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How Do You Read a Crochet Pattern?

How Do You Read a Crochet Pattern?
Posted on 6-7-2020 by [email protected]

So, you want to learn to crochet! But where do you begin? In previous blog posts we gave you an introduction to the world of crochet and some tips and tricks for choosing the right crochet hook. And this time, we dive into the murky realm of patterns and demystify how to read a crochet pattern. Once you’ve read this post, these patterns will no longer have any secrets from you.

It is perhaps the biggest obstacle to those wanting to start crocheting: how to read the pattern! And to be honest, if you’re not quite at home in the crochet world, a crochet pattern can look a little like a strange cryptic puzzle. The abbreviations and punctuation marks buzz around your head making no sense at all, and that’s before you’ve even gotten on to how to crochet those stitches. So, let's break it down and take you through how to read a crochet pattern.

Well begun is half done

Before you get stuck into a pattern, it’s useful (read: necessary) to know what the various stitches entail. For example, how do you crochet a single or double crochet? How do I crochet a foundation chain? Make sure you get these basics under your belt so you can fully concentrate on the pattern and prevent it from turning into a ‘puzzle in a puzzle’. Tip: Use the list of common crochet stitches below to see what you already know and what you still need to learn. There are plenty of great stitch tutorials online, so check out the ones you need and have a go.

The ‘who, what, wherefore’ of a crochet pattern

In addition to the instructions, a pattern generally consists of a number of set parts. To begin with, there’s the skill/difficulty level. Be honest with yourself and go for a pattern that suits your skill level. Build up to more advanced patterns step by step so that crocheting is (and remains) a fun experience.

The size of the end result is often stated second. For clothing, if the pattern has instructions for a range of sizes, it will give those sizes here. Check the format of these sizes; they may be color-coded or set up as (XS, S, M) {L, XL, XXL}, for example. This format will be used in the pattern itself to help you know how many stitches/rows to crochet for the particular size you want to make.

Then you’ll find a list of requirements and the tension/gauge (the number of stitches and rows you need to make a 10 x 10 cm / 4” x 4” test swatch). We’ll deal with these two in one go because they go together like Ying and Yang. If you use a different yarn and/or a different crochet hook size than recommended, 9 times out of 10 your test swatch won’t match the given gauge. Now, if you’re making a cuddly toy, it’s not a big deal if it ends up slightly bigger or smaller. But if your wonderful cardigan turns out one or two sizes either way, that would be an unpleasant surprise indeed! So, if you go for a different yarn and hook size, make sure you still get the correct stitch-row ratio. If you don't, try a different hook size or adapt the pattern.

Finally, the pattern will give you a list of the abbreviations used. If there are any further details or the pattern uses a unique or unusual stitch, then the designer will explain how to crochet this stitch in the introduction section. To help you on your way, here’s a list of the most common stitch abbreviations:

In addition to the stitches themselves, some instructions are often abbreviated as well. For example, when you need to increase (inc) or decrease (dec) stitches or if you need to repeat (rep) parts of the pattern. So, here’s a list of the most common instruction abbreviations:

Ready, set, crochet!

You’re all set and it’s now time for some crochet action! Well, almost. Before you loop your yarn for the magic ring or chain your first foundation chain, follow the golden rule: read the crochet pattern all the way through first! This way you have a better idea of how to get the end result and you’ll avoid any surprises along the way. You may want to highlight any color or hook size changes, so you don’t overlook them later.

How to read a crochet pattern

Okay, it’s now really time for round 1. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the maze of abbreviations. And once you’ve worked your way to the end of a few rounds, you’ll be able to read a crochet pattern in your sleep. It’s important to remember that you read from comma to comma.

To explain this more clearly, let’s take a section from one of our Amigurumi Zoo CAL patterns.

Round 1: Work 6sc in a magic ring or begin as follows: ch 2, work 6sc in the first ch. Sl st into the first sc to create a round of 6 sts (6). Round 2: Work 2sc in each st (12). Round 3: Work 2sc in every 2nd st (18). Round 4: 1sc. *Work 2sc in the next st, 2sc.* Repeat *to* until the end of the round but ending with 1sc (24). … Round 16: Dec 6 sts: sc every 3rd and 4th sts together (18).

Once you’ve looped your yarn to make a magic ring, you need to work 6 single crochets around the ring to complete Round 1. Now, some people find using a magic ring a bit tricky, so an alternative method is given here. Instead of a magic ring, chain 2 stitches to begin. Then work 6 single crochets into the first of the 2 chain stitches you’ve just made. To close the stitches into a round, you slip stitch into the first single crochet. The number ‘6’ in parentheses tells you that at the end of this round, you should have a total of 6 stitches.

In Round 2 you need to work 2 single crochets in each of the 6 stitches from the previous round. This doubles the number of stitches you have at the end of the round to 12. In Round 3, you also increase stitches, but more slowly. You work 1 single crochet in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th… stitches and 2 single crochets in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th… stitches. You should now have 18 stitches.

We’ve reached Round 4 and here we encounter our first set of asterisks (*). You repeat the instructions between the asterisks. So, in round 4 you begin by working 1 single crochet in the first stitch of round 3. You then work 2 single crochets in next stitch. Then you work 1 single crochet in each of the next 2 stitches. And then you repeat that, so 2 single crochets worked in the next stitch, and 1 single crochet in each of the following 2 stitches. And so on… You finish the round with 1 single crochet in the last stitch of round 3. Done? This takes your total from 18 to 24 stitches.

And it’s just as easy to decrease as it is to increase. Let’s jump to Round 16. At the end of round 15 you have 24 stitches and you’re now going to decrease a total of 6 stitches. So, work 1 sc in each of the first 2 stitches, then single crochet the 3rd and 4th stitches together. And repeat! You should finish the round with 18 stitches.

Ta-da! You can now read a crochet pattern.

To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to

This may be news to you, particularly if you’re a crochet novice or have only used patterns from a single designer, but the Brits and the Americans have gone their separate way in terms of, well, terms. And to add to the confusion, they’ve decided to use the same crochet terms to mean completely different things. What is called a double crochet in UK crochet terminology is called a single crochet in US patterns. And a US double crochet is a UK treble! Confused? Don’t be! Here’s a handy little conversion table to help you navigate the language barrier:

With a little practice, you’ll soon be bilingual in crochet-speak. Just remember to double-check what terminology your pattern is using. Most designers will make it clear in the introduction or the stitch abbreviation list. Tip: Check to see if the pattern uses single crochets (sc). If you spot a single crochet, you’ll know for sure that the pattern uses US terminology. That’s because single crochets don’t exist in UK crochet terminology. If you’re still not sure, check whether there’s a symbol chart provided. The symbols are international and can act as your Rosetta Stone to working out the rest (but this is a story for another day, watch this space!).

We hope we’ve demystified the wonderful world of crochet patterns for you and you feel equipped to tackle your first pattern. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for all our latest news and special offers. And we’ll be back soon with some more crafty advice!

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