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How to Read a Knitting Pattern: A Beginner's Guide

Posted on 30-10-2020 by Elianne van Steenis
So, you want to learn to knit! Great! Welcome to our wonderful world of delightful yarn and shiny knitting needles. There’s probably an item of clothing or accessory that’s caught your eye and you’re about to take your first steps towards making that item a knitted reality. To get your started, we’ll help you over that final hurdle to knitting your first stitches: how to read a knitting pattern. 

Sure, it may be clichéd but it's still so true: to be prepared is half the victory. Before you start a knitting project, make sure you’ve mastered the basic stitches and techniques. Whether you rope in your mom, dad, grandma or favorite aunt to teach you, or rely on that treasure trove of tutorials, YouTube, make sure you know how to cast on, knit, purl and do basic increases and decreases. All it takes is a pair of knitting needles, a ball of yarn and practice! Done? Then you’re ready to tackle your first project! So, let’s get started on how to read a knitting pattern.

 

How to read a knitting pattern, from A to Z


The first time you take a close look at a knitting pattern, all those numbers, abbreviations and diagrams might have you breaking out in a cold sweat. Relax! We'll help you read a knitting pattern in no time! It really isn't as complicated as it may first appear if you break it down. Let’s take a closer look together at the standard sections you’ll find in most knitting patterns.

1. Make, model and skill level


First things first, at the top of all knitting patterns you can find out who designed the pattern (this may be a brand or an indie designer) and what the name of the project/design is. You should also be able to find the level of difficulty of the pattern here. If you’re a novice knitter, start with an easy pattern. Think scarf, then that trendy striped sweater you’ve had your eye on for a while. If you start with a project that’s too difficult or too large, it can quickly affect your knitting enjoyment. And that was the whole point of picking up those needles in the first place, right?

2. Measurement or sizes


Depending on the project you’re starting, you’ll either find the measurement (for a scarf, for example)  or the sizes (for a garment, like a sweater). If there are multiple sizes given in the pattern, we recommend that you highlight all the measurements and stitch counts relating to the size you want to make. That will prevent any confusion and, ultimately, disappointment. Many patterns also come with a schematic diagram, a drawing that shows the dimensions your finished piece should have. It’s a handy way to check that you’re headed in the right direction as you knit. Once you’ve finished your project, bear these measurements in mind when you block your work. 

3. Required materials


Grab your balls of yarn and needles. Under this section, you’ll find all you need to tackle your new knitting project. This list will include how many balls you need (possibly listed separately for each size) and in which color. Of course, feel free to take some creative license with the latter! The section will also list what thickness of knitting needles you need and whether any additional accessories are needed, such as a cable needle or stitch markers.



4. Stitches used and the pattern chart or diagram

If the pattern includes any special stitches or motifs, you’ll find these listed under ‘stitches used’. Unlike the more basic stitches, these special stitches will be explained here. Sometimes a stitch or stitch pattern will come with a knitting chart or a symbol diagram. A knitting chart is a visual interpretation of the pattern. This chart and the accompanying key will show you exactly what stitches to knit where to get the desired motif. Once you get used to working from these kinds of knitting charts, it speeds up the whole knitting process because you don’t have a lot of reading to do. Each line in the chart is one row. The numbers on the left or right side of the lines tell you which row it is. You read the chart just as you would knit, so from bottom to top. If you’re knitting flat (working each row back and forth, turning after every row), then you alternate reading the lines from right to left and from left to right. If you’re working in the round (say you’re knitting socks or a hat on circular needles or DPNs), you read every line from right to left. The section marked with an ‘R’ shows you the pattern repeat. You simply repeat this section until you have the required number of stitches on your needle (together with the stitches shown before and after the repeat). 

5. Stitch gauge


Not the most fun part, but certainly one of the most important: a tension gauge swatch. Knit a swatch and your new project will fit you like a glove. Avoid the swatch and your new sweater or cardigan may end up being too big or too small. And that would be such a shame after all the time and love you’ve put into your new project. To knit a swatch, you simply knit a sample piece of fabric in the given stitch with the indicated needle size. If the number of stitches and rows you get for a 10 x 10 cm swatch match those given in the pattern, then you’re good to go! If your swatch is too big or too small, that means you need to use different-sized needles (smaller or bigger) to get the desired result.

6. Instructions


You’ve got all the materials you need ready, mastered all the necessary stitches and your gauge swatch is on point. You have all you need to successfully knit a masterpiece! Remember to read a knitting pattern the whole way through first, then go back and follow the instructions step by step. Pay close attention to how many stitches you need to knit your desired size and the type of stitch you need to use.

7. Finish


A good finish is the icing on the cake of any project. In this section, you’ll find instructions on how to put the project together, from how to seam up garment pieces, whether/where to attach buttons to any other detail you need to sew on. Ta-da! That’s it, you’re done!

 

Ready, set, knit!


Now that you know all the above information, knitting patterns no longer hold any secrets from you. Why not check out all our knitting patterns for beginners? Which will you make first? Remember, we’re always happy to help and answer any questions you have about how to read a knitting pattern, so feel free to leave a comment below. Happy knitting!  

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