Reading a Simple Knitting Pattern

As a beginner, reading your first knitting patterns can be challenging, because you have to get used to the abbreviations and terms, and determine whether you have the skills to successfully reproduce the design. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to the structure of a typical garment pattern, by walking you through the instructions for a simple garment. The pattern I chose is a pullover, design #10 from Vogue Knitting Magazine Winter 2017/18. I chose a pattern from Vogue because of its reputation for well written and edited instructions, providing all the necessary information to successfully execute the designs. Vogue has a long history of designing and writing knitting patterns with a modern, fashion forward approach. Vogue Knitting magazine continues to be one of my favorites.

Easy pullover from Vogue Knitting Winter 2017/18
Design 10
Vogue Knitting Magazine Winter 2017/18 pg. 58

Pattern Structure

A. Pattern Name

B. Description

C. Level of Difficulty

D. Sizes and Knitted Measurements (Finished Measurements) – the finished measurements are more important than the relative size.

E. Materials and Tools

F. Gauge

G. Notes – techniques used and any other additional information specific to the individual pattern.

H. Pattern Stitches – are written in abbreviated form, specific to each design. These may only be included in a glossary instead of the individual design instructions, particularly for basic pattern stitches.

I. Abbreviations – magazines usually contain a list in the back or front, with all the abbreviations used in its instructions, along with a glossary further explaining techniques.

J. Schematic – is more than just measurement information; gives the knitter details about the construction.

K. Charts – an alternative to written text, and commonly used for colorwork, a mix of pattern stitches, and lace.

L. Instructions – for all the sections or pieces of the garment.

M. Finishing – includes seaming, borders and other details necessary to completing the project.

Depending on the complexity of the project, some of the above may not be included in the design’s instructions.

For Vogue’s design #10, I’ve labelled the attached instructions with the letters corresponding to the sections of the pattern structure defined above. I’ll describe in detail what’s included and what you’re supposed to do for each of the steps.

Pattern instructions for design 10 from Vogue Winter 2017/18

Steps to making Design #10

A. The pattern name is Boxy Cropped Sweater, and its photograph is on page 58 of the magazine.

B. This is an oversized cropped sweater worked in two pieces from the top down. This means the sweater is worked from the neck, down to the lower edge. From the picture you can see the yarn is very thick. The relative sizes are listed as “small, medium, large, and x-large”. We’ll follow size small, the first number outside the brackets, throughout the rest of the instructions.

C. The level of difficulty is categorized as easy; you need knowledge of the basic stitches, minimal shaping and simple finishing. Don’t be afraid to try a pattern a little more advanced; there is always help available and you only get better by challenging yourself. Vogue also indicates the yarn weight category, by the number 6, a super bulky yarn.

D. (Refer to the post Reading Knitting Patterns – Asterisks, Brackets, and Parentheses) For size small the finished bust measurement is 34 inches. It says this is the measurement for the piece when slightly stretched. Because it’s knit in a k1, p1 rib, the sweater is elastic, so often a rib pattern is measured slightly stretched to compensate for its elasticity. The total length is 18.5 inches from lower hem to top of the collar.

E. Size small requires five 100g hanks (40m or 45 yards per hank) of Blue Sky Fibers (brand) Bulky. The fiber content is a blend of alpaca and wool in color coyote. 15mm needles are needed to obtain the gauge. If you can’t purchase this brand of yarn check out yarn substitution .

F. The gauge is given for both stockinette stitch and k1, p1 rib (single rib). Although these instructions are not knit in stockinette stitch, many patterns give a stockinette stitch gauge along with the other pattern stitches. Yarn labels also give the gauge over stockinette stitch. Make sure you make a test swatch, and that your gauge is the same as in the instructions. You may need to change needle size. (Check out The Why and How of Test Swatching). Gauge for this design: stockinette stitch gauge is 6 stitches and 8 rows = 4 inches (1.5 stitches/in and 2 rows/in); k1, p1 rib gauge is 9 stitches and 8 rows = 4 inches (2.25 stitches/in and 2 rows/in).

G. Additional notes describe the long tail cast on, used to cast on stitches. The front and back are knit flat (back and forth) from the top down, adding stitches for the cap sleeves. Then the side edges of neck, shoulders and sides of front and back are seamed. The schematic is given for the pieces without stretching the rib pattern.

H. The garment is knit in single rib or k1, p1 rib, and the right and wrong side rows are written out. The reason for describing this most basic of rib stitches is because the first stitch of each row is slipped (slip 1).

I. The abbreviations used in this pattern are basic, so there is no list of them. A list is included at the beginning of the magazine’s instructions. Familiarize yourself with the list in a magazine, and use it as a reference. Note: “Work versus Knit”. The term “knit” encompasses the entire activity of knitting, but in pattern instructions knit is specific for the knit stitch. To alleviate confusion, “work” is used to describe any action in a pattern other than a knit stitch. “Knit 10 rows in stockinette stitch” is confusing, and is better stated as “Work 10 rows in stockinette stitch”.

J. The schematic is the drawing with the finished measurements. This particular schematic also indicates the direction of the work by a down arrow. The width  at the bottom hem is 17 inches for size small. All the other measurements for size small is the first number outside the parentheses. The best instructions include a schematic.

K. This pattern doesn’t contain charts.

L. Instructions for making this sweater begin with the back piece. Using the long tail cast on, as described in the notes, cast on 21 stitches. Beginning with a wrong side row, work in k1, p1 rib as described, remembering to slip the first stitch of every row for 9 rows, finishing with a wrong side row. As a beginner, I suggest marking the right or wrong side, so you remember which is the correct side. The right side is now facing you, and you’re going to add stitches to make the sleeves on either side. The sleeves are made by casting on 14 stitches (cable cast on method is a good type to use here) at the beginning of the next 2 rows. The total stitch count has increased to 49 stitches. Continue in k1, p1 rib as before, but now you decrease 1 stitch at each side of your work on every right side row 5 times. The decreases are worked in from the edge; you could work the decrease 1 or 2 stitches inside the side edges by knitting 2 stitches together. After all the decreases are made, the total number of stitches is now 39. Continue in rib pattern until the piece measures 8 inches from the last decrease row. I like to work the same number of rows for each piece that have the same measurements. Row count is easily calculated by multiplying 8in (the length) x 2 (row gauge is 2 rows/one inch) = 16 rows. The length is multiplied by the number of rows per inch calculated from the gauge. I always count rows, particularly for garments, so all the pieces match row per row. After the 8 inches is complete, work garter stitch (knitting every row) for 3 rows. Bind off all the stitches loosely in garter stitch. The front is worked exactly the same as the back.

M. I would block each piece as it’s completed. Remember to pin out the piece according to the schematic measurements, without stretching. Use seams that don’t create bulk, since the yarn is very thick. Use an edge to edge or overcast seam, by sewing through the slipped edge stitches. Sew the neck and top of sleeves (shoulders), followed by sewing the side seams for 7in from the lower edge. Weave in all yarn ends.

And you are done! I hope this information helps you work comfortably through your first projects. Excellent pattern instructions follow a similar structure, making it easier to read and work the project step by step.