Sarah, I can’t tell you how many times I hear this exact same question! Very honestly, once you learn the basic stitches, getting your pieces even is the next hardest thing.
To begin with, let’s practice with something simple like a small washcloth. Working on a small project while you practice will give you more confidence and you’ll be ready to tackle that big project with gusto in no time.
Next, you’ll need stitch markers. Head to the local hobby store and pick up a packet of locking stitch markers. These are usually located next to the knitting needles and crochet hooks. Locking markers is the key here. If you can’t find them, you can use safety pins as well, you’ll just have to be mindful that the yarn may get caught in the coils of the pin, but that is easily remedied should it happen.
So, to begin let’s look at the “top of the turning chain.” The turning chain is usually 2 to 3 chain stitches that you do at the end of a row in order to bring the stitches up to a new row. In this case we are working double crochet, so the standard is to chain 3 for the turning chain. Once I have chained three, I will stop and clip the stitch marker through the loop on my hook. From there you can ignore the marker until you reach it again.
Now let’s look at the “last stitch of the row” – work your entire row of stitches as your pattern specifies. Remember that to get nice even rows, the last stitch always goes in the top of the turning chain. So you’ll come to the stitch marker you placed on the row previously when you did the turning chain, and you’ll know right where to go. Insert your hook in the stitch right where the marker is clipped. That’s it! Once you have worked your last stitch (which should be in the top of the turning chain in this case), stop and remove your stitch marker from the previous row and clip it through the loop on your hook. Complete your turning chain and complete the row.
Repeat this process until you have finished your project. Voila! You have a piece with tidy edges!