Become a Knitting Superstar™
Become a Knitting Superstar™
Become a Knitting Superstar™
Become a Knitting Superstar™
Become a Knitting Superstar™

Ch. 2 Anatomy of a Pattern

Ch. 2 Anatomy of a Pattern

Parts of a Knitting Pattern

Most of the time, knitting patterns follow a standardized format and use standardized abbreviations.

This isn’t always the case, especially if the pattern you are reading has been written down on a piece of scratch paper by a yarn shop employee or has been self-published (on Ravelry or on blogs).

That’s okay – you’ll learn how to read those less-standard patterns too. This will happen naturally as you get to know more about reading standardized patterns.

Think of it this way: the more you know about a language, the more easily you can spot, understand, and even appreciate slang.

The good news is, professionally published patterns definitely follow a general format that breaks the information down into logical sections.

It’s important to look over each section so you know what you’re getting into (just like you would look over a friend’s travel itinerary for your next joint vacation – you trust them, but you still should check to see if you like what they’ve got planned).

Yes – what you like IS an important factor for you when choosing knitting patterns and/or designers. As a Knitting Superstar, you get to have preferences and use your knowledge to make knitting patterns suit those preferences as far as possible. But more on that later.

The Sections Of A Knitting Pattern Are:

  • Pattern Title And Designer
  • Sizes Available, With Measurements
  • Yarn Requirements (What Kind, How Thick, And How Much)
  • Needle and/or Gauge Requirements
  • Abbreviations Used
  • Special Abbreviations Or Skills Used
  • Pattern Notes
  • Pattern Instructions
  • About The Designer/Contact Info

Pattern Title And Designer

An interesting trend is to name the pattern something that is hard to pronounce, confusing knitters everywhere. So if you don’t know how to pronounce the name of the pattern (e.g. Clapotis), chances are other people don’t, either.

If you like the pattern, you may want to take note of the designer so you can look for other designs by him or her.

Sizes Available, With Measurements

All patterns should indicate what sizes the project or garment comes in, and give corresponding measurements for those sizes. Parentheses are used for larger sizes. This looks like this:

  • Size: S(M,L)
  • Measurement (inches around bust): 28(36,42)

In this example, the medium size measures 36 inches around the bust.

Sometimes the designer will give the measurements of the body part the garment is designed to fit, sometimes he or she will give the actual measurements of the finished garment. Any difference in these two measurements is called ease, and, when taken into account, determine the way the garment will fit your body.

Most patterns DO NOT mention ease (unfortunately), but it exists nonetheless, and you should know about it. Interweave Knits has done a beautiful job incorporating ease into their standard pattern format, and more designers may follow suit in the future.

The Craft Yarn Council has put together a great webpage to refer to when you are measuring your body for knitting. The website discusses ease and also measuring for children.

It is important to measure your body correctly, and this is easier said than done. Just have two friends measure your shoulder-to-shoulder distance – the numbers will probably be different!

That’s why I like to rely on measuring my favorite sweaters when I’m in a pinch, and I recommend that you try it and see if it works for you.

What You Need To Know About Ease

All you need to know is how you like your garments to fit. Which is actually easier said than done, since most of us don’t really know how big we are, what we look like, and what sizes fit us well. But to put in all the work of knitting a sweater (which you will easily be able to do, if you stick with me) without making sure it will fit right, is a tragedy.

Ask a friend who dresses well which of your sweaters fits you the best. Is it skin-tight? Is is big and baggy? Is it fitted but casual? The size of garment you chose to make should reflect the amount of ease you want in it – the difference between the size of sweater and the size of your body.

Most knitters make things too big, for fear of having their sweaters come out too small. Get a friend’s help and pick a size that you know will fit you just right. If your bust size is 36 inches, and you like your sweaters to fit snugly, make a sweater that is 36 inches or fewer across – remember, yarn stretches. Just measure your favorite sweater if you are not sure.

In addition to understanding ease, I’d like you to consider how the fabric you are making will hang. How stretchy is the stitch pattern? Cables pull a garment in, and hold it close to the body. Ribbing is very stretchy, but it will only hold its shape if the garment is knitted out of a yarn that holds its shape, like wool.

How do you want the garment to fit? Socks, for instance, need to be smaller than your feet in order to stretch and stay on your feet comfortable. Hats, too, need to be a bit smaller than your head – say 10% smaller in both cases. I feel the same way about sweaters.

If you like your sweaters to stretch when you put them on, make the sweater a little smaller than you are. The opposite is true as well.

Yarn Requirements – What Kind, How Thick, And How Much

Blue-green-purple Malabrigo RastaDesigners will give you the thickness and yardage of the yarn you need to use to make the garment, as well as tell you the exact yarn they used in the pattern photograph.

NOTE: The exact yarn used in the pattern is not always the best yarn to make your project out of. There are a few reasons for this. First, yarn companies often provide yarn for free to designers publishing projects in magazines, thereby limiting the designers’ choices.

Also, the magazine itself will often dictate the exact yarn that must be used. The designer often does not have a choice about the yarn used, and will probably make they garment for themselves, later, in their favorite yarn – one that is prettier, softer, and even more suited to the pattern.

More suited to the pattern?

What do you mean? I mean: choose your yarn according to the desired look and function of the finished project.

For example, some garments are meant to have structure (like socks). Some are meant to be ethereal and light (like lace shawls). Some projects look best with a shiny, bright yarn (like silk gloves). Some look best in a rugged tweed (like a peacoat). Some should be able to be washed repeatedly (like dishcloths or baby clothes).

If you use the wrong kind of yarn (and by that I mean the wrong fiber content or blend) your socks will come out saggy, your baby clothes will miniaturize in the wash, and your arm warmers will be itchy.

Quick Set Of Rules For Choosing Yarns

Cheat Sheat for Choosing Yarns

Yarn Weight

The thickness of the yarn you choose is called its weight, and will be specified in the pattern. From thinnest to thickest, yarn weights are called the following:

– Lace –

– Fingering –

– DK –

– Sport –

– Worsted –

– Aran –

– Bulky –

– Super-Bulky –

What Needle Size and Gauge?

Here’s a handy guide to help remind you which size needles to use with which yarn, and what gauge you can expect to get (more on gauge later).

Choosing the Right Yarn for Your Projects

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes is the best resource for understanding what yarn to choose and why. Yarn is made out of so many different kinds of fiber, from plant to animal to man- made, that using yarn without knowing what it’s made of or how that fiber behaves is like cooking a meal without knowing a thing about the ingredients you use.

If you copy the recipe exactly, it will probably turn out right, but you won’t be able to improvise or progress as a cook until you understand the flavors and textures in your ingredients, as well as how they behave when cooked.

I’ve done this – I’ve gone to the grocery store, and when they don’t have Swiss chard for my recipe, I’m completely flummoxed, even though I’m staring at bins and bins of rainbow chard, beet greens, and turnip greens.

Don’t do this! Don’t be a clueless pattern robot, destined to follow the path set by you for another. There are thousands of delicious yarns out there, waiting to be knitted. In order to help you in your yarn choices, below are some rules of thumb, along with tips for choosing yarn.

Check The Suggested Gauge On The Yarn Label

It will be a range of numbers that represents the stitches per inch you can expect to get using the suggested needle size. Your yarn label also gives you other information about the yarn. It indicates how many stitches and how many rows you can expect to get in a 10 x 10 cm (4×4 inch) square of Stockinette Stitch knitting, using a certain size of needle.

The Stitch Gauge Is Much More Important To Get Right Than The Row Gauge

As long as your pattern calls for the same gauge as you get when you make YOUR swatch, you are okay to substitute the yarns, because they will be generally the same weight.

You can’t go wrong with wool. Wool’s too itchy, you say? Not anymore. Try a superfine merino wool or blend, such as Berroco Pure Merino, or Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino or Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool DK.

Merino wool is very soft, bouncy, and many of the blends are machine-washable, too! By bouncy I just mean that it holds its shape very well. Think of curly hair, how it bounces back. Merino wool does the same thing.

Single-Ply Yarns

Single-ply yarns (yarns that are just one thick strand of fiber spun together), such as Blue Sky Alpacas Bulky Natural are very soft, but also pill a great deal. They will not wear well for socks or other heavy-duty garments. Now, I am wearing hand knit single-ply socks as I am writing this, and they are heavenly and delicious, but also scarily fuzzy and not something I’d give as a gift.

Yardage Requirements (i.e. How Much Yarn to Buy For Your Project)

Lastly, the designer will specify how much yarn you need for each size.

Again using parentheses, it will look like this: 1895(2045,2200) yards. For large projects, I recommend buying an extra ball or skein of yarn. You can always return it if you don’t use it. Running out of yarn stinks.

Needle And/Or Gauge Requirements

In order for your garment to come out the right size, your knitting must match the designer’s knitting.

To help you do this, the designer will specify how many stitches to the inch you will need to achieve in a certain stitch pattern, most often Stockinette Stitch (abbreviated St st).

This measurement is called the gauge, and it is only important for garments where you care exactly how big it is.

Scarves, dishcloths, bags, and stuffed animals do not need to conform to any exact gauge. Sweaters, socks, hats, and mittens, on the other hand, do, so you’ll need to make sure you “get gauge” (i.e. the size of your stitches must match the size of the designer’s intended stitches)

The designer will very often suggest a certain needle size that you might use to achieve this gauge, often giving the US needle size (a whole number from 000 to 35, with the most common sizes being 1 through 17) as well as a metric size (like 4.5 mm). Do not confuse these sizes: a 7mm needle is NOT a US size 7 needle – it is a US size 10 and it will be too big for your project.

The good thing is, all yarn shops and craft stores have needles whose sizes (US and metric) are clearly labeled, so if the pattern says “Needles: US size 7 (4.5mm),” you can go to a chain craft store and find a pair of needles stamped with the words “US size 7 (4.5mm).” You won’t be confused. However, finding the exact needle size might not matter as much as you think. That’s because…

Gauge Matters And Needle Size Doesn’t

In knitting, as in so many other pursuits, results matter.

Whether you use the suggested needle size or not, if your gauge is off, your garment won’t fit. The reason your gauge might be wrong, even if you use the suggested needle size, is because different people knit differently given the same needles. If we both used US size 7 needles and made a swatch (a small square of knitting used to measure gauge), I might knit looser than you. My stitches, and therefore my swatch, would be bigger, and so would my gauge.

In order to make our gauges match (so that your sock comes out the same size as mine did when I designed the pattern you’re going to use), you would try different needle sizes until you got the correct gauge. Watch this video on how to check your gauge to learn how to make a swatch and to measure your gauge, in which I tell you a scary fact that will make you always want to check your gauge.

Oh, and one more thing: if you are halfway through your project and discover your gauge is a little too small, it’s okay. Yarn stretches and so will your garment, if persuaded carefully. I show you how to do this in this video on blocking.

Measure Your Gauge For Sweaters, Socks, And Mittens

Red magic loop mittens with hands held palm out showing thumbThese three things are a bummer when they don’t fit right. Because small discrepancies in gauge are multiplied over the 60-200 stitches of your garment, it doesn’t take much for a slightly incorrect gauge to cause your garments to come out too big or too small.

For instance, if you are half a stitch off per inch on the gauge for your socks, they will easily be an inch too big or too small – no amount of stretching or shrinking can fix this.

Save yourself the tears: knit a small square of Stockinette stitch, at least 3 inches wide and 2-3 inches tall. If you are going to make more than one swatch to test different needle sizes, don’t bother weaving in your ends: make knots in the tail that correspond with the needle size you used to make the swatch. Three knots in the tail = a size 3 needle. Brilliant!

One last thing – before you measure your gauge, keep this in mind: if you are going to knit your project in the round, knit your swatch in the round. If you are going to block your final garment (and you are, aren’t you?), block your swatch before you measure it. It just makes good sense.

One happy situation that may result from your staunch discipline to making swatches and measuring your gauge is that you will probably be the only one at knit night that does this.

You will therefore garner quite a bit of well-deserved respect from your peers (and so will your perfectly- fit sweater). It’s like wearing a helmet on a bike – sometimes it’s cool to be careful, even if no one wants to do it.

Abbreviations Used

All knitting patterns use abbreviations to simplify the text containing the written instructions.

The good thing is that there exists a standard set of commonly-used and agreed-upon abbreviations for knitting patterns, all of which are defined and demonstrated in your Video Knitting Dictionary.

Special Abbreviations Or Skills Used

All patterns use abbreviations but not every pattern uses standard abbreviations.

Sometimes, the designer will create a special abbreviation. They will define any special abbreviations in this section as well as how to do them.

Also, if a special technique is called for, they will note it here with a description or link to a tutorial (hopefully) on how to do it. Some publications will provide a page number or a link to their own table of standard abbreviations, so as not to repeat the information in each pattern.

Pattern Notes

Here is where a designer tells you anything else you might need to know about the pattern. Often, they will describe how the garment is put together, or the order in which certain pieces are knitted, so you have your bearings while you knit. Lovely.

Pattern Instructions

The instructions will begin by telling you which needles to use and which color of yarn (if the pattern calls for more than one) to begin with, plus how many stitches to cast on. Unless a special technique is called for and until you get familiar with multiple ways to cast on, I recommend the Long-Tail Cast-On.

The pattern will then go on to describe, row by row (or round by round, if you are knitting in the round*), what exactly to do to for each stitch, and how many stitches you should have at the end of each row if you are doing it right.

Abbreviations are used heavily in pattern instructions to simplify reading. I describe and demonstrate each abbreviation in the Dictionary.

The pattern will also specify instructions for binding off (finishing) and tidying up your work: weaving in loose ends, sewing up pieces, and making everything come out just as it should.

About The Designer/Contact Info

Knitwear designers are everywhere and you can learn more about your favorite ones in the “about the designer” section. Sometimes the designer welcomes questions and input and will provide his or her contact information. If you have questions about the design, contacting the designer can be an option.

I also recommend the following as a sometimes-very-easy-and-fast way to get help on a project: Find other people who have made the same project by searching for the pattern on Ravelry, clicking on Projects, and contacting someone who has already made it. This is also a great way to make new knitting friends.

Following a Pattern

To save time and keep your sanity when following the rows of your pattern, here is one thing I recommend: Find a way to unmistakably mark on your pattern the rows which you have already knitted.

If you are using a paper pattern, use a highlighter to highlight, a pencil to cross off, or a sticky note cover up the rows that you have finished.

If you are looking at a PDF or other digital pattern on a computer screen, use a sticky note on the screen to cover the rows you have finished.

You can also experiment to see if your PDF reader allows you to paint or highlight across rows of text, either with a colored line through the text that you move down every row, or by selecting and highlighting the text background.

This precaution will save you a LOT of time rereading the pattern trying to find where you are if you lose your place.

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