If you’ve looked through any knit stitch dictionary, you’ve learned there are different types of knitting stitches. At first glance you might see knitting instructions, chart symbols, and knitting abbreviations. It can seem like you’re trying to read a foreign language. Don’t worry though. We’re going to talk about knitting language, break down each of the components, and teach you how to read knitting stitch patterns.
Knitting Stitch Patterns
Once you’ve learned how to knit and purl, you’ll want to learn how to read knitting stitch patterns. I’m talking about the combinations of knits, purls, increases, decreases, etc., that create an overall effect on a fabric. Stockinette stitch is one example, as is rib stitch knitting. These are examples of basic knitting stitch patterns.
In order to create these stitch patterns, a series of repeats must be performed. This includes both stitch repeats and row repeats. I understand the language may get a little muddy here but stick with me.
How to Read Knitting Patterns
To read a knitting pattern, you'd read it the same way you'd read a book. The pattern begins at the left hand side with the instructions moving from left to right. The pattern works itself from top to bottom on the page but creates a fabric from the bottom up.
In a knitting stitch pattern, a specific series of stitches occurs and repeats horizontally across a row. The stitch pattern also requires a specific sequence to occur and repeat vertically as well. The combination of these is what determines what your knitted fabric will look like and your stitch texture.
The pattern can create either smooth or textured knitting stitches. It can make up simple stockinette, a rib knitting pattern, cables, lace, stripes, and more.
When learning to read knitting patterns, you need to understand their use of knitting abbreviations. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
Stitch patterns can vary from vanilla-simple to run-away-in-fear complex. The more complicated a stitch pattern is, the more steps it requires, which means the more abbreviations you'll find.
Abbreviating some of the text not only saves space but it also makes the pattern easier to read. Think of it as knitting shorthand.
This image is a list of the knitting abbreviations related to the stitch patterns we’ll be working with later on in this post. These abbreviations are just the tip of the iceberg though. More on this later.
There are also a variety of knitting symbols associated with reading a written stitch pattern. These apply to both flat knitting and knitting in the round. For the sake of clarity, we’ll only use flat knitting in the discussion below.
Asterisks * *
As discussed earlier, knitting stitch patterns usually have a series of repeats in each row. To keep from having to write out the repeated steps each time, asterisks (*) are used to mark the repeats. Sounds logical, right? We’ll provide examples of this in the stitch patterns below.
Brackets [ ]
You’ll also find brackets in knitting patterns. Brackets are used to indicate a group of stitches that require a number of repeats. The number following the brackets will indicate how many times this repeat must be performed.
For example, [K2, YO, K2tog] 3 times means you will knit two stitches, yarn over once, then knit two stitches together. You would knit this sequence three times before moving on to the next step in your knitting pattern.
Parentheses ( )
Ever wondered what parentheses mean in knitting patterns? Sometimes you will find them used in place of brackets. Other times they’ll mark the need to complete a series of actions in a single stitch or group of stitches.
For example: (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1) into next stitch. This means you would knit one, purl one, knit one all in the same stitch before moving on to the next step. But that’s just one example.
You should know that the use of parentheses and other symbols may vary by designer and region. Most designers will include a key to explain their methods and abbreviations, but not all do.
Now, you may be wondering, isn’t there a standardized version of knitting terminology and symbols? Yes, there is. The Craft Yarn Council has created a U.S. based list of knitting abbreviations “used by yarn industry designers and publishers.” These are all useful knitting tools to acquaint yourself with as the more you knit, the more you’ll need to know.
Read more: Knitting Abbreviations Master List
Knitting Pattern Formats
Next, when learning to read a knitting stitch pattern, you need to know the different style formats:
- The first includes written knitting instructions.
- The second format includes charted knitting instructions.
As there’s a lot of ground to cover, we’ll just be discussing the written aspect of knitting stitch patterns. We will cover charted knitting in a later post.
Before we go on, this is just a reminder that the knitting instructions below are for flat knitting. This means we will work the pattern row by row on straight knitting needles.
Written Knitting Instructions
Written knitting instructions explain the details of the pattern and instruct you how to knit each stitch. They give you row-by-row instructions.
Most knitting patterns will come in a written format. You’ll find this to be helpful as you become more acquainted with learning to knit. It will also come in handy if you’re trying to learn how to read a knitting chart. Having a written format will clue you in on what each step represents.
The knitting instructions for stitch patterns will show you the individual stitches and rows that make up a single repeat. For example, a 1 x 1 rib knit stitch pattern has a 2-stitch repeat and a 1-row repeat. The knitting pattern looks like this:
1 X 1 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
But wait. Did you notice anything missing? Notice there’s no mention of making a slip knot or what type of cast on you’ll need to do. Generally, these details aren't included in knitting stitch patterns.
Why, you ask? Well, the designer assumes you have some working knowledge of knitting. This means they’ll exclude the obvious details that may not seem so obvious to beginner knitters. You’ll just need to automatically do these things.
Remember, the slip knot counts as your first stitch.
But back to the 1 x 1 ribbing. The abbreviated pattern would read:
CO even # of sts.
R1: * K1, P1
Repeat this row.
It’s important to pay attention to the knitting symbols, like brackets and asterisks, in each row. Learning to read these knitting instructions and symbols now will serve you well in your knitting later.
Let’s look at another example.
A 2 x 2 rib knit pattern has a 4-stitch repeat – knit 2 stitches, purl 2 stitches or K2, P2 – and a 1 row repeat. It would be written like this:
2 X 2 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
The abbreviated knitting instructions for this pattern would read:
CO mult. of 4 sts.
R1: * K2, P2
Repeat this row.
Pretty straightforward, right? Now let’s take it even further.
Now, you may have found these rib knit patterns easy to read. This is because they work with an even numbers of stitches. Sometimes, though, in order to complete a repeating pattern, you’ll need to cast on extra stitches past the multiple required. This occurs only in flat knitting, when knitting on straight knitting needles.
The following knit and purl stitch pattern will explain this in further detail.
Basket Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
The above pattern calls for a multiple of four stitches plus 1. This means you'd cast on any multiple of 4 (i.e., 12, 20, 48, etc.), then add 1 stitch to that number. Let's break it down into an even simpler format.
Let’s say I choose 20 stitches as my multiple of four.
4 x 5 = 20
20 + 1 = 21
I would then cast on 21 stitches to my knitting needles. If the pattern is worked in multiples of 4 and I’m casting on 20 stitches +1, this means my pattern will repeat 5 times horizontally.
Right Side, Wrong Knitting
Notice, also, this pattern indicates right side knitting and wrong side knitting. In this stitch pattern, Row 1 is the right side (RS), and Row 2 is the wrong side (WS), or odd rows are RS and even rows are WS. This will not be so on all knitting stitch patterns and not all patterns will include this information. Just FYI.
And that’s all there is to reading a basic knitting stitch pattern.
We hope you found these basic knitting instructions to be helpful. As you read through more knitting stitch patterns, you’ll find that they become easier over time. Just remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Learning the language of knitting may be challenging at first, but it will be worth it in the end.
Want more knitting inspiration? Check out these free knitting patterns Mom will love.