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Understanding Knitting Patterns

Knitting patterns phrase their instructions in a very particular way. Aside from abbreviating most written knitting terminology, they also contain a range of special symbols to let you know which stitches you should create. This can get a little confusing; so to help you understand knitting patterns, we’ve broken it all down for you.

Before we dive right into reading knitting patterns, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, when selecting a pattern it’s important to keep an eye out for the difficulty rating – ranked Beginner, Easy, Intermediate or Experienced. As a beginner, you’ll want to start out in the knitting world with a ‘Beginner’ pattern, containing only two basic stitches. Once you complete a few ‘Beginner’ patterns and feel confident enough to progress further, it’ll be time to work your way up through the ranking.

Understanding Knitting Patterns

Secondly, make sure you find out the gauge you’ll need to stitch to (written on the pattern). If you fail to do so, your finished outcome may not accurately replicate the size of the design. To make this all a little easier, it’s recommended to count your stitches as you knit so that you can keep track of the amount you’ve made in each row. Thirdly, a word of encouragement: knitting takes a lot of time and even more patience – if you find it difficult at first, it’ll only become easier as you persevere!

Knitting Terms & Abbreviations

Knitting patterns are essentially written in code. But there is pretty good reasoning behind it. These abbreviations aren’t just there to confuse you; they actually impact the length of your pattern. If the instructions were written out in full, your pattern would it be ridiculously long – pages, even.

These abbreviations may initially look hard to comprehend, let alone memorise. But once you learn how to unscramble each one, reading knitting patterns will become second nature. To help you out, we’ve collated a list of common knitting abbreviations that you can expect to find. If you come across any not included in this table, just take a look at the knitting chart’s key for a little more help.

Abbreviation Meaning
alt alternate(ing)
approx. approximately
beg begin(ning)
bet between
CO cast on/off
cont continue
dec decrease(ing)
foll following
inc(s) increase(s)
K knit stitch
k2tog knit 2 stitches together
kfb knit in the front, then in the back of stitch
ktbl knit through back loop of stitch
m1 make 1 stitch
P purl stitch
p2tog purl 2 stitches together
pat pattern
pfb purl in the front, then in the back of stitch
psso pass slipped stitch over
ptbl purl through back loop of stitch
rem remain(ing)
rep(s) repeat(s)
rnd(s) round(s)
RS right side
Sl1K slip next stitch knitwise
Sl1P slip next stitch purlwise
sl st slip stitch
SSK slip, slip, knit
SSP slip, slip, purl
st(s) stitch(es)
tog together
WS wrong side
yfwd yarn forward
yo yarn over

How to Read Knitting Pattern Instructions

Knitting patterns are written in repeated sequences. A stitch sequence repeats across a row horizontally, while a series of rows of certain stitch sequences vertically repeat, building up a specific pattern throughout your knitted piece. These patterns could include striped or cabled. Knitting pattern instructions are written row-by-row using abbreviations and symbols, showing you the stitches and rows that create a single repeat (rep). Pattern instructions may initially seem difficult to comprehend, but the key to decoding them lies in the punctuation and special characters.

Symbol Meaning
alt alternate(ing)
, Commas signify the end of a step, or one stitch. They separate the individual steps within a stitch pattern.
* Asterisks instruct you to repeat a series of instructions. For example, you may find an asterisk at the start of an instruction, and then another at the end – telling you to repeat from the first asterisk.
() or [] Parentheses or brackets act in a similar way to asterisks, indicating repetitiveness. However, instead of repeating a whole series of instructions, it’s asking you to just repeat a series of stitches a certain amount of times (it’ll specify how many).

Let’s take a look at some examples of written stitch instructions to explain these rules further.

Example 1

Row 1 (RS): *k2, p2; rep from* to end of row.

Row 2 (WS): *p2, k2; rep from* to end of row.

Start the first row (the right side is facing you) with two knit stitches. Then, make two purl stitches. Repeat this 2 knit/2 purl/2 knit/2 purl stitch pattern until you reach the end of the row.

Start the second row (the wrong side is now facing you) with two purl stitches. Then, make two knit stitches. Again, repeat this 2 purl/2 knit sequence of stitches until you finish the row.

Example 2

Row 1: [k2, p2] 5 times, k1

Row 2: [p2, k2] 5 times, p1

Rows 3-20: Repeat rows 1-2

Begin the first row by making two knit stitches and then two purl stitches. Repeat this stitch sequence five times, and then make one knit stitch.

Begin the second row by making two purl stitches and then two knit stitches. Repeat this stitch sequence five times, and then make one purl stitch.

For the third row to the twentieth row, repeat the stitch instructions for rows one and two. Row three follows row one’s instructions, and then row four follows row two’s instructions. Row five follows row one’s instructions, and then row six follows row two’s instructions, and so on.

‘Casting On’ Stitch Repeat Instructions

At the start of a knitting pattern’s instructions, you’ll be provided with a multiple of stitches to cast on, then a few extra stitches (if working in rows). Let’s clarify. If the pattern asks for a multiple of 12 stitches plus 6 more stitches, you need to cast on 12 stitches + 6 stitches, totalling at 18 stitches. Alternatively, you could cast on 24 stitches + 6 stitches, totally at 30. As long as the first number of stitches made is a multiple of 12 (or whatever other multiple your pattern may call for), then it keeps the repeated stitch sequences accurate throughout the piece. If working in the round (or ‘circular knitting’), you don’t need to cast on a second number of stitches – only the multiple supplied.

Knitting Rounds and Rows

As mentioned above, sometimes a knitting pattern will call for you to knit in rows (horizontally), and sometimes it’ll ask you to knit in the round (in a circle). When working in rows, you must turn your piece over when you reach the end of a row, and then start a new row by knitting by working across in the same direction as before. Working in rounds is a little different. It can be achieved using four double-pointed needles, or the easier option is using circular needles. In this instance, you don’t need to turn over your work – simply work around in a spiral.

How to Read Knitting Pattern Symbols and Charts

Knitting synbols

Alongside written instructions, knitting patterns usually come with a chart too – visually showing you what stitches to make and where to place each one. These, of course, use symbols. The majority of knitting charts are created with ‘rows’ in mind, with each square on the page representing a stitch. The knitter begins from ‘Row 1’ – in the bottom right corner if it’s a right side (RS) row – and should work to the left. When they reach the end of the row, they start ‘Row 2’. This row goes from the left side of the page to the right – creating a back and forth knitting sequence, from the bottom up.

Within each square, you’ll find a symbol representing how to work the stitch. Don’t worry – your knitting pattern will come with a key to explain the definition of each symbol. Each manufacturer’s set of symbols are displayed in a different way, so you’ll have to pay close attention here. To give you examples of what these symbols could look like, we’ve created a little chart key (as seen above). The basic knitting stitches listed in the chart key are the ones we’ll explain later in the guide.

Knitted pieces are made up of a particular pattern, so your chart will represent that. Because the chart shows you the right side of the design, you must perform the opposite stitch when stitching a wrong-side row. In the chart key, you’ll receive a symbol for ‘K on RS’ (Knit on Right Side) and a symbol for ‘P on RS’ (Purl on Right Side). When you’re working a row on the right side (RS) of the design, this is pretty straightforward: perform a knit stitch or a purl stitch when instructed. However, when you’re working a row on the wrong side (WS) of the design, you have to do the opposite. If you see ‘K on RS’, you must perform a ‘P on WS’. Similarly, if you see ‘P on RS’, you must perform a ‘K on WS’. Again, don’t worry about forgetting this – the pattern key should prompt you.

Knitting in the round is a different story altogether. Circular knitting doesn’t require you to flip over your design to work on the other side. Instead, you work on just one side – the right side (RS). This means that you only need to follow the right side (RS) instructions. Alternatively, there are knitting patterns designed specifically for working in the round. These only show right side (RS) row numbers on the right side of the chart and make no mention of the wrong side (WS) of the design.