Knitspeak: An A to Z Guide to the Language of Knitting Patterns

Knitspeak: An A to Z Guide to the Language of Knitting Patterns

by Andrea Berman Price, Patti Pierce Stone

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This handy guide unravels the mysteries of terms, symbols, and abbreviations to make pattern reading easy for knitters of all levels.

Knitting can be a challenging craft, but even more challenging than knitting itself is the cryptic language—a mix of abbreviations, numbers, jargon, punctuation marks, and other symbols—in which patterns are usually written. It’s no wonder so many beginners (and even some whose skills are quite advanced) are intimidated by the bewildering code—or that so many yarn-shop owners grow frustrated by the amount of time they must spend deciphering patterns for the uninitiated.

Enter Knitspeak, a knitter’s dictionary that disentangles the mysteries of pattern language and translates it into plain English, helping knitters to easily transition from confused to confident. Andrea Berman Price’s essential guide—written in a friendly, reassuring tone and formatted for quick reference—begins with an overview of how knitting patterns are organized. It then offers a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all the abbreviations, words, phrases, and symbols typically encountered in patterns.

Knitspeak’s many easy-to-understand drawings clarify basic and not-so-basic needle techniques, and a series of sidebars deals with issues ranging from keeping track of simultaneous shaping to substituting yarns and reading a yarn label. The book’s appendix is filled with valuable tips, charts, and worksheets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453220788
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 345,015
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

Andrea Berman Price is a Washington, D.C.–based project manager employed by government agencies and nonprofit organizations to organize complex programs. A lifelong knitter, she also teaches knitting workshops in the D.C. area. She holds a BA in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and an EdM from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Andrea Berman Price is a Washington, D.C.–based project manager employed by government agencies and nonprofit organizations to organize complex programs. A lifelong knitter, she also teaches knitting workshops in the D.C. area. She holds a BA in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and an EdM from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Read an Excerpt


An A to Z Guide to the Language Of Knitting Patterns

By Andrea Berman Price, Patti Pierce Stone, Linda Hetzer, Melanie Falick

Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Andrea Berman Price
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-2078-8


Pattern Reading Basics

If you are new to pattern reading, you may be confused by the ways letters, numbers, and punctuation are combined in a sentence. If knitting patterns seem more like computer code than craft to you, you are not far off. Knitspeak is a series of logical, linear operations. The instructions build line by line, like a code that tells a computer what to do, step by step.


Sentences in Knitspeak are like commands and most often start with a verb and then describe the details of the command.

Here is an example of a phrase you might find at the beginning of a sweater pattern:

In Knitspeak:

CO 48

Work k2, p2 rib for 2" (5 cm), ending on a WS row.

This is what it would look like written out:

Cast on 48 stitches

Knit 2, purl 2, and repeat that sequence for the entire row. Continue in knit 2, purl 2 rib until the piece measures 2" (5 cm) from the cast-on edge. Make sure the last row you worked was on the nonpublic side of the garment, the one that will be on the inside of the sweater when it is worn. You should be ready to knit a right-side row (the public side) at the next line of instructions.

Pay attention to closing statements like "ending on a wrong side row" because the next set of instructions will assume that you will be starting from that point. Or you might find a closing statement like "Increase 7 stitches evenly across row (98 stitches)." This is a reality check, i.e., when you have finished increasing, you should have 98 stitches. This way, you can check your work before you go any further.


Commas, asterisks, and parentheses are used to set apart repeated actions that are part of a larger set of instructions. Here is an everyday example that may sound silly, but it shows how a simple action would be translated into the syntax of Knitspeak:

An everyday example:

Make a shopping list. Bring it to the store. Go through the aisles, *find item, put in shopping cart, repeat from * until all items on your list have been loaded into the cart.

Here is a similar example in Knitspeak:

Cast on 60.

*Knit 4, purl 6, repeat from * to end of row.

Do not be put off if you cannot visualize the result in your head the first time you encounter this kind of sentence in a pattern. Sometimes you have to take it one line at a time, and trust that when you see how the knitting develops, it is likely to make more sense.


A pattern can be divided into parts for a clearer understanding.


Sometimes the photo of the item will help you figure out the instructions. For example, a sweater photo may help you understand the intended fit, neckline style, and sleeve type, as well as how pieces are attached to each other once they are finished.


This section tells you the sizes for which instructions are given. Letters like S, M, L, and XL may be given or the sizes may be given in finished measurements only. If the sizes are given as S, M, L, and XL, always check the finished measurements also, as the pattern writer's idea of a certain size may not match yours. If only one measurement is given for a sweater, it will be the chest/bust measurement. The measurements given are the finished measurements of the garment, which are typically larger than the actual body measurements of the intended wearer. The difference is called EASE.


This section tells you what kind of yarn, needles, and notions you need for the project. If you cannot find the yarn indicated in the pattern, you can substitute another one that is similar. Finding the right yarn requires an awareness of the properties of different yarns and a sense of artistry, as well as good judgment. See Guidelines for Substituting Yarns on page 192.


This section tells you at which gauge you need to knit—that is, how many stitches and rows per inch of knitted fabric—in order to create an item of the desired size. To knit at the specified gauge, you may need to use needles larger or smaller than the pattern's recommended size. For more on this topic, see Gauge on page 81.


A set of instructions may be given in a separate box for a sequence of stitches that make up a pattern. The instructions may direct you, for example, to "Knit in Pattern A for 4" (10 cm)," so you would follow Pattern A in the box for that section. The same stitch pattern may also be shown on a chart.

In addition, notes may be given on how the project is constructed. These notes may be general or specific, depending on the pattern writer's style and the complexity of the project.


Instructions can be given row by row in prose; they can be visual, with schematics, charts, and photos; or they can be any combination of these elements.

Some people need to visualize how an item is taking shape before they can understand written instructions. Others work better by reading line by line and watching the item develop as they go. If you prefer visuals and your pattern has few, try using graph paper to sketch out the directions. If you prefer prose, but the pattern has a lot of charts, you may want to write out the instructions line by line.

At the beginning of the instructions, the pattern may list notes that apply to the entire pattern. Don't hesitate to make additional notes on the pattern to make it more understandable.


The section on finishing (or "making up") describes how the project will be assembled once the pieces are complete. It is important to read this section before you begin, as it may have implications for the way the project is knitted.


A chart is knitting directions shown in a grid format using symbols (for which a key is usually given) instead of words. See Guidelines for Reading Charts on page 55.


Often patterns include a diagram—called a schematic—showing the shape and finished measurements of the pieces of the project. For more on this topic, see Schematic on page 149.


Patterns sold individually usually include a list of the abbreviations they use. Most books and magazines contain a list for the publication as a whole. While some abbreviations are in common use through most parts of the industry, many are not standardized. This book contains explanations of the most commonly used abbreviations. Always review the abbreviations list and key that come with a pattern, as the definitions they contain will naturally supersede those in this book if they are different.


Directions for different sizes

Patterns are often written so that one set of directions covers several sizes, which can result in long strings of numbers that are challenging to read. Parentheses are used to separate instructions for the smallest size from additional sizes. See ( ) Parentheses on page 26.

Directions for similar pieces

Sometimes pattern writers save space by giving instructions for two similar pieces at the same time, such as a sweater back and front. The directions are given in their entirety for the back and, for the front, will say something like "Work as for back until piece measures 17" (43 cm)." You will then find specific instructions for any section of the front that is different than the back.

Directions where shaping is reversed

Many patterns give the entire set of instructions for one side of the front of a cardigan or a neckline, and then direct you to reverse shaping when working the other side. In a case like this, if you feel the need for more specific instruction, you can write out the reversed instructions for the second side, line by line, or you can create a SCHEMATIC on graph paper to help you visualize how the shaping will go on the other side. For example, suppose the left front is worked first, with instructions like "dec 1st at neck edge every 4 rows 14 times." This means decreasing at the end of right-side rows. To reverse shaping for the right front, you'd decrease at the beginning of right-side rows.

Directions for several sizes or gauges in fill-in-the-blank format

Some patterns are written out in sentences, but blank spaces are left in places where you need to fill in the correct number for the size or gauge you are making.

Here is an example of a fill-in-the-blank type of layout:

Back of Sweater
Women's Sizes


Cast on ____ stiches 72 76 80
work in knit 2, purl
2 ribbing for 2" (5
Increase ____ stiches 0 1 2
at the beginning of next
2 rows.

In this example, you would cast on 72, 76, or 80 stitches (depending on your size), then increase 0 stitches at the beginning of each of the next 2 rows for the small size, 1 stitch for the medium, and 2 stitches for the large.


As in any language, Knitspeak contains words that mean different things depending on context. For example, you might tell a friend that you are sitting on the front porch knitting, when in fact you are knitting and purling. In this case you are using the word knitting in a general way. At the yarn store, you might ask a knitting teacher, Should I be knitting or purling in this section? In this case, you are using the same word to mean making a knit stitch. To get around this, many patterns use the word work instead of knit. To work means to make stitches; these stitches could be knit or purl. For example, work in knit 1, purl 1 rib means to alternate knitting and purling in the same row. For more on words with multiple meanings, see Knitspeak Doublespeak on the next page.

Knitspeak Doublespeak

In Knitspeak, as in any language, words can have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Following are some common examples.


1. To create fabric using knitting needles, as opposed to a crochet hook or a loom

2. To create a knit stitch, as opposed to a purl stitch


1. The set of instructions for creating a knitted item

2. A combination of stitches that creates a certain knitted fabric, as in stitch pattern


1. One loop of yarn on your needles

2. A way of manipulating the loops of yarn on your needles—for example, a knit stitch, a purl stitch, or a yarn over

3. Another way of saying stitch pattern–for example, Seed stitch and Stockinette stitch are the names of two stitch patterns Seam

1. As a verb, seam means to sew up

2. As a noun, the seam is the place where two pieces are sewn together


1. To tuck the ends into the wrong side of the knitting

2. A technique for securing long pieces of yarn (called floats) when working with more than one color in a row

3. Techniques for joining two pieces of knitted fabric

Right side

1. The outside or public side, in contrast to wrong side or nonpublic side

2. The right side, as opposed to left side. When used in this sense, right side refers to the wearer's right side, not the viewer's right side


Some information is not included in patterns because the pattern writer assumes the knitter knows these things or will apply her or his own creativity to the work, or because there isn't enough space to include every detail. Experienced knitters have a good sense of where to add and alter, but beginners and intermediates may not even know that options exist.

This book includes many of these tips and tricks in the alphabetical listing of terms beginning on page 25.

To get you started, here are some of the most common assumptions:

Bind off in pattern unless otherwise indicated

Patterns do not always specify, but for best results, bind off in the pattern you are working. In other words, if you are working a pattern of knit 2, purl 2, either knit or purl each stitch before you bind it off, just as if you were continuing to work without binding off. For more bind-off tips, see page 46.

Knit separately means add in a new ball of yarn

To knit two sections separately, you have to add in a new ball of yarn so that each section may be knit from its own ball. For example, add a new ball at the base of a V-neck so that you can knit the right front and the left front of a sweater at the same time, alternating one row in one section from its ball with one row of the other section from the other ball. See At the same time.

Finishing techniques are employed throughout the knitting, not just at the end

There are techniques that knowing knitters use to make their finished products look great and fit well. Some of these finishing techniques must be planned at the beginning, such as working increases and decreases a couple of stitches in from a piece's edges to leave smooth edges for easier seaming. Some designers include these techniques in their patterns as a matter of course while others give only the basic requirements and leave it to the knitter to decide whether or not to include these niceties.

Block the pieces before sewing seams

Most patterns simply say sew seams. Before you sew, however, you should weave in any ends that you are not going to use to sew seams. Then block each piece to the size and shape shown in the pattern's schematics, to ensure the finished garment fits correctly. Blocking also tames curling edges, making the seaming process easier. See Block.


At times, you may not think a pattern makes sense. However, if you follow the directions as they are written, your confusion will probably resolve itself as you see the design take shape. For the most part, a pattern represents the pattern writer's best thinking on how to make the item. Patterns are tempered, however, by available publication space, by publishing conventions, by the designer's personal preferences, by preconceptions of the knitter's abilities, and by other factors. For this reason, as you become more accomplished you may see alternate approaches. You may decide to look upon patterns not as mandates that must be followed, but as guidelines from which to depart.


If you have diligently tried to follow the directions as written, but you are still confused, it may not be your fault. Look on the publisher's or designer's website for a list of corrections to errors in the pattern, called errata. If you search the Internet you may also find knitters who have worked on the same project and are able to help you.


Following are some tips for keeping track of what you are doing while you are knitting. Pick and choose the ones that you think will be helpful on a project-by-project basis.

To keep track of the number of stitches you are casting on

Weave waste yarn in a contrasting color into your knitting as you cast on. This is especially handy when you are casting on a large number of stitches. Cast on 10 stitches, then lay the waste yarn over the working yarn from front to back, leaving a short tail in the front of the work and letting the rest dangle down the back. Cast on another 10 stitches, and bring the yarn to the front again. Continue moving the waste yarn between back and front every ten stitches as you cast on so you get a horizontal line of waste yarn that marks off your stitches in groups of ten. Once you have cast on and checked that you have the right number of stitches, pull out the waste yarn.

To keep track of the number of stitches in each pattern repeat

Place stitch markers at the end of each repeat of your stitch pattern—for example, if your stitch pattern repeats every 12 stitches, then place a stitch marker after every 12th stitch. Note that some lacework has stitch sequences that cross over repeat boundaries, in which case you may have to shift your stitch markers.

To keep track of the number of rows so you do not have to count later

Row counters

Use a barrel-shaped row counter that fits on the needle and move the dial each time you finish a row. Or keep a golf-scorer or kacha-kacha counter close by and remember to change the number every row.

Safety pins

Attach a safety pin to the work every 5 rows as you knit. Then you will be able to count the pins, knowing each represents 5 rows.

To keep track of "special" rows

Sometimes you need to do something special once every few rows—for example, work sleeve increases once every 6 rows, work V-neck decreases once every 4 rows, or cross a cable once every 8 rows. The following tricks can help you keep track of these special rows.


Excerpted from Knitspeak by Andrea Berman Price, Patti Pierce Stone, Linda Hetzer, Melanie Falick. Copyright © 2007 Andrea Berman Price. Excerpted by permission of Harry N. Abrams, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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