So you’re getting the hang of some simple crochet stitches, managing to handle the hook and yarn OK and making some squares or scarves that don’t look too shabby. (Hooray!)
Now you’re ready to tackle an actual pattern – you’ve found a picture of something you’d like to make but have no idea what the heck all those letters and numbers in the pattern mean….
I’ve written here about how crochet patterns can look like a secret code to the uninitiated, and they may seem a bit daunting at first, but with these tips below and a bit of practice you’ll be deciphering the crochet code in no time.
You might have seen pattern charts, which are a pictorial version using symbols rather than letters and numbers. We might cover that another time, but in this post we’re going to look at written crochet patterns.
Let’s start with some of the terms, or sections, you might see in a written crochet pattern…
Every pattern should include a list of all the things you’ll need to make the item, including what type of yarn and how much, and what size hook to use.
It’s best to make sure you read this section carefully first and ensure you have all your bits and pieces together before starting.
It’s important to make sure you use the correct size hook and yarn if you don’t want to risk the piece turning out a completely different size to that outlined in the pattern, especially for wearable pieces.
Gauge / Tension
The gauge or tension as it’s sometimes called, helps you compare your stitch size to the pattern creator’s and lets you know if you need to adjust your stitches to ensure the pattern will fit.
The idea is to create a swatch first to compare and test if your stitches are too loose or too tight. You want your swatch to match the gauge outlined in the pattern – ie. the same number of stitches per certain sized square.
Again, this doesn’t matter so much with toys but is important for wearable items which need to fit properly.
Level of difficulty
This should tell you whether the pattern is suitable for beginners, intermediate level crocheters, or advanced / experienced crocheters.
This will usually be determined by what stitches are used and whether there are technical terms used that may be hard for beginners to understand, or get their hands/hooks around.
Find an easy pattern for beginners to start with so you don’t get discouraged.
Special Stitches or Featured Techniques
Many patterns will have instructions for how to complete any special or unusual stitches. Many stitches are created by using a combination of basic stitches and special techniques.
Outlining them early in the pattern description makes it easier for you to refer to and allows the use of an abbreviation in the pattern, eliminating the need to detail each step of the special stitch over and over again in the pattern.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with any special stitches before starting – you may want to practice doing a row or two of them to get the hang of it beforehand so you don’t run the risk of damaging the yarn in the middle of your piece with repeated unravelling.
All those letters & numbers
Now to the bit you’ve been waiting for…. What the heck do all those letters and numbers mean?
The letters in crochet patterns tell you what type of stitch to do. For the sake of brevity, most patterns use shortened versions of the stitch names, hence the letters appearing as code rather than actual words.
You may find it handy to keep a crochet stitch dictionary nearby when first learning to read patterns, but you’ll soon pick up the abbreviations, and many patterns include a section outlining the abbreviations they’ve used, which you can refer to.
I’ve put together a list of the most commonly used crochet terms and abbreviations in my stitch dictionary (link above) but the main basic ones you’ll need to familiarize yourself with are:
Ch = chain
ch-sp = chain space (the space underneath a chain – or between a chain and the next stitch – where you might need to insert your hook)
St = stitch
Ss = slip stitch
Sc = single crochet
Dc = double crochet
Tr = treble crochet
There are at least three main types of numbers used in crochet patterns:
- The row or round number
- The number of stitches needing to be worked
- The number of stitches in the previous row/round needing to be worked into
So how do you know which number is which? It all depends where the number is located in the pattern.
Row / Round Numbers
First of all, each row or round is numbered to enable you to keep track of where you’re up to. So each new line of the pattern should start with what row/round number it is.
Sometimes they’ll have R1, R2, R3, etc so you can clearly see it means Row 1, or Round 2, etc.
But sometimes a pattern will just have the number at the start of the row without an ‘R’, usually in bold type.
Numbers before letters
When you see a number immediately preceding some letters, it tells you how many of that type of stitch you need to work into the same base stitch.
For example, 2sc means work 2 single crochet stitches into the next stitch, 2dc means work 2 double crochet into the stitch, and so on.
Numbers after letters
When the number comes after the letters, it indicates how many stitches along the row you need to work that type of stitch. That is, how many times to work that stitch into the equivalent number of base stitches.
For example sc 3 means work a single crochet stitch into each of the next 3 stitches.
(As opposed to working 3 new stitches into the same single base stitch, here you work one single new stitch into each of the next three stitches in the row).
What if there’s no number?
If there’s no number before or after the letters that means one stitch. If you don’t see a number, you can assume it means 1.
I guess it’s to avoid having a pattern full of unnecessary “1”s.
Basically if there’s no number BEFORE the stitch type abbreviation it means you only work ONE of that type of stitch into the next stitch.
And if there’s no number AFTER the stitch abbreviation, it also means to work that stitch into only the one immediate next stitch in the row.
Brackets & Stars
Brackets are used to group a bunch of stitches together, usually because they will be repeated in the same order.
Ch 1, (2 dc, dc) repeat
Chain 1, then work two double crochet into the next stitch, then one double crochet in the next stitch, then two double crochet in the next stitch, then one double crochet in the next stitch.
A bracketed sequence can also be written like this:
Repeat (2 dc, dc) 5 times
Sometimes an asterisk will be used instead of brackets.
Ch 1, *2 dc, dc. Repeat from *
Around / Across
Sometimes if a pattern requires you to repeat the same type of stitch in every stitch to the end of the row or for the rest of the round, instead of specifying the number of stitches left in the row/round it might say “sc around”, “dc across”, “dc to end” or something similar.
This is where using a stitch marker is important when working in the round, because you can continue repeating the stitch until you reach the marker instead of having to work out how many stitches are left and/or having to count each stitch as you go.
Let’s put it all together
So, if a pattern says for example:
“sc, dc, 2sc, dc 3.”
It’s giving instructions for the next 6 stitches in your row:
sc = single crochet in the first stitch
dc = double crochet in the second stitch
2sc = make two single crochet both into the third stitch
dc 3 = double crochet one in the next three stitches.
So in summary:
- Numbers before letters = how many of that type of stitch is worked into the same base stitch
- Numbers after letters = how many stitches along the row to work that type of stitch into
- No number = 1
So those are the basics of reading crochet patterns! Hope that all makes sense?
All the best giving it a try! I’d love to see how your first go at following a pattern works out. Share a photo in the comments below and let me know how you found it.
If you’ve been crocheting for a while, what other tips might you add? Is there anything you found helpful when learning to read patterns? If so I’m keen to hear it. Leave a comment and let me know!