The main aim of this article is to explain what you should expect from a decent crochet pattern and how to work through it, especially if you’re less familiar with using written patterns.
But it’s more than that. I’ve included how to read and write crochet patterns in the title because, I believe that it’s just as important for designers to think about the journey their reader takes through a pattern. Let’s face it, creating any crochet project is a bit of a journey. From picking the yarn, frogging the bit you got wrong, working away in front of Netflix, right through fastening off that last end.
So, whether you have never used a crochet pattern before or whether you’re thinking of writing one, this is for you. Let’s all get on the same page!
Note that this post gives an overall view on what to expect from a crochet pattern. If you want to get into the nuance of the language used in instructions, then you can read this post on how to read a Dora Does crochet pattern.
Like many people, I learned to crochet from YouTube.
Visual demonstrations were essential for me to get the hang of the basics and understand how a stitch is constructed. It was such a quick and easy way to get started, and continues to help me learn new tricks and techniques to this day.
However, once I learned to read crochet patterns, a whole new world opened up. Before I knew it, I was making more interesting designs and crocheting my first garments.
I’m in a lot of crochet groups on facebook and see so many people who think they can’t read crochet patterns. And it makes me feel sad because I know they can. I know YOU CAN!
If you’ve shied away from reading crochet patterns because you think you can’t and you feel like you’re missing out on some potentially awesome makes because of it then you especially need to hear this:
Sometimes people have a bit of a mental block about certain things; “I can’t read patterns, I can’t cook, I can’t draw, I’m not creative” etc., etc. You have heard (and probably said) at least one of those things in your life – I know I have!
Well, here’s the the good news – you can actually do all or any of those things. You may not be boss level on the first go, but I promise that if you just begin and take it one step at a time, you will be doing it without even realising. And that mental block will turn to dust as you now say to yourself “Oh, is that it? I thought it was more complicated”.
Working from a crochet pattern is not scary – or it shouldn’t be! Just start at the start and follow each step.
I want to add a quick caveat here. To acknowledge that some people struggle with reading in general, whether through dyslexia, visual impairment or other reasons. You would know more about workarounds than I, so my only advice would be to go slow. I would also love to hear any feedback about how I could make my patterns more accessible to you in this respect.
What’s in a crochet pattern?
As I said at the start, the main aim of this post is to teach you what to expect from a quality crochet pattern. I’ll also give you a few tips on how to set yourself up for success.
So let’s get into it with my number 1 piece of advice:
Yes, I know you just want to hook on and get started but I promise this will save you time.
You don’t have to get bogged down in the detailed stitch instructions, but it’s helpful to get an understanding of the overall process and pattern style. This way you understand what’s coming and where extra attention might be needed.
Think of the preamble as having a quick look at the map before you set off on a long journey (the journey analogy is sticking!). Yes you could just wing it and follow the signs as you go. But if you take a wrong turn somewhere, you’re going to end up completely lost with no sense of direction!
Just take that 5-10 minutes to get a good overview of what is involved, so you understand your direction of travel. Look at the map!!
Okay, I think I’ve hammered that point home enough, so lets learn about what it is you should be reading.
The essential ingredients of a quality crochet pattern
- Pattern Notes
- Skill Level
- Measurements / Sizing (Optional Schematic)
- Gauge (and Stitch Pattern if applicable)
- Stitch Abbreviations
- Special Stitches
- The Pattern!
I will go through these one by one, below, but, as you can see, the instructions themselves are just one part of a complete pattern. The rest of the information may seem excessive, but it’s actually vital to support you in successfully completing your project.
Oh and if there’s something you think I’ve missed, be sure to drop a comment or message me. I am quite open to improving my own best practice!
The Pattern Notes
I see this as the cheat sheet to understand a pattern.
These notes should tell you how you will read the pattern as well as explaining the assumptions the designer is making in the pattern itself.
Pattern notes may include a comment like ‘turning chains do not count as stitches’ or ‘instructions in (round brackets) should be worked in the same stitch’. You get the idea?
Dora Does patterns also include notes on construction (e.g. top down, worked in panels, worked in the round, etc.) in this section so that you have some context about where you start and what each section is for.
This is a useful indicator for a pattern to have, but honestly, I find it kind of a subjective measure. (Who knows if they are an experienced beginner or intermediate crocheter?). However, it is important to offer an insight into the complexity of a pattern.
Instead of giving a defined level, I include an overview of the techniques included; working in rounds, working in the back loop, colourwork etc., as well as where modifications can be made for simplification. That way you can decide for yourself!
I hope this one is self explanatory! Some designers keep this to the bare minimum (100g of worsted weight yarn and a 5mm hook), whereas others go into more detail.
There is room for movement here depending on the nature of the pattern (does it need to fit?), but you should always be given an approximate amount of yarn (length and or weight) as well as the yarn weight and fibre content. This allows you to substitute you yarn if necessary.
With respect to notions; some designers are going to just assume you have a tapestry needle and scissors, others will state it explicitly.
It’s useful to have atypical items included here; such as placemarkers, buttons, safety eyes, cushion pads or stuffing. That way you know you have everything you need before you start.
Maybe patience should go on the list for some of the more complex patterns too 😉
Measurements of the finished item based on the given materials should always be present.
This may be a simple length and width measurement or, for garments, multiple measures for bust, length and other body dimensions in a range of sizes.
For more complex patterns I believe it’s also helpful to include a schematic. Crochet is a visual craft and I think schematics are a very useful aid which give you a lot of information very quickly and digestibly!!
A gauge (or tension) measurement should almost always be an essential part of a quality, thought out pattern. If it’s a garment it may also say if the gauge has been measured blocked or unblocked (learn about blocking here).
One of the exceptions is where a pattern works with motifs, like a granny square blanket for example. In this case however, it is still important to give the measurement of each square and acknowledge that this is in place of a gauge statement.
I’ve written about gauge a lot because, simply put; it is one of the biggest success factors in following a crochet pattern for a fitted item. Less so where size doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you want something to fit, you need to keep an eye on your gauge.
I know it’s not glamorous, but like reading the pattern through, it is a huge time saver in the long run!
Sometimes, gauge is given for a specific stitch pattern. In this case, you should also find a description of the stitch pattern (e.g. moss stitch) and or instructions for how to make a gauge swatch using it. For example, make a starting chain of an odd number and follow instructions for rows 1-5.
Making a swatch can be a really useful way to practice a stitch pattern. That way, when you come to make the actual thing, your tension is more consistent and you feel a bit more like you know what you’re doing!
Some designers also include charts at this point. These can be incredibly powerful visual tools (in fact some patterns consist solely of a chart!!).
Hands up who has ever rushed into a pattern, started working their double crochets only to realise, when it looks weird, that you’re actually reading a pattern written with UK terms and they mean a US single crochet?!
We all know there are few absolute standards in crochet. But the good news is that 99% of designers use the same standard terms and abbreviations for stitches (all be it in US or UK terms). So at least we are all reading from the same alphabet!
All the abbreviations used in the pattern should be clearly listed here. If you’re new to reading crochet patterns then this is your map key.
From the abbreviations list, you now know that when the pattern says ‘2dc in next st‘, you are going to work 2 double crochet into the next stitch.
This section is where you would find instructions describing any special stitches used in the pattern.
The definition of special stitches is designers prerogative as far as I can tell. I include anything outside the most basic stitches. For example I give instructions for simple decreases but some designers may assume you know how to do this.
If in doubt a quick google will probably tell you what a particular stitch is and how to work it though.
Tutorials are often helpful in this section too.
It seems like it’s taken a lot of time to get here, doesn’t it?
It was worth it though, because, armed with all the relevant information, now you can just follow the pattern instructions! You’ve read the map, checked the oil and filled the tank…now you just get to put the stereo on and drive! (Did I take the analogy too far??).
To follow the pattern you literally just read the instructions line by line. See what I mean about it not being as complicated as you thought?
Different designers do use different writing styles. One designer may write ‘2dc’ where another might write ‘1dc in next 2 sts’. These two instructions are asking you to do the same thing.
This means it can take you a little while to get used to a particular designer’s pattern ‘style sheet’ (the way stitches are explained).
However, because you’ve read the notes and scanned through the pattern, you already know what they mean!
I want to take a moment to talk about stitch counts.
Stitch counts are commonly listed at the end of the row or round. These are your friend!
In the example given above, (2dc vs 1dc in next 2), you can use the stitch count to verify that you have understood the instruction correctly. Make sure, especially for the first few rows or rounds , you compare your stitch counts with those in the pattern to stay on track.
After the first few rounds, you will get used to the writing style used in the particular pattern you’re working with. But you always have the stitch counts as your security blanket!!
General good practice in patterns
There are a few other useful bits of information which should be included in quality patterns to aid clarity. These may be in the pattern notes and or in the pattern itself. I’m a tech editor as well as a designer so I’m a bit of a stickler for this stuff.
Here are some examples of essential good practice.
- Stitch counts (which we’ve covered!)
- To turn or not to turn
- Do starting or turning chains count as stitches?
- Where does the first stitch of the round go?
- Repeats are precisely explained (especially when you give a specific number – does that include the one you have already worked?)
- How many of each thing should you make?
- Tips on colour work (is there a preferred way to make colour changes for that specific pattern)
- Adjustments (I love to give guidance on how to adjust patterns so you can customise them)
- How to get help
Essentially, any of those moments where you ask, “but do they mean this or that?” should have an answer in the pattern somewhere. If you’re still stuck after reading all the notes, then it’s time to contact the designer for additional guidance.
Advice for garment patterns
I want to add a couple of extra notes about garment patterns.
They are normally written in a number of sizes at the same time. Stitch and sometimes row instructions for different sizes are written in ascending order in brackets. For example; ch40(44, 48, 52, 56, 60), where each number refers to a different size such as S(M, L, 1X, 2X, 3X).
When you start reading these they can feel a little overwhelming, so just take it slowly. I colour code mine by size to help readers navigate patterns (it’s incredibly time consuming but worth it I think!).
Printing and circling and marking patterns off as you go is really helpful (make sure you recycle your paper!). Especially if you’re picking it up and putting it down regularly – it means you don’t forget where you got to!
When you choose your size in garment patterns, have a look a the schematic or measurements to make sure they are suitable. Don’t just assume you are a particular size.
And because I can never say it enough, please make a gauge swatch!
Are all crochet patterns the same?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that there are very few absolute standards in crochet. Different publishers use different formats, and layouts for their patterns. Some use the minimum number of words possible whereas others are more verbose.
Largely print publishers, where space is at a premium use just abbreviations. With digital PDFs and free online patterns, there is room for explanations, tutorials and a more familiar sentence structure.
I love reading other designer‘s crochet patterns and exploring style sheets of other publications when I write for third parties. It’s a great way to learn new ways to explain things.
This applies to you too. The more you work with different patterns, the easier they will be to understand.
I hope you have found this useful and feel more confident about tacking patterns now. Please do let me know if there’s something else you love in pattern that I haven’t talked about.
I will leave you with one final piece of advice: