition between one row of crochet and the next row while maintaining the height of each row. After you’ve worked a row of crochet, you typically turn the piece over and work back across. Making a turning chain helps you to achieve the correct height for your next row of stitches. A turning chain can be either a single chain stitch or a group of chain stitches, depending on the type of the stitches you are using for the row.
In crochet patterns, the turning chain is abbreviated tch. It may also be called the turn chain.
Turning Chain Lengths
The length of the turning chain depends on the height of the stitch you are crocheting. Tall stitches require more chain stitches; short stitches require fewer chains.
Here are suggestions for turning chain lengths for the most basic crochet stitches. Note that these are only suggestions; feel free to use a turning chain of any length that achieves your objective for the project you are crocheting.
- Single crochet stitch: A single chain stitch is usually used as a turning chain when working rows of single crochet.
- Half double crochet stitch: The turning chain is typically two stitches.
- Double crochet stitch: The turning chain is typically three stitches.
- Treble crochet stitch: The turning chain is typically four stitches.
- Double treble crochet stitch: The turning chain is typically five stitches.
Working the Turning Chain
The turning chain usually takes the place of the first stitch of the row except for single crochet rows.
For single crochet, you would work to the end of a row. Turn over your crochet work and make one chain stitch. Now work the first stitch of the new row in your pattern.
For double crochet and other taller stitches, you would work to the end of the row. Turn over your crochet piece. Then make a chain of the number of crochet stitches required as the turning chain. This will count as the first stitch of the row. Work the second stitch in your pattern.
You will know if you forget to use turning chains. Your crochet row will be compressed at the first stitch and your piece will not be square.
Turning chains don't always have to be purely functional. They can be decorative as well.
Bruges lace is an example of a crochet technique that utilizes the idea of the turning chain becoming a design element. Bruges lace is a beautiful crocheted lace that resembles the more labor-intensive handmade lace of the same name. At the end of a row, a long turning chain is crocheted so a loop of stitches extends from the end of each row.
Long crocheted ribbons can be made this way and then it is easy to unite the chains in different patterns using the turning chain loops. The Belgian crafters would make intricate filigrees, edgings, circles, ovals, squares, and triangles using this technique.