How to read patterns- Part 1

Knitting from a pattern can seem daunting to a beginner knitter, it is a bit like learning a new language. In this series of posts I will cover all the basics of how to read and interpret a pattern, hopefully so you can chose the right pattern for you, and feel confident enough to start something new! If you still have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments 🙂


One of the most common problems people seem to encounter when knitting is that it doesn’t turn out the right size. Usually this is due to tension, but picking the right size for you is also very important. Have a look at the section of a pattern below, which lists the chest sizes and the actual measurements (the measurement that the garment will turn out to be.)


Depending on the fit of the pattern, the size of the actual measurement compared to the size (called the ease) can be quite different. If it is a baggy jumper it may be 4 or 5 inches bigger, if it is heavily ribbed, it may have negative ease and be a couple of inches smaller than your chest size. In this example there is a quite a lot of ease as it is a loose fitting cardigan. When I help people chose sizes I will often grab a tape measure and hold it around them at the actual measurement to show them visually how big it will be.

The next thing to consider is the “Full length.” This is the measurement from the top of the shoulder to the bottom edge of the garment. If you are taller or shorter than average you may want to measure on yourself where this length will come to. Lots of patterns will give you the option to change this and say something like “work straight until back measures 33cm or desired length” This is where you would shorten or lengthen it to your measurements. If a pattern has waist shaping or something similar, it is slightly more complicated to adjust this, and if you are not confident in doing this I would maybe have a look for a different pattern that would suit you better.

The sleeve length is the measurement from your underarm to the end of the sleeve. Again this is fairly easy to adjust if you have slightly longer or shorter arms as when the pattern says to work to so many inches, instead work to your own measurement.

2. Yarn

The next thing a pattern will tell you is the yarn that is used, and how many balls you will need for your size. If you have decided to adjust your pattern bear in mind you may need more yarn than the pattern states. If you don’t want to use that particular yarn, you can substitute it for another suitable one. Have a look at  a previous post that goes into much more detail on this here.

3. Notions and Needles

Next you will need to make sure you have everything else that is needed for this pattern, needles, buttons, zips, stitch holders, stitch markers, cable needles… A pattern will give you a list of exactly what you need, and it’s always worth checking so you don’t get stuck by not having the right needle to cast on! I tend to buy my buttons after I’ve knitted something but that is just personal preference.

That’s it for this post so it doesn’t turn out hundreds of pages long :p Next time I will cover abbreviations in patterns, how to interpret brackets and anything else I can think of! Let me know if there’s anything you want to see 🙂





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