In this post, you will learn how to read knitting patterns for beginners.
Reading a knitting pattern is a skill all in itself – knitting instructions have their own terminology and abbreviations which are easy to follow if you know what they mean but can look like total gibberish if it’s the first time you’ve picked up a pattern.
For a beginner, this can be daunting, but trust me, knitting instructions often appear more complicated than they really are!
Once you understand the basics, you can pick up a variety of different knitting patterns for beginners and start making your own blankets, scarves, and much more.
What You Will Need
Every knitting pattern will start with an essential list of what you will need to complete your knitted item.
This guide will state:
- Knitting needles required and their sizes
- How many balls of yarn
- The type of yarn (or yarn weight)
- Knitting tools for beginners
It’s important to check this before you get started, making sure that you have the right number of balls of yarn and the correct size of knitting needles.
The tension gauge is to tell you whether you’re hitting the right size and tension in your stitches.
Your pattern might say something like, “10 sts and 15 rows = 4″ (10 cm)”, which tells you that ten stitches in every fifteen rows should measure 4 inches in width and height.
It’s always best to test your gauge by knitting a gauge swatch before you start making any pattern, and then either try to resolve your tension, or go up or down in needle size slightly depending on whether your gauge is somewhat too large, or too small.
Learn more here – How to measure gauge in knitting
Each knitting pattern will usually state whether it is suitable for beginners or more advanced knitters.
This level is either shown with a description (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced) or a number between 1 to 4 (one is easy, four is hard) and can be found right at the top of the instructions or on the front cover if you have a paper copy.
As a beginner, you’ll want to check the level of complexity and opt for a level 1 or 2 (a beginner or easy-level knitting pattern).
Beginners can start with simple stitches
Knitting patterns at this skill level will include more simple stitches (the knit stitch and the purl stitch, stockinette stitch, and some simple shaping), and some basic colorwork.
As a beginner, look out for patterns with flat knitting for dishcloths, blankets, scarves, or simple garments that don’t require shaping or have too many complicated stitches.
It’s best to start at a level where you feel comfortable, learn the necessary skills for reading knitting patterns, then add more elaborate stitches and patterns to your repertoire so you can learn to knit gradually.
Related Post: Knitting Skill Levels Explained.
Knitting patterns are shortened with abbreviations, and for a good reason!
Without them, knitting instructions would end up being several pages long and would take much longer to read.
Below is a concise list of common knitting abbreviations, including those that you will find in easy patterns and knitting patterns for beginners:
- k – knit
- p – purl
- bo – bind off
- CO – cast on
- cc – coordinating color
- beg – beginning
- cont – continue (or carry on working)
- cn – cable needle
- mc – main color
- rep – repeat
- ssk – slip slip knit
- sts – stitches
- g st – garter stitch
- sl st – slip stitch
- tbl – through the back loops
- tog – together
- rnd – round
- RS – right side
- WS – wrong side
- yo – yarn overs
- inc – increase (by twice or more times into the same stitch)
- dec – decreasing (by working two or more stitches together)
Most abbreviations make sense when reading in situ with other text; however, if you’re stuck, I’ve put together a handy guide that lists all knitting abbreviations.
You can even print it out to keep nearby and refer to it when you are reading a knitting pattern.
Knitting Pattern Phrases
As well as the common terms and abbreviations you will also see certain phrases that are commonly used.
This may be a little confusing until you have more experience with patterns.
Here are a few phrases that you will see again and again:
- When your instructions have a series of steps or patterns to work, rather than repeat them row by row, they tell you to continue to work in the pattern ‘as established’.
- This means that if for example, you were knitting a sweater that had an 8-row pattern and then you needed to complete shaping,
- You would complete the shaping but also work in the pattern ‘as established’.
At The Same Time
- This means that two things need to happen at the same time.
- For example, ‘dec 1 st every other row 6 times, at the same time, when piece measures the same length as back to shoulder, work shoulder shaping as for back’.
- This means that the neckline shaping (dec 1 st) continues as the shoulder shaping begins.
Back of Your Work
- The back of your work is the side of the piece that faces away from you as you work.
- Don’t confuse this with the right side (RS) and wrong side (WS) of your work, which refer to how the piece is worn or which side should be presented as the front.
End With A WS Row
- Finish the section you are working on by working the wrong side row last.
- The next row you work on should be a right-side row.
Front Of Your Work
- The front of your work is the side of your work that faces you as you are holding your needles.
- It can be the wrong side or the right side.
Inc (or dec) every 2 (4, 6, or whatever) rows.
- This is how to increase (or decrease) along a sleeve seam can be written.
- Increase or decrease on a (usually) right side row, and then work 1, (3, 5, or whatever) rows without shaping.
Inc (or dec) every other row
- This means to increase or decrease normally on the right side row and then work the following row without increasing or decreasing.
Pick Up And Knit
- Use a separate strand of yarn to create a row of stitches on a needle by pulling loops through along a knitted edge, usually a neckline or for armhole borders.
PM – Place Marker
- A marker is something you will definitely come to use!
- This is a plastic ring that sits between stitches on your needle to show the beginning of a round in circular knitting or to mark any pattern repeats.
- When you see the instruction to place a marker, as in ‘join, pm, and begin round’ you place a marker at that location.
- As you knit, you will slip the marker from one needle to the other – the pattern will not say to do that – but that is what you will do.
- When you knit a cardigan, you work two pieces that mirror each other.
- Instead of writing a separate set of instructions for each side, the pattern will tell you to work the shaping in the opposite direction on the second piece.
- This may look like this; ‘work as left front, reversing all shaping’.
- This means that you work any decreases for shoulder or neck shaping on the reverse side of the piece as well.
- When the pattern specifies a right front, it means the front that would be on your right side – as you would wear the finished piece.
- If you are not sure, hold your knitting up to your body with the wrong side on your body to see if it is the right or left front.
When Armhole Measures…
- This means that your instructions are going to change.
- Measure the armhole not from the beginning of the piece but from the marker you have put where the armhole starts.
- The pattern will have told you where to place the markers to denote the armholes.
Work As For…
- This usually refers to working the front piece the same as the back.
- It saves writing out the same instructions twice.
- You may see it in a form like this: ‘work as for back until piece measures 20 inches from beg’.
- Continue in whatever stitch pattern you are using without any increasing or decreasing to shape.
Work to End
- Work in the stitch pattern you are using to the end of the row.
You will probably see other phrases that will be not so clear, but once you gain more experience, you will have a much better understanding.
Size is less of a concern if you’re working on non-fitted garments and simple patterns for scarves and blankets, however, it will become more necessary when you’re ready to move on to more complicated items.
You will usually find the size guide right at the beginning of a pattern, and here the instructions will state what sizes the garment can be made in.
You’ll find lists of numbers throughout the pattern which refers to how many stitches you’ll need to make to create a specific size.
For example, your pattern states it can be made in sizes “small, medium, large, and extra-large”, and you want to knit a large jumper.
In any of the number sequences, you would choose the third number in the list, as this is the third size stated in the descriptive list at the start.
These stitch repetitions will typically be written in a sequence, such as “10, 12, 14, 16”.
How To Understand Knitting Patterns
Written instructions will give you row-by-row directions for a single repeat.
They follow certain rules and use lots of abbreviations.
The key to understanding written instructions is paying attention to the commas, asterisks, and brackets or parentheses; they are often vital to the instructions.
Here is a list of what this means in a pattern:
Single steps are separated by commas.
The instruction ‘sl 1 yo, K5′ tells you to slip a stitch with a yarn over on the front side of the work, and then to knit 5 stitches as normal (meaning you have to move the yarn to the back before knitting, even though the instructions don’t tell you to).
An asterisk (*) indicates that whatever follows gets repeated (rep).
For example, the instruction ‘K1, *sl 1, K5; rep from * to last st, K1′ means that you knit 1 stitch, then you work the stitches between the asterisks (slip 1 stitch and knit 5 stitches) over and over until you reach the last stitch of the row, which you knit.
Brackets (or parentheses) are similar to the asterisks except that you are repeating a series of stitches a specified number of times.
For example, the instruction ‘K4, (P1, K1) twice; Rep from * to end of row’ means that, after you knit 4, you purl 1/knit 1 two times, and you repeat this entire sequence across the entire row.
Learn How To Read A Knitting Pattern
Learn how to read a kniting pattern below step by step.
This is one of my beginner dishcloth patterns, you can get all three designs for free here – Dishcloth Knitting Patterns (To Practice Basic Knitting Stitches)
Time needed: 1 day, 23 hours and 30 minutes
How To Read A Knitting Pattern
- Understand the knitting pattern title and skill level
The knitting pattern that you have chosen will have a title, description, and skill level.
A difficulty level or skill level will let you know if it will be easy or not.
Patterns are normally classified into basic (for beginners), Easy (for the advanced beginner), Intermediate for the experienced, or advanced for very experienced crafters.
Each skill level will help you to decide if the pattern is right for you.
- The supplies you need to make the pattern
Next, you need to look at the supplies you need in order to make the pattern you have chosen, the yarn weight, the knitting needle size, and any notions.
Notions are tools like scissors, yarn needles, tape measure, stitch markers, stitch holders, etc.
Making sure you have the correct yarn weight and amount of yarn is important for the success of your project.
If you use a different yarn weight or needle size, the project will not turn out how it should according to the pattern instructions.
- Sizes and Measurements
Many knitting patterns will have size and gauge information.
This tells you how large the finished size of your project will be.
The gauge is also great information to know, as this will help you to make sure you match the same gauge size the designer had for the project pieces.
You can knit a gauge swatch (in a 4-inch square) before starting to see if your gauge matches that of the designer.
If your gauge does not match you may have to try using a smaller or larger needle size.
This is really important for creating garments, to make sure they fit.
- Stitch abbreviations and terms
You need to know all about the knitting abbreviations and terms for the pattern you are making and if they are using US terms or UK terms as some are slightly different.
Here is an example of some knitting abbreviations you may see…
- Pattern notes
Most knitting patterns also have a notes section where they give more explanation of things you need to know before starting.
This can include:
If a pattern is worked in rows or rounds.
What is the right side vs. the wrong side.
Whether a pattern is worked in one piece or will be seamed.
If it is a garment, how many pieces you will make and diagrams of what the pieces look like.
Any other notes the designer thinks may be helpful.
- The main pattern instructions
Finally, you will see the main pattern instructions.
You will follow the instructions row by row, round by round, or from a chart, to get started on your project.
Here is an example of pattern instructions from one of my own knitting patterns for you to follow…
The pattern will start with how many stitches to cast on – Cast on 46 sts.
Next, there may be a setup or in this case, you are knitting the bottom border section first – K6 rows – you will knit six rows.
Then, you will start the main two-row pattern repeat –
Row 1 (RS) – K6, pm, knit to the last 6 sts, pm, K6.
This starts on the right side of the work (RS), you will knit six stitches, place a marker (pm), then knit to the last six stitches, place another maker (pm), and knit six stitches.
Row 2 (WS) – K6, sm, purl to the last 6 sts, sm, K6. For row 2 which is the wrong side of the fabric (WS), you knit six stitches, slip the marker (sm), then purl to the last six stitches, slip the other marker (sm), then knit six stitches.
Rep rows 1-2 slip the markers as you work until the piece measures 23cm/9 inches from the cast-on edge (the beginning). Then you will repeat rows 1 and 2 working in stockinette stitch with a garter stitch border until the piece measures 23 cm/9 inches from the cast-on edge.
Finally, you will knit the final 6 rows to complete the garter stitch border that is around the main stockinette stitch pattern.
Then you will cast off the stitches to finish.
- Look at any photographs of the finished item
Most patterns will feature photographs of the finished projects or some may have step-by-step photographs to help you along.
You can refer to these photos to help you to see what the work should look like and if your work is looking the same.
The following example will show you how a stitch pattern may look:
- Row 1 (RS): *K1, P1; rep from * to end of row.
- Row 2 (WS) *P1, K1; rep from * to end of row.
What this means:
- On the first row (the RS – right side is facing you) you knit 1 stitch, purl 1 stitch, knit 1 stitch, purl 1 stitch and continue to do that to the end of the row.
- On the next row (WS – the wrong side facing you) you begin by purling 1 stitch, then knit 1 stitch, purling 1 stitch, knitting 1 stitch, and continue to do that to the end of the row.
- This forms 1 x 1 ribbing.
As you read patterns, pay attention to the order of the rows.
To save space many written instructions are often condensed – combined rows that repeat the same stitches.
For example, take a look at this pattern below:
- Knit row
- Purl row
- Knit row
- Purl row
- K1, *In each st, insert the RHN into the stitch on the LHN as if to knit, then wind the yarn 2 times around the needle and K1* rep from * to * to the last st, K1
- Purl row – working into the first loop and allowing the extra 2 loops to slip off the needle to their full length.
- These last 6 rows form the pattern.
The more intricate the pattern design, the more complicated the instructions.
That’s why it is important for new knitters to read the pattern instructions carefully and work each step between commas as a complete step.
Then look at your work and think about what you are doing.
More Knitting Tutorials
- Knitting cast-on methods.
- Knitting cast-off methods.
- How to cast on knitting.
- How to cast off knitting.
- How to knit garter stitch
- How to knit the purl stitch.
- How to knit stockinette stitch.
- How to read a knitting chart.
- Knitting abbreviations and terms.
- How to knit rib stitch.
- Mattress Stitch Tutorial.
- Knitting cables in the round.
- Basic stitches
Keen to get started on your first project?
Check out this list of Knitting Lessons.
Why not try one of my knitting patterns for beginners?