Reading crochet patterns can be daunting for new crocheters. What do all the abbreviations mean? What information is important? There's lots to decipher, and if you try to move too fast or start with a complicated pattern, your confidence (and your project) can take the hit.
Let's walk through how to read a crochet pattern so you can slowly get started with your first project!
Reading crochet patterns: where to start
Typically, the most important thing to consider when choosing a pattern is finding a design you like and are excited to make. But, as a beginner, you need to tread carefully in your selection.
1. Choose a pattern with a tutorial
Many crochet designers want their designs to appeal to everyone, no matter what their level of crochet experience. Some more advanced patterns include photo tutorials either in the pattern or available online. Designers may also put video tutorials on YouTube. Try reading the crochet pattern first and, if you get stuck, refer to the tutorial for help.
2. Choose a pattern aimed at a novice
In the Craftsy Pattern Marketplace (and most other pattern stores online), you'll find that many indie crochet designers categorize their patterns by skill level. Start with a pattern you like that's aimed at a complete novice and download it to check out the instructions.
Take a look at this simple crocheted corner square baby blanket by designer DebElen: It's a simple level-one design that any crocheter can make, no matter how much experience they have. Plus, this FREE blanket pattern includes a proper crochet pattern (though it doesn't have a photo tutorial), so it's ideal for practicing your pattern reading.
3. Choose a pattern with good designer support
Some designers are available to answer questions about their patterns, so if you anticipate some trouble with a project, you might want to choose a pattern from a designer who is supportive of downloaders. Many designers list their contact details, blog and Facebook page along with the pattern and are happy to help you with questions as you are making your project.
If you'd like to practice pattern reading using one of my free patterns, this Crafternoon Treats flower could be perfect. I'm Crafternoon Treats on Facebook and Instagram and will be happy to help if you have any questions!
Get Started With Crochet Today
Learn how to crochet a chain, single crochet & double crochet.
How to read a crochet pattern
Once you've downloaded and printed your pattern, don't rush in with your hook waving and yarn ready. Sit down and actually read. Look at all the information that is there and make some notes if you think that will help.
Most crochet patterns have these sections:
- About the pattern or pattern notes
- Yarn, materials and notions needed
- Information on gauge, tension and/or sizing
- Abbreviations used
- Any special stitches used
These all give very useful and often crucial details that you need to know before you start. Let's dig into them a little more.
Check which crochet terms are used in the "About" section
One thing that confuses beginners (and even more experienced crocheters) is the international differences between crochet terminology in the U.S. and the U.K. Make sure the pattern you are using is written in the terminology you are used to — the pattern should state which terminology it uses in the About section, the Pattern Notes or with the stitch abbreviations.
Today some designers, myself included, are offering patterns with instructions in both U.K. and U.S. terminology. For example, my popular mega granny mandala (available on Craftsy) is very well tried and tested and includes both versions of terminology.
Also, note that some designers phrase patterns slightly differently: One might write "4ch" to indicate making four foundation chains, while another designer might write "Ch 4." Once you know the abbreviations, it should be easy to follow despite the slight differences.
Yarn, materials and notions
Double check that you have all the yarn you need before starting out. Different balls of yarn with different batch numbers can have a variation in color and can spell disaster for a one-color project such as a sweater.
Understanding gauge and tension
Not familiar with gauge and tension? You can learn about why they're so important in the Craftsy class Save Our Stitches: Fixing Crochet Mistakes.
If you are making a scarf or motifs for a blanket, matching the designer's gauge isn't usually essential. However, if you are making a garment or something that needs to be a specific size, you need to crochet a swatch to check your gauge. Usually a pattern will say something like:
14 sts = 10 cm (4"); 7 rows = 10 cm (4") in double crochet using a size G hook (4mm)
To make a gauge swatch for this, you'll use your G hook and the yarn you intend to use for the project. Make a few more chains than you need for the total stitches listed (in this case, 14). I did 20 for my swatch. Then work at least 10 rows of double crochet to finish the swatch.
Next, you'll measure the swatch of fabric you just crocheted. To measure your gauge, use a ruler to check how many stitches along the row fit into 4 inches (or 10 cm). Then check how many rows fit into 4 inches (or 10 cm).
After measuring, you may find that you need to adjust your gauge to meet the designer's noted gauge:
- If you have more stitches and rows than the gauge guide suggests, go up a hook size or half a size. This will help you crochet more loosely and meet the required gauge.
- If you have fewer stitches and rows than noted, go down a hook size or half a size to tighten up your gauge.
Swatching can be a bit of a pain when all you want to do is get going, but doing a second gauge square to get your sizing absolutely correct will save hours of time (and the cost of yarn).
Get to know your abbreviations
Reading crochet patterns is a bit like reading another language to start with — and one that's written in loads of abbreviations. It is tricky at first, but soon the shorthand language will become second nature. In the meantime, bookmark these reference tables or this stitch glossary to check as you move along with your pattern.
Practice any special stitches
If the pattern mentions a stitch that you have not done before, check the pattern instructions and practice on some spare yarn first. If you find it difficult, check online to find a tutorial so that you feel confident doing the stitch.
Practice reading "pattern language"
Of course, understanding the information at the beginning of a pattern is the easy part — it's actually going through the pattern that can be so tricky.
To help you understand pattern language, let's walk through a traditional granny square (Note: Granny squares are worked in the round. Check out this free guide if you haven't worked in the round yet.)
The pattern language is in bold, with the full explanation and a photo below that.
Round 1 RS: Start with yarn A. 4ch then join with sl st to form a ring. 3ch (counts as a dc). 2dc into the ring, then 1ch. *3dc into ring, 1ch* rep 2 more times. Sl st to join. Fasten off yarn A.
This round is worked on the right side (RS). Using yarn A (your first yarn color), make a foundation chain with four chains, then make a slip stitch in the first chain to form a ring. Make 3 chains, which count as a double crochet stitch. Work 2 more double crochet stitches into the ring. Then make a chain. *Make 3 more dc stitches into the ring, followed by a chain.* Repeat this last step (the steps noted between the asterisks) twice more. Fasten off your yarn.
Round 2: Turn and work on the WS. Join yarn B into any ch sp, 3ch. 1dc, 1ch. *In next ch sp: 3dc, 2ch, 3dc, 1ch.* Rep 2 times. 3dc, 2 ch, 1dc in first space then sl st to join, fasten off yarn B.
Flip your work over so that you're working Round 2 on the wrong side. Join your second color of yarn into any chain space. Make 3 chains, 1 dc stitch and 1 chain. *Move onto the next chain space and work 3 dc stitches, 2 chains and 3 more dc stitches, and then one chain one.* Repeat that last step (the steps between the asterisks) into each of the next 2 chain spaces. When you reach the first chain space, work 3 dc stitches, 2 chains and 1 dc to complete the first corner. Close the round with a slip stitch into the top of your 3 starting chains. Fasten off your yarn.
Round 3: Turn to work on RS. Join yarn C into any corner space. 3ch, 1dc, 1ch. *3dc into the next ch sp, 1 ch. 3dc, 2ch, 3dc, ch into next corner sp.* Rep from * to * twice. 3dc into next ch sp, 1ch. 3dc, 2ch, 1dc into first corner sp. Sl st to join. Fasten off yarn C.
Turn your work so you are working on the right side again. Join your third color of yarn into any corner space. Make 3 chains, 1 double crochet and 1 chain. *Then in the next chain space, make 3 double crochets followed by 1 chain. At the corner, work 3 double crochets, 2 chains and 3 double crochets, followed by a chain.*
Repeat the instructions in between the asterisks two times. Complete the final side by making 3 double crochets into the next chain space. Chain 1. Complete the final corner by making 3 double crochets, 2 chains and 1 more double crochet. Join the round to the top of your starting chains with a slip stitch. Fasten off your yarn.
Wow — that's getting long! You should see by now why patterns are written in this funny, abbreviated language!
Here is the pattern and photo for rounds 4 and 5. I'll bet you could write out the long versions for yourself if you tried!
Round 4: Turn and work on WS. Join Yarn D into any corner sp, 3ch, 1dc, 1ch. *3dc, 1ch into next 2 ch sp. 3dc, 2ch, 3dc, ch into the next corner sp.* Rep. from * to ** twice. 3dc, 1ch into next 2 ch sp, 3dc, 2ch, 1dc into the first corner sp. Sl st to join, fasten off.
Round 5: Turn and work on the RS. Join yarn E into any corner sp, 3ch, 1dc, 1ch. *3dc, 1ch into next 3 ch sp. 3dc, 2ch, 3dc, ch into the next corner sp.* Rep. from * to ** twice. 3dc, 1ch into next 3 ch sp, 3dc, 2ch, 1dc into the first corner sp. Sl st to join, fasten off.
Time to get started (finally!)
At this point, you're probably ready to get going. If you are still having problems, try writing the pattern out in full in your own words. If you really stuck, you can also ask other crocheters, the designer or any fellow members of Facebook groups for help. In a Craftsy class, the instructor will answer any questions you post, too.
Get Started With Crochet Today
Learn how to crochet a chain, single crochet & double crochet.