How do I Read Knitting Directions?

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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2019
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In order to read knitting directions, a knitter should become familiar with the common abbreviations used in written knitting patterns. Generally, each letter or combination of letters stands for a stitch, and the number following the abbreviation indicates the number of times that stitch should be made. Written knitting instructions are usually given row by row, so the knitter should keep track of which row she is knitting as she progresses through the pattern. Any instructions that appear within brackets or asterisks should be repeated accordingly. Charted instructions that give a visual representation of a pattern should be read from right to left on the first row and left to right on the second row, and so on.

The first section of most knitting directions informs the knitter of what supplies she will need to complete a project. Usually, the directions suggest a specific variety of yarn, although a yarn of similar weight and fiber content can usually be substituted. Directions also tend to estimate how much yarn yardage is necessary for completing the project. A list of other supplies usually follows, and includes what size needles should be used to knit the project, as well as any stitch markers, cable needles, sewing needles, or other knitting notions that may be needed. This section of the directions usually provides knitting gauge, or number of stitches per inch, to ensure proper sizing.


Knitting directions use a lot of abbreviations so knitters don't have to spend a lot of time looking at a pattern to decipher its text. Two of the most common abbreviations stand for two of the most common types of knitting stitches - "K" for a knit stitch, which is usually made on the right side, or outside, of stockinette fabric and resembles a letter "v", and "P" for a purl stitch, which is usually made on the wrong side, or inside, of stockinette fabric and looks like a horizontal bump. K and P are usually followed by a number that represents how many stitches are to be knitted or purled, so if knitting directions state "K50," the knitter should knit 50 stitches. Other common knitting directions, such as increases that require the knitter to add extra stitches to the knitted piece, or decreases that require the knitter to reduce the total number of stitches on the needles, have their own abbreviations as well. In general, knitting directions are much easier to read after a knitter has spent some time familiarizing herself with the abbreviations used therein.

Often, stitch patterns are repeated more than once in a single row of knitting. Repeats in knitting directions are usually represented either by brackets or asterisks. Therefore, if a knitter sees the instruction, *k12, p6, yo, p6, k12* to end of row, she will follow the instructions in the asterisks and then repeat the same sequence of stitches until the end of the row. Repeats may also be indicated with an "X," standing in for "times," as in [k2 p2] 6x, meaning knit two, purl two, six times.

Directions for knitting lace or cables are often charted rather than written out. Knitting charts use rows of squares to indicate rows of knitting. The first stitch of the first row of knitting is found at the bottom right-hand corner of the chart. Symbols are used to indicate what kind of stitch is knitted in each square. These symbols differ from pattern to pattern, but a glossary is almost always given to help knitters interpret the symbols.


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