Maybe Matilda: CAL :: How to Read a Crochet Pattern, and Crochet Decoder App Giveaway!

Friday, September 16, 2011

CAL :: How to Read a Crochet Pattern, and Crochet Decoder App Giveaway!

(If you're just interested in the giveaway, scroll to the bottom of this post to find it!)

You guys are doing great so far! You've learned the basic stitches (from chaining and single crochets through half double and double crochets) and you're ready to tackle a pattern . . . right? You would be, if pattern directions were written in plain English, which they almost never are. Instead, they usually look something like this:

Ch 20.
1: Dc in 3rd ch from hook and each st across (17)
2: Ch 1, turn, sc 8, ch 1, sk next st, sc 8 (17)
3: Ch2, turn, *dc, ch1, sk next st* to end

Hmmm? Gesundheit?

(I know, I know . . . she's knitting, not crocheting. Give me a break, there aren't that many crochet comics out there!)

The first thing to know about crochet patterns is that they're almost always written with abbreviations, which is a pain to decipher when you're first learning, but once you understand them, it makes pattern reading and writing so much quicker than lumbering through big long descriptions of each step. Here are some of the most common abbreviations that you'll encounter (by the way, I am, as usual, using American terminology; if you use British terminology or think that's what you'll encounter more, click here for a UK term guide):

ch = chain
sl st = slip stitch 
(we haven't covered this one yet; we'll get to it when it comes up in our pattern!)
sc = single crochet
hdc = half double crochet
dc = double crochet
tr = triple/treble crochet
st(s) = stitch(es)
sk = skip
sp(s) = space(s)

So let's tackle that fake pattern I made up at the start of this post and translate it into language we can understand.

Ch 20
Translation Make 20 chain stitches. That's easy enough, right? Just tie a slip knot on your hook, and count the chains as you make them until you get to twenty. (If you need a review, see this post for how to create a chain)
1: Dc in 3rd ch from hook and each st across (17)
Translation Row 1: Work one double crochet into the third chain away from the hook and continue to work one double crochet in each stitch across until you reach the end of your chain; you should end up with 17 stitches. (That translation alone proves how valuable using abbreviations can be--wouldn't you hate to print out a pattern and use an entire ream of paper because each row of instructions takes an entire paragraph to explain?) There's usually a number in parentheses at the end of each row of instructions--or following a dash at the end of each row--which is the stitch count for that row; they mean that when you finish that row, you should have that many stitches, so count as you go (or go back and count once you finish your row) and make sure that the number of stitches you have matches the number of stitches you should have.

2: Ch 1, turn, sc 8, ch 1, sk next st, sc 8 (17)
Translation Row 2: Make one chain stitch, turn your work, work one single crochet into each of the next 8 stitches, chain one and skip the next stitch, then work one single crochet into each of the next 8 stitches; at the end of this row you should have 17 stitches. Sometimes, patterns will instruct you to skip stitches, or to chain and then skip a stitch--this creates open spaces in your work. Just skip the next stitch (or however many stitches it asks you to skip), and continue working as normally in the following one.

Patterns will often include asterisks or parentheses around instructions, like so:
3: Ch2, turn, *dc, ch1, sk next st* to end
This simply saves the pattern writer from having to repeat herself . . . instead of writing the same series of instructions over and over, you are meant to repeat the instructions inside of the asterisks (or parentheses) until you reach the end of the row (or to whatever point they tell you to stop repeating). So, for this example, you would make two chain stitches, turn your work, then work one double crochet in the next stitch, make one chain stitch, then skip the next stitch. Then you would just repeat what's in the asterisk again and again until you get to the end of the row--so after your first double crochet, chain, and skip, you'd work another double crochet in the next stitch, make another chain, skip the next stitch, double crochet in the next stitch, chain one, skip a stitch, etc.

Sometimes, patterns will instruct you to work multiple times into one stitch (just like you learned the other day--increasing!), or work into a ch sp (chain space)--both things we'll be doing when we start our cowls on Monday! I'll include more detailed instructions and pictures on Monday as we all get started on our project together, but the spark notes version of these two items is simple: if the instructions say something like "dc, ch1, dc in same st", or "*dc, ch1, dc* in next st", you'll just work one double crochet into the first stitch, then make one chain stitch, then work another double crochet into the same stitch as the first double crochet. (Again, don't worry about this now--I'll show you exactly what to do on Monday). Maybe on the next row the instructions will say something like "dc in ch sp"--this just means that instead of working your double crochet stitch under one or both loops of the chain you created in the previous row, you'll simply work your double crochet into the opening that the chain created. (Again, don't fret--there will be pictures and more details on Monday when we start our cowls together!)

Sometimes, patterns will require special stitches that are either unique to that pattern (meaning someone invented it just to go with that pattern, so you might not be able to search around and find it online), or are just beyond the basic stitch knowledge. When this is the case, the pattern will almost always include instructions on how to do their special stitch before the pattern begins, or will teach you how to do the stitch once you've already begun the pattern, and will then tell you you've done it by saying, at the end of the stitch, something like "first cluster st made" or "V-st made" (which is always a treat . . . you didn't know you were working on their special stitch until it's already finished!). Don't let special stitches frighten you--9 times out of 10, if you've got a good handle on the basics, you'll have no trouble picking up additional stitches!

If you'd like some extra credit, here are a few more resources on reading crochet patterns from Craft Yarn Council, Annie's Attic, and Crochet n More.

Crochet Decoder App Giveaway!
Have you noticed my newest sponsor's button over there in the sidebar?
Crochet Decoder is an iPhone app from Sugar Coded Apps that is basically a crochet cheat sheet!
It features:

✔Extensive guide to pattern abbreviations
✔Decoder for yarn numbers & weights
✔Decoder for crochet instruction symbols
✔Hook (style to size) converter

How handy would that be for a newbie crocheter, or even someone more experienced, to have as a reference, right on their phone?

And I have TEN free copies of the Crochet Decoder iPhone app to give away! So if you want to win, just enter your email address in the little form below, and I'll randomly pick 10 winners by Monday. A comment on blog posts is always lovely, but does not count as an entry for this giveaway, so be sure to submit your email address below if you want a chance to win one of these useful apps!

We'll be starting our cowls together on Monday (yay! I'm so excited to begin!), so in the meantime, why don't you head over to the Time Out Cowl pattern on Lion Brand Yarn, print it out, and get it all ready to go for Monday? When you do that, maybe you could also breathe a big sigh of relief when you notice that the pattern only has two steps. And you thought you couldn't handle this.

(And take a moment to visit our Crochet Along sponsors! You'll love 'em!)


  1. Se puede conseguir el patrón de la capucha en esquema dibujado? de esta manera se trabaja más deprisa.
    Un saludo.

  2. Awesome! I remember when I first started using pattern my brain went into a crochet coma...but once I figured it out it was so easy to make just about anything! Great tutorial!!!

  3. This is a fun crochet along you're doing. Right now my life is too crazy (moving cross country in t-3 weeks) or I may have joined you. But I wanted to share this with you! : ) It's great!!(

  4. I have two friends, who shall remain nameless, who have finished their cowls already! They are sooooo beautiful!!! I can't wit to finish mine!

  5. I am so happy and surprised that I'm understanding all this! I've been working on my stitches and I can't wait to start our project!

  6. Ahhh! I am so LAME! I didn't read the directions and I FINISHED my cowl!...Oh well I loved the pattern so much I'm making another one for my friend. LoL Wanna see my beautiful first time not screwing up crochet project?? I blogged about it in this post:

  7. Bekah, your cowl is gorgeous! I LOVE your color choice... it may affect my own. LOVELY!


  8. Thanks for the simple explanations! Know I feel like I can tackle a pattern!

  9. I'm an experienced crocheter, but I've never used a pattern of all symbols, only with abbreviations. I'd love a copy of your guide!


Thanks for commenting!

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