How to Read Patterns & Abbreviations in Knitting

Updated July 20, 2017

The fashion trend has many knit garments from stylish vogue cashmere sweaters to handsome cardigan sweaters for men. Beginner knitters who know the basic techniques of casting on stitches, the knit and purl stitches, and casting off are ready to enter the world of knitted design fashion. Those who can read patterns and the stitch technique abbreviations have endless garment and accessory opportunities waiting. Knitting patterns are nothing more than the recipes for knitted creations. So grab your knitting needles and let's get started!

Find the symbol key in the pattern and look up the word meaning for each symbol in the glossary.

Write them down on the paper.

Read the pattern as one would read this article; starting at the top left and reading from left to right. Write what you are reading from the pattern on the pape, translating the letters such as "P" to the definition from the glossary, as "P" is "Purl."

Pay attention to the comma (,) and asterisk (_). What is written between commas is a single step, and an asterisk indicates that whatever follows gets repeated. An example:"_K6, K2tog; repeat from * to end of row" would be written as "For the first 6 stitches on the needle knit (knit 6), knit the next two stitches on the needle together; repeat from the * to the ; until there are no more stitches left on the needle. The ; shows that starting with the next stitch there will be something different to do.

Study the glossary for the meaning and the description of each stitch abbreviation. When reading the symbols for a different pattern, be sure to check in the glossary for the meaning and description of the symbols because they may have a different meaning.


Starting with free knitting patterns that are for beginners is a good way to practice reading patterns without having to write them out. Practicing the stitches in samplers is a way to remember what each symbol means. Use self-stick notes to keep your place.


Not all patterns have glossaries. For patterns with only the symbol key, use the meaning from another pattern's glossary.

Things You'll Need

  • Easy knitting pattern with abbreviations, a symbol key, and glossary
  • Knowledge of how to cast on, cast off, knit, and purl
  • Pen
  • Paper
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About the Author

Tamela Carey began writing in 1987, contributing topics on equestrian training, sustainable living and South American travel to HomesteadingToday and She has also published “The Dive Log." Carey received blacksmithing certificates and holds an associate degree in respiratory therapy from Houston Community College and an associate degree in business from the University of Northwestern Ohio College of Distance Learning.