How to Read Crochet Patterns

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Learning how to read crochet patterns gives you access to the variety of projects available.
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Sara Delaney guides beginners through learning to crochet in "How to Crochet," from making the first chain to learning common crochet stitches and how to read crochet patterns.

Learning to crochet is fun, inspiring, and easy with Sara Delaney’s clear, simple instructions in How to Crochet (Storey Publishing, 2014). Delaney explains how to understand the structure of stitches, make increases and decreases, crochet in rows or rounds and how to read crochet patterns, giving you all the information you need to be successful learning to crochet. The following excerpt is from chapter 8, “Pattern Reading.”

The final piece in mastering crochet is learning how to read crochet patterns. Unless you are one of the few crocheters who thrive on and embrace free-form crochet style, you are going to want to make garments and accessories based on available patterns, which use abbreviations and other symbolic notations to provide information in a standardized and succinct written form.

This advice on how to read crochet patterns is followed by some basic patterns that you can use to make a few simple projects and try out your pattern-reading skills.

As you may have seen, crochet patterns seem not necessarily to be written in English, or in any other language for that matter. They are written in a series of numbers and abbreviations that allow a pattern to be transcribed with maximum information and minimum text. Always make sure you check the abbreviations and notations in your pattern, and know what they mean before you begin the project. I’m going to try to help you decipher these codes using the following examples, first with patterns in rows, followed by patterns worked in rounds.

Because crochet patterns are like a language of their own, as with any language, you’ll find dialects in different regions with subtle varying differences. When designers write out their patterns, their “dialects” show. The patterns included here indicate a repeat by saying “repeat from * six times more.” This can also be written as “repeat from * for a total of eight repeats,” or as “repeat from * across/around.” Before you begin a new project, take time to read through your pattern to familiarize yourself with the language that the designer uses, so you aren’t confused midpattern when you encounter a phrase or instruction you’ve never seen before.

Important Notations

Asterisk (*). This marks the beginning of a section of the pattern instructions that you will repeat.

Parentheses ( ). There is information between the parentheses about whatever stitch or pattern instructions immediately preceded them.

Brackets [ ]. These are used when there’s a series of stitches that need to happen all together. You will see them in crochet patterns beyond the beginner level. They function the same way that grouped math functions do: for instance, (4 + 2) x 2. You don’t multiply by 2 until you have finished the equation in the parentheses. Bracketed crochet instructions are handled the same way; for instance, [3 dc, ch 3, 3 dc] in the next ch-3 sp, means that everything within those brackets happens together in the next ch-3 space.

Most Common Crochet Abbreviations

Most patterns include the abbreviations that you need to know to complete the project. You can also find a comprehensive list of crochet abbreviations through the Crochet Guild of America or the Craft Yarn Council.

ch chain dc double crochet
hdc half double rs right side
sl st slipstitch sc single crochet
sp space st(s) stitch(es)
tr treble crochet ws wrong side
yo yarn over    

Patterns for Rows

For practice following instructions in a pattern that is worked in rows, review the instructions below for making a single crochet swatch. Now, compare those instructions with the most common crochet abbreviations table, which shows (in the first column) what you would generally expect to find in formal crochet instructions and (in the second column) a breakdown of what’s meant—a “translation”!

When you are beginning to work with patterns, it can be helpful to write these instructions out in longhand for yourself, but keep the original pattern handy. The more often you reference the pattern as written, in its highly abbreviated state, the sooner the language of crochet patterns will begin to make sense to you. Remember, just as when you took the very first steps in learning to crochet, it takes time, patience, and practice to learn how to read crochet patterns.

Single Crochet Practice Swatch

Typical Pattern Translation
Set up Ch 11 Set up Chain 11; this is your foundation chain of 10 plus the turning chain for single crochet.
Row 1 Sc in 2nd ch from hook and in each st across. (10 sc) Row 1 Work 1 single crochet in the 2nd chain from the hook and 1 single crochet in each chain across. (10 single crochet stitches total)
Row 2 Ch 1, turn, sc in each st across. (10 sc) Row 2 Chain 1 and turn the piece over; work 1 single crochet in each stitch across. (10 single crochet stitches total)
Rows 3-10 Repeat Row 2 eight times more; fasten off. Rows 3-10 Repeat Row 2 eight times more. Fasten off the last stitch.

Excerpted from How to Crochet © Sara Delaney, illustrations by © Gayle Isabelle Ford. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.