How to read knitting patterns
You’ll notice that knitting patterns are presented differently in every publication. All the different components can look quite confusing, with what seems like a code to be cracked before you can knit! Don’t worry, though – learning how to read knitting patterns is really quite simple. In our complete guide to knitting abbreviations you’ll find:
How to understand knitting patterns
It’s a good idea to take the time to read through a pattern before you start, to give yourself an idea of the techniques involved and how any separate knitted pieces will fit together to create the final item. Look up unfamiliar techniques before you start knitting, not halfway through a pattern! Use scrap yarn to practise on first if you need to. Make sure you’ve got everything you need and check your tension before you begin.
Below are the key elements that should appear on every pattern and what they mean.
1. You will need
This section tells you exactly what yarn and needles you need to complete the pattern, as well as other equipment, such as fabric or buttons. Yarn amounts are based on average requirements, so if your tension is loose, you might need more.
This part of the pattern information panel tells you how many rows and stitches are needed for the correct tension required to complete the design.
Special abbreviations used within the pattern are explained here. Take a look at our list of common knitting abbreviations for the ones you’re most likely to encounter in our patterns.
Most patterns state the size of the finished item – if it’s a garment, sizes may be in a table. ‘Actual’ measurements are the finished size of the item. ‘To fit’ measurements show the recommended measurements of the intended wearer.
5. Different sizes
If the pattern is for a garment or other item that can be made in different sizes, there will often be a table showing them all. Some patterns, like the ones in Simply Knitting, use colour-coding to help you follow the size instructions you need throughout the pattern.
6. How to…
If there’s an element within the pattern that might require a little extra knowledge or skill, there might be a handy how-to knit guide, or step-by-step photos.
This is a simple diagram showing you the shape of the pieces you’ll make to create a garment or other knitted item, and their measurements.
Some patterns include a quick snapshot of the techniques involved, the type of yarn used and the size of needles you need. That way, you can see at a glance whether it’s a pattern you fancy making.
Often used on patterns with lace, cables or colourwork, charts are a great visual way to follow a pattern. They will either sit next to written instructions or be used instead of them. See our guide on how to read charts in knitting patterns.
Many patterns you see will use yarn from a specific manufacturer. In order to help you get that yarn, the pattern will also include stockist details for who to contact about buying the yarn, and retailer information.
Print out and keep our how to read a knitting pattern guide:
A guide to knitting abbreviations
To a beginner, knitting patterns can look like they’re written in another language. And in a way they are! Most patterns use knitting abbreviations to represent the stitches, actions and techniques you encounter as you knit. This special shorthand is easy to understand once you know how, but it can be very confusing if you’re reading a pattern for the first time. How would you b&t on a K rnd, or C4B after mrk on alt rows? We’ll help you find out!
Why do we use knitting abbreviations?
Knitting patterns use abbreviations for two main reasons: clarity and brevity. Instead of saying, “Knit one, then purl one, then knit another one and purl another one, and carry on doing this until you run out of stitches”, which is difficult to follow at a glance and takes up a lot of space on the page, your pattern might read: “*K1, P1; rep from * to end of row.” Simpler, shorter, and much clearer.
If we didn’t use abbreviations, patterns would be extremely long and dense, and the lack of consistency could baffle even experienced knitters. It can be frustrating to encounter all these strange knitting terms when you’re first starting out, but rest assured that you’ll soon become fluent.
Are there standard knitting abbreviations?
The short answer is no! While there are similarities in the knitting abbreviations used across different pattern writers and even different countries, there are no fixed standards and variations are widespread.
However, there are common abbreviations that you’ll see used in lots of patterns, such as K for knit and P for purl. These letters are usually followed by a number that tells you how many stitches to work – so K2 means “knit two stitches”. You’ll also spot similar-sounding terms that you may be able to figure out from context (such as “knitwise” and “knitways”).
Most patterns will either have their own abbreviations somewhere on the page or refer to a set of definitions elsewhere. Some publications may only mention abbreviations that are unusual or specific to that pattern, and then send you to their own standard terms for the rest.
Beginner’s guide to knitting
We can help you get started! For more knitting know-how, take a look at our expert guides and in-depth tutorials, including:
Knitting abbreviations list
The abbreviations you’ll see below are the ones we use in our knitting patterns here on Gathered, and reflect UK knitting terms, but they should also help you to decode any other patterns you find around the web.
You might come across knitting patterns that use crochet stitches too, in which case you’ll need our crochet abbreviations as well!
work instructions immediately following *, then repeat as directed
(break and tighten) break off the yarn and thread the end through the st(s) left on the needle. Pull the end of the yarn to tighten the st(s) together
slip next stitch to cn & hold at back, K1; K1 from cn
slip next stitch to cn & hold at front, K1; K1 from cn
slip next 2 stitches to cn & hold at back, K2; K2 from cn
slip next 2 stitches to cn & hold at front, K2; K2 from cn
slip next 3 stitches to cn & hold at back, K3; K3 from cn
slip next 3 stitches to cn & hold at front, K3; K3 from cn
decrease(ing) (by working two stitches together)
garter stitch (knit every row)
increase (usually knit into same stitch twice)
knit (1) into back loop
knit the next two stitches together
knit into front and back of stitch
knitwise; by knitting the stitch
make one by knitting into back of loop between two stitches (increase 1 stitch)
(left leaning increase) with left needle tip, lift strand between needles from front to back. Knit lifted loop through back of loop
(right leaning increase) with left needle tip, lift strand between needles from back to front. Knit lifted loop through front of loop
make one purlwise by purling into back of loop between two stitches (increase 1 stitch)
make 1 st purlwise: with LH needle lift the strand between next and last st from front to back and purl through the back loop
make a bobble
purl (1) into back of the loop
purl 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
purl 3 stitches together (2 stitches decreased)
purl into front and back of stitch
pass slipped stitch(es) over
(purlwise) by purling the stitch
rev st st
reverse stocking stitch
either k2tog or p2tog dep on what next stitch in ribbing should be (keeps ribbing looking neat on buttonholes)
round(s) (on a circular needle/DPNs)
slip 2 tog kwise, knit 1, pass slipped sts over (2 stitches decreased)
slip 1 stitch, knit 1 stitch, pass slipped stitch over (1 stitch decreased)
slip 1 stitch, knit 2 stitches together, pass slipped stitch over (2 stitches decreased)
slip 2 stitches one at a time, knit 2 slipped stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
slip 3 stitches one at a time, knit 3 slipped stitches together (two stitches decreased)
slip 2 stitches one at a time, purl 2 slipped stitches together through back loops (1 stitch decreased)
slip next stitch to cn & hold at back, K1; P1 from cn
slip next stitch to cn & hold at front, P1; K1 from cn
through the back of the loop
(wrap 3 stitches) with yarn held at back of work, slip next 3 sts to cn and hold at front of work. Wrap yarn 3 times around these 3 sts, being careful not to pull it too tight and ending up with yarn at back of work. Slip the 3 sts to right needle without knitting them
(wrap and turn) slip next st from LH to RH needle, take yarn between needles to other side of work, slip st back to LH needle, take yarn between needles to its starting point, then turn. On next row, knit or purl the wrapped stitch together with the strand wrapping around it
with yarn in back
with yarn in front
yarn to the back
yarn round needle
yarn over needle
Print out and keep our knitting abbreviations guide: