Our technical editor Charles Voth explains the inner workings of written-out crochet patterns.
While some crocheters are more 'visual' and prefer to work from stitch diagrams and symbols, many prefer to follow written instructions, working from text-based crochet patterns.
This skill is learnable by everyone and will be of particular interest to those who like to make vintage patterns. After working through these examples, you should be prepared to pick up any pattern, because you’ll know how to address the preliminary information, the abbreviations and style, and how all the information works together coherently.
When you first study a well-written pattern, try to approach it as you would a recipe. Read it all the way through. Highlight any areas of confusion or items that the designer points out as important.
Most well-written patterns will contain information about the finished piece and what the final dimensions are. These will help you choose you size for a garment, and compare your finished piece to the designer’s results for any item. For garments, there will sometimes be information about the fit or the ease of the item. Which notions other than yarn and hook will be essential to finish the project are listed, as is the quantity of yarn or thread you will need. The hook size or sizes that are recommended to achieve the given tension will also be listed.
This brings us to tension. If the number of stitches and rows/rounds that the crocheter makes using the given hook size match what the pattern indicates, then you have achieved tension. But each of us crochets a little differently, so the given hook size is only a recommendation. If you can achieve the same tension as the designer, then you are set to go, but if not, simply change to a larger hook for fewer stitches and rows per 10cm, or use a smaller hook for more stitches and rows for the same distance.
A Perfect Match
Yarn amounts are very important, as is the information about the fibres that the yarn contains and its thickness. If you cannot find the exact yarn used by the designer, you’ll need to substitute. Try to use a yarn that is similar in weight and fibre content because each type of fibre behaves differently. For example, a metre of DK cotton is substantially heavier than a metre of DK acrylic, and wouldn't work well as a substitute.
The next section of a pattern usually contains information on the tension swatch and how to make one. It’s not a bad idea to try the swatch instructions to get used to any new stitch patterns before tackling the actual piece. However, before you try to swatch, read through all the instructions for special stitches, special stitch patterns, or special techniques. New and non-standard abbreviations will also be explained in these sections.
If you are new to reading patterns, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the abbreviations that are used by each designer or publisher. In some cases, the difference between the UK terms and abbreviations and the American ones can cause some confusion, so be sure to check where the pattern was published. If you can’t find it, there is one give away abbreviation or term to look for: If you see ‘sc’ or ‘single crochet’, you are reading an American pattern and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. Check out our free conversion chart here.
Every designer, yarn company or publisher chooses to abbreviate different words that frequently appear in pattern text, so it’s crucial to look these up too.
➻ A note on Special Stitches
In crochet patterns there are several stitches that consist of groupings of the basic stitches, but these have been used so frequently that they have become stitches in their own right; for example, a bobble, or a popcorn stitch. But not all designers want to settle for familiar stitches and like to explore different combinations of the basic stitches. To simplify instructions, these new or unique groupings of the basic stitches are given a name, like “fan”, or “shell” or “octopus” or “turtle”, and obviously these names are chosen because the appearance of the stitch combination reminded the designer of something. In the pattern text, these unique names are sometimes written out or even sometimes abbreviated to save space; for example ‘sh’ for shell.
Armed with the bigger picture knowledge, you are now ready to forge ahead with the actual pattern instructions.
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