Coral Reef Pattern – Free Crochet Sea Pen

I’m excited to share my newest crochet coral reef pattern with you! If you’re a regular reader, you may recall that I’m participating in the crochet coral reef exhibit now showing at the Ontario Science Centre until the end of October.

This is my first batch of creations we’ll be delivering to the Science Centre this week! There are sea pens, sea coral, anemone, tube coral, sea urchins and more. I’ll continue to create until they no longer have room in the exhibit :).

How Plastic Affects the Ocean

Almost all of my crochet pieces have hidden, and not so hidden, waste plastic. That’s to draw attention to the 100,000 marine creatures and turtles, 1 million sea birds killed every year and 50% of the world’s coral reefs in the last 30 years extinct due to a combination of climate change and plastic pollution.

But plastic litter is only the tip of the iceberg. Manufacturing plastic has a large carbon footprint that’s contributing to global warming too.

By 2050, more than 90% of the world’s corals are expected to die (according to the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting). When marine life loses its habitat, it will cause a rippling collapse in the oceans that affects the entire planet.

Lately, I’ve been so inspired by the beauty of the underwater photography of Richard Ling. So  the crochet coral reef pattern I’m showing you how to crochet today is based on one of his pictures:

Sea pens at the bottom of the ocean

Sea pen photo credit/source: Richard Ling

If you’ve never seen his work, you really must check out his site; you’ll be in awe of his talent and how he captures an incredible underwater world.

I didn’t actually realize this before I started this project, but coral reefs exist even in the deepest, darkest and coldest waters of Canada! Deep-water corals differ from tropical corals that live in warm water in that they can grow without sunlight. Tropical corals must have light to grow. Who knew?

International Bloggers Club

It’s time for this month’s International Bloggers Club (IBC) and our challenge this month is Spin me a Spindle.

The IBC is a group of bloggers from all over the world who challenge each other every month to make something using a common theme.  Our previous challenge was “Walls and All” and we upcycled a pallet into this multi tasking wooden wall art DIY.

You’ll find our friends’ spindle projects at the bottom of the post. So don’t forget to check them out before you go. And if you don’t have time to browse today, pop back in later in the week to pick up where you left off.

Crochet Sea Pen

This project came about when my good friend Michelle challenged me to crochet a sea pen after seeing my brain coral on Instagram.

Game on! But the challenge for me was how to add structure to get it to stand upright! By nature, crochet is rather soft and floppy. Initially I was going to use the spindle that typically supports this Ikea Gestalta Artist’s Dummy, shown as part of our Fall Home Decor tour.

the Spindle

I never use the spindle part, so why not put it to good use?

One type of spindle to support crochet coral reef pattern sea pen

I did use this spindle for my practice run as you see below.

Crochet coral reef pattern sea pen being crocheted onto a spindle

However, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m challenging myself to use as much waste plastic as possible. When my pieces go on display at the Science Centre, I want to call attention to the the millions of tons of plastic contributing to killing off our beautiful marine life and coral reefs.

So I set this spindle aside to upcyle it for another upcoming project. Since a spindle is essentially a rod, (most often one that rotates), I completely change gears. I’m thinking way outside the box on this one, creating my own spindle using plastic medical waste and a skewer.

Testing the Coral Reef Pattern

Below is another test run with regular cotton beside my inspiration pic. As you’ll see when we get to the crochet coral reef pattern, I not only changed the spindle and yarn, but also simplified the pattern a bit too.

Crochet coral reef pattern sea pen shown on skewer beside inspiration image

Sea pen photo credit/source: Richard Ling

Materials for Coral Reef Pattern

Materials for crochet coral reef pattern sea pen, From left; velour yarn, plastic medical waste cap, skewers, rug latch hook, blunt darning needle, crochet h

Materials to crochet coral reef sea pen

How to Crochet a Sea Pen

Velour type yarn really creates a texture that’s similar to real sea pens, but any worsted weight yarn will work.

free Coral Reef Pattern

1. Add stitches around skewer

Start with a slip knot around the crochet hook and position it with the skewer as shown below.

Wrap the yarn around the hook and pull it through (slip stitch). You’ll have one loop on hook.

Now, we’re going to crochet right around the skewer with single crochet stitches. Just remember to wrap the yarn around the skewer so you’re crocheting around it and encasing it with stitches.

Here’s the first single crochet complete along with the initial slip stitch.

Continuing add single crochet stitches until there are 24 in total.

2. Bullion Stitch

After the last single crochet, chain 1 and turn the work. Now you’re ready to add bullion stitches.

Since we’re going to be wrapping the yarn up to 14 times, and bullion stitches can be cumbersome, instead of a crochet hook I use a rug latch hook. The latch hook closes so you can’t accidentally lose the yarn as you pull it through the bullion stitches.

For the first bullion stitch, wrap the yarn around the latch twice as shown.

It’s important that for this first row, you work into the back loops only. Insert the latch into the back loop of the first single crochet stitch.

Bring the yarn across the open hook of the latch.

When you pull forward, the latch will close so you can pull the yarn through all wrap stitches and the stitch on the hook.

Adjust the loop on the hook if necessary. 

Yarn over hook again and pull through the loop on hook (slip stitch). This completes the first bullion stitch.

Subsequent Bullions

For the next bullion stitch you will increase the number of wraps. Instead of two wraps, wrap the yarn 3 times. For each consecutive bullion, you will increase the number of wraps by one. So, for instance, the next stitch after will have 4 wraps, then 5, then six until you reach 14 wraps. Once you reach 14 wraps, you can start to decrease by one until you reach the very end.

As the number of stitches increase, be sure to hold your finger over the wraps each time you go round so they don’t unwind. Be sure to wrap loosely, not tight, so you’re able to pull the yarn through with ease. This may take a bit of practice.

As you can see below, the length of the bullion stitches will increase in step fashion. Once you get the gist of making these bullions, you can create any shape and number of wraps you wish to customize your sea pen!

Before we move onto next steps, notice that the front loop of each stitch is still available to crochet into. Once the first row is complete, we’ll come back and crochet into these stitches too, which will complete the other half of the sea pen.

Four crochet hooks in front loop of single crochets

3. Crochet the Other Side

When the first row of bullions is complete, chain 1 and turn the work. Repeat exactly what you did in the previous section but this time, crochet into the front loop of each stitch.

This pattern is forgiving! If you miscount the number of wraps, not a big deal. Nothing is ever perfectly symmetrical in nature!

crochet coral reef pattern sea pen showing one side complete and latch hook starting on the other side of skewer.

4. Crochet Stem

By the time I got to the stem it was too dark to take pictures, so I’ll just have to explain the process.

After the last bullion, crochet 5 single crochet stitches around the skewer. Use a bobby pin to mark the first stitch. Crochet for about 3 rows in total, moving the marker as you go. Increase into the next stitches (2 single crochets into one stitch) [6 sts].

Continue increasing one stitch every two rows. When you reach a point where you can slip the stem over the middle of the plastic base at the widest point, insert the skewer into the centre and pull the stem over.

There are holes at three points in the plastic base I’m using. So I pull the loop through the nearest one with a fine crochet hook as shown. Then I cut the yarn, leave a long tail.

Attaching the plastic base to the crochet coral reef pattern sea pen stem with a crochet hook

Tread the darning needle with the yarn tail and pull the yarn through the first loop to secure it. Tighten, then move to the second hole and come through it so the yarn is back on top. Weave the yarn through two loops on the edge of the stem, then back down the same hole. Move to the next hole and do the same. After securing the stem, here’s how the underside will look.

bottom of crochet coral reef pattern sea pen; plastic cap tied on with yarn

Weave in Ends

Once back to the beginning, you can weave the yarn up through the underside of the stem and cut it off, hiding the yarn inside.

The picture below is my practice piece using regular cotton, so you can see that the thin yarn does not provide great coverage of the skewer.

hiding the yarn end for the crochet coral reef pattern sea pen with a darning needle

In contrast, you can see how much better the velour yarn covers the skewer on the back. If you do still have some wood showing through, you can use the yarn tail to neatly wrap those spots before cutting the yarn.

Cut the skewer to size. I capped it with a kite tip, which finishes it off and can’t be seen from the front.

Back of crochet coral reef pattern sea pen

If you’re worried about the yarn slipping off the end, you can also finish with a dollop of hot glue. Just be careful not to add too much or get it onto the front of your sea pen! You can also crochet right around the top of the skewer (easier with thinner yarns):

Coral Reef Pattern

Real sea pens bury themselves in the seabed; they can even completely hide when predators are about! This time lapse video is fascinating and shows how they do that!

When I donate this piece to the Ontario Science Centre, they’ll likely embed the base of the stem into whatever substrate their using in the display case. So you won’t even see the plastic structure that holds this up as I’m showing you below!

Complete coral reef pattern sea pen shown with black pebbles around base

Pin Free Coral Reef Pattern

Pinable image for free crochet coral reef pattern showing materials for sea pen and finished crochet coral

Spindle Ideas

International Bloggers

Don’t forget to visit these awesome ‘Spin me a Spindle‘ projects from our creative friends below. You’re in for some unique and spectacular spindle ideas!

  1. Unique Creations by Anita
  2. A Crafty Mix
  3. Interior Frugalista
  4. What Meegan Makes
  5. Birdz of a Feather (that’s us)!

Visit the Science Centre

If you are participating in a crochet coral reef in your area, happy crafting!

Those that are local to Toronto can visit the crochet coral reef exhibition in person at the Ontario Science Centre. Or check out the Ontario satellite reef online.

28 thoughts on “Coral Reef Pattern – Free Crochet Sea Pen

  1. All of your crocheted coral reef creations are beautiful, Sara and I so wish I stayed close enough to go visit the exhibition for real. Hopefully there will be a virtual tour online. But I’ll make sure to tell the kids so they can go have a look if they get a chance. My daughter especially will enjoy it. She always wanted to be a Marine Biologist.

  2. Your coral reef turned out perfect. I wonder if I still my rug latch hook I see how it could be used for other craft projects. Thank you for sharing.
    Happy Fall,

    • Yes, it’s amazing how creative you can get with tools that aren’t even meant for a particular craft. Along with the latch hook, I also had fun with a vintage ‘crazy daisy’ loom! Happy Fall to you too Kippi!

  3. I have never heard of sea pens before and so excited to hear that they are found in Canadian waters! The video you shared is amazing to watch. I’m so impressed you were able to recreate a sea pen with recycled plastic and yarn! As always, your tutorial was awesome. Being a crocheter, I completely understood the pattern. I can’t wait to see all the amazing crochet coral reef patterns that you’ve made incorporated into the museum’s exhibit and I so wish it was coming to Alberta.

    • Thanks Marie; so happy to hear you understood it – I really appreciate knowing that! I totally agree about the video; I wish I could dive, but I’ll just enjoy it from the comfort of my chair – lol!

  4. I am amazed at your talent to be able to recreate a sea pen. The sea has so many beautiful creatures and forms. The video was fun and informative, as well as beautiful. Thanks for sharing your message and the tutorial. Simply gorgeous!

    • Thanks so much Meegan! This exhibit has really opened my eyes to the beauty in our oceans and plight the ecosystem is facing! I actually didn’t know I had it in me to create these corals, but I couldn’t help but be inspired!

  5. Wow, this is something I have never seen before. It is so unique and very realistic compared to the real thing. I am sure your exhibit will get lots of wows. You pulled this challenge off perfectly.

    • Thank Anita! We’re delivering my coral creations today; I’m looking forward to seeing them on display with everyone else in the community that contributed to the exhibit 🙂

  6. Amazing. You did a beautiful job. I love coral. I think its so pretty.

  7. You are so clever, Sara! This is really something, both the skills involved and the fact that you are bringing awareness to a huge and devastating problem.

    • This has definitely been a fun and eye opening challenge!

    • Thanks so much Cindy! It been fun trying to capture the beauty of nature 🙂

    • Thank you Jennifer; it’s always a pleasure to share our projects 🙂

  8. What a great pairing of science and art! In California I did a lot of beach clean ups and plastic was always at the top of the list, along with cigarette butts. Definitely need to raise more awareness about plastic waste and the microparticles they break down to.

    • It’s so wonderful that you participated in beach clean-up; I couldn’t agree more Marie!

  9. I would love try a display of “coral”! Maybe for a grade school class – they are so colourful and textural. A suggestion for a “spine” – old plastic knitting needles. I know that I have quite a collection from the past 50 years – and you can heat them to bend!
    Hopefully I can find more of your patterns (I’m “technically challenged” LOL)

    • A plastic knitting needle is a great idea Susan. I hope you give it a try!

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