Reading a Knitting Pattern


Knitting patterns are very useful, especially if you’re not creative enough to write your own (which I am not). In order to make anything more complicated than a scarf or blanket, you’ll have to know how to read one. Today, using snippets from a free pattern I have on hand, I’ll walk you through the basics.

Before I begin, make sure to download your own copy of the pattern to follow along (since I won’t be showing the whole thing, only what I need to in order to explain things).

On the first page of many patterns, you’ll see the name of the pattern and photograph(s) of what the completed pattern will look like. Obviously yours will look a little different based on your knitting skill (evenness of stitches) and the yarn you choose (fiber and color).

pattern title bar

picture and sizing

Some patterns will also have a chart on this page, showing how much yarn is required for the different sizes available to knit. This is often listed in yards.

The final thing you’ll likely see on the cover page is the gauge for the pattern. I’ll be writing specifically about gauge in an upcoming post, but basically what it means is “stitches per inch.” You need to make sure your gauge is the same as what the pattern calls for, otherwise your finished garment will not be the size you intend it to be.

schematic and gauge

Then we get to the actual “here’s what to knit” portion of the pattern. Many patterns have a range of sizes all in one pattern. You need to decide what size to knit. In this sample, there are over a dozen different sizes; I didn’t show them all in this screenshot because… well, copyright. (You can see the chart for this pattern up above, in the same image as the photograph of the finished sweater). Finding the one you want is rather simple. Just refer back to the first page where it listed out all the sizes, and count how many that is from left to right. So, if you want to make the 6-12 month size, that’s the 1st one inside the parentheses. 

The first thing you’ll see on any pattern is how many stitches you need to cast on. Refer back to this post if you’ve forgotten how to do that. 

Then it will tell you what to do. In sweaters, you’ll usually begin with ribbing of some kind. This just means you go back and forth between knits and purls to create a zigzag fabric. This will prevent the hem and collar from rolling, as stockinette fabric tends to do if left unbordered. 


Depending on whether your sweater pattern is knit from the neck to the waist or the waist to the neck will determine what happens next. In this sample, it starts at the neck and goes down to the waist, so we have to start increasing (adding stitches). Your shoulders are much wider than your neck, after all! The pattern tells you exactly how many stitches to increase. In this particular pattern, it doesn’t give you specific instructions on how to space the added stitches in, so I use this knitting increase/decrease calculator to help me.

Because this pattern is knit in the round, you just knit every stitch to get that beautiful stockinette fabric. There is a garter stitch panel on the sleeves, but the pattern is very clear on where to knit vs purl to make that happen. To make the gradual increases for the shoulders, it tells you to “KFB.” This means “Knit into the Front and Back of the same stitch.” Here’s a great video explaining that in detail.

From here, you just keep going, reading the pattern carefully and keeping track of your rows to make sure everything ends up exactly right. There are several ways to keep track of your rows. I usually use an app on my phone. You can also use tally marks on a sheet of paper or a designated row counter, available at yarn stores. When you get to the specified rows for new instructions, just follow what it says for the next bit. The trickiest part of this particular pattern is separating the sleeves and body, but even that’s not too hard. Just watch this video for extra help.

So, following a knitting pattern is really just reading what it says and doing that. It might seem complicated and overwhelming at first, but it’s not. Just take it slow and steady, and you’ll be fine.


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Choosing a Knitting Pattern


Email subscribers: Please accept my apologies; you’ll be receiving loads of posts over the next few minutes as I finish up my knitting series and get it published. I know I’ve slopped over in November on my “31 Days of Writing” challenge, but I really do want to complete my series. Thanks for understanding!

This is such a personal thing, so there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. I’ll just go over a few short tips on how to find something you’ll love to knit!

Before you dive into admiring and choosing patterns, there are a few questions you have to answer.

What do you want to knit? A sweater? Wash cloth? Mittens? Scarf or hat? The possibilities are nearly endless, but you have to decide before you can find a pattern.

Who will you knit it for? There are some patterns out there that are good for a wide variety of sizes, but most are not. Most patterns will have options for babies, children, or adults. You’ll need to know who you’re knitting for before you can start narrowing down patterns to one of these categories.

What kind of yarn do you want to use? Will you find something from your stash or buy new yarn? If you’re using up your stash, you’ll need to know what weight of yarn you plan to use and find a pattern for that yarn. If you’re buying new, you’re a bit freer in this department.

Do you want to use a free pattern or are you okay paying for one? There are thousands of patterns out there. Some are free, others are not. I’ve used both types, and neither is better than the other. It’s all about your budget and desire to pay for a pattern.

Now that these questions are all answered, you can go to Google and type in the criteria you came up with (“free knit pattern baby sweater,” for example). But better than Google is Ravelry. Ravelry is a website for knitters and crocheters to come and share their projects, patterns, and more. Let me walk you through my preferred way of searching Ravelry for patterns.

The first thing you have to do is sign up for an account. It’s absolutely free, and there are only benefits as near as I can tell (unlike other social media outlets). If you already have one, just log in. Once you’re logged in, click on “patterns” in the upper left of the menu bar. If you know the exact name of the pattern you want, you can type it in to the search bar on this page. If not, let’s explore the pattern browser.

rav 1rav 2

When you click on “pattern browser & advanced search,” your screen will look something like this.

rav 3

All those boxes on the left are where you’ll narrow down your criteria using the questions you answered earlier. Simply apply the answers to the appropriate boxes (availability: free or paid; category: clothing, toys, etc; and so forth), and the patterns will continue to narrow down until you’re left with patterns that meet all of your specifications. At that point, it’s just a matter or browsing through them until something speaks to you.

Next time, I’ll walk you through reading that pattern you chose.


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Knitting 101: Attaching a New Ball of Yarn to a Project


There comes a time in every knitter’s life when a single ball or skein of yarn just isn’t enough to complete the project. I touched on this a tiny bit when I discussed dye lot numbers on the yarn label at the beginning of the month, but now I’m going to go over the way I add a new ball of yarn to a project, step by step.

The first thing to figure out is whether you’re knitting a flat piece or something in the round. If you’re knitting flat, then you’ll have edges, and that’s the best place to attach a new ball of yarn. If you’re working in the round (as I was when I took the pictures for this post), you don’t have the luxury of a edge, so you just have to do the best you can on your piece.

Here’s how to do it. Oh, and for reference, the steps are the same whether you’re adding a new ball of the same color or a new ball of a different color (for stripes, perhaps).

First, make sure to stop knitting far enough in advance that you have a tail to weave in later. This means don’t knit up to the very last centimeter of yarn. Leave a good 6 inches or more to work with.


Get your new yarn ready by pulling out (or off, depending on whether you knit from the inside of the ball or the outside) a reasonable amount of yarn.


Insert your needle into the next stitch, in whichever orientation you need to use for the stitch (knit or purl). Make a loop of the new yarn end by folding it over on itself, leaving a 6 inch (or more) tail. You’ll need this tail later to weave in the end neatly. Loop the folded part over your right hand needle and pull it through the old stitch, just as if you were knitting normally.


Separate the tail and the new working yarn. Knit a few stitches in the new yarn. Stop and take a look at the right side of your work. Do the new stitches look as even as the old ones? If so, great! Tie the old tail (from the expired ball of yarn) and the new tail (which you created when you made that loop to begin this tutorial) together. I like to use a square knot because they feel more secure to me.


All done! You’re ready to continue knitting to your heart’s content – or until you run out of yarn again.


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Knitting 101: Binding Off


Once you’ve cast on and knit for awhile, you’ll need a way to remove the live stitches from your knitting needles so that you have a project you can actually use. Binding off, or casting off, is how you accomplish that.

As with casting on, there are dozens of ways to bind off, but I’m just going to teach the most basic one.

Step 1: Knit two stitches.


Step 2: Insert the left needle tip into the first stitch.


Step 3: Pull the first stitch up and over the second one, pulling it off of the needle.


Step 4: Knit one stitch.

Step 5: Repeat step 3.


Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’re all out of stitches. By pulling the stitches over one another, you secure them so they won’t unravel your work. When you get to where there’s just one stitch left on the right needle, cut your yarn and pull the tail through that last loop, creating a knot to secure it.


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Knitting 101: The Purl Stitch

Oi, I got really behind on this series. I do plan to catch up. I’ll do so by doing two posts a day until I’m current. That will allow me to add enough posts but not totally overwhelm email subscribers. Here’s the next one.


The purl stitch is the exact opposite of the knit stitch. If you remember from yesterday, to make a knit stitch, you have the yarn in back and the needle goes through the old stitch left to right. Purling is a bit more difficult than knitting, but not terribly so. Here’s how you do it. 

First, bring your working yarn between the two needles to the front of the work. The “between the needles” is vital here. If you go over either needle by mistake, you’ll end up with what’s called an “accidental yarn over,” which (when not done by mistake) is a design element that creates a hole in the work (primarily used in lace knitting).

So… bring the yarn to the front of the work. Between the needles.


Insert the right needle into the next stitch on the left needle from right to left. 


Wrap the yarn around the needle counterclockwise (this part is the same) and pull it back through the old stitch. 



Pull the old old stitch off, just like you did when you were doing the knit stitch. 


Now, I mentioned that purls are harder than knits. So why would you want to use them instead? Well, it’s more that you use them also, not instead, because in order to get that “knit” look (the series of Vs, which is called stockinette) while working a flat piece of knitting, you knit the first row and then purl the next, going back and forth. So to get that signature look, you have to know how to both knit and purl.


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Knitting 101: The Knit Stitch


Knitting consists of four things: casting on, the knit stitch, the purl stitch, and bonding off. Yesterday I taught you to cast on, and today we’ll cover the knit stitch.

When you use the knit stitch for ever row in a flat project, you get what’s known as garter stitch. Garter stitch is defined by its horizontal dashes and squishy feel. For this sample, it’s what I used.

Special thanks to Seahawk for being my photographer.


Once you’ve cast on, you’re ready to knit. Here are the steps.

Put the needle with the stitches into your left hand and the empty needle in your right hand. Make sure the working yarn (the part attached to the ball) is behind your work, and also that you’ve pulled it under your needle, not over. If you pull it over the needle, you’ll create an extra stitch, which is not what you want to do.


Slide the right needle through the first stitch on the left needle. It should go in through the front and out the back.


Wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the right needle.


Using the right needle, pull the wrapped yarn through the loop. This will move your needle back to the front of the other one.


Slide the old stitch off of the left needle. The new stitch you just created will be on the right needle. Continue in this manner until you get to the end of the row. When you’ve worked all the stitches on the left needle, you’ll be left with a full right needle and an empty left one. Switch the needles and start all over again.


Thats it! If you’ve worked through this tutorial with me, you can officially call yourself a knitter. Tomorrow I’ll teach the purl stitch.


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Knitting 101: Casting On


Before you can start a knitting project, you have to cast on. This just means adding stitches to your needle so you have something to knit. Let’s take a look at how to do that.

There are dozens of ways to cast on, but I’m just going to show you one of them: the long tail cast on.

The first thing you have to do is pull out a fair amount of yarn from your ball. To do this cast on, you’ll use up yarn from both the tail you’ve pulled and the ball. That’s why it’s called the “long tail” cast on.


Next, make a “gun” with your pointer finger and thumb. Drape the yarn over these two fingers with the end of the tail on the thumb side.



Step three is to place a knitting needle on top of the yarn and carefully guide it down so it looks kind of like an upside down A.



Now the magic starts. Draw the point of your needle through the loop on your thumb,


over the loop on your finger,


and back through the thumb loop.


Pull your thumb and finger out of the yarn and tighten it around the needle – not too tight or it will be hard to knit the first row. You have now cast on the first two stitches.


Repeat these steps for each additional stitch you need to cast on. Only the first one creates two stitches; every other cast on repeat will add one stitch to your needle.

Keep practicing this today. Tomorrow I’ll be back with a tutorial on creating the knit stitch (and a review and giveaway that you won’t want to miss, especially if you have small people in your life!)


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Knit vs. Crochet

Knit and crochet have a few things in common and a lot of things different. Let’s talk about crochet first.


Crochet hooks and fabric

Crochet is done with yarn and a single hook. This hook can be any number of sizes (just like knitting needles, as I discussed earlier this month). The size of the hook will determine the size of the stitches. Crochet has dozens of different types of stitches, and they each look a little different. Building them on top of one another allows you to make things like hats, blankets, scarfs, and more. Because of the way the stitches lie, the fabric you create crocheting often takes on a chevron-type feel, even if the edges are perfectly straight.

Knitting is done with two needles, and the fabric you create is much thinner and smoother than crochet fabric. When you see a sweater in the store that’s made up of tiny V shaped stitches, that’s knit (although I’m pretty confident the clothes in the store are machine knit).


Knit fabric

Both are essentially looping yarn around itself to make a solid piece of fabric. The way knitting or crocheting differ from sewing is that instead of taking fabric and cutting it into the shape of piece you need to create a garment, you just make the fabric that shape in the first place.

A lot of people say that crochet is easier because you only have to maneuver one tool besides your yarn. A lot of people say that crochet is faster for the same reason. And for these two reasons, I think a lot of people prefer crochet. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that crochet uses up about 30% more yarn than knitting, so your budget may not go as far if you just crochet.

There was a time in my life (when I knew how to crochet but not knit) that I thought people could only really master one of the two crafts. I knew tons of people who could crochet and tons who could knit, but none who could do both. (It turns out my father-in-law can do both, but I didn’t realize that at the time.) Even though I liked crochet, I didn’t love it, but I’d practically resigned myself to never being able to knit because it was one or the other and I already knew crochet. Silly, huh? I’m so glad I didn’t stick to that mantra because I love knitting. I love it in a way I never really did love to crochet. I’m glad I have both skills, but knitting is definitely my preferred craft.

Neither one is better than the other; it’s all a matter of preference. Both have their own kind of beauty (though I vastly prefer the look of knit to the look of crochet, which is why I don’t really do the latter anymore), and both can be very rewarding. I just like the versatility of knitting better – it’s better for a wider variety of projects. If you’re in the “market” to learn a new craft, I recommend knitting. But if you’re worried about being able to handle two needles and the yarn all together, then by all means – try crochet. You can always learn to knit later.


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My Favorite Knitting Resources


During the past several months, since I learned to knit, I’ve found lots of great resources online to further feed this addiction. Here are some of my favorites.


There are really only two YouTube channels I watch with any regularity (at least the knitting/yarn related ones), and each comes with a blog. 

For knitting techniques and tutorials, Very Pink (website here) is my absolute go-to. The host, Staci, is very relatable and her videos are super pro. It’s just the right balance of seeing her face and the cutting away to just her hands during the actual knitting. She posts new videos every Wednesday and a podcast on Thursdays.

For dyeing, I cannot recommend Rebecca from Chem Knits (website here) enough. I found her channel from a YouTube rec, and I’m glad I did. After watching her videos just for fun inspired me to dye my own yarn, and that was a really rewarding experience. Her videos are very sporadic, but have been quite frequent lately, including a lot of live videos. She’s also starting a weekly video series called Dye Pot Weekly later this month.

Other Sources

If videos aren’t your thing and you’d rather read than watch, there are lots great sources, depending on what fancy is.

Knitting Paradise is a forum with a huge membership base. If you ever have a question about knitting, ask it there are you’ll likely have dozens of answers within just a few minutes.

Knitting Help is another one. It’s very similar to Knitting Paradise, but not quite as active. Knitting Help also has loads of “how to knit” videos that I used when I needed a reminder in my early days of knitting. 

Tin Can Knits are my absolute favorite pattern designers. They have tons of hats, mittens, sweaters, cowls, and scarfs, and virtually all of them are sized “from baby to big.” This is unusual in a pattern, but it’s awesome because it means that you can knit a sweater for your baby or child – and a matching one for yourself! In addition to having tins of sizes, each of their patterns is seamless, so when you bind off your knitting, you’re done – no sewing of pieces required.

Finally, Ravelry. This is the knitter and crocheter’s best friend on the internet. It’s a place to find and purchase patterns. It’s a place to offer your own patterns for sale or free. It’s a place to store your patterns as well as those you’d like to knit someday. You can also keep an inventory of the yarn in your stash. This is especially useful if you have a large stash and struggle to remember what’s available. You can also view other projects from patterns you’re considering, which is one of my favorite things to do on Ravelry. They sort those projects by timeline (most recently finished first), but you can also look at them based on which yarn was used. This is especially useful if you know you want to make a pattern but you aren’t sure which yarn to choose. Just hop onto Ravelry, find the pattern, and choose “yarn ideas.”

This list is far from comprehensive as far as knitting resources online, but they’re the ones I gravitate toward most often.


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Teaching Children to Knit


I have this strange desire for my children to share my interests. Maybe it’s not so strange, I don’t know. But it’s there. The problem with this is that I only have sons. And that I’m not particularly interested in things like Star Wars and Legos. I’ve tried teaching them to knit and crochet in the past anyway, with varying degrees of success. Today I’ll share a few of the tips I’ve gleaned from other sources on teaching children to knit.

Don’t force them.

D8E3DD46-FA59-4022-BE38-860DF5094B2EThis is a hard one for me because I really want my boys to learn the craft. But generally speaking, they’re mildly interested at best, but not at all interested more often. Forcing children to do something they don’t want to do, as any parent knows, usually just makes things worse.

Sit next to them, not across from them.

An adult has the ability to understand opposite hands a lot easier than a child. So when you take an adult knitting class, you might find yourself sitting across from the instructor, and you know you need to do the opposite of what you see, but children have a hard time mimicking that way. It’s best to sit next to them while you’re showing them what to do so they can see the actions the way they actually need to be performed.

Help them with their work. Don’t try to show them on your own needles and yarn.

5D6BD3EA-8D5B-4127-BDBC-C72C6C2F3955This was the hardest part for me to figure out. When I took my class, the instructor had her yarn and needles, and each pupil had theirs. She showed us by doing it herself. When I tried to teach Munchkin (11 now, but we started when he was 9) to knit following this method, it didn’t work out so well. He could cast on just fine, but struggled to actually knit. When I held his hands and guided them in the proper motions, he had a lot more success.

If your child is younger, you might even do part of the work for them on a fairly regular basis, especially in the beginning. With Small Fry (5), I cast on for him, and then taught him how to put the needle through the stitch. I then wrapped the yarn, but taught him to pull the yarn back through. This way, he was doing 2/3 of the work (and so still learning), but by not having him work the yarn he didn’t have to learn (yet) the most difficult part of knitting: manipulating yarn and needles together.

Keep it simple.

While knitting boils down to just two stitches (knit and purl), they can be combined in dozens of ways to make stunning garments. But when you’re first learning, it’s best to work for a long time on just the basics. When teaching a child, I recommend letting them work with just the knit stitch for a long time. Knitting is easier than purling, so make the, very comfortable with knitting before you add in purls. 

Ultimately, there’s not really a right or wrong way to teach them to knit. These tips are just some I’ve come across online and in my own experience with my boys.


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