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Before we look specifically at how to read crochet patterns, there are a few points to think about first. Primarily, when selecting your pattern, look out for the difficult rating. This will be ranked as Beginner, Easy, Intermediate or Experienced. Beginner patterns are for those completely new to crochet, using just a couple of basic stitches to make simple shapes. It's best to begin with this difficulty rating if you're just starting out, working your way up as your confidence grows.
Always check the gauge on your crochet pattern before you begin stitching to ensure your outcome matches the design size. Following on from this, it's crucial that you always count your stitches as you crochet so that you can keep track of how many are on each row. Finally, crocheting takes patience and practise - if you struggle to pick it up initially, it'll only get easier the more you stitch.
Crochet patterns are practically written in code. This isn't with the intention to confuse you, but there is actually good reasoning behind it. If the terminology wasn't written in shorthand, the pattern could be pages and pages long and become even more complex for the reader. Although it may initially seem beyond comprehension, once you learn how to unscramble each code, it'll become second nature. So on that note, here's a list of common crochet pattern abbreviations. If you come across any not featured on this list, simply check your chart's key for a little more insight.
|blp||back loop only|
|dtr||double treble crochet|
|flp||front loop only|
|hdc||half double crochet|
|sl st||slip stitch|
|yo||yarn over hook|
After abbreviations, the next thing to take a look at is the different symbols you might come across. Crochet patterns use these symbols or 'special characters' to represent repetitions, clarifications or any other special directions, so important to understand what each one represents.
Parentheses are used to indicate repetitiveness in an action or a stitch, meaning that if you come across one, you should repeat it in succession in the stated number of times (the number directly following it). Alternatively, a pattern could use them to signify a group of directions that are all worked in one specific stitch.
Square brackets also indicate repetition in a stitch pattern, often working in correspondence with parentheses. Alternatively, they can be used to clarify information.
Braces are again used as an indication to repeat instructions - often ones worked within another set of bracketed directions.
|* • ? †||
Asterisks, bullet points, diamonds, plus signs and other special characters are usually there to instruct you to repeat a series of crochet stitches.
To help explain the sort of instructions you may come across, here are a few examples of abbreviated directions and symbols pieced together, with a decoded version directly following them.
Row 1: with size H hook, ch 15, sc in 2nd ch from hook and in each ch across, turn. (14 sc)
Stitch the first row with a size H crochet hook, making 15 chain stitches (foundation chain). Make a single crochet in the second chain stitch from the hook, as well as each chain stitch across, then turn the piece. (There are 14 single crochet stitches in the first row.)
Row 2: ch 1, 2 sc in first sc, sc in each rem sc across to last sc, 2 sc in last sc, turn. (16 sc)
Start the second row with a chain stitch, then make two single crochets in the previous row's first single crochet stitch. Make a single crochet stitch in every remaining single crotchet on the first row until you reach the last one. In the last single crochet on that row, make two single crochets, then turn the piece. (There are 16 single crochet stitches in the first row.)
(dc in next sc, ch 2, skip next two sc) twice
Here, we have an example using parentheses. The parentheses indicates that you need to repeat its contents by the amount of times specified directly afterwards. So, this example is telling you to create a double crochet stitch in the next single crochet, make two chain stitches, then skip the next two single crochets from the previous row - all of which needs to be repeated again. Once completed twice, you can then move on to the next set of instructions.
In the examples shown above, the crochet patterns were asking you to work in rows (straight across), however they'll sometimes be worked in rounds (around in a circle). When working in rows, simply turn your crochet piece when you reach the end of the row, make a turning chain, and then continue working back across the top of that row, creating another one. When working in rounds, you just stitch around in a spiral - meaning you never need to turn the crochet piece around, only gradually rotate. 'Rnd' is the abbreviation for round (shown at the start of each direction) while 'Row' indicates that you'll be crocheting a row.
Alongside written instructions, you should also receive a crochet design in the form of a chart, containing - as you've already probably guessed - even more symbols! These symbols are a little easier to read, however. Because this guide is aimed at the beginner, we've simplified the chart key - seen above - as much as possible, leaving only the basic crochet stitches you need to learn.
Crochet pattern instructions can be pretty mind-boggling, so a lot of crocheters prefer referring to crochet charts. The chain stitch, slip stitch, single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet and treble crochet will be the main stitches in your repertoire, and each are indicated quite clearly. The starting point of your design will be clearly represented with a black triangle or similar, usually followed by a foundation row of chain stitches. The chart will show you the stitches row-by-row (if working in rows instead of rounds) - so you simply need to follow them in the displayed order!