How to Read a Knitting Pattern

A beginner’s guide to finding and reading your first knitting pattern!

The knitting world is full of terms and abbreviations that can stop any beginner in their tracks. While the linguistic learning curve for knitting isn’t quite as steep as, say, a spontaneous European vacation (no Duolingo required), there are a solid handful of words and abbreviations you’ll need in your back pocket before you get started. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know before you pick out your first pattern.

Picking Out Your First Pattern

A brief online search for knitting patterns will bring up thousands of results — enough to overwhelm any newcomer. When reading a new pattern, you’ll have to do your best Sherlock Holmes impression to notice certain clues about the pattern. We suggest looking for these three important aspects:

  • What size of yarn does it suggest to work with?
  • What size needles do they specify?
  • What gauge do they suggest?
  • What knitting techniques are they using? 

Looking for more information on yarn and needle sizing? Check out our blog on the basics of knitting.

Once you’ve gathered the correct materials for your pattern, it’s time to get started! Reading a knitting pattern can sometimes feel like reading a foreign language — with several keywords, abbreviations and shorthands to describe its processes. You could spend hours studying what all the terms mean, but we want you to get to the fun of knitting as soon as possible!

Similar to a kid at the library, when starting out as a knitter — you’ll need to find patterns that work your skill level. Here are some of the most common and basic terms to familiarize yourself with:

  • CO:  Cast on (the process of beginning a project by looping your yarn around your needles to create stitches)
  • K: Knit a stitch
  • K2tog: Knit two stitches together
  • M: Marker (a small, often-circular object used to track progress on a pattern)
  • P: Purl a stitch (the purl stitch is another common stitch)  
  • PM: Place marker (instruction to insert a marker into the fabric you’re knitting)
  • R: Round (used to denote which round you are knitting on in circular knitting) 
  • St/s: Stitch/es
  • Tog: Together
  • Rep: Repeat

Knowing these terms is a great place to start for your first few projects. These are all included in our recommended beginner hat pattern.

Looking for more information on how to make a knit or purl stitch? Check out our blog on the basics of knitting.

Once you’re ready to move onto more advanced projects (like our favorite baby pullover sweater!), feel free to find fun patterns that add a few additional terms and skills each time, in order to not overwhelm and slow your momentum as a new knitter! Some more advanced terms to familiarize yourself with:

  • BO: Bind Off, a.k.a. Cast Off (the process of completing a project, or a portion of a project, and ensuring that your stitches don’t unravel)
  • BOR: Beginning of round
  • Dec: Decrease
  • M1: Make one stitch (sometimes appears as “M1K,” for “make one stitch knitwise,” or “M1P,” for “make one stitch purlwise)
  • RS: Right Side (the front-facing portion of a non-reversible project, where the pattern looks best)
  • Sl: Slip
  • SM: Slip Marker (instruction to move a marker onto your needles)
  • WS: Wrong Side (the “back end” of a non-reversible project, where things look a little messier)
  • Yb: Yarn back
  • Yfwd (or Yf): Yarn forward 
  • Yo: Yarn over

Remember: this is a start, but it’s hardly comprehensive. You might encounter all kinds of lesser-used abbreviations on your knitting journey, or more specialized knitting symbols that combine and remix terms from the list above.

Try, Try Again

At the risk of sounding like a camp counselor, remember the first rule of knitting: it’s supposed to be fun! As you experiment with different patterns, techniques, yarns, and needles, keep in mind that mastery takes time — and any skilled knitter worth their salt will tell you they’ve torn out and restarted their fair share of projects. You’re not alone on your journey to become a knitter — we at SunnyDayFiber are here to help! We love to help new knitters — feel free to ask us a question on our site, or send us an email and we will try our best to get right back to you.

Have fun and good luck!