In this post, you will learn how to read knitting patterns.
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:
– How many balls of yarn
– The type of yarn (or yarn weight)
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 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.
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).
Knitting patterns at this skill level will include more simple stitches (knit and purl and some simple shaping), and some basic colourwork.
As a beginner, look out for patterns for blankets and 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 abbreviations, including those that you will find in easy patterns and knitting patterns for beginners:
– k – knit
– p – purl
– CO – cast on
– beg – beginning
– cont – continue (or carry on working)
– rep – repeat
– sts – stitches
– g st – garter stitch
– sl st – slip stitch
– tog – together
– RS – right side
– WS – wrong side
– 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 pattern 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 a 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 decreases) along a sleeve seam are 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 doing 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 onto 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, you repeat this entire sequence across the entire row.
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, K21; 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 to read the instructions carefully and work each step between commas as a complete step.
Then look at your work and think about what you are doing.
Keen to get started?
Check out this list of Knitting Lessons.
Why not try one of my knitting patterns for beginners and see what you can make!