Learning how to read crochet patterns doesn’t have to be a hassle, and you’ll be SO glad you did!
Have you ever done something the same way for a lot longer than you needed to, just because it’s the way that worked for you at first?
I do this with driving, and usually it works out well, but sometimes I find out after months and months that there is a far quicker way to get where I want to go. It’s one of those things that makes you think “I wish I had just looked for this sooner”.
From what I’ve heard in forums and with talking to other crocheters in person, many of us tend to fall into this same trap when it comes to following written patterns. Many times a new crocheter will learn their basic stitches by following videos(or by learning from a friend or teacher, which is even better) and build up their skills by learning visually. They keep going back to Youtube or to tutorials that rely heavily on pictures, sticking to patterns that are available in one of those very visual formats or that they are able to figure out on their own.
And while video/pictures are invaluable for learning new skills online(I really am grateful to live in a time when we have such a wealth of those resources) many great patterns are simply not available in those formats. The truth is that photos and videos take longer to create than a simple written document or pdf pattern, so not all pattern creators make them. Taking the time to learn written patterns(and even graphs, which I will cover in another post) will open up a huge world of available patterns to you.
After sharing a few more thoughts on patterns in general, we’ll get into some detailed strategy for making written patterns your new favorite thing. Plus, if you want to speed up your learning here, be on the lookout for updates for my crochet patterns course!
Reasons to Learn Patterns
As I just pointed out, learning how to follow written patterns will benefit you just because of how many designs are published as just written patterns. While video tutorials for complete projects are wonderful, they are really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the wonderful patterns that very talented designers have made available.
Another reason to read patterns is that it frees up your availability to crochet. What I mean by that is that while it can be very helpful to follow along with a video(especially when learning something new) it usually requires most or all of your attention. This is because you generally need to watch the video to benefit from it.
Again, this is great while you are learning something new, but when it comes to using techniques that you are pretty comfortable with, it is often more enjoyable to crochet and also soak in what is happening around you. At least, this has been my experience.
Getting to the point where crocheting can take place while listening(to family, to a show or podcast, or to nothing at all) is really where it becomes a lifestyle, and that is difficult to do while following a video.
And finally, one more quick reason to get comfortable with written patterns is easy access and storage. If you are in a situation where internet access is limited, then written patterns will be easier to pull up online than streaming a video. In the same vein, written patterns also have more options for organization(you can print them out or easily organize the files on your computer/phone) and they will take up less storage space if stored digitally. Overall, you have more mobility with patterns that are written or typed out.
Reading Patterns Step By Step
Below we will really get into the “technical” parts of reading crochet patterns with lots of abbreviations and other elements. First though, let’s acknowledge that these patterns require a slightly different mindset than “normal” reading.
Following written crochet patterns is a bit like following a recipe. Usually a pattern will start with some preliminary information like the materials you will need and the specific abbreviations you will run into(I’ll give you plenty of those below to get you started).
But, the actual instructions of a pattern don’t necessarily need to be read all at once. Sure, you can read the whole thing for context, but if you aren’t yet comfortable with written patterns in general it can easily get overwhelming.
Instead, I suggest that you approach the pattern as a “step-by-step” reader. Reading just far enough to know your immediate next step will keep you from getting overwhelmed.
For example, if a row of crochet starts with “ch5” then I would probably just stop right there and chain five stitches(which is what that means). Afterwards, I can see what comes next and what “chunk” of instructions makes sense for me to crochet before looking again.
The key is to not bite off more than you can chew. Sometimes one you will need a little extra context for the pattern to make sense, and you’ll need to look at the instructions a few times to just read one row, or one repeat of stitches. Sometimes you’ll realize that the instructions you just read are too much to remember at once, so you break it down into smaller pieces.
As you practice, the average amount that you can mentally follow from the pattern at one time will probably get larger. It really does just take practice and some trial and error, but it’s worth it for anyone who want to get better at the craft and have and remove the limits on what patterns you can use.
So with more of a step-by-step mindset, let’s look at more abbreviations that you’ll likely see in many patterns.
Written crochet patterns generally make use of lots of abbreviations. This is a practical way for patterns to take up less space on the page(or screen) when there may be quite a few rows/sections of directions to get through. It’s also very convenient for taking notes or writing up your own patterns, because it takes less time.
While this shorthand can certainly look very intimidating, it can start to make sense in just a matter of minutes. The key, again, is to take things one step at a time.
If you already know how to do the stitches that you are seeing in a written pattern, and if you have a list of abbreviations handy(or just keep this article open for reference) then you will have an advantage. If you are still very new to crochet and try to read through some abbreviated directions and learn how to work the stitches, then the progress will be slower. Please don’t let this discourage you if it’s something that you want to try!
Here are some of the more common abbreviations. You can click some of these to find more information, and also see more in this master list.
Sc- single crochet
Sc2tog-single crochet two together
In addition to abbreviating stitches, you probably noticed that many abbreviations can be used for common crochet “operations” that are part of the directions, such as increasing and decreasing.
“Parenthesis, asterisks, and brackets” —What different punctuation means
In addition to abbreviating stitches and directions, certain punctuation marks are used to indicate more information in a pattern. Good patterns will attempt to make punctuation use clear from the beginning.
Here is an overview of how I have seen punctuation used.
Periods and Commas
Periods and commas are mainly used the same way they are in everyday writing. I just want to point this out because in the midst of all the other abbreviations, symbols, and shorthand you might just question if a period or comma means anything extra.
In my experience and when writing my own patterns, commas and periods help to break up the pattern in logical places. This helps us to take things one step at a time and keeps the pattern from looking too much like a never-ending line of code. Different designers may choose to place commas and periods in different places. In my own opinion, the exact placement doesn’t matter as long as it helps the pattern make more sense. Allowing the reader to focus more easily and helping them decide where to stop and start when we reference the pattern.
Colons are used in some patterns to separate the name new row or section with the actual directions, much like I am doing in this list. Instead of just writing “Row 1 start with 3 dc” it reads easier to see “Row 1: start with 3 dc.”
Parentheses are often used to show repeated sets of stitches in a pattern. Right after a repeated set, a pattern should make it clear how many times those stitches get repeated. Alternatively, stitches inside of parentheses may all get worked into a single stitch but not get repeated right away.
Parentheses can also be used at the end of a row(sometimes at the end of every row) to show the number of stitches you should have or to point something else out as a sort of side note.
Brackets are often used around repeated patterns too, instead of parentheses. However, sometimes a pattern has smaller repeats inside of a larger pattern that also gets repeated. When this happens in a pattern, often parentheses are used around the “inner” set of repeated stitches, and brackets are used around the larger repeat(kind of like a math problem).
Asterisks can also be used around repeated patterns, and also to show footnotes in a pattern.
Before You Go
With all of this abbreviated information, learning to read crochet patterns can certainly seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be though! Patterns really can become clear with time, and the more you practice taking one stitch at a time, the easier it will get.
Now if you would like to have some help learning to follow patterns more quickly, keep an eye out for Pattern Confidence, which is my course specifically dedicated to teaching you how to read patterns. I show you how to be more confident through demonstrations and bite-sized practice. I actually work up swatches in the course videos and show you where I am in the pattern throughout the process.
Pattern confidence is closed right now, but will be opening up again soon. Even if you have to practice a little at a time, going through this course and the pattern confidence workbook(which is included) will give you confidence that you are really doing the right things at the right times.
Be sure to pin this so that you can find it easily later, and sign up for my emails if you’d like to hear more from me or get notified when Pattern Confidence opens again. And please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions! I would love to encourage you as you step into this big wide world of patterns.
Keep the crafting delightful,