Beginners' Guide to How to Read Crochet Patterns

How to Read Crochet Patterns  by Janice Jones   |Published 07-16-2023

Crochet is a great hobby that people of all ages can enjoy. It is a craft that involves making fabric from yarn or thread using a crochet hook. Crochet patterns are instructions that help you create different designs using different stitches and techniques.

For the beginner crocheter, reading a crochet pattern might seem daunting. With the right guidance, anyone can learn to read and understand them.

I will walk you through the basics of reading free crochet patterns in this beginner's guide. Remember that everyone has a different writing style, so you may see differences in patterns from one designer to another.

Granny square crochet swatchHow to Read Crochet Patterns

Introduction to How to Read Crochet Patterns

Before we start, it is crucial to understand that crochet patterns are written in a universal language of abbreviations and symbols.

These abbreviations and symbols describe the stitches and techniques used in the pattern. For example, instead of writing the word "double crochet" every time it appears in the pattern, it is abbreviated as "dc."

Learning How to Read Crochet Patterns:  Step-by-Steps

Parts of a Written Crochet Pattern

Well-written crochet patterns all have certain things in common. Each section of the pattern provides important information, so none should be ignored. They include at least 9 sections of the pattern:

  • Name of Pattern and Pattern Author
  • Materials List including the type of yarn used, amount, and color
  • Gauge
  • Finished Size
  • Difficulty Level
  • Abbreviations and/or Symbols
  • Specialty Stitches, if needed
  • Notes
  • Instructions

Name of Pattern and Designer's Name

The designer is responsible for creating a name for their design, and their name is normally added. This is important in case someone may have a question about it.  

An introctuction to the pattern is often included here.  Often called the "romance,"  it provides a quick description, reason for the creation, and anything else the designer wants to share.

Materials List 

Everything needed to complete the project should be listed in this section. This will include the suggested hook size (given in US and Metric terms), miscellaneous items such as scissors, tapestry needles, and stitch markers, and of course, yarn.

Some patterns also require additional items like pillow forms, pompoms, or purse handles.

The most important material needed for the project is the yarn used. The yarn used is listed by the Manufacture's name and name of the yarn, the yarn weight according to the Craft Yarn Council, the length of the skein in yards and meters, weight in grams/ounces, how much yarn or number of skeins needed to complete the project and the color used often listed as a number and/or name of the color.

Example of Materials List

crochet sample with hook in pueple yarn
  • Knit Picks Dishie worsted weight yarn  (100 g/190 yds):  I skein in color Linen
  • US Size 1/9 (5.5 mm) crochet hook,
  • Tapestry Needle
  • Scissors


The gauge for the stitch pattern is listed as the number of stitches and rows that fit within a 4-inch 10 x 10 cm) square area. Making a gauge swatch before beginning the project is always a good idea.

Otherwise, your project may not be the right size. This is especially crucial if you create something that needs to fit, such as a hat or a sweater.

Example of Gauge Statement: 16 dc and 12 rows = 4" [10 cm]

More about Gauge and how to Measure Gauge

Finished Size

The finished size of the project is often written in inches and centimeters.

Example:  8" x 8" (approx. 20 cm x 20 cm)

Difficulty or Skill Level

The Yarn Craft Council identifies four skill levels: Before 2019, the four Project levels were Beginner, Easy, Intermediate, and Experienced. After 2019, the four levels are Basic, Easy, Intermediate, and Complex.

The changes involved new language that defined what skills were needed based on the project.

Each level describes specific stitches and techniques, such as color changes, shaping and finishing.

Basic Level

"Projects using basic stitches.  May include basic increases and decreases."  You will see projects in this level in one color and in one or more of the basic stitches such as double crochet, half double crochet or single crochet.  Typical projects might include scarves or dishcloths.

Crochet Scarf Pattern

Crochet Headband

A headband created with chrochet using 100% alpaca yarnCrochet headband

Easy Level 

"Projects may include basic stitch patterns, color work and/or shaping." The projects you might find in this category might include simple color changes, combination of stitches in the same row, and easy hat patterns.

Granny Square Projects

Intermediate Level

"Projects may include involved stitch patterns, color work and/or shaping."

Advanced Level

"Projects may include complex stitch patterns, color work and/or shaping, using a variety of techniques simultaneously."

Understanding Crochet Pattern Common Abbreviations

Crochet language may seem very foreign initially, but once you learn a few basic stitch abbreviations, it will feel more comfortable and become second nature. Crochet pattern abbreviations save space and make the pattern easier to read.

Some standard abbreviations for basic stitches you will come across in crochet patterns include: The list of abbreviations will only include the most common stitches. There is a separate category for specialty stitches that may need more explanation.

  • ch: chain
  • sc: single crochet
  • hdc: half double crochet
  • dc: double crochet
  • tr: treble crochet
  • sl st: slip stitch
  • RS:  right side
  • WS:  wrong side

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these abbreviations before working on a pattern. You can find a comprehensive list of crochet abbreviations here.

Find a complete list of crochet abbreviations here.

Crochet Pattern Symbols and Meanings

In addition to abbreviations, crochet patterns also use different symbols to represent different stitches and techniques. These symbols are usually included in the pattern key or legend. Some common symbols you will come across in crochet patterns include:

  • YO: yarn over
  • *: repeat
  • (): work instructions within parentheses as many times as specified
  • []: work instructions within brackets as many times as specified
  • -: work instructions between hyphens as many times as specified

Understanding crochet symbols is essential because it can help you follow the pattern more easily. If you are unsure of what a symbol means, refer to the pattern key or legend.

Specialty Stitches

If the pattern calls of specialty stitches such as bobbles, clusters, or puff stitches, there is normally an explanation and will include abbreviations used.


Cluster Stitch (dc3tog): YO, insert hook in space, YO, draw up a loop, YO, draw through 2 loops. (2 loops left on hook) YO, insert hook back into same space, YO, draw up a loop, YO, draw through 2 loops. (3 loops left on hook) YO, insert hook back into same space, YO, draw up a loop, YO, draw through 2 loops. (4 loops left on hook) YO and draw through all 4 loops.

Pattern Notes

In the notes section, you will find any additional information the designer thinks will be helpful when finishing the project.  For example, you might see notes such as, "All instructions use US terms." (as opposed to UK terms) 

In addition to US or UK terms, you may also see notes on whether the pattern is worked in one piece or it will need to be seamed.  For beginner patterns, you might also see instructions on how to make color changes.

Finally, sometimes you might see how to handle the number of chains required at the beginning of each row.  For example, "ch 3 at beginning of row counts as first dc.  

Example of Pattern Notes

  • All instructions in US terms.
  • Carry colors not used up wrong side of work.
  • Ch 3 at beg of row counts as first dc.

Types of Crochet Patterns - Written vs Charted

Crochet patterns come in two forms: written and charted. Written patterns use words and abbreviations to describe the stitches and techniques used in the pattern. Charted patterns use symbols to represent the stitches and techniques used in the pattern.  It is a stitch diagram that includes everything you need to know to create the project.

Written instructions are great for beginners because they provide detailed instructions on completing each stitch and technique.

Charted patterns are great for visual learners because they allow you to see the pattern as a graph.

Symbols used in Charted Patterns

US verses UK Terms, Crochet symbols infographic

Charted Crochet Pattern

Here is an example of what a charted crochet pattern might appear.  This is a traditional granny square pattern.


Reading the Pattern Instructions - Stitch Counts and Repeats

Once familiarize yourself with the abbreviations and symbols used in crochet patterns, you can start reading the pattern instructions.

Instructions may have one or more parts.  Simple patterns such as a dishcloth have one part.

Instructions for more complex projects may include more than one section.  Take a sweater for example, instructions will divided into parts such as back, sleves, front, collar, etc.

The pattern instructions will tell you whether you will work in rows or in rounds, how many stitches to make, what type to make, and where to make the stitch. 

  • Instructions tell you whether to work in rows or rounds. 
  • How many chains to make initially.
  • Where to make stitches (front loop, back loop, back bump).
  • What type of stitches to make (double crochet, single crochet)

Paying attention to the stitch counts and repeats in the pattern instructions is important. Stitch counts tell you how many stitches you should have at the end of each row or round.

Repeats tell you how many times to repeat a specific set of stitches. If you miss a stitch or repeat, it can affect the overall design of your crochet project.

There are too many instructions to list here, but here are a few you might see frequently:

  • What loop to make the next stitch: back loop, front loop, both loops, back bump of chain
  • Where to place the next stitch:  in the next stitch, in the next chain space, in the row below 
  • How ofte to make stitches:  Repeats


Rather than writing out each row or round of instructions, when there are stitch repeats, certain symbols are used:

  • Astericks: *  * Repeat the instructions between *  * a certain number of times.
  • Parentheses:  () Instructions are worked together in the same space or stitch.
  • Brackets:  []  Repeat the instructions inside the brackets a certain number of times.

Stitch Counts

  • Pattern Instructions often include the number of stitches made in a row or round at the end of line.  Example: (14 Dc)
  • The pattern should tell you if the chains at the beginning of a row count as a stitch. Example:  Ch3, counts as first dc.


Anything needed after you finish crocheting should be included in the pattern.

  • Seaming
  • Weaving in ends
  • Adding a fringe, pompom, or border

Troubleshooting Common Pattern Mistakes

Even the most experienced crocheters make mistakes. Some common pattern mistakes include miscounting stitches, misreading the pattern instructions, and not paying attention to the stitch counts and repeats.

If you make a mistake, don't panic. There are several ways to fix the mistake and continue your crochet project.

One way to fix a mistake is to use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of each row or round. This can help you keep track of your stitch counts and repeats. Another way to fix a mistake is to use a crochet hook to pick up dropped stitches.

How to Read Crochet Patterns:  Conclusion and Next Steps for Your Crochet Journey

Reading crochet patterns may seem intimidating initially, but anyone can learn to read and understand them with practice and patience. Remember to familiarize yourself with the crochet abbreviations and symbols, observe the stitch counts and repeats, and read the pattern notes and special instructions carefully.

Now that you understand how to read free crochet patterns, it's time to start your crochet journey. Start with a simple pattern and work your way up to more complex designs. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. They are a natural part of the learning process.

How to Read Crochet Patterns

If you found this beginner's guid to reading crochet patterns, helpful, you might enjoy some of our other beginner crochet guides.

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