Many beginner crocheters avoid learning how to read crochet patterns. I heard one maker say, “How does anyone even make sense of all of those abbreviations and punctuation marks? It’s like a whole different language!” Well, you’re not wrong. BUT! I believe you can learn crochet language and tackle any pattern you set your mind to. With this helpful guide, you’ll be on your way to mastering any written crochet pattern.
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There are entire books, magazines, and websites devoted to sharing crochet patterns. But, if you don’t know how to read crochet patterns, you’re missing out on a whole new world of possibility. In this guide, I’ll lead you through the technical (and mental!) skills you should practice to get proficient at reading patterns.
It’s Not Hard, It’s Just New
This quote comes from one of my fairy yarn mothers, Gaye of @GGMadeIt. Learning to read crochet patterns can be especially daunting to new crocheters. On top of learning about yarn, hooks, and stitches, you now have to learn to read what feels like another language. But, the steepest point of this learning curve is at the very beginning.
Once you get over the mental focus needed to absorb the information (the newness of learning a skill), you’ll realize that patterns really aren’t all that hard. No one expects you to learn to read patterns in an hour, a day, or even a week. And you shouldn’t expect that of yourself either.
My best advice for this step on your crochet journey is to go slowly – even slower than you think you need to. Working a hook and yarn flexes different mental muscles than learning to read a pattern, so don’t get discouraged if this part takes you longer than you think it should. Take your time, give yourself some grace, and celebrate your wins!
Parts of a Crochet Pattern
Every designer formats their patterns a little differently, but there are standard sections that should be present in every pattern. Look for these headings when you practice how to read crochet patterns. We’ll use my Jessie Stash Basket pattern as an example throughout this guide.
The pattern title is the name of the design represented in the pattern. Typically found on the first page in the most prominent text, the title can be a description of the pattern (“Ripple Baby Blanket“) or something more whimsical and proprietary (“Autumn Skies Afghan“) depending on the designer’s style.
Images in a crochet pattern serve 2 purposes:
- To “sell” the pattern. Designers will include lifestyle photos of the pattern to make it more appealing to their target audience. This is part of the marketing strategy to sell patterns.
- To clarify construction. Photos in a pattern can also be used as visual queues to the maker if they get hung up on a section. The designer may have close-up photos of tricky sections or an undoctored shot of the finished project so you can better understand how it should look at different points.
The materials section of the pattern explains the exact supplies the designer used to make the sample that you likely see in the photos. It is assumed that, if you use the exact materials mentioned in the pattern and meet the gauge the designer mentioned, you should have the right amount of yarn to finish your project.
- The first bullet is the yarn. In the Jessie Stash Basket pattern, the yarn is formatted as follows: “XXX number yards of [yarn company and name] – [fiber content], XX yards/ XX grams (total balls used). Sample color.” Use this information to find the exact yarn used by the designer OR to substitute yarn using the 3 Step Method. Learn more about the 3 Step Method for Yarn Substitutions in THIS POST.
- The next bullet shares the hook size used. The hook size can be formatted as the metric size (millimeters), US hook size number, or the US hook size letter. I find it beneficial to be able to recognize a hook size by any of these indicators, but, if you come across a hook size explanation that you don’t understand, check out THIS POST for conversions.
- The last bullet lets you know what notions or accessories you might need. This is anything beyond the crochet hook and yarn. Typically you will see scissors and a tapestry needle listed in most patterns, along with things like pom pom makers, locking stitch markers, a tape measure, or any other necessary notions.
// Sizes + Measurements
Size typically represents the finished and blocked dimensions of the piece. In the best-case scenario, a designer will share as many dimensions as possible for the given project. For a blanket, the length and width will suffice. For the Jessie Stash Basket, I shared the finished length, width, and height so makers can adjust the pattern to their needs.
For a garment like a sweater or a cardigan, you may find a full grid of measurements. This grid outlines the different dimensions of the sweater (body length, bust measurements, sleeve opening, sleeve length, etc.) for each size. Remember, these are the FINISHED AND BLOCKED measurements. So, if your work in progress isn’t measuring up to the finished dimensions, you may need to block your project.
Garment patterns will also mention the “ease” the pattern is designed with. Ease is the difference between your actual measurement and the finished measurement of the garment. “Positive ease” means the finished garment will be loose on the body – 4″ positive ease refers to an oversized sweater. “Negative ease” means the finished garment will be more form-fitting – 2″ negative ease refers to a sweater that will hug your body.
Gauge, also sometimes called tension, helps you compare your stitches to those of the original designer. As mentioned above, matching the designer’s gauge (among other things) ensures that your finished project will meet the intended dimensions and use the suggested amount of yarn. It is best to test your gauge by making a gauge swatch BEFORE diving into a pattern. Crocheters have a reputation for ignoring gauge but I strongly suggest you don’t skip this step.
Gauge is not listed in the Jessie Stash Basket Pattern (a conscious decision, considering I wanted to keep the pattern to 1 page), but here’s an example of gauge that we can break down.
4″ = 8 rows x 15 sts in double crochet with 4.5mm hook.
This sentence is saying that to match the designer’s gauge, a 4″ area of crochet fabric stitched in double crochet should have 15 stitches and 8 rows.
To make your gauge swatch, start with a chain that is a few more than what is mentioned in the gauge. In this case, 4″ equals 15 stitches, so I’ll start my tension square with 20 chains, then place a double crochet in the 2nd chain from the hook and each chain across the row, ending with 19 double crochet in a row. I’ll keep working double crochet rows to 10 rows, 2 more than suggested in the gauge.
To measure the gauge swatch, find a 4″ square of stitches that does not include the first or last stitch, or the first or last row. Gauge can get wonky on the edges – measure inside the swatch for a truer representation of your personal tension. Using a rigid ruler or a gauge ruler, determine how many stitches and rows you have within that measurement.
If your gauge is right on the first try, give yourself a gold star – you can move onto the pattern! If you’re like the rest of us and your gauge is off, it’s time to make some simple adjustments and try your swatch again.
- If you have too many stitches/rows in your swatch, try going up a hook size.
- If you have too few stitches/rows in your swatch, try going down a hook size.
// Abbreviations + Terms
You will likely find a list of abbreviations and terms near the beginning of patterns on blogs or patterns that you purchase individually. Books and magazines will have a list of abbreviations at the beginning or at the end of the book that you can reference throughout. The designer will not only share the abbreviations they are using but also what those abbreviations mean in this particular pattern. Each designer has a unique style, so you may see a mix of standard and proprietary abbreviations.
Abbreviations are used in crochet patterns to say a set of instructions in the most succinct way possible. As you get more skilled at understanding abbreviations, the shorthand used in patterns will reveal itself as a full set of instructions in your mind. If needed, write out the long form of the abbreviated instructions while you are still learning.
For a standard list of abbreviations, I can’t think of a better resource than the Craft Yarn Council. Their Crochet Abbreviations Master List lists 60+ common abbreviations and terms you’ll come across in crochet patterns, as well as differences you may find between US and UK patterns and those found in Tunisian crochet. Most of these terms mean something specific (that you can Google or look up on YouTube very easily) while others will be further clarified in the pattern. I have added a list at the bottom of this blog post to clarify some of the common terms you may see.
The Notes section in a crochet pattern is a catchall for anything that has not been said in other sections. Designers may share insight into their writing style, links to helpful tutorial videos or blog posts, or advice that may help you navigate the pattern easier. Suffice it to say – if a designer has seen fit to add notes to the pattern, it will only help you to read them thoroughly.
// Pattern Instructions
Pattern instructions are the actual row-by-row or round-by-round instructions to make the thing you’re planning to make. Note that most patterns start with a slipknot on the hook before making chains (unless the pattern mentions a magic ring or foundation stitches). Starting with a slipknot on your hook is so common that it is often implied and not even mentioned in the pattern.
When reading crochet pattern instructions, look for titles and heading to ground you in the pattern. For example, a crochet sweater might have several different parts (Front, Back, Sleeves, Neckline, etc.). Start by reading the pattern thoroughly, then focus on one section at a time.
// Other Common Sections
While the sections mentioned are found in most patterns, here are a few others that you may come across:
- Difficulty. Project levels, a.k.a. difficulty, are pretty standard in patterns produced by larger companies, but difficulty hasn’t made it’s way into the most patterns written by independent designers. The Craft Yarn Council has done a great job of breaking down standard project levels in THIS POST.
- Special Stitches. Special stitches are the specific way a designer wants a stitch used in their pattern. While “cl” might be the standard abbreviation for a cluster, the designer may list cluster under special stitches with directions on how to make a cluster when it shows up in that particular pattern.
- Schematics. A schematic is an outline drawing of a crocheted piece. The schmatic typically shows the measurements along different angles of the project at a glance. Schematics are especially helpful for garment designs or other 3D projects. They’re great to use alongside the Size/Dimensions listed in the pattern.
You’ll find punctuation alongside terms and abbreviations when you read crochet patterns. Specifically, commas (,), asterisks *, parenthesis ( ), and brackets [ ] are used as shorthand to prevent crochet patterns from becoming too wordy.
Commas are used throughout crochet patterns to separate important information. Think of a comma in a crochet pattern as a pause and a breath. Focus on the information between commas to keep from getting overwhelmed.
- Small (Medium, Large). This use of a comma is an indicator that instructions for different sizes may be separated by a parenthesis OR a comma. Use this as a visual indication of which instructions to use based on the size you are making.
- Round 2: Ch 1, sc 2, 2sc, turn. In this case, commas are used to separate stitch instructions. If I were to read this out loud, I would say “Chain 1, THEN single crochet in each of the next 2 stitches, THEN place 2 single crochet in the next stitch, THEN turn.” A comma is a chance to focus on one instruction or stitch before moving on to the next stitch in the pattern.
Asterisks are used to indicate a group of instructions that are repeated in a row or round. There are two ways you may find asterisks used:
- Row 4: Ch 1, sc 1, *dc 1, sc 1; rep from * across row, turn. In this case, the repeated instructions begin with the * and end with a semicolon (;). Directly after the semicolon are details on what to do with the instructions between the symbols (rep means repeat – repeat from * to ; across row). In this case, you are to repeat the instructions between the symbols until you reach the end of the row.
- Row 4: Ch 1, sc 1, *dc 1, sc 1*, rep from * to * across row, turn. This set of instructions is identical in execution to the instructions above. The only difference is the use of an asterisk to close the instructions instead of a semicolon.
Parentheses are used in a myriad of ways throughout a crochet pattern. The best way to understand their use is in context to the information around them or by explicit instruction from the designer.
Repeats. Parentheses can be used much like asterisks to indicate repeats in a pattern. For example:
- Row 4: Ch 1, sc 1, (dc 1, sc 1) across row, turn. Here, the instructions are executed the same as the 2 examples in the Asterisk section. You repeat the instructions within the parenthesis across the row.
Stitch Counts. You might find a number within parenthesis at the end of the row to indicate the total number of stitches or the total number of a type of stitch that was found in that row. This is helpful, especially at the beginning of a pattern, so you know that you are on the right track. Typically, you will only see stitch counts at the end of the row if the stitch count has changed from the previous row.
- Row 3: Ch 1, 2hdc, hdc in each st across row, turn. (5 hdc). Here, you see (5 hdc) at the end of the pattern instructions. This means that you should have 5 half double crochet stitches in total when this row is complete.
Working Multiple Stitches Into the Same Stitch or Space. Basic crochet patterns typically have you place one stitch in the stitch below. As you get into more advanced stitch patterns, you may be instructed to put multiple stitches into an upcoming stitch or the space between stitches. Parenthesis can clarify what stitches need to go into that stitch or space.
- Row 1: In MR (ch 3, hdc 3, ch 1, hdc 1, ch 1, hdc 3, ch 1, hdc 1), close ring, turn. In this case, the project starts with a magic ring (MR). The stitches within the parentheses should be worked inside of the magic ring before pulling the ring closed and turning your work.
Different Sizes. If a crochet pattern is written for multiple sizes, parentheses can be used to differentiate those sizes both at the beginning of the pattern and throughout the pattern.
- Sizes: Small (Medium, Large).
- Row 1: Ch 111 (135, 171), hdc in 2nd ch from hook and each ch across row, turn. (110, 134, 170 sc) This line of pattern indicates how to start Row 1. 111 denotes the number of chains for Size Small, 135 is for Size Medium, and 171 is for Size Large. When beginning the pattern, choose the size you plan to make and highlight the instructions in parentheses that coorespond with the size you are making. The stitch counts at the end also coorespond to the three different sizes in the pattern.
Though used much less often, you will see brackets in conjunction with or in place of parenthesis depending on the designer’s writing style.
In Place of Parentheses. Use brackets in place of parentheses in the examples mentioned above.
In Conjunction with Parentheses. Brackets are typically used in conjunction with parentheses to shorten a more complicated row of repeating pattern. If you’re familiar with algebra, you may know how parentheses and brackets work in equations. A take on that “order of operations” concept plays out here as well.
- Row 6: Ch 4, [sk next dc, (5dc in next dc, sk 1 dc, sc in next sc, sk 1 dc) 3 times] across to last st, dc in last st, turn. In this example, begin the row with a chain 4. This is only completed once. Then skip (sk) the next double crochet stitch. Complete the sequence inside the parentheses 3 times, then go back to the beginning of the brackets and start all over again until only 1 stitch remains in the row. Place a double crochet in that last stitch.
Common Crochet Terms & Phrases
The Craft Yarn Council does a great job of listing the crochet terms you may come across while you learn how to read crochet patterns, but here’s a list that further clarifies what these terms mean, practically speaking.
|CAL||Short for “crochet along”. This is an event when a group of crocheters works on the same project or different projects with the same goal at the same time. They will periodically share their work with one another based on the rules of the event.|
|Ch-sp||Short for “chain-space”. This indicates the space between stitches that is beneath a chain. If told to work into the ch-sp, insert your hook into this open space and not through the loops of the chain itself.|
|Fsc, fhdc, fdc||Short for “foundation single crochet”, “foundation half double crochet” and “foundation double crochet”. Foundation stitches are worked at the beginning of a project to replace the chain and the first row of stitches. Learn foundation stitches HERE.|
|FO||Short for “finished object”, this is any project that is considered complete.|
|Join||Join is used in a pattern to indicate connecting the end of a row with the beginning of that same row as with working in the round. A designer will indicate the join method you should use. Join can also be used when adding a new color to your project, as with standing stitches.|
|MR||Short for the magic ring, which is an adjustable ring used at the beginning of a crochet project, most commonly when working in the round. Learn an easy method of making the Magic Ring HERE.|
|RS/ WS||RS refers to the “right side” of your work, while the WS refers to the “wrong side”. If you were wearing a sweater, the right side would be the outside of the sweater, that faces the world. The wrong side would be the inside, which faces your skin. A pattern will reference the RS or WS when joining the work, turning the work, or completing special instructions.|
|Turn||Turn indicates rotating your work to look at the backside of the stitches you just completed. If you are right-handed, you crochet rows from right to left. When no more stitches remain in your row, turn your work to begin another row of stitches worked from right to left. You can turn your work clockwise or counterclockwise – it doesn’t matter. Learn about turning your work in my beginner crochet video.|
|T-ch||Short for turning chain. It is common for designers to use a series of chains at the beginning of a row as the turning chains. These chains replace a traditional stitch at the beginning of a row, and you should work into these chains when doing the last stitch in a row. The designer should indicate how many chains count as a turning chain. For example, ch-4 counts as dc + ch 1 means that the chain 4 at the beginning of a row replaces a traditional double crochet AND a chain 1 to follow.|
|WIP/ UFO||Short for work in progress or unfinished object. Refers to a project you have started but not finished.|
Where to Find Crochet Patterns
The only way to get better at reading patterns is with practice. Below are some ideas on where to find a written pattern for your next crochet project. This isn’t an exhaustive list – check Google and Pinterest for additional ideas.
// Online – Direct from the Designer. The best way to support your favorite crochet designers is by purchasing individual patterns and ebooks from their websites. This way, designers do not have to split their profits with any other entity. Join your favorite designers’ email lists to learn about their upcoming designs and releases. Start your pattern collecting journey by browsing my pattern library and joining my email list.
// Online – Marketplaces. Marketplaces are online and app-based resources to find a collection of crochet patterns from different designers and magazines in one place. Marketplaces offer the benefit of browsing hundreds or thousands of patterns from different designers in one place. Some examples are Ravelry, LoveCrafts, and WeCrochet.
// Books. Crochet is experiencing a boom in high-quality, beautiful, and informative books. Many will have helpful crochet instructions in the front followed by perfectly photographed and edited patterns in the back. Look for books with themes related to the projects you like to make, from amigurumi to beginner crochet and Tunisian crochet. Need some books for your new crochet library? Check out this rundown of my favorites.
// Magazines. You can easily find crochet magazines at local yarn stores and big-box stores. Each magazine has its own style and typically caters to beginner-to-intermediate crocheters. Find magazines in stores or check out these ones online – Moorit, Interweave Crochet, and Inside Crochet.