How to Read a Knitting Pattern

Once you decide exactly what you want to knit, whether it's a sweater for new baby, or a scarf to keep her warm in the winter, the first thing that you must get is a pattern. To a knitter, a pattern is what a map is to an explorer. It is a guide that helps you follow the design, the size, the needles and the stitches needed. But to a beginner, it may seem like a confusing code. By learning what the terms and abbreviations mean, however, you'll soon become comfortable with reading knitting patterns and you'll be able to knit anything you can find a pattern for.


  1. Choose a yarn similar to the yarn specified. Most knitting patterns recommend the most appropriate yarn to use for the best results. Always buy enough yarn plus an extra ball or two at the same time, so you get all the yarn from the same dye lot. If you end up needing more yarn, the next dye lot will be a slightly different color because of manufacturing variations, even it has the same name and color on the tag. You can always return the skein if it has not been opened.

  2. Choose knitting needles based on the pattern's recommendations. Needle sizes vary and your pattern will tell you the best size needle to use, but this recommendation should be treated as a guide only. Your knitted gauge will tell you if you need to use a different size needle than the one your pattern recommends. That's why it's always good to save the needles, as they last a lifetime. Eventually, if you knit long enough you will end up with a variety of sizes that you will need.

  3. Make a gauge before you start knitting your garment to ensure the needle size and the yarn chosen will produce the size and shape garment you need. The gauge is given as the number of stitches and rows, on the recommended-size needles, over a 4-inch square. The pattern usually specifies what kind of stitch to use (often it is the same stitch pattern as will be used throughout the project). This is extremely important to assure that the finished product will be the size that the pattern intended it to be.

    • Measure the gauge with a ruler. Hold or pin it down flat--don't stretch it or scrunch it. It should be 4 inches on each side, forming an even square (the corners should make right angles, the square shouldn't be crooked).

    • Count the stitches and rows per inch. In the gauge shown, there are 8 stitches and 6 rows. It can be difficult at first to count the stitches and rows correctly, depending on the type of stitch your knitting the gauge with, but generally, each bump when counting across is a stitch and each bump counting down is a row. Avoid counting the edges. How many stitches are there per inch? And how many rows per inch?

    • If the number of stitches or rows per inch does not match what the pattern specifies, you will probably need to experiment with different needle sizes. If you need more stitches or rows per inch, use smaller needles. If you need less, use bigger needles. Every time you try a new set of needles, knit a new gauge to test them. You can also adjust your gauge by changing the type of yarn you use (thinner yarn if you need more stitches or rows, thicker yarn if you need less) but this is usually inconvenient and should not be necessary if you purchased yarn similar to what was recommended.
    • This step can be skipped if you're knitting a simple scarf or blanket.
  4. Follow the row by row instructions. It is helpful to check off a row as you are finished. It is also a good idea to place a ruler under each row, so that your eye follows the exact row, and not one above or below. This is extremely important especially when you start adding colors, or designs that need exact counting.

  5. Recognize a stitch for each letter, followed by the number indicating how many of that stitch is called for. The letter P stands for purl and the letter K is for knit. If your pattern says Row One: P5, K5, you should purl five stitches and then knit five stitches on your first row. Learning to do the knit and purl stitches will enable you to also do more intricate designs. These two stitches are the basic steps used in many patterns. Read the next section to familiarize yourself with other commonly used abbreviations.

  6. Repeat any instructions when you see asterisks, brackets, or when the pattern says "X times".

    • Example 1: *P1, K1 tells you to purl one stitch, knit one stitch, and again purl one stitch and knit one stitch. This may also be written as [P1, K1]2x
    • Example 2: K2, * p8, k4, rep from * tells you to knit two stitches, purl 8, knit 4, and than keep purling 8 then knitting 4 until you get to the end of the row.
  7. Use the corresponding key to interpret chart instructions, in which the rows and stitches are laid out visually. The pattern tells you what each symbol in the chart means. These symbols differ from pattern to pattern but don't worry, as nearly every knitting pattern will provide you with a glossary of symbols and abbreviations to help you read them easily.

Commonly Used Abbreviations

  • cc - contrasting color; if you're working with several colors, you might see cc1, cc2, etc.
  • m1 - make one stitch; used to make an increase
  • mc - main color
  • rs - right side; the side of the garment that people will see
  • sl - slip a stitch
  • St st - stockinette stitch; you knit one row, purl the next row, and repeat
  • tog - together; for example, 2k tog means knit your next 2 stitches on your left handed needle together, thus making a decrease
  • ws - wrong side; the side of the garment that is not intended to be seen
  • yo - yarn over; used to make an increase


  • The size of the finished item is sometimes stated as the size after blocking which means after you have washed the finished garment for the first time and, in some cases, ironed it.

  • The store from which you buy your knitting supplies and yarn usually gives instructions, so feel free to ask. If you do not understand the instructions and there is someone willing to explain it to you, do not leave until you completely know what you are going to be doing. They might also have a group of knitters meeting once a week. This is a great way to get help and also make new friends.
  • If you are just learning, start with something easy. Many patterns will say the level of difficulty of the project. Read through many knitting books. Some have easier instructions than others. If you try a very difficult pattern when you're starting out, you may become discouraged and give up. Start small, and work your way up. Knitting requires patience.
  • Use simple yarn for your first project so that you can see your stitches clearly. Wait until you've knitted a couple things before using fun yarns.
  • Carefully read and understand the instructions prior to starting. Watch for a change of pattern, or count. Look to see if another color is being added. Count is important because when you get to the end of the row, you must find yourself on the exact stitch. Keep a pad and pencil open, and mark the counts and how many you have done of each color or stitch. This way, if you get distracted, you will not have to worry about what you are up to.
  • Buy a small crochet hook. This is helpful in case you drop a stitch as you can pull it and save it with the hook.
  • If you are using a chart, buy a metal board with magnetic strips (available at craft shops). You can put the pattern on the board and put the magnetic strip above the row you are working on. This helps you keep track of the row and keep focused on which row you are working. Wide Post-It notes also work well for this.

Things You'll Need

  • Knitting needles
  • Yarn
  • Ruler
Knitting Terms & Abbreviations
How to knit
How to Purl
How to Read a Knitting Pattern
How to Join Yarn
How To Knit The Cable Stitch

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