If you’ve looked through any knit stitch dictionary, you’ve learned there are different types of knitting stitches.
At first glance, you'll see knitting instructions, chart symbols, and knitting abbreviations. If you're just learning to knit, it can seem like you’re trying to read a foreign language.
Don’t worry though.
In this Knitter's Guide, I’ll talk about the language of knitting patterns and teach you how to read and interpret them.
I’ll break down the components and structure of knitting patterns. I’ll also discuss some of the symbols most frequently used. Most importantly, I’ll teach you how to read knitting stitch patterns.
Table of contents
- Knitting Stitch Patterns
- How to Read Knitting Patterns
- Knitting Abbreviations
- Knitting Symbols
- Read Your Knitting Pattern
- Knitting Pattern Formats
- Written Knitting Instructions
- Right Side, Wrong Knitting
Knitting Stitch Patterns
Once you’ve learned how to knit and purl, you’ll want to learn how to read knitting stitch patterns.
To be clear, though, when I say knitting stitch patterns, I’m talking about the combination of knits, purls, increases, decreases, etc., that create an overall effect on a fabric. These types of stitch patterns are what’s found in a stitch dictionary.
Four examples of basic knitting stitch patterns you’ll find in a stitch dictionary are:
Looking for knitting stitch dictionaries to add to your collection? Here are two of my favorites:
Now, 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.
Before we get to the specifics, let's start by learning how to read a pattern.
How to Read Knitting Patterns
For the sake of this knitting blog post, I’m speaking of pattern instructions in the context of flat knitting. In other words, knitting back and forth on straight knitting needles.
When it comes to following written instructions, you'd read them the same way you'd read a book. They begin at the left hand side and move from left to right. The knitting stitch pattern works 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 pattern also requires a specific sequence to occur and repeat vertically as well. I'll demonstrate this later on in this post.
Now, the vertical design is more easily seen in knitting charts versus written knitting instructions.
As you learn to knit, most patterns will require a little imagination. With time and practice, you’ll be able to better visualize what a pattern will do.
The combination of the horizontal and vertical sequences are what determines what your knitted fabric will look like and stitch texture.
The stitch pattern can create either smooth or textured knitting stitches. It can make up simple garter stitch like this Arabesque knit cowl. It can create stockinette stitch like these fingerless gloves. The pattern could also create rib knitting, cables, slipped stitches, or other knit fabrics.
When learning to read knitting stitch patterns, it’s important to understand the use of knitting abbreviations. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
When it comes to reading knitting patterns, you’ll quickly learn that not all patterns are written the same way. There’s no standard template that knitting designers use, unfortunately, but one constant is the use of knitting abbreviations.
Abbreviating knitting instructions not only saves space but it also makes the pattern faster and easier to read. Think of it as knitting shorthand.
The image below is a list of the knitting abbreviations related to the stitch patterns we’ll be working with later on in this blog post.
These abbreviations are some of the most commonly used in basic knitting patterns and are just the tip of the iceberg. For a more complete list of knitting abbreviations and terms, be sure to check out our post here.
Now, let's talk a little about some of the knitting symbols you might see in a knitting pattern. Knowing these will definitely help you to read a stitch pattern more efficiently.
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 (to knit back and forth) in the discussion below.
Asterisks (*) and Double 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, single asterisks (*) are used to mark the repeats in the knitting pattern.
Sometimes asterisks are used to show where a repeat begins and ends in a row. They bookend the instructions and sometimes they may look like double asterisks, but they are two singles.
A final way double asterisks may be used is to convey a message the designer wants to share. As the single asterisk might have been already used, the double asterisk may be employed. In this case you will notice no space between the two (double) asterisks.
Don't worry. I'll show you examples in the stitch patterns below.
Brackets [ ]
You’ll also find brackets in knitting pattern instructions. 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.
Here’s one example:
[K2, YO, K2tog] 3 times
Here you will knit two stitches, yarn over once, then knit two stitches together. You’d knit this sequence three times total before moving on to the next step in your knitting pattern.
Here's a handy infographic showing common knitting symbols shown in written knitting instructions.
Parentheses ( )
When it comes to reading parentheses in knitting patterns, you’ll find they are used for different reasons.
In some cases, you may find them used in place of brackets. Other times they may show the need to complete a series of actions in a single stitch or group of stitches. Like in the following example:
(knit, purl, knit in next stitch)
These instructions are asking you to knit one, purl one, knit one all in the same stitch before moving on to the next step. The parentheses separate the instructions from the other instructions in the row. This, of course, is just one example.
Read Your Knitting Pattern
Something else you should know about the use of parentheses and other symbols in knitting is that they may vary by designer and region. This is another reason why I always recommend that you read through your knitting pattern before you begin.
Reading through your knitting pattern before you begin a project will give you a chance to make sure you have all the necessary information and can understand everything. If the knitting designer uses knitting abbreviations, you’ll want to check for a key that explains their symbols, abbreviations, and knitting terms. Most knitting designers know to include this, but not all do.
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 you may already know, you can knit back and forth, called flat knitting, or you could knit in the round, which is circular knitting. You can also knit flat on circular needles, so long as you don’t join in the round.
When it comes to written knitting instructions, you can read a knitting pattern the same way for both circular and flat knitting. In other words, you only have to learn to read knitting instructions one way.
When it comes to charted knitting, though, it’s different. And since we have a lot of ground to cover here, I’ll only address flat knitting in this post.
Written Knitting Instructions
Most knitting patterns will come with written knitting instructions but not all patterns do. You’ll find this helpful as you learn to knit. It’ll also come in handy if you’re trying to learn how to read a knitting chart. Having a written format with a knitting chart will clue you in on what each step represents.
Written knitting instructions explain the details of the pattern and instruct you how to knit each stitch. They give you row-by-row instructions.
The knitting instructions for stitch patterns will show you the individual stitches and rows that make up a single repeat. In case this is getting a little confusing, let me show you some examples.
1X1 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
Let’s start with the example of a knit one purl one ribbing, also written as a 1x1 rib knit. This stitch pattern has a 2-stitch repeat and a 1-row repeat. The knitting instructions look like this:
|1 X 1 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern|
|Cast On Even number of stitches (sts) OR CO Even # of sts|
|Row 1: *Knit 1, Purl 1 (*K1, P1); Repeat from * across row.|
|** Repeat this row X times or until you reach desired length.|
The pattern could also be written as purl one, knit one (P1, K1), too.
Notice that I’ve included the abbreviations for the instructions here. You won’t generally see patterns written this way, but I’ve included them here for clarity. Be sure to check out our post on knitting abbreviations and terms for more information.
Also, take note of the single asterisk (*) in this stitch pattern. It tells you where the rib stitch knitting pattern repeat begins. The double asterisk (**) at the end of the pattern, as mentioned earlier, shares information about the stitch pattern. In this case, it tells you that you will repeat this row a certain number of times or until a certain length is reached.
Now, look again at the pattern image and knitting instructions above. Did you notice that it doesn’t ask you to make a slip knot? There’s also no mention of what method of cast on to use.
Generally, these details aren't always included in knitting stitch patterns, especially the slip knot.
Let’s look at another example.
2X2 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
A 2 x 2 rib knit pattern has a 4-stitch repeat – knit 2, purl 2 (K2, P2) – and a 1 row repeat. The knitting instructions would be written like this:
|2 X 2 Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern|
|Cast On multiple number of 4 stitches (sts) OR CO Mult. of 4 sts|
|Row 1: *Knit 2, Purl 2 or *K2, P2; Repeat from * across row.|
|* Repeat this row for pattern X times or until you reach desired length.|
The pattern could also be written as purl two, knit two (P2, K2), too.
Below you will see another example of the double asterisk (**) in a knitting pattern. Here you see that the double asterisk shows that these written instructions are for flat knitting.
Pretty straightforward, right? Now let’s take it a step further.
Cast On Stitch Multiples + X
The previous two rib knit patterns are easy to read because they work with an even number of stitches. Sometimes, though, you’ll see knitting stitch patterns written something like this:
Cast on a multiple of 9 stitches + 3.
In order to explain this properly, we need to break this down into two sections - the multiples and the plus (+) number. First, let’s talk about the multiples using the above examples.
Whenever you see a knitting stitch pattern asking you to cast on a multiple of any number of stitches, you’ll do basic multiplication. For the time being, just ignore the additional stitches (+).
Here the example asks you to cast on a multiple of 9 stitches. To do this, you will multiply the number nine (9) by the number of pattern repeats you want to create. Like this:
9 x 3 = 27
9 x 9 = 81
9 x 15 = 135
You get the idea.
Now, once you figure out the basic multiple number, then you can add the additional stitches to the equation. Like this:
9 x 15 = 135 + 3 = 138 total stitches cast on
Now that we’ve explained the math, let me explain the reason why these additional stitches are included in the cast on.
Remember, when it comes to stitch patterns, everything works in pattern repeats. Sometimes, especially in flat knitting, you’ll need to complete the repeat. By this I mean, the additional stitches make the pattern symmetrically balanced.
Now, let’s put this into action with another easy knit and purl stitch pattern.
Basket Rib Stitch Knitting Pattern
Below are the knitting instructions for the Basket Rib Stitch pattern.
|Basket Rib Stitch|
|Cast On Multiple of 4 stitches + 1|
|Row 1: (RS) K1, *P1, K1; repeat from * to end.|
|Row 2: (WS) K2, *P1, K3; repeat from * to last 3 sts, P1, K2.|
|Row 3: P2, *K1, P3; repeat from * to last 3 sts, K1, P2.|
|Row 4: P1, *K1, P1; repeat from * to end.|
|Row 5: K1, *P3, K1; repeat from * to end.|
|Row 6: P1, *K3, P1; repeat from * to end.|
|Repeat rows 1-6 for pattern.|
You’ll notice this basket rib stitch pattern calls for a multiple of four stitches plus 1. As discussed previously, you'd cast on any multiple of 4 (i.e., 12, 20, 48, etc.), plus 1 additional stitch.
If you’d like to knit this for yourself, this is the formula I used:
Four stitches (4) x seven pattern repeats (7) = 28 stitches
28 + 1 = 29 stitches
29 stitches + 6 garter stitch edge stitches (3 on left, 3 on right) = 35 total stitches.
I then cast on 35 stitches to my knitting needles. As you can see from my math, my pattern repeats 7 times horizontally.
If you like this pattern, you'd probably love this Double Broken Rib pattern.
Right Side, Wrong Knitting
Finally, notice this pattern indicates right side knitting and wrong side knitting. In the basket rib stitch pattern, Row 1 is the right side (RS), and Row 2 is the wrong side (WS). The RS row is the side you “show” and the WS row is the side you “hide”, or front and back respectively.
This basket rib pattern in particular is the same on both sides so it’s less important on this particular pattern. Other patterns though, based on their stitch textures, will have more definite right facing sides.
Also, right sides and wrong sides are not always set up as in the pattern above. You will also find patterns which begin with a wrong side row, so just be aware.
And that’s all there is to reading a basic knitting stitch pattern. Whew! I know that was a lot of information. I hope you found these basic knitting instructions to be helpful or learned something new.
If you have any questions or just want to share your thoughts, please take a minute to drop me a note. I'd love to hear from you!