There are some deceptively brief phrases used in prose instructions that have a powerful, agreed upon meaning. At first, you should approach patterns with such phrasing cautiously as they assume a higher level of knit or crochet knowledge.
This phrase simply means that the last row you work before proceeding to the next part of the instructions should be a RS row and that you should be ready to work a WS row when you begin the next part. Of course, the opposite is true for the phrase “end with a WS row.”
The first row or round following a “end with a WS row” or “end with a RS row” often indicate on which side the row or round is to be worked (e.g., Row 1 (RS)). Looking for this reminder can help you be sure to end on the correct side before beginning the next group of instructions.
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Obviously the most important information in crochet and knit patterns are the instructions. They are also the most challenging to decrypt. Instructions consist of two basic types, 1) row/round instructions, and 2) prose instructions. Row/Round instructions provide detailed directions for completing one row or round. Prose instructions are sentences or paragraphs that provide more general directions for completing a section, repeating sections, or finishing a piece.
Each Row/Round instruction consists of a name, a series of steps separated by commas or semi-colons, and as mentioned earlier, possibly a stitch count at the end of the instruction. Names of Row/Round instructions can indicate the order (e.g., Row 10, Next Round), purpose (e.g., Decrease Rnd, Set-Up Row), and/or relationship to the fabric (e.g. (RS), (WS)). Some of this information may be included in parentheses, e.g., Row 12 (Decrease – WS).
The series of instruction steps are usually arranged in a specific order.
Punctuation differs from publisher to publisher, but in all cases is used to separate and group instructions. Typically, commas, semi-colons, colons, and dashes are used to separate. Parentheses, brackets, curly braces, and asterisks are used to group. Commas and semi-colons are used to separate each part of an instruction making the parts a bit easier to see and read.
Instructions and parts of instructions are grouped for several reasons; 1) To indicate that multiple stitches are to be worked into the same location and, 2) To indicate that instructions are to be repeated.
Parentheses are most often used to group stitches to be worked into one location. For example, “(k1, p1, k1) in next st” indicates that all 3 stitches within the parentheses are to be worked into the next stitch before it is removed from the left needle. Brackets, curly braces, and asterisks paired with “repeat” are used most often to group instructions to be repeated.
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The extensive use of abbreviations can make knit and crochet patterns appear to be written in Klingon or Elvish rather than a human language. There are two sources of abbreviations used in pattern instructions; 1) Standard abbreviations, and 2) Special abbreviations.
The meaning of standard abbreviations and the unabbreviated forms are widely known and understood in the knit/crochet world. Accordingly, standard abbreviations are simply listed at the beginning or end of pattern instructions or in the reference section of magazines and books. Further explanation and illustration of such abbreviations can be found in any basic book about knit or crochet, or by searching the web. Examples of standard abbreviations include: st(s) = stitch(es), rep = repeat, RS = right side, and yo = yarn over.
Editor’s note: You can find abbreviations on LionBrand.com in our Learning Center, and when you click on the individual term, a brief explanation will open. Click here for the Abbreviations page.
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Gauge is very important in all but the simplest designs. The gauge at which you work determines the finished size of the piece and the firmness of the fabric. If your gauge is off your afghan may barely cover a doll, or your slippers may fit the Jolly Green Giant quite comfortably. On the other hand, if your gauge is accurate but the yarn inappropriate for the gauge your sweater may be so firm you can’t lower your arms or so “holey” you could only wear it at home with the curtains drawn.
Gauge is the measure of the number of stitches and rows worked to yield a piece of fabric of a specific size. Gauge is usually given in terms of the numbers of stitches and rows worked to yield a piece of fabric that is 4 x 4 in. (10 x 10 cm) square.
If the size or drape of a finished project is important (and most of the time size and drape are important) take the time to check your gauge. To check your gauge, begin by using the size hook or needles listed. If more than one size of hook or needles is listed, the gauge statement should indicate which of the sizes is intended. Work a piece of fabric (known as a swatch) in the indicated pattern stitch that is at least 4 x 4 in. (10 x 10 cm) square or at least the size specified in the gauge statement, whichever is larger. Lay the piece flat without stretching or bunching it, place a ruler on the piece and count the number of stitches and number of rows over 4 in. (10 cm). Compare these numbers with the numbers in the gauge statement. If the number of stitches in 4 in. (10 cm) of your swatch is less than the number of stitches indicated by the gauge statement, you need to make another swatch using a smaller hook or needles. If the number of stitches in 4 in. (10 cm) of your swatch is more than the number of stitches indicated by the gauge statement, you need to try again using a larger hook or needles. Continue to make swatches using a larger or smaller hook or needles as needed until you achieve the gauge.
The sizes of the hooks or needles listed in a pattern indicate the size used by the designer to achieve the listed gauge and to complete the item shown. Gauge is the number of stitches and rows worked in a piece fabric of a certain size. The hook or needle size helps determine the gauge and the gauge determines the size and drape of the fabric. Different knitters and crocheters, even when they use the exact same size hook, yarn, and pattern stitch, will often create fabric of different gauge. Accordingly, you may need to use different size hooks or needles to achieve the same results as the designer. Begin with the listed size, but check your results and be willing and prepared to change to a different size (see Gauge section below for more details).
Hooks and needles of different types may also be indicated. Knitting needles come in straights of different lengths, circulars of different lengths, and double-pointed. Crochet hooks can be standard, Tunisian, or double-ended. Be sure that you have (or are willing to acquire) the skill needed to use specific hooks and needles, especially double pointed knitting needles or Tunisian or double-ended crochet hooks.
The hook and needle sizes listed may or may not be the same as the recommended size listed on the yarn ball band. The recommended size listed on a ball band is a size needed for a fabric of average drape (or firmness) made from the most basic of pattern stitches (single crochet or Stockinette st). A specific project is likely to warrant a different drape and the use of pattern stitches other than the basics, thus needing a different size hook or needles.
Crochet and knit patterns list a specific yarn and the number of balls of yarn needed. Using the specified yarn is the best way to achieve the intended results. If you would like slightly different results (e.g., different fiber content due to a sensitivity) or the specified yarn is not available, you may wish to substitute a different yarn. There are at least three things to consider when selecting a substitute yarn: 1) Weight, 2) Quantity, and 3) Drape. Yarns can be grouped into different weight categories, as described on the Craft Yarn Council web-site.
For best results, when a substitution must be made, select a yarn of the same weight and with similar fiber content. Yarn comes in balls of different weights and lengths. When determining how many balls of a substitute yarn will be needed, compare the total yardage. For example, if there are 120 yards in each ball of the specified yarn and 4 balls are needed, 4 x 120 yards = 480 total yards are needed.
If you wish to substitute a yarn that comes in balls of 110 yards each, you will need 480 / 110 = 4.63 balls, or 5 balls, of the substitute yarn. Different yarns look and behave a bit differently when knit or crocheted even when the exact same pattern stitch is used. A substitute yarn may yield firmer or looser fabric than the specified yarn. Make a swatch in the project pattern stitch, study the drape of the resulting fabric, and decide if the drape is acceptable.
It is important to know whether a throw will barely cover your lap or could easily cover a compact car. It is even more important to know whether a sweater will actually fit you. Most patterns include Size and/or Finished Measurement sections to indicate the expected dimensions of the finished piece.
Sizes are specified in very general terms, such as S (small), 1X (extra large), and 0-6 months. Finished measurements are more specific and should be carefully considered. A garment could have an oversized, relaxed, standard, tight, or very tight fit. An oversized garment has a finished chest measurement 6 or more inches larger than the actual chest measurement of the wearer. For a relaxed fit, the finished chest measurement is 4 to 6 inches larger. For a standard fit, the finished chest measurement is 2 to 4 inches larger, for a tight fit the finished chest measurement is 0-2 inches larger, and for a very tight fit the finished chest measurement can be the same or less than the actual chest measurement.
The designer of a garment intends a certain fit and indicates this through the combination of size and finished measurements. The actual chest measurement for a S (small) woman is 32-34 in. and for a M (medium) woman is 36-38 in. If a designer specifies size S (small) and the finished chest measurement is 40 in., because the finished measurement is 6 in. or more larger than the actual chest measurement, the intended fit is oversized. On the other hand, if a designer specifies size M (medium) and the finished chest measurement is 40 in., the intended fit is standard.
Technical editor and yarncrafting expert Kj Hay joins us for a series on understanding the different elements of patterns.
Knit and crochet patterns provide a wealth of information. At first, understanding written instructions can be as intimidating as learning a foreign language or deciphering a secret code. Over the next several weeks, we’ll discuss different elements of written patterns. Hopefully, the following explanations and tips will help you overcome any pattern reading fears you have.
Patterns typically specify a skill level needed to comfortably complete the project. Because of the wide variety of stitches, techniques, and constructions used in knit and crochet patterns, an appropriate skill level is very difficult to determine. Accordingly, it is best not to rely to heavily on the indicated skill level. Instead, scan through the instructions to help determine if you have the skills needed or are willing to acquire them while working on the project.
Expert tip: When scanning the pattern to determine if the skill level is appropriate for you, pay attention to any special stitches or techniques used, the quality of the yarn used (novelty yarns can be a little trickier to work with than smooth yarns), the tools used (smaller hooks and needles, and double pointed needles can be trickier to work with than larger hooks and needles, and straight needles), and the language used (e.g., AT THE SAME TIME, reverse shaping, and as established).
Not sure what the terms mean? On LionBrand.com, the abbreviations at the bottom of the pattern are live links that take you to an explanation of the term in the Learning Center.
For more articles by Kj, click here.
Techniques for binding off are as numerous as techniques for casting on. There are bind-offs that produce firm edges, looser edges, stretchy edges, edges that look like the pattern stitch used, gathered edges, decorative edges, and bind-offs that join two edges together. It is wise to begin by learning a basic bind-off technique to use with your first few projects. After you have completed some projects, you may be in the mood to learn some new bind-off methods.
It can be a bit nerve-wracking to try a new bind-off for the first time on a valuable piece of knitting. Instead, knit a swatch or two and practice the bind-off technique on the swatch(es). Using a swatch to practice provides several advantages; you don’t risk messing up an important piece of knitting, you can unravel and practice again and again until you are sure you have mastered the technique, and you can see and handle the bind-off edge, checking that it has the desired properties, before committing to using the technique.
Before making a swatch, study the variety of bind-off techniques available. Select a technique that is designed to produce the type of edge desired (e.g. firm, loose, “in pattern”, stretchy), and matches your personal style (e.g. Do you prefer two-needle bind-offs? Are you comfortable attempting a sewn bind-off?). Then knit a small swatch in the appropriate pattern stitch and bind off following the steps for the technique selected.
The swatch can be a simple rectangle, or if you would like to practice and compare multiple different bind-off techniques, try our octagonal or square bind-off samplers. The samplers are a great way to practice and to study the differences between bind-offs. Some of the differences are very subtle, others are quite noticeable. Detailed instructions for each bind-off technique appear following the sampler photos. See the previous blog post for details on the different bind-off methods mentioned below.