Decoding Knitting Patterns

Decoding knitting patterns may seem like an impossible feat, but learning the language behind these diagrams and abbreviations will save a great deal of stress in the future.

Patterns for lace, cables or colorwork often include charts – visual instructions with standard symbols (such as yarn over or left-leaning slanted decrease) as well as an accompanying key – that serve as visual instructions.


Asterisks (*) are an integral component of knitting patterns. Like algebra formulas, asterisks help break up long lists of instructions into more manageable chunks and show you when repeating sequences of stitches or steps are needed. Asterisks may also serve to mark instructions that differ from their predecessor.

Knitting and crochet patterns often contain sections that repeat multiple times across a row or round, and rather than writing these long instructions out again and wasting space, asterisks are used to indicate they should be repeated at specific intervals.

Asterisks come in both single and double formats. When placed bookending repeated steps or as the center of rows or rounds, an asterisk signals to continue working the sequence for as many repetitions indicated in your pattern before it. When your pattern includes double asterisks it signifies you should repeat them until done so by your pattern before them.

Other symbols you can use instead of an asterisk to indicate repeats are brackets and parentheses; similar to an asterisk but more versatile for longer sequences. When repeating stitches in rows or rounds, try reading all instructions before setting your stitch marker and writing out sequence as if it were just another row of knitting; this will help ensure that if you need to stop and resume later.

Brackets and parentheses can also be used to indicate patterns that require different approaches for different sizes of finished pieces, for instance if a pattern calls for casting on a certain number of stitches for casting on, larger sizes might require adding or subtracting stitches in knitting the larger sizes as you progress with them. This information should generally be found within either Notes or Special Instructions sections of a pattern but you might find it somewhere within its main body, usually near to its chart.


At first, knitting patterns may seem like a foreign language when first starting to knit. Although some patterns use coded language or secret symbols for written instructions, most knitting patterns actually utilize abbreviations and symbols commonly found within standard written instructions to form clear and concise patterns that make sense when read in isolation. Learning these symbols is essential in successfully completing any knitting project; if this is your first experience working with charts it may seem intimidating but eventually familiarity will make reading them easy!

As well as written instructions, knitting patterns often include charts. A chart provides a visual map of how a stitch pattern will appear when knitted; it helps you visualize it better as well as show where stitches will be located in an item or garment. They’re particularly helpful when creating garments with many repeats or using intricate stitch techniques like lace.

Charts typically feature rows with numbers, stitch names represented by symbols and the number of repeats indicated by an asterisk (this could be single or double asterisks), usually bookended with them so as to indicate how often that particular stitch should be knitted (for instance k1,p1 = 5×3).

Be mindful that row numbers on a chart do not correspond with those listed in written instructions of your pattern. Your chart could contain either odd or even rows depending on what stitch type and garment style you are knitting; when working a stitch pattern with an odd number of rows, move from right to left across each row; whereas working an even number will require working the chart in reverse – left-to-right (rather than right-to-left).

Note that charts don’t always accurately portray how the pattern will turn out when finished; for instance, if a stitch appears as purl in your chart but will end up as knit stitches in your finished garment, this information won’t show up on it.

Notes or Special Instructions

As a beginner to knitting, interpreting knitting patterns may feel like deciphering an elusive code. Just like secretarial shorthand, knitting patterns use abbreviations, numbers and symbols to save space while making them easier to read – familiarizing yourself with these common symbols will help make learning how to read and follow knitting patterns much simpler!

Most patterns start off by providing you with a title of the project, an image of its finished product and materials needed for construction. Some will even include an instruction level scale (1 is easy and 4 advanced), to help determine whether or not it suits your experience level.

The next section of a pattern will detail sizing information for your piece. This can either be listed as actual measurements or tailored measurements and will be marked clearly in the instructions. Pay special attention if making garments as this section will help determine what yarn sizes to purchase as well as needle sizes to use.

Once you understand your size requirements, it’s time to begin designing the pattern itself. The first section may include a list of stitch types used and any special techniques, such as colorwork or shaping; additionally it will offer a detailed account of construction process.

After that comes the actual pattern instructions, which may or may not include charts; or else they simply indicate how many stitches should be cast on and knit in each round; they will also inform if this piece should be seamed together later or is knit in pieces that will eventually be seamed together.

Most patterns contain special notes or sections with additional instructions that provide further clarity for any unclear points in the written portion of a pattern. It’s especially important to read these if you’re unfamiliar with a stitch or technique as these notes will help explain its reasons more thoroughly.


Beginner knitters may find the written portions of knitting patterns intimidating at first, as experienced knitters understand them better. Once you know how to decipher basic symbols and read charts and special instructions more easily, patterns become much simpler to follow.

Knitting designers often rely on abbreviations to save space and make patterns easier for beginners to read, such as K, P and YO for knit, purl and yarn over. Other abbreviations may be unique to different stitch patterns. A good pattern should provide both a chart as well as key or legend to define any specific abbreviations, yet some patterns do not; to ensure an efficient experience it is best to consult a knitting stitch glossary when starting any new pattern.

Most patterns begin by providing you with a list of materials needed, including yarn type and size as well as any necessary needles. Next come any applicable charts as well as actual knitting instructions that may be row by row or round by round arranged in either linear form or squares representing stitches and colors on a chart. Finally, they may provide any other notes from their designer that they feel would be beneficial to know about your project.

Similarly, if the designer uses thick or heavy yarn, they may note it is not appropriate for beginners or recommend using lighter weight yarn instead. In addition, they may provide information on how to bind off finished works so they do not unravel.

Asterisks (*) and double asterisks (**) are frequently seen in knitting patterns, acting like parenthesis in algebra by grouping together information and showing where a repeat begins and ends in each row. If there’s a number after the asterisks, that indicates how often to repeat that set of instructions.

Another commonly-used abbreviation is “RS,” which stands for right side or front of a piece; its opposite, “WS,” refers to wrong side. A pattern may also use BO to refer to binding off, which refers to finishing an edge so that it will not unravel over time.

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