Stitch School: Bobble, Puff, or Popcorn?

How to master the most common crochet clusters

From the issue

See more patterns in the tips and tutorials category.

I use test crocheters frequently. All of my testers are well-seasoned crocheters and are invaluable to me, so when two of my testers had questions concerning the bobbles and puffs I had in a few of my patterns, a green light went off – this was something I needed to investigate further.

book spinesresize

Whenever I want to research a subject, the first thing I turn to is a book (oh, those humanities and literature majors!), and, in particular, crochet books from my own library that are relevant to the topic. While my collection is certainly not exhaustive (since I’m a city gal and have limited space), you’ll see I consult books written by industry professionals who are all heavyweights and extremely knowledgeable. I admire all of these authors and these books have consistently been incredibly helpful to me, but it wasn’t until I actually started to research this subject that I realized the extent of the inconsistency in the published material. Of these six books, only three directly address the bobble, popcorn and puff. Of those three, two are consistent in their approach and instruction; the third, while receiving an honorable mention, was less than consistent (and no, I will not identify the publications). The other books either have different approaches to one or several of the stitches or just didn’t cover them.

Please hear me: I am not knocking these designers/authors or publishers. I note that the authors who didn’t touch upon these stitches may have felt a discussion about them was beyond what they were attempting to accomplish with their respective material. Additionally, there is no cohesive crochet language like what exists in knitting. Stitches on one side of the Atlantic are interpreted differently than on the other side.

There are professional organizations one might turn to, like the Crochet Guild of America, The National Needle Arts Association and the Craft Yarn Council of America. While all provide excellent training, there is no consensus for definitive answers. Finally, while crochet symbols are universal, they are incomplete, and not all crocheters feel comfortable with them.

In the face of all this uncertainty, what’s a hooker to do? Focus on the stitches themselves, of course.

So, crafty friends, let’s get to it. One of the ways to create crochet work is to work clusters of stitches. Clusters come in two basic flavors: those that are worked over several stitches and those that are worked in just one stitch.

Bobble, popcorns and puffs fall within the second category – they each are worked in just one stitch. That’s the first main element to note: if the instructions say to work over several stitches, then it isn’t a bobble, popcorn or puff.

Next, for those crocheters who like working with symbols, here are the generally accepted symbols for each of these stitches:

cluster
cluster-puff-bobble
popcorn

The symbols are visually instructive in showing the second main element: each stitch is closed at the top. Notice how the symbols for bobbles and puffs have a short, straight line at the top. This indicates that for each of these, a number of incomplete stitches are held on the hook and closed at the top with a yarn over through the multiple loops on the hook. Popcorns are different; they look acorn-like because the stitches are completed and not held on the hook. Popcorns are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last stitch worked, inserting it into the first stitch of the popcorn cluster and pulling the last live stitch loop through the first stitch.

A visual example of each of the three stitches can be found below, photographed from the Boxed Sorbet Blanket that was designed in connection with this article:
blanket popcorn 2resize  ripple bobble + puff image 5resize
Notice the difference in the size and texture of each: popcorns are the largest and provide bold textural interest while bobbles and puffs are generally smaller and have their own excellent textural punch. While bobbles and popcorns can be made with multiple types of stitches – double crochet, treble, double treble – puffs are usually made with half double crochets, and its symbol reflects that common approach. I say usually because there are exceptions to every rule.

Here is a quick visual tutorial of how to construct each cluster:

The Bobble:

  1. Work a partial double crochet into the designated stitch: yarn over, insert hook, pull up a loop, yarn over and through two loops on the hook. Two loops will remain on the hook.
    bobble 1resize
  2. Repeat the above instruction for as many double crochets as is called for in the pattern instructions (as shown, I am making a three double crochet bobble).
    bobble 2resize
  3. Once you have completed the requisite number of incomplete double crochets, yarn over and pull through all remaining loops on the hook. As you can see, the completed bobble resembles the stitch’s symbol.
    bobble 3resize

The Popcorn:

  1. Work a complete double crochet in the stitch indicated.
    popcorn 1resize
  2. Repeat the above instruction for as many double crochets as is called for in the pattern instructions (as shown, I am making a five double crochet popcorn). Note all stitches are the same.
    popcorn 2resize
  3. After the last double crochet is complete, remove the hook from the live loop and place your hook through the top of the first double crochet in the popcorn.
    popcorn 3resize
  4. Now place the hook back into the live loop of the last double crochet and pull it through the first double crochet.
    popcorn 4resize
  5. Notice how the completed popcorn is raised up from the crochet fabric.
    popcorn 5resize

The Puff:

  1. Work a partial half double crochet in the stitch indicated: yarn over, insert hook into designated stitch, yarn over and pull up a loop. You will have three loops on the hook.
    puff 1resize
  2. Repeat the above instruction for as many half double crochets as are called for in the pattern instructions (in this instance, I am making a three half double crochet puff).
    puff 2resize
  3. At this point, you will place yarn over hook and pull through all seven loops. The partial half double crochets loops should be even and just slightly loose so the hook will slide easily through all seven loops.
    puff 3resize
  4. Here is the completed puff. It is shorter in height than either the bobble or popcorn, but it is cushiony soft.
    puff 4resize

As you can see, these are easy clusters to create that provide loads of texture to any project and much enjoyment to the crafter. Just remember to focus on the elements of each: all are worked in only one stitch, popcorns are clusters of completed stitches that are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last live stitch and putting the hook through the first stitch and pulling the last live stitch through, bobbles and puffs are clusters of incomplete stitches that are closed at the top by pulling a loop through several stitches held on the hook, popcorns and bobbles are usually comprised of double crochet or larger stitches, and finally, puffs are usually worked with half double crochet stitches. Knowing the elements of each will allow you to easily identify the correct cluster used in any pattern.yarn ball

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