Anatomy of a Knitting Pattern

Reading pattern instructions can seem daunting at first. Once you become familiar with knitting abbreviations, the importance of gauge, and charts, you’ll be able to follow any pattern with confidence. All pattern instructions, include similar information, only varying in the details provided. It is not uncommon to find different abbreviations, and instruction formats between all the magazines and books available. Also, not all pattern instructions include schematics and charts.

I’ve provided two examples of pattern instructions; one from Debbie Bliss (Fall/Winter 2014, Issue 13, pattern no. 26 – Mohair Crew) and from Vogue Knitting (Winter 2014/15, pattern no. 14, Funnel Neck Pullover). These are two of my favorite magazines, because of the detail provided, including schematics. Refer to these samples as I look at the sections of a pattern.

Anatomy of a Knitting Pattern

It is important to read the instructions prior to beginning any project. Careful reading will let you know if it suits your skill level. Some pattern instructions assume you are familiar with certain abbreviations and techniques, and don’t define them. As an example, the directions may tell you to increase at a certain point, but not describe the type of increase to use. Most magazines and books include an index of abbreviations used in their instructions.

Pattern Sections:

  • A     Sizes: 1-Degree of Difficulty and Yarn Weight Category
  • B     Finished or Knitted Measurements
  • C     Materials
  • D     Gauge (Tension)
  • E     Abbreviations and/or Pattern Stitches
  • F     Pieces: 1-Back, 2-Front, 3-Sleeves, 4-Repeats (a-Stitch Repeats, b-Section Repeats), 5-Shaping, 6-Charts
  • G    Schematic
  • H    Finishing/Assembly

A     Sizes – These sizes reflect actual body measurements. Pattern instructions for garments are usually written in multiple sizes. The sizes are set in order from small to large. The smallest size is given first, and appears outside the parentheses, and the larger sizes are within the parentheses in ascending order. The instructions are read with the sizes in the same position throughout the instructions. Many patterns include measurements in both inches (in) and centimetres (cm). These two systems do not correspond exactly, so choose which system you want to use throughout the whole project. A 1 – Some patterns like the examples above indicate degree of difficulty – one shaded box is for beginner knitters; two is easy; three is for intermediate knitters; and four is for experienced knitters. Also, yarn weight category may be shown as a symbol, as in the Vogue sample.

B     Finished Measurements – Finished or knitted measurements are the dimensions of the project after the pieces are knit. This is the best place to look when deciding which size to make.

C     Materials – The yarn, needle sizes, and any accessories are listed here. The yarn and needle size used in the pattern determines the gauge obtained by the pattern writer or designer. It is best to buy the exact yarn and amount specified. Any change will affect the gauge, and overall sizing. It is possible to substitute a different yarn. As long as it’s the same weight and amount, you should get similar results. I like to buy an extra ball/hank, and it’s better to buy all the yarn for your chosen size at the same time. Dye lots can differ, and variations in color, particularly with solid colors, can affect the appearance.

D     Gauge (Some patterns use the term “Tension”) – Obtaining an accurate gauge ensures achieving the correct measurements and proper fit as specified in the instructions. Remember, even a fraction of a difference to the measurements alters the size.

E     Abbreviations and/or Pattern Stitches – Abbreviations are the shorthand of knitting; to save space, and provide clear direction, and will differ from one source to another. Magazines and books may include abbreviations here, particularly if they are unique to the particular design. This is also where pattern stitches used in the design are described.

F     Pieces – Garments usually begin with the instructions for the (1) Back, followed by (2) Front [left & right front for cardigans], and (3) Sleeves.  It is best to follow the order given in the instructions; there is usually a reason why they are in order. For example, knitting the pockets before starting the front. Within the instructions for each piece there are (4) Repeats: two kinds (a) Stitch Repeats – indicated by parentheses ( ) or an asterisk *, and in ascending order for multiple sizes. (b) Section Repeats – sometimes a whole section of instructions may be repeated. As an example; work as given for Back to ** – meaning follow the instructions as for Back to **, then return to instructions for front. (5) Shaping – The areas which commonly include shaping (decreasing and increasing) are the armhole, neckline, sleeve caps, and waist. Some patterns can be vague as to the type of increase or decrease to use; in these cases refer to reference books as to the best method for the particular area of garment or project. (6) Charts – Instead of writing out directions in words and abbreviations, symbols and colors are used in a chart. These will be included in the pattern instructions. Charts are often used for color knitting, but some instructions use charts for textured (knit and purl) pattern stitches, lace, and cables.

G     Schematic – A schematic is a line drawing of the pieces, showing finished measurements, and exactly what the pieces look like. Not all pattern instructions include schematics. They are very helpful, as they show precisely how a garment is shaped, and assist you in choosing the appropriate size. Schematic is also useful when blocking pieces; pinning out to measurements. Sizing in a schematic is set out in the same order as with the rest of the pattern instructions, smallest to largest.

H     Finishing/Assembly – This is the section that includes instructions for knitting borders, such as collars, front cardigan buttonhole borders, belts, etc. The instructions may or may not refer to blocking. The order in which the pieces are seamed is often given.

I hope this helps you to understand knitting instructions better. As you gain experience, you will be able to attempt all instructions with more confidence. You will also be able to recognize pattern errors (which do happen!) and address them.



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