How to Read Crochet Patterns

How to Read Crochet Patterns

After you’ve mastered your first few basic crochet stitches, it’s time to learn how to read crochet patterns in order to create your first masterpiece.

You’ve picked out your first project, bought the yarn, and have the correctly sized crochet hook all ready to go. But the pattern looks like hieroglyphics, thanks to the strange symbols and unintelligible abbreviations. 

Don’t let this dampen your spirits! This is a normal part of the beginner’s journey to crochet fluency. You must first learn how to follow a crochet pattern before you can progress far in your journey of learning how to crochet.

When are you ready to learn how to follow a crochet pattern? After you’ve learned at least the four basic crochet stitches and at least the chain stitch.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics to help you understand how to use a crochet pattern with confidence and ease.

    • US versus UK terminology to look out for
    • How to follow a crochet pattern by understanding the separate sections of the pattern
    • How to read crochet patterns for dummies

Keep reading if you’re ready to learn how to follow crochet instructions like a pro so you can start your first crochet pattern.

How to Read Crochet Stitches: US Versus UK Terminology

Did you open your crochet pattern to immediately ask yourself, “Wait, what does sts mean in crochet? What does sc2tog mean?” You are not alone.

To beginners, the abbreviations of crochet patterns make no sense. It doesn’t help that each pattern author uses their own personal style, which creates small but confusing differences between each individual pattern.

One major difference you must understand before attempting to decode any crochet pattern is the two dominant English crochet terminologies: US and UK/Australian crochet terms. The terms used overlap, but indicate different stitches.

The first step of reading any pattern is determining whether it’s in US or UK/Australian terms. Most pattern authors include a note at the beginning of the pattern. If there’s no indication in the pattern, there are a few quick tricks you can use to figure it out for yourself.

    • Do you see the term “single crochet” anywhere in the pattern? If yes, it’s written in US terms since there’s no single crochet in UK terminology.
    • Does the pattern instruct you to “miss” stitches instead of “skipping” stitches? If so, that’s an indication that the pattern is in UK terms.
    • Does the pattern describe “gauge” or “tension”? Gauge is a US term, and tension is a UK term.

When translating from UK/Australian stitches, you can think of reducing by one. For example, the UK double crochet is the same as the US single crochet. The UK treble is the same stitch as the US double crochet stitch.

When you’re just starting out, it’s easiest to keep a conversion chart handy (see below). You can re-write the pattern in US terminology before you start stitching to avoid extra mental math as you work through the pattern.

US Term & Abbreviation

Standard Symbol

UK/Australian Term & Abbreviation

Slip stitch (sl st)

Crochet symbol sl st
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Slip stitch (ss)

Single crochet (sc)

Crochet symbol sc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Double crochet (dc)

Half double crochet (hdc)

Crochet symbol hdc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Half treble (htr)

Double crochet (dc)

Crochet symbol dc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Treble (tr)

Double treble (dtr)

Crochet symbol dtr
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Triple treble (trtr)

Patterns written with UK/Australian terms will often describe hook sizes in millimeters instead of the number and letter system used in the United States. Fortunately, most patterns use both methods to suggest hook sizes.

If you’re ever in doubt of which hook size to use, you can rely on graphics like the one below to help you accurately “translate.”

UK vs US crochet terms chart
Image source: The Fuzzy Bee

Crochet patterns using different terminology than what you’re used to shouldn’t intimidate you. They aren’t necessarily any more challenging than patterns written in familiar terms. 

Dedicate a few minutes to crossing out the unfamiliar terms and replacing them with the stitch names you’re comfortable with. You’ll be left with a pattern that you can confidently follow for an amazing finished product!

How to Understand Crochet Instructions The Different Parts of a Crochet Pattern

With practice, reading and following a crochet pattern will come to you naturally. As you start learning how to understand crochet pattern instructions, you should pay special attention to the different sections of the pattern. 

Knowing what these sections mean and how to read them will demystify much of the crochet pattern experience.

    1. Instructions / Notes

Pattern authors typically start off a pattern with a notes or instructions section. Read through this section carefully before moving on to any other parts, because it tells you how to interpret the rest of the pattern.

This section includes important details such as:

      • Difficulty level
      • Terminology used
      • Materials required
      • Sizing information
      • Details on how to interpret their written instructions
      • Tips and tricks to completing the pattern successfully

Each pattern and author is unique, and this section of the pattern most reflects the distinct features of each. 

      2. Yarn Weights & Materials

After the general instructions and difficulty level, you’ll next see a section that lists the required and optional materials for the project.

Crochet pattern authors don’t expect you to run out and buy the exact same crochet yarns that they used in their sample piece. Not only would that be expensive and time-consuming, but every crocheter has access to different materials depending on where they are in the world.

For this reason, you’ll often see extra comments about yarn weight, texture, and color. These notes help guide you to pick out yarns that will work well with the pattern as intended. 

Yarn weight crochet conversion chart
Image source: Lucy Kate Crochet

Beginners are always recommended to use yarns of the same weight and material as indicated in the pattern. With more experience, you can start experimenting with swapping out different yarns in patterns to create unique effects.

Tip: If you want to add a custom woven label to your finished crochet item, opt for an iron-on option. This prevents stress about stitching thread into yarn, which can damage some yarn types.

      3. How to Read Gauge Swatch

Gauge (or tension in UK/Australian patterns) describes the amount of crocheted fabric that a particular combination of hook size and yarn type creates. 

Gauge determines several important things, including: 

      • How much yarn you’ll need to complete a project
      • The final size of the project
      • Which hook you should use with the yarn

The importance of gauge to sizing is particularly crucial when creating garments.

Crochet gauge hats
Image source: Craftsy

Gauge is also influenced by the tension you hold while creating your stitches, which vary between crocheters. The gauge swatch solves this problem and guarantees that your finished project will be the same size as indicated by the pattern.

Check your gauge by crocheting a swatch according to the gauge instructions in the pattern. This usually takes the form of a 4×4 inch square of the stitch pattern. 

How to read crochet patterns
Image source: Annie’s Catalog

What if the gauge swatch is smaller or bigger than written in the pattern? The easiest way to get your gauge back on track is to change your hook size.

If your gauge is too big, make another swatch using a smaller hook and check again. If your gauge is too small, try again with a larger hook and check the gauge once more.

Never start a pattern without creating gauge swatches until you’ve achieved the correct gauge. Even if you are using the exact same materials as the pattern author, your stitch sizes are unique to you. Gauge is even more important if you’re substituting out different yarn types.

Tip: No crochet garment is complete without a care label that instructs the wearer or recipient on how to keep the item looking fabulous, wash after wash!

      4. Stitches and Techniques Used

Next, the pattern lists the stitches used and the abbreviations used to denote those stitches in the pattern instructions. This section helps you determine whether or not you have the skills to create this pattern.

Beginners should exclusively follow patterns that only use stitches they’re confident in. A project is not the place to learn a new stitch.

If you’ve fallen in love with a pattern that uses stitches you haven’t mastered yet, go learn the stitches first. The pattern will still be waiting for you!

The stitch abbreviations used can vary slightly between patterns, especially when different crochet terms are used (e.g. US versus UK). However, there is a set of standard abbreviations and symbols widely used. See the table below for the most common stitches.

Common Abbreviation

Stitch (US Terms)

Standard Symbol

Ch

Chain stitch

Crochet symbol ch
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Ch-

Refers to chain or chain space previously made. For example, ch-1 space refers to the “gap” below a single chain stitch.

Sl st

Slip stitch

Crochet symbol sl st
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Sc

Single crochet

Crochet symbol sc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Hdc

Half double crochet

Crochet symbol hdc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Dc

Double crochet

Crochet symbol dc
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Tr (or trc)

Triple (or treble) crochet

Crochet symbol tr
Image source: Craft Yarn Council

Dtr

Double treble crochet

Crochet symbol dtr
Image source: Craft Yarn Council
Rnd

Round (for when crocheting circles or stitching in the round)

You’ll also need to interpret the techniques used. Crochet techniques used in patterns range from basic to complex. Examples of crochet techniques you’ll see frequently include:

The table below provides standard abbreviations for the most common techniques. 

Common Abbreviation

Action to Take

Inc 

Increase

Dec

Decrease

Turn

Turn your work to start the next row

Rep

Repeat (do it again)

[   ] or { }

Instructions in brackets are to be worked as a sequence, repeated a certain number of times. Pattern authors will usually put x2 to indicate to repeat the bracketed instructions twice, x3 to repeat three times, and so on.

BL or BLO

Back loop or back loop only

Sk

Skip

Yo

Yarn over

FO

Fasten off

The Craft Yarn Council has compiled an extensive list of standard crochet abbreviations. An even more exhaustive list of symbols and abbreviations can be found below.

Guide to crochet symbols
Image source: My Crochet Pattern

Fun fact: there doesn’t appear to be any standard abbreviation for weaving in loose ends, even though it is used in almost every pattern.

      5. Working In Rounds Versus Rows

As you read through the first four sections of the crochet pattern above, you most likely saw the mention of either “rounds” or “rows.” Patterns written in either rounds or rows indicate whether you’re working in straight lines (rows) or circles (rounds).

How to read crochet patterns for beginners
Image source: Kelbourne Woolens

At the end of a row, you will turn the work and start again, meaning the end of the previous row becomes the start of the next row. When working in rows, you build them up layer by layer.

Rows are used for projects with the following characteristics:

    • Flat
    • Straight edges
    • Anything with a rectangular shape

Examples of projects frequently stitched in rows include baby blankets and traditional scarves (not infinity scarves).

How to follow a crochet pattern
Image source: Every Trick on the Hook

Working in rounds does not require you to stop and turn your work. A round is started with either a magic ring or a chain circle. Your first round is stitched into the center opening. The next rounds are joined together before starting the next one. 

Projects with the following traits are typically stitched in rounds (circles):

    • Dimensional (such as amigurumi projects)
    • Curved edges
    • Round or curved in shape

Examples of projects stitched in rounds include beanies, round coasters, and circle blankets. If you’ve never worked in rounds before, practice how to start a crochet round. You’ll discover this process is very different from starting a project that’s worked in rows.

Certain projects (such as socks or hats) can start in the round and then be finished in rows.

      6. The Missing Section: Starting the Pattern

Before diving into the pattern instructions, you have to start. It sounds simple, but many patterns exclude the simple but all-important first step of every crochet project: the slip knot.

How to read crochet stitches
Image source: Crochetpedia

Often this step is not included in crochet pattern instructions because the author assumes that you know this needs to be done. When working with your first crochet patterns, make a note at the beginning of the instructions to start with a slip knot.

You need to create the slip stitch first, regardless of whether or not you’re working in rounds or rows. After that, you can start to work your foundation chain.

How to Read a Crochet Pattern for Beginners

Now it’s time to break down an example pattern to “decode” its meaning. Let’s work through the typical first few steps of a pattern that’s worked in rows.

    1. Slip knot. Don’t forget this step which may be excluded from your pattern instructions.
    2. “Foundation chain: 17”

Foundation chain. This is a series of chain stitches that you will work your first crochets into. The instruction above means you need to make 17 crochet chains. Count these very carefully, remembering that the slip knot doesn’t count as a stitch.

      3. Row one: “1 ch, sc in 2nd ch and in each ch across, turn. (17 sc)”

Stitch your first row into your foundation chain. The instruction above translates to: Work one chain stitch. Work a single crochet in the second chain away from the hook. Then work a single crochet in each of the remaining (16) chains. 

Count your stitches at the end of each row to make sure you have followed the pattern accurately. The “(17 sc)” at the end of the instruction above tells you how many stitches you should have. 

The “turn” instruction tells us to turn our work. Always leave your hook in as you turn. You’re now ready to make a turning chain and start row two.

Note: You will always need to work a turning chain between rows. The length of the turning chain will depend on the height of your crochet hook.

How to use a crochet pattern
Image source: Cherry Heart Crochet Co.

Crochet pattern authors include the appropriate turning chain in their instructions, however, where they include them in the written instruction varies. You’ll either see the turning chain included at the end of the previous row or the start of the next row.

When in doubt, follow the crochet pattern instructions exactly.

Continue to work the pattern instructions, “translating” from the abbreviations into the stitches and techniques used. Count your stitches carefully, relying on the note at the end of each round or row that the pattern author includes.

A great way to practice reading a crochet pattern is to find a written pattern that comes with a video tutorial. This will allow you to check whether or not you’ve understood and applied the instructions correctly.

Pro tip: Add a custom hang tag to your finished projects when you’re ready to sell. Help your customers remember your amazing brand!

By now, you should feel confident in your ability to tackle any beginner crochet project. What are you waiting for? Get out there and start creating!

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