How To Read Knitting Patterns

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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.

yarn equivalents with yarn balls and knitting needles

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.

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How to read knitting patterns

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)

–   Any other tools you may need to finish the pattern

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.

Knitting needles for beginners

Tension

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.

pink knitting

Skill Level

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.

Girl knitting at a cafe reading knitting patterns

Knitting Abbreviations

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.

reading knitting patterns and understanding them

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:

As Established

  • 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.

Reverse Shaping

  • 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.

Right

  • 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’.

Work Even

  • 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.

Knitting for beginners

Size

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”.

understanding knitting patterns

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.

yarn and knitting needles

Examples

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:

  1. Knit row
  2. Purl row
  3. Knit row
  4. Purl row
  5. 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
  6. Purl row – working into the first loop and allowing the extra 2 loops to slip off the needle to their full length.
  7. 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.

reading knitting patterns

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!

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22 Comments

  1. Louise,
    I am so happy to have found your website. I have been knitting since I was a little over 4 years old and still consider myself a novice, although I can knit socks, which I love to do. One of my goal’s is to learn to knit a pair of socks on circular needles.
    Anne

    1. Hello Anne, thank you for your comment! I am so happy you like the website and I hope you can find some patterns that you want to make. I like to knit socks on circular needles using the magic loop technique. I tried using DPN’s but I always end up losing one of the needles somehow! πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Louise,

    I’m a novice knitter from New Zealand and your website has been so helpful! I’m making a dog sweater at the moment, and I was wondering what the line “Rep these 8 rows (twice, once, once) more.” means?! Do you repeat all 8 rows another 4 times through?

    Thank-you so much!

    1. Hello Meg,
      Rep these 8 rows (twice, once, once) more – means that you rep those 8 rows – twice for the small size, once for the medium size and once for the large size.
      The numbers or instructions in the brackets are for whatever size you are making – then you will repeat the rows according to that.
      I hope that makes sense!
      Thanks,
      Louise πŸ™‚

    1. Hello Adetunji,
      Thanks so much for your comment, I’m happy you found the information useful.
      Happy knitting!
      Louise πŸ™‚

  3. I have been knitting but have tried making booties n bonnets too. Now I want to try knitting baby sweaters. I would be happy if I could get some patterns for booties n bonnets. Thanks.

  4. In the sweet baby sweater, what does “knit next 2 rows twice more” mean? is that a total of 4 rows?

    Thank you,

    Suzanne Dahl

    1. Hello Suzanne,
      Knitting the next two rows twice more means that you will work the 2 rows then again twice more so that will be a further 4 rows.
      I hope that helps!
      Louise

  5. I have a pattern that gives instructions for 12 rows. After Row 12 it says repeat rows 3-12 four times.
    It does not say four MORE times. Do I count the first set of 3-12 as the first of 4 times or do I knit 3-12 four
    MORE times for a total of 5 times.

    CONFUSING!

    1. Hello Sandra,
      From the pattern instructions, I would take that as meaning you need to work rows 3-12 four more times.
      Depending on your pattern and what you are making – if it is a garment for example, then this is probably right – to repeat four more times.
      So you would work rows 1-12 once then rows 3-12 only 4 more times.
      For the rest of your pattern – you can check to see if that looks as though it makes sense.
      I hope that helps!
      Louise

    1. Hello Marilyn,
      I would take this as meaning that you have to repeat whatever instructions are given to you in between those asterisks in that row.
      After the asterisks – does it say for example – rep 2 more times and then change to the other instruction within the asterisks and say rep one more time?
      Something like that?
      If not, then work the row and follow the instructions to see what happens and if it works out as it is written.
      I hope that helps!
      Louise

  6. What does the direction 1/3/1 mean in knitting.
    I have been asking and looking other sites but no answer

    1. Hello Lynda,
      Does it refer to an instruction where those numbers could be telling you how many times to repeat a sequence?
      For example, repeat for the first size – once, the second size 3 times and the third size once?
      Thanks,
      Louise

    1. Hello Gen,
      I’m sorry I only have the written instructions on how to do the neck, I don’t have a video tutorial.
      Thanks,
      Louise

  7. I am working short rows. Can you tell me what this means?
    Rep last 2 short rows 2(2,2,2,3,3,4) more times-8(8,8,9,8,10,11,7) stay before wrapped st each side of m

    The short row says knit to 4,(4,4,4,3,3,3l sets before wrapped st, wrap and turn.

    1. Hello Janice,
      This looks like it depends on the size you are making, so for example if you were making the smallest size, you would need to Rep last 2 short rows 2 more times, 8 (the first number would be for the smallest size, the other numbers for the other sizes in order).
      Then this instruction – if you were making the smallest size you would – knit to 4 sets before wrapped st, wrap and turn.
      I hope that helps!
      Louise