How to Read Knitting Patterns

How to Read Knitting Patterns

Knitting is fun! When learning how to knit, you start with the basics like how to cast on knitting and how to cast off knitting before getting to more complicated knitting patterns.

Assorted color yarn lot
Image source: Pexels

At some point, you will encounter detailed knitting instructions which you incorporate into your knitting project. It can be challenging to read, understand and interpret them for the first time, although it gets easier with time, or you can seek help on how to read knitting patterns.

Watch this video to help you learn how to read patterns.

Knitting patterns look confusing, although they save space, and simplify your work. To begin, you need to familiarize yourself with the basic knitting abbreviations. Here is how to read knitting patterns.

      1. Materials Needed

Multicolored balls of yarn scissors knitting needles hooks materials for creativity and crafts
Image Source: 123rf

Here is the starting point of all the knitting patterns we have covered. A good project will list all the requirements you’ll need to complete it. Ensure you don’t compromise to avoid different results from the instructions given. A sample of requirements for a project include;

      • Knitting needles( sizes)
      • Knitting Yarn (specific gauge and brand name)
      • Number of  yarn balls

The information expounds on the specific needle sizes, yarn gauge, and expected number of yarns to complete a project. Change of the specific required materials will automatically change the results.

      2. Knitting Abbreviations

Knitting abbreviations
Image Source: Pinterest

Knitting patterns are shortened and for obvious reasons! They are too long to write down and take up huge spaces. They are also complicated to read and understand if you are learning how to start knitting.

However, knitting patterns vary depending on project complication –and the more complicated a project is, the more abbreviations it will have. The table below shows some of the abbreviations you‘re likely to encounter in your knitting projects.








Wrong side


Right side




Cast on









Sl St

Slip stitch

      3. Knitting Symbols

Knitting symbols
Image Source: instarsia

Besides abbreviations, other knitting symbols add instructions and meaning to a knitting pattern.

If you know how to join knitting in the round, you probably must have encountered them. Let’s see how to use them.

    1. Asterisks*

Some patterns require several repeats on rows—and if there are no further instructions on the pattern, you’ll have to repeat again and over again until the end of the project. To denote these repeats, you use an asterisk (*).

However, in cases where there are more instructions, the repeating stitches are denoted by two asterisks (**) as below;

      •  CO 30 st
      •  R1: *K5, P5*
      •  R2:*P5, K5*

On this project, you will cast on 30 stitches. On row one, which starts from the left to the right, knit five stitches, purl five stitches then continue knitting as usual.

Note: they can also appear in the middle of a row and denoted as below;

      •   CO 30 st
      •   R1: K10*K2, P2*, K10
      •   R2: K10 *P2, K2*, K10

Here the instructions appear after you have already started knitting. After casting on 30 stitches, on row one, first knit ten, then knit two more, purl the next two, and continue knitting the next ten.

Although the instructions can be confusing, if you don’t know how to count rows in knitting, taking your time before starting will help.

      2. Brackets ( )

Brackets are also used instead of asterisks to denote a group of repeat stitches. You can use them where there are a specific number of times for the repeat as shown below;

      • R1: K5, (P2, K2, P2), 4times K10,
      • R2: K5 (K2, P2, K2), 4times K5

It means in row one, knit five, purling twice, knit twice, purl twice, and repeat four times.

      3. Parenthesis [ ]

Parenthesis is often used in place of brackets to denote the number of times you will repeat a pattern.  Sometimes the designer will include more than one symbol in the instructions. For example, on this project.

      • R1: K5, [K2, P2, K2], K15, [K2, P2, K2], K5 repeat five times
      • R2: [K5, k4tog, K10] repeat three times

It means knit five, knit four together, then knit ten. You can knit this pattern severally in your pattern although you follow the instructions.

      4. Bold and Italics

Last but not least, bolded sentences in knitting emphasize pattern instructions. They can be bolded or Italic like below;

CO: 10

R 1: Purl

R 2: Knit

R3: *K2, P2tog, K2* [5 times]



(  )


[  ]










      4. Written Knitting Instructions

How to read knitting patterns
Image Source: Knitwit

You don’t have to read a lot of knitting articles to master how to read knitting patterns. It’s simple if you practice more! Most knitting instructions are written, which is easy to read and comprehend as you practice knitting.

When learning how to change colors in knitting or how to pick up stitches in knitting after some rows, you will need to master how to read knitting patterns for an easy flow of your project.

Written instructions will also help you familiarize yourself with the terms often used in knitting, even when you are not knitting or doing simple tasks like how to knit a hat. They further explain details of how to knit each stitch in your project. Let’s look at the most basic instructions.

    • Rows

If you are a beginner, it’s worth noting that you always knit in rows, and so are the instructions. Your pattern will always explain which stitch and how many you will knit in each row. For example

Row 1: Knit 2, Purl 2

Row 2: Purl 2, Knit 2

Remember the pattern could also use abbreviations as we learned above;

R1:K2, P2

R2:P2, K2

When you read this knitting pattern, you understand that it contains purls and knit stitches, and you will need to turn your project after every row that you knit.

 However, when knitting in the round, the instructions will change from rows to rounds. E.g.

Round 1: Knit, Knit

Round 2: Purl, Purl.

Meaning knit round one completely and purl round two. See, it’s not hard!

    • Numbers

Numbers are often used in knitting, like when learning how to increase stitches in knitting and when counting rows and stitches. In knitting patterns, you will find abbreviations like ‘’K2,’’ meaning knit two stitches in a row.

Let’s take an example of a 1×1 rib stitch knitting pattern to help you understand better.

CO even # of sts

R1: * K1, P1

Repeat this row for pattern

In simple terms, the abbreviations mean you cast on an even number of stitches (e.g., 2, 4, and 6) on row one knit, purl one, and then repeat the row for pattern consistency.

Alternatively, we can try out a 2×2 rib stitch pattern.

      • CO mult. Of 4 sts.
      • R1: * K2, P2

Repeat this row for pattern

If you check keenly, you will notice the asterisk, which the pattern will be different if omitted.

The above pattern is interpreted as Cast on multiple stitches of four, knit 2, purl 2, and repeat the pattern for a specific number of rows or up to the end.

Note: When reading knitting, pay attention to the numbers and symbols used to denote pattern repeats.

    • Right Side Wrong Knitting

How to understand knitting patterns
Image Source: Berroco

Most patterns, if not all, will indicate the number of stitches you will knit on what side even when learning how to finger knit. For example, a simple project like how to knit a scarf in rib stitches will give instructions like Row 1: K2 P2 and Row 2: P2, K2.

Row one is the right side (RS) and Row two is the wrong side (WS). Thus the interpretation of your scarf knitting will be to knit two stitches, purl two stitches on the right side and the wrong side, purl two stitches, and knit two stitches.

You will repeat this pattern religiously until you finish your scarf and create the intended pattern.

    1. Gauge and Size

How to follow knitting instructions
Image Source: Handy Little Me

    • Gauge

When going through the knitting instructions, you will often come across the knitting gauge size, measured using a swatch. A swatch is like a small knitting sample to try out your pattern.

On the instructions, you will find the size of the sample, pattern, and number of rows and stitches after your knitting. You are then supposed to customize your pattern to achieve the resultant number of rows and stitches.

You can decide to use thicker or thinner yarn or change your best knitting needles to a smaller or bigger size. Alternatively, you can change your knitting tension to see whether you are knitting the correct size. For example, a pattern might say 10 sts and 15 rows=4’’ (10 cm) meaning for every ten stitches and five rows that you knit, they should measure for inches in width and height.

    • Size

Learning how to knit a blanket fitting size will not be of concern—but when knitting a sweater or any other fitting garment, you’ll have to be keen on following knitting instructions for that specific size.

Typically many patterns will give you different sizes denoted by: S/M/L/XL and Casting on stitches 30/34/36/38, respectively. To avoid using the right size and wrong measurements, circle your right size on the instructions before knitting your project.

For example, in our case, let’s say you are knitting a medium size sweater, you will pick 34 CO as the corresponding number of stitches you will need to start knitting.

Note that the designer will give measurements in that order throughout the knitting pattern, and they will assume you understand.

      2. Knitting Pattern Phrases

Although we have discussed abbreviations in detail above, there are other phrases commonly used in knitting which you might not understand as a beginner? Let’s look at some of them;

    1. As Established

When the instructions have a series of steps, you will repeat as established rather than being told to repeat each row. Different designers will use these phrases interchangeably, so don’t get confused.

       2. Back of your Work

The back of the work is the side facing away from you. An RS or WS can be the back of your work, depending on the side you are working on. 

      3. Front of your Work

It is the opposite of the back of your work—the side you are holding facing you as you knit

      4. Pick up and Knit

When learning how to weave in ends knitting, you can decide to extend your fabric by picking up stitches and knitting along the edge, especially around the neck border, to insert care labels 

      5. Work Even

Work even simply means you continue knitting without increasing or decreasing stitches.

      6. Reverse Shaping

When knitting a garment with two pieces that are alike, you don’t need two different instructions. The designer will simply note that you work the shaping, on reverse shaping the direction in the other piece. A good example is a sweater.

How to Understand Knitting Patterns

It can be challenging to read and understand the knitting terminologies commonly used in knitting patterns when starting. But don’t worry! A simple guide to help you interpret these terms and achieve your knitting dream is all you need. First, watch this video:

First, before holding your yarn and best knitting needles, it’s necessary to go through the knitting instructions and read your pattern details. Here are some of the terms you’ll come across;

    1. Brackets ( )

Brackets denote the number of times you will repeat a pattern. For example, Row 1: K4 (K1, P1) twice means that you knit four times, knit 1, purl 1, then repeat two times till the end of the row.

      2. Commas (,)

They are used to denote single steps in knitting,e.g. K2, P2, meaning knit twice and purl twice.

      3. Asterisk*

They mean a repeat in knitting, for example, RS: *K2, P2*

      4. Skill level

Some patterns are more complicated than others and similarly require more advanced skills. It’s good as a beginner to note the skill level before knitting to avoid making several mistakes in projects you cannot complete.

Some designer companies denote the skill level on the pictures of the knitting pattern for easier identification.

      5. Size

As discussed earlier, a single mistake in size marking when starting will mess up your whole project. Before becoming a knitting pro, start with free projects like blankets or scarfs, then proceed to fitting pieces as you gain more skills.

      6. Pattern Information

As a beginner, it’s important to note that there are different sizes of knitting needles and different yarn thicknesses. Pattern information will clearly describe the appropriate size of both the yarn and the needle and go-ahead to show an estimate of yarn you’ll need.

That’s why it’s essential to read the knitting instructions before working on your project.

      7. Abbreviations

Knitting patterns are abbreviated, and it can be hard to interpret and understand what they mean.

Note: don’t confuse abbreviations and phrases. Here are some of the commonly used abbreviations, although we have discussed the above in details



RS—Right side

WS—Wrong side

These are the basic knitting abbreviations that will help you understand how to read knitting patterns in your career/hobby.

How to Knit in a Pattern

How to read knitting patterns for beginners
Image Source: Instructables

What does it mean? It simply means working precisely as per the stated instructions. To achieve this, you need to keep track of your knitting rows and stitches by counting and marking them using row counters and stitch markers, respectively.

It’s also okay to keep checking your instruction sheet to see if you’re still on the right track. Remember, any deviation will give different results.

Most instructions will, for example, say K4 *K2, P2* work in pattern. It means, Knit four, repeat knitting two, and purl two as you work in pattern.

What Does a Knitting Pattern Look Like

A knitting pattern is a set of written instructions on how to create different designs in knitting. Different types of knitting patterns require other instructions to complete. To achieve pattern success, you must know how to follow knitting instructions.

As shown in the below photo, some patterns include; Stockinette stitch, garter stitch, ribbing, etc. The topic of knitting patterns is broad, and we shall discuss it further in the next blog.

Knitting stitch patterns
Image Source: Gathered

Pro Tips for Reading Knitting Patterns

Reading knitting patterns is fun when you understand how to go about it. Here are refined tips to help you master this knitting skill faster.

    1. Skill Level

Knitting pattern instructions always have a sticker about the required skill to achieve the results on the photo. Always pick patterns that align with your skill level if you want to be a pro someday and learn how to follow a knitting pattern UK. Choosing a complicated or more advanced skill will do you more harm than good when you are not skilled. You can hate knitting because of the frustrations!

      2. Read Instructions

First forward before you start knitting, read through the provided instructions to acquaint yourself with the pattern. You will find it easier to knit when you have the abbreviations term in your head instead of repeat checking.

      3. Right Knitting Needle and Yarn

What does a knitting pattern look like
Image Source: Art News

Knitting instructions indicate skill level, the size of the knitting needle, and yarn thickness. But for what? To ensure your results match the picture above.

Don’t comprise the size of the needle yarn thickness unless you want a different product. However, when you advance, you can substitute the yarn with matching yarn weight and yardage. You can also replace the needle size if you change your tension.

      4. Follow Pattern Instructions

Some patterns emphasize on starting on a swatch of course, for a reason. Following instructions will help you have a clear picture of the requirement and know whether you can change your yarn or needle size.

It’s also important to follow row instructions like R1: K2, P2. They have an impact on the overall results, as illustrated in this video:

      5. Knitting Symbols

Take time before you start knitting to read and understand common knitting symbols and abbreviations. Just like writing, knitting requires an understanding of language to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.


Reading knitting charts
Image Source: Craftsy

You don’t need to be a pro to read and understand knitting patterns! All you need is to follow instructions carefully and understand what the knitting terminologies mean.

Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there are different knitting levels where you can fit and enjoy this skill!

What knitting pattern are you reading?