Reading a pattern

So, you’ve mastered the basics of knitting, like casting on and knit and purl stitches… now it’s time to knit something from a pattern. Don’t be put off by the terms and abbreviations used – with a little help you can learn how to read and work your way through your first patterns.

You will need

All patterns will tell you what you need to have ready before you start (a bit like a cooking recipe). The pattern will list how many balls of yarn and what type is required, how many pairs of needles and what size you will need, plus any extra items you may need to knit or finish the items.


A pattern will usually give you the dimensions of a square to knit and check that your tension is correct, so that the finished item turns out at the size given. If this concept is new to you, check out our Top Tension Tips article (coming soon) on ways to get your tension right.


To make instructions concise and easy to follow the most regularly used words in each pattern are either shortened or letters are used to describe what you need to do next. Most patterns explain the abbreviations at the beginning of each pattern. Here are some examples:

cm = centimetre(s)

cont = continue

foll = follows

g st = garter stitch (every row knit)

k = knit

p = purl

rem = remaining

rep = repeat

The correct size

Patterns for garments are written for a range of sizes. The smallest size is given first in the instructions and appears outside the square brackets; the larger sizes appear sequentially inside the brackets. For example: Cast on 26 [28, 30,32] sts.

Make sure that you are using the same size as you work through the pattern.



Asterisks or round brackets are used to indicate the repetition of a sequence of stitches. For example: *K3, P1: rep from * to end. This means knit three stitches, then purl one stitch and then repeat this sequence to the end of the row. It could also be written (K3, P1) to end.

Asterisks and brackets

These may be used together in a row. For example: *K4, P1, (K1, P1) 3 times; rep from * to end. The part of the instruction in brackets indicates that these stitches only are to be repeated three times before returning to the instruction immediately after the asterisk.


When repeating anything, make sure to read the instructions carefully and ensure that you are doing it the correct number of times. For example: (K1, P1) twice means 4 stitches worked, but *K1, P1; rep from * twice more means 6 stitches are worked.


Work straight

The term work straight indicates that you should continue without increasing or decreasing the number of stitches and maintaining the given pattern.