How to read a knitting pattern – Learn to Knit for Beginners Lesson 3

how to read a knitting pattern

Welcome to this Lesson 3 of the Learn to Knit for Beginners course.  In this lesson we’re going to look at how to read a knitting pattern.

I’ll also share my favourite place to find  knitting patterns and how to decide if the pattern is right for you.  I’m using the pattern for a knitted scarf that you can find here.  The same principles apply to any pattern that you come across though.

How to Read a Knitting Pattern – where to start

Yarn and Needles

The first place to start when you read a knitting pattern, is the section which describes the yarn and needles that you need.

It will usually tell you how much yarn you need (in yards and/or meters).  I’ve also seen them describe how many balls of a particular yarn that you might need.

Finished item size

Included at the start of a knitting pattern will be details of the finished item.  In this example, there is only one-size.  If you were knitting some kind of clothes, the pattern might have different stitch counts for different sizes.  If that is the case, it will describe here what the different sizes are when they are finished.  This will help you work out what size you need to knit!

Suggested Yarn

A designer will usually suggest a yarn to knit their pattern with.  If you want your garment to look pretty-much identical to their pictures, you should find this yarn.

Often though you want to customise your knitting.  You like the style but want it in a different colour for example.  You might also not be able to find the yarn they reccomend in your country.

If you swap out the yarn for one of your own choice you should pay attention to the sorts of characteristics that yarn has.  For example, if the designer knitted something in a fluffy mohair type yarn, swapping that out for a hard cotton-type yarn might not work.  It might work, but it will change the appearance and feel of the garment.

I’m not saying you SHOULDN’T do that, I love the fact that in knitting you are creating your own custom, “no-one has another like this” garment.  So go ahead and experiment.  Just consider the look and feel of the garment you want to create when you’re choosing your yarn!

Importance of Gauge

The pattern will describe the “gauge” the designer used.  This simply means the number of stitches and rows in a specified measurement.  Gauge is normally measured over either 4″ or 10 cm.

Everyone knits in a slightly different way.  For example some people knit more tightly / loosely than others.  That means that two people who knit the same number of stitches and rows using the same yarn may come out with a different size swatch.

Gauge is important when you are knitting something that is going to be fitted (like a cardigan / jumper, etc) as if you knit to a different “gauge” then your final measurements will be different to those that the designer intended.

How to work out your gauge

A designer may say that a garment has a gauge of 18 stitches and 22 rows in 10cm, in stockinette stitch.  To make sure you are on the same gauge as the designer you will need to work out if you knit the same number of stitches and rows as the designer in the same space.

The designer will also describe whether they have measured the gauge using stockinette stitch or using the stitch pattern.  It’s common for designers to do this using stockinette stitch as it is so simple to count rows and stitches using this stitch.

Gauge will be impacted by yarn weight (size) and needle size.

The only way to do work out your gauge reliably is to knit a swatch.

How to knit a swatch

When you are knitting a swatch, cast on more stitches and knit more rows than you need.  As you’ll remember from Lesson 2, Stockinette swatches will curl at the edges and so you need space to be able to count the stitches properly.

You might also have a situation where you want to count a few different places on your swatch to make sure your gauge it is consistent.

Don’t forget that 1/2 or 1/4 stitches will count when you are measuring your gauge.  For example, if you are 1/2 a stitch out over an 18 stitch sample, when you cast on 100 stitches you will be several stitches too big or small.

How to adjust your gauge

So, you’ve knitted your swatch and its not right. What can you do about it?

The simplest way is to go up or down a needle size.

  • If you have more stitches and rows then the designer specifies, try going up a needle size (or two/three)
  • If you have fewer stitches and rows than the designed specifies, try going down a needle size (or two/three).

Don’t go up or down too many needle sizes as if you get too far away from the needle recommended by the yarn your fabric will start to become too loose.  A couple either way should be OK though!

If that doesn’t work, try a different yarn.

As we saw in this picture from Lesson 2 a yarn may be called the same “weight” but is actually thicker or thinner.

The purple and grey yarns on the right of this picture are both “Super chunky” but the grey one is a lot thicker!


Bonus Patten for Knitted Scarf

Lets look at the requirements for the bonus pattern for the knitted scarf that I shared here.

Chunky Version

This is an extract from the pattern for the chunky version.

chunky capture.PNG

I’ve suggested a specific yarn. James C Brett Chunky with Merino, in a colour of your choice.  If you don’t like this option and want to choose something else that is fine too.

I’ve calculated that you will need 370m of chunky yarn to complete the scarf to the width and length in the pattern.  If you choose to make a longer scarf you will need more yarn.

I’m suggesting you use 6mm needles for this chunky version.  I’ve also provided a gauge “in pattern” for you.  This will give you the opportunity to test the stitch before you get stuck into the scarf itself.

Aran Version

This is an extract from the pattern for the Aran versionAran Capture.PNGI suggest that you use Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, in a colour of your choice for this version of the pattern.  As for the chunky version, if you want to choose another aran-weight yarn that is fine!

I’ve calculated that you need 450m of yarn and a 5mm size needle to get the right size of scarf.  I’ve also provided a gauge “in pattern” for you.  This will give you the opportunity to test the stitch before you get stuck into the scarf itself.

Making a gauge swatch “in pattern”

Firstly, for this pattern it doesn’t really matter if you gauge is spot on.  Its a scarf, you can’t be THAT much out that it won’t still work as a scarf.

Have a go at counting stitches but if you really struggle, don’t give up with the scarf, just give up with the gauge swatch and crack on with the real thing! 🙂

If you do want to have a go at counting the gauge…Cast-on 30 stitches and knit up 30 rows to give yourself room to count.

To count stitches in this gauge, you will:

Look for the Knit stitches and the Purl Stitches.  The Knit Stitches are those ones which are creating that little diamond shape.

To count the stitches, count the diamond and then the space between diamonds, that’s 1 stitch for diamond and 1 stitch for the space between.

For the rows, the diamond is two rows (Knit rows) and the space between diamond is two rows (two purl rows)


Now its time to have a go yourself!

  • Cast on 30-35 stitches in whichever yarn you have chosen. 
  • Knit 30-35 rows, following the pattern. 
  • (Watch this video if you are struggling to understand the pattern)
  • Place a tape measure or ruler on your swatch.  Make sure that the start is lined up with a column of stitches. 
  • Measure across 4″ and mark with a pin.  You could also mark the beginning if it helps you count.  Now count across the stitches in that 4″ space.  Write it down, that’s how may stitches per 4″ you have in your gauge.
  • Now measure up the rows, mark 4″ as before and count how many rows you have in that 4″ space. Write that down.  That is how many rows you have in your gauge.

You should now have your gauge to compare to the one in the pattern.  How close are you?

As I mentioned above, don’t panic if its not exactly the same.  Scarves aren’t fitted enough to matter if your gauge is a bit different.  Just move onto the actual fun bit…the knitting!

Note from me:

I don’t think I’ve EVER knitted something that I am “on gauge” with, I always have to tweak! So don’t panic if you aren’t knitting to the same gauge as the designer.  I know that I tend to have to go down a needle size whatever I do.  Sometimes I just try that first!!

When you feel more confident in knitting, you could even work out what your gauge is then work out which size you should make to get to the measurements you want with that gauge.  This requires MUCH more maths than I like but after much head-scratching and calculating I usually get there!

Other  pattern descriptions

A knitting pattern will often also tell you if you need anything else to make that pattern (for example, you might need buttons for a cardigan or eyes for a stuffed toy).  Its handy to know everything you need before you start so you can make sure you can get it all!

It might also tell you if it is suitable for beginners, intermediate or advanced and whether you have to seam it to finish it off.

Here is an extract of the free scarf pattern “other information”

other options

The final bit of information that you will find useful is the description of the abbreviations used.  Nearly all knitting patterns use abbreviations to describe the stitches.  It would take too long to write “Knit” “purl”, etc each time.

Knitting abbreviations are fairly standard but sometimes you will see a strange one.  Hopefully the designer has described what they mean.  Otherwise…Google!

As you can see, for this pattern the only two abbreviations used are “K” for Knit and “P” for Purl. Simples! 🙂

The Free Knitted Scarf Pattern

The only difference between the two versions of this pattern are the number of stitches you cast on.  Because Aran yarn is thinner, you need more stitches to make it the same width.

Lets look at the pattern itself.pattern detail capture.PNG

Row 1

  • On the first row you will Knit 1 stitch (K1) then Purl 1 stitch (P1) and repeat this Knit 1, Purl 1 sequence until you get to the end of the row.
  • To make sure that you have got there without a mistake, I’ve noted what the last stitch in the row should be.  On Row 1, the last stitch will be a Purl (P)

Row 2

  • You will turn your work ready to start knitting back the other way.
  • This row is the same as Row 1. You will want to make sure that you make a purl “bump” where you see a bump facing you on the row below.
  • So Knit 1 (K1), Purl 1 (P1), Knit 1 (K1), Purl 1 (P1), etc until you get to the end of the row.  The last stitch on row 2 will also be a Purl (P)

Row 3

  • This row alternates with row 1 and 2.  On this row, if you see a purl bump, you will make a knit stitch.
  • So, Purl 1 (P1), Knit 1 (K1) and repeat these two stitches across the row.

Row 4

  • This is the same as row 3.
  • Purl 1 (P1), Knit 1 (K1) and repeat these two stitches across the row.

Row 5, 6, 7 and 8 will be a repeat of row 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

You will keep on repeating these four rows until the scarf is as long as you want it.

It really is that simple.  Once you get into it, this is a really good “TV-Knit”, put on your favourite box-set and knit away knowing that you are making a lovely scarf whilst catching up with the latest Game of Thrones, Gilmore Girls, or whatever else takes your fancy!

How to keep track of your rows?

To keep track of the rows you have done, there are a couple of options.  In the video I suggest a way which involves looking at the rows below to work it out.  If you aren’t feeling that confident (may be best to start off safe!) create a chart that looks a little something like this:


Every time you get to the end of a row – make a mark against the relevant row repeat.  I can tell from this that when I next pick it up I’ll look at the “row 3” pattern line to work out which stitches I need to make.

Where to find knitting patterns

There really is only one place to find knitting patterns on the internet is Ravelry (well there are more but this is by far the best!).

It is a fantastic database of patterns (both free and paid). It has a library feature so you can add patterns you like to your library to save them for later.  I have far too many patterns in my Ravelry library.  Even if it is a paid pattern, you can add to your library for free and you only pay if you purchase it.  A good way to decide whether you really like it enough to pay for it!

It provides you with a place to store details and notes of the projects you are working on, along with pictures too.

Because of this “project” feature, its possible to browse pictures of items other people have made with a pattern. This is great if you’re not sure how it might look from a different angle or whether the designer has made it look better than it really is.  by looking at the real pictures from real people, you might get a better idea whether that pattern is for you!

It also has knitting and crochet forums and lots more!

You will need to register but it is free and I guarantee you that it is worth it!

I’ve listed the Blackberry Hill Scarf Knitting Pattern on there.  You can see it here.  Check it out, add it to your library, etc.  Maybe you might even use it to create your first project on Ravelry!

If you want to find me on Ravelry and have a snoop at my knitting and crochet projects, you can find me here.  I’m always happy to be “friends” with people on Ravelry so please feel free to send me a friend request!

You can also find knitting patterns on websites like “Love Knitting“.  Often they are the same patterns as are on Ravelry though!

If you’re not into “online” (although I guess you are as you’re doing this course “on-line”!)  local yarn shops will sell knitting patterns.  They often have binders full of printed patterns that you can browse before buying.

Now its time to have a go yourself!

So that’s the end of Lesson 3.  Hopefully you should now have a better idea about how to read a pattern and have what you need to start knitting the scarf (if you want to).  If you don’t want to, hopefully you know enough about Ravelry to have a browse for a pattern that you DO want to try.

I am here to help!

Whether you are knitting the pattern I’ve shared, or another pattern, if at any point you have any issues, question, comments, please post them either below in the comments section, or you can find me on facebook here or here. I really am here to help so please don’t struggle in silence. If you are struggling with something, chances are that someone else is too, so think of it as helping them!! 🙂

Please show me how you’re getting on!

I’d really love to see what you’re up and I know you can’t add pictures to the comments on my blog so:

If you’re on facebook – please share them on my facebook page Jo Creates Facebook Page or if you’re sharing them in your own newsfeed, please tag me so I can see what lovely knits and purls you are making!

If you’re on instagram, please post pictures of your knitting practice using the hashtag #learntoknitjocreates.

Join me in Lesson 4 where we will start exploring some of the common mistakes we all make and you might have already made when knitting along with this course so far.  You might as well learn from my mistakes!  I’ll help you with how to spot and correct them before they become problems! 🙂

3 Responses

  1. Lis

    I love these lessons, Jo. Even though I’ve been knitting for decades it’s really interesting to refresh and maybe learn new things (especially after my recent crochet treble trouble!). Must admit I’ve always been very undisciplined at swatch knitting so I’m feeling inspired to give it a proper go. Also to have a look at Ravelry which I’ve never bothered with – sounds good! 🙂

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