How To Work With A Knitting Pattern, Part Three: The Actual Knitting Instructions

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This post is part of our series on How To Work With A Knitting Pattern. Find all other parts here:

You got through the jungle of information to be found in the pattern notes (need help? This way!), swatched to check your gauge (more on swatching here and on gauge here), chose a size (learn how to here) and now you’re ready to actually cast on? Congratulations, that means you already completed what I consider to be one of the trickier parts of your new handknit! Now let’s get to the best part, shall we?

Starting a new knitting project is nothing short of magical, but navigating through a knitting pattern can certainly take away some of that magic. So to ensure that the process will actually be fun, we’ll walk you through working with the actual knitting pattern! Needles sharp, yarn caked up, ready to begin?

But where to begin, actually? As we covered in previous parts of our How To Work With A Knitting Pattern series, a well-written knitting pattern includes more than the actual knitting instructions. The order in which all additional details such as the pattern notes, schematics and measurements or abbreviations are given may differ from pattern to pattern, but every knitting pattern includes the actual knitting instructions. In our patterns, this part is called “Directions”; it might be titled “instructions” or “pattern” for instance in other patterns. And this is what we’re looking for now that we’re ready to cast on!

So now that we located the part of the document with the knitting instructions, how do actually we read those instructions?

First of all, it might not be your very favourite way to spend the next 10 minutes or so, but I would absolutely recommend reading the instrcutions from beginning to end at least once. You won’t memorise all of them (and that’s not the goal here!), but it will certainly help you get a good idea of how the piece you’ll be knitting is worked, of what happens when, and of parts of the pattern you’ll potentially have to pay extra attention to.

The directions will almost always be split into sections and listed in order of knitting. A top-down pullover for instance will begin with a section that might be called “yoke”, “neck shaping” or “neck & raglan shaping”, while a bottom-up pullover typically start with a “hem” section. Unless the instrcutions tell you to proceed to a section further down or to work from the following section(s) at the same time, you’ll complete a section before moving onto the next one. You don’t always have to – projects where parts are worked individually before or after being joined to others (such as sleeves and body or back and front with most sweaters) can be worked in a different order as well, and some sections (such as waist or hip shaping) can be customised or omitted. But you’ll want to make sure to not leave out any crucial sections! Bonus tip: if you do customise or omit sections, keep track of it on your Ravelry project page or wherever you keep project notes to help you remember should you want to create a similar fit in the future. If you’re using Ravelry project pages and share your notes there, others who browse through projects that have been made from a specific design can benefit from your notes, too!

What’s also very important is to always work the appropriate instructions given for your size (and version, if the pattern you’re using specifies more than one version, such as for different gauges or cardigan and pullover options and the like). Our garment patterns include 8 sizes, written as 1 (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), and this system applies to the entire pattern, meaning that with an instruction such as "k2 (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16)" the position of your size (e.g. 3rd number in brackets for size 4) determines which instructions apply to you (e.g. k8 for size 4). 

Speaking of k8: that doesn’t sound like a term you’d come across outside of a knitting pattern, right? Knitting patterns use their very own language, and what you’ll probably notice about it is that it uses tons of abbreviations. “k” for instance stands for “knit”, so “k8” means “knit 8 stitches”. A well-written pattern will include a designated section that lists all of the abbreviations used in the instructions. It’s typically called “Abbreviations” and can be found after the directions in our patterns. Should your pattern not specify any abbreviations, the good thing is that they usually follow a standard notation, so you should be able to decipher them with the help of general explanations for knitting abbreviations that can be found allover the internet.

Since you’re probably eager to cast on already if you’re reading this part of the How To Work With A Knitting Pattern series, I won’t keep you from your project any longer – happy casting on, and in case you have any questions, as always, you’re warmly invited to ask away in the comments!