How to Read Knitting Patterns for Beginner Knitters

November 05, 2020 3 min read

How to read a knitting pattern

If you are a new knitter who has purchased knitting supplies and learned how to cast on, bind off and even work the purl stitch, you may feel ready to dive into your first knitting pattern. You carefully select one that seems fun for a beginner and you are ready to get started. But, wait! Why does it seem as if your knitting pattern is written in a foreign language? 

Don't panic. Once you learn about the format and abbreviations commonly found in knitting patterns, it will become second nature. Let's start with learning some abbreviations.

Knitting Pattern Abbreviations

Knitting abbreviations provide direction for the actions you should take while knitting your project. Here is a list of the most common ones:

  • CO= Cast on (Casting on is the beginning of every knitting project.)
  • BO= Bind off (This is the ending of every knitting project.)
  • K= Knit stich
  • P= Purl stitch
  • Rep= repeat (Do the same sequence the stated number of times.)
  • Inc= Increase (Add one or more stitches.)
  • Dec= Decrease (Reduce by one or more stitches.)
  • Sl= Slip (Slip a stitch from one needle to the other.)
  • YO= Yarn over (Bring the yarn over the needle.)

These are the most basic and common knitting abbreviations found in beginner knitting patterns. If you are looking for an exhaustive list of knitting abbreviations, visit Yarn Standards.

Knitting Symbols

In addition to abbreviations, knitting patterns also use symbols. The symbols contribute to the knitting pattern language and save space. With some practice, you will learn to quickly read these symbols along with the rest of the pattern instructions. 

Astericks (*)- When a series of steps is repeated over and over, it may be represented with an astericks. For example, a typical ribbing pattern may look like:

CO 18 sts.

Row 1: *K2, P2; rep from * across, end K2. 

The astericks in these instructions means that you will knit two stitches, purl two stitches and then keep repeating those two steps until the last two stitches, which are knitted.

Brackets []- Much like in algebra, brackets are used to enclose a series of stitches that will be repeated. The number that follows the brackets is the number of times that the series will be repeated. 

Parentheses ""- Parentheses can be used to indicate the same thing. They are used to instruct that a grouping of stitches will be worked together in one stitch. 

Knitting Pattern Instructions

Knitting Patterns

Now that you are beginning to "speak the knitting language," let's work through what the typical knitting pattern looks like. Assuming that the pattern is for a flat piece, your first instruction will be to cast on a stated number of stitches.

It will look something like this: CO 8 sts.

It is important to understand that before you start with this first instruction, you must add a slip knot on one of your needles. 

Your next instruction after cast on will be something like this: Row 1 (RS): Purl. This means that your first row, on the right side will be 8 stitches. Then, Row 2 (WS): Knit, which instructs you to purl 8 stitches for Row 2, which is the wrong side of the piece.

Next, you may see something like: Rep Rows 1 and 2 until piece measures 10" from the beginning.  This instruction is telling you to repeat row 1 and 2 until it measures 10". Measure your garment with a tape without stretching out the piece. Keep going until it measures 10". Continue following the instructions to the end.

As you continue to grow and learn as a knitter, you will continue to learn new abbreviations and symbols. You will read your pattern with ease. 



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