Once you’ve learned the basics of knitting, how to cast on and cast off, how to work the knit stitch and the purl stitch, you’ll be ready to start your first pattern.
When you are new to knitting, most knitting patterns will seem that they are written in code that only knowledgeable knitters know how to decipher. But with a little help you can learn the basic knitting terms you need to know to read and work your way through your first patterns.
Skill level is often one of the first things you will see on a pattern, after the name and a picture of the finished piece. This is great for beginning knitters because you know right away to skip the ones that say "advanced" or "intermediate." Some companies have a scale of one to four that indicates difficulty; one is the easiest, so stick to those for your first projects.
Size is important if you are making a fitted piece, so you'll want to look at the measurements for a pattern to make sure it will fit you. For sweaters and other fitted items, a range of sizes are given, and the instructions will vary according to the size you want to make.
Gauge you should get into the habit of checking your gauge before you start making garments; you'll be glad you did when your first sweater actually fits.
The gauge of a pattern is indicated by a measurement, something like six stitches and 10 rows equals four inches in pattern stitch on size 13 needles. That means if you were to knit in whatever the pattern stitch is across six stitches and 10 rows, you should get a four-inch square. Try it. If your size isn't quite right a different sized needle can be used to get the right measurement.
The pattern information will tell you what kind of yarn was used in the pattern, what size needles and any other special tools you might need. It will also indicate how much yarn you need to buy. You don't have to use the exact yarn that was used in the pattern, but a yarn of a similar weight or thickness would be helpful for best results. Always buy enough yarn and an extra ball or two at the same time, so you get all the yarn from the same dye lot. If you end up needing more yarn, the next dye lot could be a slightly different colour because of manufacturing variations, even it has the same name and colour on the tag.
Once you've gotten through the introductory material and learned that this is a pattern you would like to make and that fits with your skill level, read the pattern and make sure it makes sense to you.
In the beginning, looking at a knitting pattern can be very confusing, as thought its written in a foreign language.
It’s not, but it is the special language of knitting, which uses many abbreviations and terms, which save space and make patterns easier to read. So the first thing you need to do is become familiar with the knitting abbreviations. Some of them are easy to understand, such as k = knit stitch p = purl stitch, CO = Cast on (This is how you begin each knitted piece.) and BO = Bind off (This is how you finish most knitted pieces. Binding off is sometimes called casting off. They mean the same thing.) Inc = Increase -add one or more stitches. The most basic increase is to work in the front, and then again in the back, of the same stitch. This can be done in both knit and purl stitches. Dec = decrease-eliminate one or more stitches. The most basic decrease is to work two stitches together as one. This can be done in both knit and purl stitches. Different ways of increasing and decreasing change the way the project will look, and most designers have a specific method in mind. So usually your pattern will tell you how to do this. Rep = repeat - do the same thing again the number of times stated in the pattern. A complete list of abbreviations used in knitting can be found on the abbrevation page in this blog.
There is usually a list of abbreviations pertaining to the particular pattern you have chosen written within the pattern instructions. . Knitted items can be worked back and forth in rows to form a flat piece, or in rounds to form a tube with no seams, such as socks or hats. Special circular or double pointed needles are used to work in rounds. With the abbreviations and terms in hand, you are ready to look at a typical knitting pattern.
First the instructions will tell you to cast on a certain number of stitches.There are many methods of casting on. Some give a nice stretchy edge; others give a firm base. Unless the pattern tells you differently, use the method you were first taught.
So in a typical pattern CO 15 sts. means that you will first make a slip knot on one needle, then cast on 14 more stitches on the same needle. In knitting, the slip knot always counts as a stitch, unlike as in crochet where the slip knot never counts as a stitch
Row 1: Knit. That means you will knit all 15 stitches on the needle
Rep Row 1 until piece measures 4” from the beginning. That means that you will keep repeating Row 1 a knit row until the piece measures 4” from the cast on row. To measure, place your piece on a flat surface and do not stretch it out. Place the end of a ruler or tape measure against the needle, and measure down to your initial cast-on row. If your work doesn’t measure what is specified, just keep repeating the rows until you get to the desired length.
You will have created what is called garter stitch, made by knitting every row on a flat piece. This is a reversible pattern, as there is very little difference between the right side and the wrong side. So when a pattern tells you to work in garter st, you will know it means to knit every row.
Row 1 (RS): Knit. This means that on Row 1, which is the right side of the piece (RS), you will knit all 15 stitches on the needle
The pattern may now say: Rep Rows 1 and 2 until piece measures 4” from the beginning, ending with a WS row.That means that you will keep repeating Row 1 (a knit row) and Row 2 (a purl row), in sequence until the piece measures 4” from the cast on row. Since the pattern says to end with a wrong-side row, that means that the last row you work should be a purl (WS) row. When you repeat a knit row and then a purl row for a number of rows, your are creating a pattern called stockinette stitch. This is abbreviated St st. You will see that there is a definite right and wrong side, usually the knit side is the right side, but sometimes the purl side is used for the right side. When this is done it is called reverse St st. So when a pattern tells you to work in St st, it means to alternate a knit row with a purl row.
Now we’ll have a quick look at the symbols that are used in knitting patterns. These too are used to save space and to make the pattern easier to read. They may be confusing at first, but you will soon learn to follow them. Knitting patterns may have a series of steps that are repeated several times across a row. Rather than writing out these steps time after time, asterisks (*) are used to indicate the repeats. You will find asterisks used in many different patterns, such as ribbing. Ribbing is that stretchy pattern often used at the bottom and cuffs on a sweater to provide flexibility. Here is a typical ribbing pattern.
Row 1: *K2, P2; rep from * across, end K2.
That means that you will knit the first two stitches, then purl the next two stitches; then you will knit 2, then purl 2, again, and repeat the steps following the asterisk all across the row until the last two stitches which you will knit.
Row 2: *P2, K2; rep from * across, end P2.
Note that you will be purling the sts you knitted on the preceding row, and knitting the sts you purled on the preceding row. Many times patterns will say: knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches. You will be creating ribbing by repeating these two rows in sequence.
Brackets [ ] are also used to enclose a group of stitches that are to be repeated a specified number of times. The number immediately following the brackets tells you how many times to do the step. For instance, [k1, K2tog] 6 times means you will knit 1 stich, then knit 2 stitches together, then do that again 5 more times..Parentheses are sometimes used in the same way.
When you knit your first garment, you may run into some terms that confuse you. Here are some examples and what they mean.
Left Front or Left Sleeve: The piece that will be worn on the left front and left arm of your body.
Right Front or Right Sleeve: The piece that will be worn on the right front and right arm of your body.
Work same as Left (or Right) piece, reversing shaping: This can be difficult for a beginner. Let’s say you have worked a series of decreases on a left shoulder. Instead of telling you exactly how to do this for the right shoulder, in order to save space the pattern may just tell you to: Work same as left shoulder, reversing shaping. That means you have to figure out what to do! It will be easier if you take pen and paper and sketch out what you did the first time; then do this in reverse for the other piece. For example, the armhole decreases on a left front are worked at the beginning of right side rows. To reverse it for the right front, work the decreases at the end of the right side rows.
This should help to get you started with your first pattern so begin with a basic pattern to get you used to the terms and abbreviations working up as you become braver. A good place to start is a basic baby cardigan as featured in a previous post of this blog and there is a page of abbreviations and there meanings on a separate page on this blog.
Tip: When following the row by row instructions it is helpful to check off a row as you are finished. It is also a good idea to place a ruler under each row, so that your eye follows the exact row, and not one above or below. I use a postit note as the sticky strip means it won't move accidentally. This is extremely important especially when you start adding colours, or designs that need exact counting.
If you're looking at more advanced patterns and don't understand what they mean, in tomorrows post we'll work our way through translations for many more knitting abbreviations.