Today I am going to share the basics of reading a crochet pattern. When I first learned to crochet, I didn’t even know patterns for projects existed! If I wanted to crochet something, I had to make it up. However, the more I explored the world of crochet, the more I realized there was too much knowledge out there for me to figure out on my own. So, I began exploring crochet patterns.
When I first started, I was very, very confused. What did the abbreviations mean? Where was I supposed to crochet each stitch? How did I know if I was crocheting it correctly or not? The friend who taught me to crochet did not know how to read patterns either, so I taught myself through trial and error. Fortunately, the more I tried, the better I understood how patterns worked. Today, I can crochet just about anything I find a pattern for because I understand crochet patterns.
The process of learning to read patterns was much harder for me than learning to read my ABC’s. Why? I had no one to teach me! Lucky for you, I’m going to save you the pain of learning through trial and error like I did, and instead walk you through how to read a basic pattern.
Here is a basic pattern I designed for a hot pad. Notice the main categories the pattern is broken into: materials, size/gauge, abbreviations, and lastly the pattern.
First, let’s look at the materials needed. While the materials list is generally self-explanatory, it’s very important. This is where you find what size hook and what kind of yarn to use. Within some limits, you can use a different yarn than what’s listed. At a minimum, you could choose a different color of the same yarn to change it up. However, using a different yarn completely can lead to different results; the finished project may be a different size or undesired stiffness. I know from experience. 🙂
The next thing to notice are the finished size and the gauge. Some patterns may list just one, the other, or neither, but when present, they let you know if you are following the pattern correctly. The finished size tells how big your project should end up.
The gauge is slightly different. The gauge gives a proportion or sample size of how large parts of your project should be. This indicator is helpful for two reasons: it lets you know at the start if you are on the right track, and it tells you if you need to use a different hook. If you are following the pattern correctly but are a different size from the gauge, change to a different hook size than what is recommended. If your project is smaller than the gauge, use a larger hook; if your project is larger than the gauge, use a smaller hook. See? Simple!
The third thing to pay attention to is the list of abbreviations. Not all patterns list the abbreviations, but they are a convenient reference. In all my posts, I use US terms. However, the same names are used in the UK, but mean different things. A US single crochet stitch is equivalent to a UK double crochet stitch. Confusing right? Unfortunately, not all patterns give a heads-up whether it is written in UK or US terms. I’ve had my share of confusion on projects until realizing what I thought was a US pattern was, in fact, a UK pattern.
Finally, we reach the pattern itself!
Before you start following the instructions, it’s a good idea to skim the steps first. This way, you can identify any terms with which you might be unfamiliar. Just like reading a book, blog post, or anything else, you read from left to right, top to bottom. So, let’s start reading!
The first thing the pattern says is “chain 19.” Sometimes the pattern will call these first chains, the foundation chain, “Row 1,” but in this particular pattern I chose not to. So, without further ado, start by chaining 19 stitches.
Next, we read what Row 1 says. It might look a little overwhelming, but if you break the row into small steps and complete each step one-at-a-time, it’s not so bad. Usually, steps are separated by commas, so try looking at everything before the first comma; this says “skip first 3 ch (counts as dc).”
We know “ch” means chain, so we should skip the first 3 chain stitches. Also, it is implied you will have turned the chain you made before starting Row 1, even though it is not explicitly stated. How can you tell? Well, if we don’t turn the work before starting row 1, the chain will be to the right, and we won’t have anywhere to work on the left! So, after turning the work, count 1, 2, 3 chain stitches, and skip them. We are told these skipped chain stitches count as a double crochet stitch, so when we count stitches at the end of Row 1, we call these three chains the first double crochet. Easy!
Let’s look at the next section between commas, which says “dc in 4th ch from hook and in each ch across.” Try not to get lost in the abbreviations. If they confuse you, a handy tip is to print out the pattern and “translate” all the “dc’s” and “sc’s” into full words before starting the pattern. Recall that “dc” stands for double crochet, so the instructions are telling us to complete a double crochet stitch in the fourth chain from the hook (remember, the last part had us skip the first three chains, so naturally we are at the 4th one).
After double crocheting in the “4th chain from hook,” the instructions are telling us to just double crochet in all the remaining chains until we get to the other side.
Our last bit of steps for Row 1 is “turn (17dc).” What does this mean? The turn part is simple. Just turn the work in preparation for the next row so the right hand side is now the left hand side. What does “(17dc)” mean though? While not included in all patterns, this is a handy guide to make sure you followed the steps correctly. This tells us that, when we get to the end of Row 1, we should have 17 double crochet stitches. Remember, the three chains we skipped at the start of Row 1 count as the first double crochet, so really you will have the turning chain acting as a double crochet followed by 16 actual double crochet stitches.
Check it out! You just read and followed the first row of a crochet pattern! From here, we apply the same steps to read and follow the pattern, and keep stitching along. Let’s look at the remaining rows to clear up any remaining confusion.
Row 2 is similar to Row 1, but is clearly less detailed. This time, we start with one chain for our turning chain because a glance at the rest of the step shows we are about to do single crochet stitches. Also note this one chain, the turning chain, acts as our first single crochet. Since we let the turning chain act as our first single crochet, we skip the first stitch from the previous row before starting actual single crochet stitches across. This is like Method 2 of multiple rows of double crochet, which creates square edges.
Then, we are told to “sc 16,” or simply interpreted “single crochet 16 stitches.” When we are given steps like this, it is implied we do one stitch per space below. As stated above, this pattern uses Method 2 of multiple rows to create square edges. When using this method, you will need to crochet the final stitch of each row in the top of the turning chain of the previous row. Patterns rarely explicitly state the final stitch will be in the turning chain of the previous row, but if you stitch across and only have 15 stitches by time you reach the turning chain, it is implied the final stitch will be worked in the turning chain.
Once again, look at the guide that says “(17 sc)” and make sure you have 17 single crochet stitches in Row 2, counting the turning chain as the first stitch. And that completes Row 2!
The remaining rows are quite simple to complete if you carefully work through, step-by-step. I do want to point out two last things.
First, if you look at Row 3, one section set apart by commas says “in bl only.” Our Abbreviation guide tells us bl=back loop, so the phrase could be interpreted “back loop only.” This goes with the next instructions to “sc across.” When completing each single crochet stitch, don’t insert the hook through both tops loops of the previous row. Instead, only insert it through the back loop. From a top down view, the previous row looks something like this: <<<<<< Each “v” or heart shape is a stitch from the previous row. (Not sure how to tell? Watch this video starting around 2:45.) We want to insert the hook only under the part slanted like “/”, not the part slanted “\”. If the instructions said to work in front loops only, we would insert the hook only in the closest part of the “v”.
Lastly, Rows 5-13 tell us to repeat the preceding row a certain number of times. So Row 5 is like Row 2, Row 6 is like Row 3, Row 7 is like Row 4, and Row 8 is like Row 2 again as the cycle starts back over.
There you have it! These are the basics of reading a crochet pattern. It may seem like a lot of information to take in, but the more you practice “reading,” the better you will be at it.
If you are still confused by this explanation, comment below, and I will do my best to answer your questions!