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
- Why do we use knitting abbreviations?
- Are there standard knitting abbreviations?
- Our knitting abbreviations list
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!
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.
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 our guide to knitting for beginners and yarn weight conversion chart. Plus learn how to cast on knitting, how to cast off knitting, how to read knitting charts and how to make a buttonhole in knitting.
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!