Knit One, Purl One, WHAT AM I DOING?
June 7, 2010 10:21 AM   Subscribe

k1 p1* 3 rows k2 yo p1 huh?

I cannot make hide nor tail of knitting patterns short of the k, p, *, and bo. And it seems like once I have the terminology down, there's an entirely new abbreviation that pops up. Near as I can tell, there isn't a truly standardized method of writing knitting patterns, leaving people like me lost and confused as to what it may all mean.

Is there anywhere a somewhat definitive explanation for writing out knitting patterns? I joined ravelry and knithelp and both seem to be partially useful in this regard, but only partially. (Also, what's wrong with just writing out Knit 1, Purl 1, Repeat 3 rows? That seems so much easier than trying to guess what someone may mean.)

Bonus Questions:

Is there a good visual guide to learning stitches, various methods of binding off, etc? What simple pattern books should I absolutely own, or should I just try to look around for patterns via Ravelry and other websites?

I'm attempting to make a baby blanket out of 100% wool, worsted weight. Do I really, really need to block it? Really?
posted by zizzle to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Most patterns should have a simple glossary at the beginning explaining the abbreviations for stitches. These can change depending on where the pattern was written (US / UK / elsewhere). It's much easier to read abbreviations after awhile, and it makes the patterns much shorter. Would charted patterns (where symbols are used instead of words) be clearer for you? I prefer them to written instructions.

When I worked at a yarn shop, I directed people to for their videos. Youtube is also very useful for finding video instructions on how to make individual stitches, increases and decreases.

For your blanket -- You don't need to block anything, but depending on the pattern, it can really bring out the stitches (for example, if there is a lacy pattern, it can make it stand out). You'll be washing the blanket anyway (right?), so you might as well dry it flat and maybe pin it in place. That's all blocking is.
posted by OLechat at 10:28 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find this knitting glossary with videos helpful.

Not sure about blocking, because I haven't used wool.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:29 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I enjoy knitting, for the fun of mixing together various colors, and I have faced the same problem. I don't have the patience to follow endless complicated instructions. So my solution was just to never purl. I just knit, and I like the pretty "wavy" yarn pattern that ensues. The resulting scarves and mittens have been pretty and colorful and a source of pride. You can make up your own rules and produce a stunning baby blanket with non-purling, much less all the brain-bending coded instructions.
posted by Dusty Diary at 10:30 AM on June 7, 2010 have really useful videos. As to the abbreviations, most patterns should define anything out of the ordinary. Trouble is, with internationally sourced patterns what counts as 'out of the ordinary' can be difficult to pin down.

Blanket will be at least 30% prettier if you block it, guaranteed*. Give it time to relax in the warmish water and your stitches will magically look much more even and smooth.

* YMMV, but I never regret blocking, only skipping the blocking stage
posted by Tapioca at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2010

As OLechat says, is great (I watch without the sound because the woman's excess chatter makes me crazy, and I basically just want to see what she's doing). There is no one way to write a pattern, and people have their preferences; once I got over being nervous about charts, I realized that I actually prefer them.

And seriously, yes, block your knitting. It's not hard, and it makes things look so much nicer. There's a Ravelry thread that shows just how much of a difference blocking makes (you can also click the "1867 images" link if you'd rather just look at the photos and not read all the commentary).

If the blanket isn't superwash, you'll need to wash it by hand and air-dry it anyway so that it won't felt. You might try string blocking, which is much faster than regular pinning, and makes the edges nice and neat without a lot of fiddling.
posted by runningwithscissors at 10:38 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I taught myself to knit using the videos at knittinghelp.

I like TechKnitter for detailed diagrams of various knitting issues.

Alot of people like this book or this one for basic help. You can look up most common abbreviations in them and get an answer.

I think abbreviations are used for patterns because otherwise they would all be 20 pages long.

re: the baby blanket. No, you don't need to hard-block it with pins. But it will look and feel much better if you at least soak it in tepid water with a tiny bit of shampoo or wool wash, and lay it out to dry. When laying it out, push it and pat it into the shape you want, just to make sure it's relatively straight. No pins needed.
posted by cabingirl at 10:38 AM on June 7, 2010

Data point: I've never blocked anything, ever, and it's always turned out just fine.

I feel your pain about confusing abbreviations. YO is simply wrapping the yarn around the needle once, creating both an increased stitch and an eyelet at the same time. Yeah, I get the feeling that while *'s can be useful in long, complicated instructions, sometimes the writers just use them because they're lazy or showing off.

In any case, the important thing to remember is that the pattern is only a suggestion for you; you are free to ignore it any way you want. You can make the blanket longer, shorter, wider, ignore the clocks on the border use a different yarn, whatever you want. No one is forcing you to follow any pattern, ever. Professional knitters or sewers do not give a dress to someone and say, "well, I had to do it because the pattern said so!"

Hard to say what definitive pattern books are out there since there are a bajillion of them, but A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker and its sequels are very comprehensive and rich.

Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 10:40 AM on June 7, 2010

I taught myself to knit not very long ago, so I feel your pain about the cryptic knitting patterns. That said, it does get easier after awhile, but I admit to actively seeking out patterns that prefer a wordier explanation than knitting shorthand, and when learning stitches, I spend a lot of time with knittinghelp's free videos and Youtube.

Knitty's handy glossary of terms really helped me break into pattern decoding, they also have a ton of patterns, all neatly divided up into different difficulty levels. Most, if not all of them are linked through Ravelry, but browsing through their archives is a different experience than Ravelry.

As for blocking, you don't really need to, but it depends on what you're making and what you want the finished product to look like. If your pattern has a lot of open, lacework, then you'll probably need the blocking to properly open that up and make it look pretty. Even if it's very simple, if you have problems with maintaining even yarn tension, blocking can do wonders for making everything look nice and neat at the end. That said, for unshaped things like blankets and scarves, blocking really isn't a big deal, and I usually skip it, but again, I'm a novice and very lazy knitter.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2010

I second the Knitter's Companion, it's dug me out of countless holes in the past.

If you're the social sort, heading out to a knitting circle or a yarn store will usually yield friendly assistance along with some chatter. I've even been to a few that serve up tea, cookies and bubbly :) And, there are always stories about botched projects, mismatched yarn and neverending projects to bolster your confidence.

Blocking isn't exactly crucial but it has always helped me make my projects look less messy.
posted by oreonax at 10:53 AM on June 7, 2010

You might try finding charted patterns v. those written out. And some designers offer both charts and instructions written out (Cookie A does a lot of her patterns this way, also the Great American Aran Afghan pattern offers both.)

Also, generally speaking, the more patterns you knit, the more those abbreviations will be ingrained in your brain.

And YES! Block your blanket. If nothing else, to wonder at the magic of blocking and witness how much more awesome it will make your knitting.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2010

I started with the Stitch 'n Bitch book as many people do, but found that eventually the best knitting book I own is Maggie Righetti's Knitting in Plain English. Sensible, no-nonsense, smart-ass advice on the basic to the advanced.

Mostly though, I've learned from more experienced knitter friends and from Ravelry forums (mostly just the Big 6). Two of the best things I've ever learned for knitting are stitch markers and lifelines -- stitch markers for keeping track of repeats in a row and lifelines for lace patterns and for even just basic stockinette in case you have to rip back and to have ease of picking up stitches after that.

Block, especially if it's lace, which it sounds like it might be with the yo's in your pattern.
posted by pised at 11:06 AM on June 7, 2010

Visual learner here. When I was learning to knit, for some reason I found the cartoonish line drawings in the Stitch 'n' Bitch books made perfect sense to me, when other guides, videos, and even in-person instruction had failed me.

As for reading patterns - when I first started, sometimes I'd hand-write them on index cards, abbreviations spelled out, one index card per row. It helped for me to break the patterns down into isolated bits that I could focus on for each step.
posted by chez shoes at 11:10 AM on June 7, 2010

The best knitting book I've ever used is the Vogue Ultimate Knitting Book. It's a helpful reference to many kinds of cast-ons, bind-offs, increases, decreases, error fixes, cables, etc, etc. The pictures are very clear and easy to follow and the explanations are good.

I supplement that with various web resources googled up as I need them, but for a new knitter, it'll cover your needs for quite a few projects.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:11 AM on June 7, 2010

I'd pick up one of the books that has a visual depiction of the various knitting stitches, as well as an explanation of the often-cryptic abbreviations. Two I use a lot are Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework (I see this at thrift stores for a couple bucks all the time) and the Ultimate Sourcebook for Knitting and Crochet Stitches.

I got a lot more confident in reading patterns and in knitting itself by making little sample swatches (maybe 5" x 5") of different knit stitches that looked interesting to me. Like so many things, knitting is way easier after you practice a lot.
posted by medeine at 11:13 AM on June 7, 2010

When I run into a new abbreviation (or one I've forgotten), I've had good luck with just typing "knit abbreviation ssk [or whatever]." There are a ton of websites out there that will explain each stitch, some better than others, and some make more sense to me than others on different days and different stitches. I've never found the one site that always makes sense to me. But if the first google result doesn't do the trick, the next one will. I have no idea how anyone ever learned to knit without the internet.

One thing that has helped me with complicated instructions is to rewrite the pattern so that it makes more sense and is easier to follow. I still have to figure out what the pattern means, but I'm a lot more likely to get lost if I'm reading

K4, yf, slip 1, yb, *K5, yf, slip 1, yb,* repeat from * to * until the last 4 stitches, K4

than if I've re-written it as

yarn fwd, slip 1, yarn back
knit5, yarn fwd, slip 1, yarn back (repeat)
knit last 4 stitches
posted by Dojie at 11:20 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Blocking is essential if you are making something out of wool that must hold its shape, or that has multiple pieces that will be sewn/knit together (like a sweater). The process evens out any uneven stitching and gives the yarn some "memory" and shape. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee recently wrote up a post on her blog that has some great points about the process (even though it focuses specifically on when she blocks sweater pieces).

(Note that blocking isn't necessary when you're knitting with acrylic yarn -- it's just for natural fibers.)

Depending on the stitch pattern and what the finished blanket looks like, it might not even need to be blocked. It certainly wouldn't hurt, though.
posted by phatkitten at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2010

I wonder if Knitting Without Tears would make you happier than working with patterns written in the usual way. Maybe check it out and if it does, there's more Elizabeth Zimmermann books, and plenty of groups on Ravelry for people who like self-design, knitting without step-by-step instructions, and stuff along those lines.

Or you could try knitting a bunch of different patterns from the same source, so the writing and abbreviations will be consistent? The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns might be good for that, or the archive at Knitty. Popular patterns like these will probably also have the advantage of having been hashed out on Ravelry forums already, so searching there can be helpful.

I'm suggesting you just pick a source you like and stick to it for a while because I'm not sure it really matters which one it is. A few more: Domiknitrix has great beginner instructions, but I don't use those because I got it later, for the patterns in the back half of the book. A ton of people have taught themselves to knit using Stitch & Bitch. The one book I can't live without is Vogue Knitting, but I don't use that for the patterns; I get my patterns from everywhere and use Vogue for looking up technique stuff that the patterns don't explain.

Knitting with a group of people regularly, if you're able, is also really good for picking up tricks and ideas and having extra sets of eyeballs to puzzle over a confusing pattern.
posted by clavicle at 11:25 AM on June 7, 2010

as for a visual assist in learning new stitches/techniques, search YouTube. I've found lots of useful tutorials there.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:02 PM on June 7, 2010

Actually, there is a standard way of writing knitting patterns. Abbreviations *are* the standard, as otherwise patterns would get unwieldy. Knitting patterns are written in a bit of a code, and you need to learn how to read it. There are a number of guides online, but the one from the Craft Yarn Council is probably as close to canonical as you'll find. You'll probably find it easier to write each step out, at least at the beginning. (And if you do that, you'll maybe see *why* most patterns are written using abbreviations.)

You need a good reference, and maybe even a beginners 'how to knit' book. Forums like ravelry, etc are fine, but everyone should have a good reference book. Doesn't matter which, really. Vogue is good, Reader's Digest is good, Interweave Knits is good, etc. I hate the tone of Stitch N Bitch, but it's a good book. Most knitting magazines and pattern books will have a glossary and a quick 'how to' in them. There's a number of them online, as well (Knitting on the Net, Pick whichever one(s) works for you. Many of them will have tutorials in reading a pattern.

If that's your pattern, yes, you really ought to block a wool blanket. It will be much softer and your knitting will relax. Blocking isn't hard, and it will really make a difference. Soak the finished item for 20 minutes in body temperature water. Add a dash of shampoo/synthrapol/Eucalan/SOAK if you feel it necessary (if you do that, you may need to rinse it). drain the water. gently squeeze the water out. put the blanket on a towel covered surface (floor, large moisture-proof table, whatever). Gently straighten the edges of the blanket, opening up the stitches and the holes. let dry. tada! a much better looking blanket. (I block everything, even acrylic. soaking and drying flat evens out the stitches and everything just looks much better.)
posted by jlkr at 12:28 PM on June 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

Personally, I wouldn't block blankets (unless there's lace involved, or it's not holding it's shape when knitted) or socks. (I don't get why people block socks! They're tight. You block them when you put them on!)

I just got back from a knitting conference were Sally Melville was teaching finishing and basic techniques for self-taught knitters and I found her explanations very useful (although, IMHO, she's a bit too prescriptive: she speaks about the 'right' way of doing things as opposed to the 'standard' way of doing things). You might want to check out her books at your local library.

Finally, you might find some patterns a lot easier to follow if you chart them. I cannot, ever, ever read lace patterns from the text - if the designer doesn't provide charts, I'll chart out the pattern myself because it's just too easy to get lost in the text, especially if there's a lot of instructions in a single line.
posted by Kurichina at 1:06 PM on June 7, 2010

If you just want patterns, then Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns series can't be beat (there are four books in total).

You're right, there's no standardized English-language terminology for knitting patterns. Usually most patterns explain any unusual terminology they use that goes beyond the basic k, p, yo.

My favorite reference book for various techniques, including casting on and bindoffs, is Knitter's Handbook : A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Techniques of Handknitting. I have found it invaluable for learning how to produce knitted items that look professionally finished, and not some badly done craft project.

Wool baby blanket? I would block it.
posted by needled at 1:35 PM on June 7, 2010

I have found Knitting for Dummies to be incredibly useful, both for figuring out patterns and learning new stitches.

The videos at are good, but it's also been helpful to see a static diagram to see exactly where your needle needs to go.
posted by mogget at 2:17 PM on June 7, 2010

My sister is a professional knitting pattern designer/knitting teacher; I'm going to have to plug her blog here:

I'm sure if you dropped her a line through the website she'd be happy to offer some pointers.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:13 PM on June 7, 2010

Thanks, everyone.

The pattern I'm doing for the blanket is 108 stitches, knit 3, purl 3 for pretty much as long as I feel like. The pattern I wrote above is just reflective of more difficult patterns I've seen that I just cannot rap my head around.

I don't think charts would help me that much in understanding patterns, sadly. Maybe in time they will, but not at the moment as I'm not a fan of charts in general to begin with.

The book recs for patterns sound great. I'll probably pick one or two of those up in the next few weeks.

As for blocking, I'm more concerned about time. I've started this blanket about ten times now --- for real, no joke --- because stitches kept getting dropped and twisted and all sorts of badness and then when I finally had a good rhythm going, in true SMKR fashion, Baby Zizzle comes over and removes the needles from the knitting completely using the quick-quiet-ninja-of-destruction method that the thought of having to do one more thing to this blanket if it ever does get done is irritating.

The vote, though, seems to be pretty even in blocking to not needing to block. I suppose it depends if I actually have time as the shower is this weekend and I have at least 20 more inches to do before it will even be a blanket. At this rate I see myself binding off in the parking lot moments before the shower begins. The blocking may have to be a sacrifice.
posted by zizzle at 10:31 AM on June 8, 2010

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