The parts of a stitch pattern

These are fairly basic instructions. They aren’t meant to explain how to combine multiple stitch patterns in a single shawl or the fine details of designing something fitted like a sweater, but they should get you started.

Things might change, but I expect this to be a three part series:

  1. The different parts of a stitch pattern and what they mean.
  2. Using a gauge swatch to figure out how many stitches to cast on.
  3. Converting a pattern written to knit flat into one for knitting in the round, and vice versa.

Many modern stitch dictionaries will include a chart, written instructions, and a photo of what the stitch pattern looks like. Some stitch dictionaries will have only a chart or written instructions—either throughout, or for given stitches.

A stitch dictionary will probably also include a glossary of what the stitch abbreviations and chart symbols mean – both the complete words and an explanation.

Important note: there is no such thing as a completely standard set of chart symbols and abbreviations. They vary from country to country and over time, and even some things you take for granted about how charts work will vary. For instance, I’m used to the alternating rows of charts showing the symbols that go with what the stitch looks like on the front – that is, even if I’m knitting flat, and the wrong side row is therefore purled, the even rows will show the symbol for knit. There are charting standards which do the opposite; they show the symbols that go with what stitch they expect to be worked – in this case, purl stitches. If the chart doesn’t match the photo, this might be one reason. Hunter Hammersen has a great set of examples showing how non-standard charts can be.

Below I’m going to show two stitch patterns in the way that I chart and write them. I didn’t make these up. One is a classic knit-purl design; the other is a modified version of the braid stitch from a Mon Tricot stitch dictionary. I’m using them as examples of two major types of stitch pattern, and will use them to point out the parts you can expect to see in my more recent stitch patterns (I hope to go back to the older ones and fix them to add stitch & row counts and keys, but I don’t know when that will happen).

Each of my stitch patterns will usually include a chart, a chart symbol key, notes explaining anything you need to know about the stitch pattern, an abbreviation key, and the written instructions.

Diagonal rib

Diagonal rib

Notes:

  • This stitch pattern is a repeat of 4 stitches and 8 rows.

Abbreviations:

  • k: knit
  • p: purl

Further explanations for this post only:

  • This stitch pattern is a multiple of 4 stitches. This means that if you want to have multiple repeats of it without stopping in the middle of the stitch pattern, you’ll need to cast on a number of stitches that can be divided by 4 (plus selvedge stitches, if knitting flat).
  • It is also a multiple of 8 rows, which means that if you want to bind off after the last row of the stitch pattern, you’ll knit a number of rows that can be divided by 8. This isn’t a stitch pattern where that matters very much, but there are some for which it does.
  • I don’t usually explain RS & WS, though I should: they mean right side and wrong side.
  • This chart and the written instructions assume that you’re going to be knitting flat. Here’s how you can tell:
    • the numbers for the even rows are on the left side of the rows, where you should start reading the chart when knitting.
    • the chart key has both right side and wrong side instructions for stitches. I sometimes only include right side instructions for symbols that will only be worked on the right side.
    • the written instructions have row numbers, not round numbers.
  • The * serves as a landmark in the written instructions for how to repeat the stitches. In this case, the text doesn’t entirely match the chart. Instead, it’s written to be as easy to remember as possible while knitting. In each row, knit up to the part where it says “work from *” and then jump back to the previous * in that row until you can’t work those stitches anymore. In rows 3&4 and 7&8, stop three stitches from the end and work the stitches after the “work from *”.

Row 1 (RS): *k2, p2; work from *.
Row 2 (WS): *k2, p2; work from *.
Row 3: k1, *p2, k2; work from *, p2, k1.
Row 4: p1, *k2, p2; work from *, k2, p1.
Row 5: *p2, k2; work from *.
Row 6: *p2, k2; work from *.
Row 7: p1, *k2, p2; work from *, k2, p1.
Row 8: k1, *p2, k2; work from *, p2, k1.

Here is a somewhat more complicated chart.

braid stitch, both stretched and unstretched
braid stitch, both stretched and unstretched
Modified braid stitch

Notes:

  • This stitch pattern is a repeat of 7 + 8 stitches and 4 rounds.

Abbreviations:

  • k: knit
  • LLI: left-leaning lifted increase; pick up the second stitch below the just-worked stitch and knit it.
  • p: purl
  • p2tog: purl two stitches together as if they were one (right-leaning decrease)
  • p3tog: purl three stitches together as if they were one (right-leaning double decrease)
  • RLI: right-leaning lifted increase; pick up the stitch below the next stitch and knit it.

Further explanations for this post only:

  • This stitch pattern is a multiple of 7+8 stitches. This means that if you want to have multiple repeats of it without stopping in the middle of the stitch pattern, you’ll need to cast on a number of stitches that can be divided by 7 stitches, plus another 8 stitches (plus selvedge stitches, if knitting flat).
  • It is also a multiple of four rounds, which means that if you want to bind off after the last round of the stitch pattern, you’ll knit a number of rounds that can be divided by 04. This isn’t a stitch pattern where that matters very much, but there are some for which it does.
  • This chart and the written instructions assume that you’re going to be knitting in the round. Here’s how you can tell:
    • the numbers for the even rounds are on the round side of the chart, where you should start reading the chart when knitting those rounds.
    • the chart key has only right side and wrong side instructions for stitches.
    • the written instructions have round numbers, not row numbers.
  • The * serves as a landmark in the written instructions for how to repeat the stitches. In each round, knit up to the part where it says “work from *” and then jump back to the previous * in that row until you can’t work those stitches anymore, then stop three stitches from the end and work the remaining stitches after the “work from *”.

Rounds 1 & 2: k3, p2, *k5, p2; work from *, k3.
Round 3: p2tog, k, RLI, p2, *LLI, k, p3tog, k, RLI, p2; work from *, LLI, k, p2tog.
Round 4: k3, p2, *k5, p2; work from *, k3.

It’s actually not common to have a stitch pattern with a number + number notation that’s meant to be worked in the round. I happened to have this one handy from some socks I knit for myself – the remainder of the round was knit in stockinette stitch. I included this one because I wanted one chart without the +number in the stitch chart and because I wanted one that was meant to be worked in the round. This was the most straightforward way to do that.

Next up: Figuring out how many stitches to cast on.

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