Resources : how to read a pattern (text)

Unless you’re a Mozart or a Beethoven of crochet, you’ll need to learn to read patterns if you want to go beyond beginner hats and scarves.  You may have already held a pattern and thought the instructions were written in a whole new language.  Perhaps you gave up the idea of ever making a beautiful lace shawl or intricate sweater.

Patterns are pretty much always written according to the same model.  They may be scary at first sight, but they are not such terrible beasts, even accounting for all the words, numbers and abbreviations they are made of.  Perhaps I can help a little.

Crochet in the round
Crochet in the round, via Wikipedia


Before the instructions themselbes, you’ll find a small section of pattern information which will include all of the materials needed to create your coveted item :

  • Measurements : here you’ll have information on available finished sizes.
  • Hook : the recommended hook will be identified by a letter, a size (in mm) or both.  The size in mm is the circumference of the hook).
  • Yarn : this is the recommended yarn to recreate the item.  I’m going to tell you straight off : find something similar in size and fiber content, you do NOT need to always buy the exact yarn.  Investigate : what’s it made of, yardage in a ball, etc, and find a suitable replacement or find the yarn at your LYS or online.  Substitution is ALWAYS possible, but do it wisely or you could be disappointed by the end result.
  • Gauge : when working on clothing items, or anything where the final size is of crucial importance, do not make the mistake of not making a gauge swatch in order to ‘save time’.  You will not save time at all if your sweater fits no one. The hook size above is an average needed by the designer and her testers.  You need to figure out your own hook based on gaug instructions.  I’d say one or two sizes up or down should be enough; there may be a problem if you need to size up/down more than that.
  • Notes : here the designer will inform you of special instructions about construction, stitches used, repeats, etc.  Read these notes carefully.
  • Stitches used & special stitches : most patterns using abbreviations will list them here.  Any special stitches will be explained here as well.


Tip : before starting, circle the size you’re making throughout the instructions.

Patterns are worked in rows (a scarf, for example) or in rounds (a sleeve or a hat, for example).

  • When working in rows, you’ll be turning at the end of each row.  This makes for a right and wrong side.  Pattern will keep track of this.
  • When working in rounds, you generally do not turn at the end of each round (there are exceptions).  You can work in a spiral (without closing each round) or in closed turns (making a slip stitch into the first stitch or chains).  Instructions will account for this.
  • At the begining of a row or round, you’ll be making a certain number of chains.  The pattern will tell you whether or not these count as the first stitch.  Generally, you chain 1 for single crochet, and this does not count as the first single crochet (so you will crochet into the first stitch); or you’ll chain 2 or 3 for a half-double or double crochet and the chains will replace the first stitch (you’ll then skip the first stitch and crochet into the second).  Again, the instructions will tell you this.

Complex projects will be divided into sections, and you’ll most likely find images to help with assembly.

Let’s take a look at a pattern row. 

Here’s one, from a pattern taking a break on my desk.

  • ROW 1 : 1 Tr into 5th ch from hook, 1 Tr into next 6 ch, *skip 1 ch, Tr in next 6 ch,* repeat * until 4 ch remain, sk 1 ch and Tr into last 3 ch. = 37 Tr.  

Seems a little heavy and unreadable?  Well, in no time at all if you trust me and start trying to work with patterns, you’ll read them as simply (probably even simpler than that) as if I’d written it out like this :

  • Row 1 : 1 Triple crochet into 5th chain from hook, 1 Triple crochet into 6 chains, *skip 1 chain, 1 Triple crochet into next 6 chains, * repeat instructions between * until 4 chains remain, skip 1 chain, 1 Triple crochet into last 3 chains. = 37 Triple crochet.

THAT’s heavy.  Imagine if I’d written out the instructions between * for as long as the row lasts…. Abbreviations keep things simple, and in a complex pattern, that’s a good thing.

If the pattern had been in your hands, you’d have had the abbreviations to help along.  After only a few minutes with a pattern, your mind will have automated Tr as Triple crochet.  And since these abbreviations are pretty much standard, once you know, you know.

  • * are what scared me at first, yet they are so much better than seeing the same thing repeated over 10 lines…  Whether you see this *  or these ( ) you’ll repeat what’s there the number of times you’re told to.  Oftern, but not always, * are used for something you repeat to the end of a row, and ( ) are used to indicate something to do in a single stitch.


  • At the end of the pattern, the designer will let you know how to assemble everything, if assembly is required.
  • I cannot recommend blocking enough before you proceed with assembly.  This will help a lot in lining up your stitches.  Short explanation : blocking requires wet pieces be pinned to shape and size, and allowed to dry before assembly.  We will come back to this step in a later article.

I hope this article has helped at least a little!  If something is unclear, let me know.  If you need help reading a pattern, or understanding this post, do not hesitate to comment!

And if you need some one on one to learn, I can offer a short chat tute.  Contact me by e-mail for details.