Common Knitting Terms and Abbreviations Used in Patterns Explained

By Janice Jones     |Updated 1-25-2023

Knitting terms and abbreviations can seem like they are from a different language when you are first getting started, but after learning a few of the most basic terms, it will all make sense. 

When you first explore a knitting pattern, you will notice that much of it looks like a long line of abbreviations.  That is what it is. Symbols and letters represent words or phrases that give the knitter the directions they need to proceed. 

Most knitters would prefer to knit rather than read long paragraphs of instructional material, so abbreviations make their work much more manageable.  Don’t worry. It might seem like hieroglyphics now, but soon it will make perfect sense.

A desk with an assortment of knitting tools and yarnsKnitting Terms and Abbreviations

Knitting Terms and Abbreviations:  Examples from Real Patterns

Let’s take a real-world example from a simple knitting pattern for beginners

Row 1 (RS) K1, *p1, k1; rep from* to end.

Breaking down this first line from a real pattern:

  • RS - Right Side
  • K - Knit (in this example, you would knit one stitch)
  • * or an Asterisk means to repeat the instructions after the asterisk as many times as indicated.  You may also see the words rep from instead of the asterisk or parenthesis.  All mean the same thing.
  • P - purl (here it means p1 stitch)

So, if this line were written out in its entirety, it would read, “Starting with row 1, which will be your right side, knit one stitch.  Next, purl one stitch, knit one stitch, repeat this knitting pattern, and purling one until you reach the end of the row.

So, you see that using abbreviations makes sense so that the patterns can be printed with less paper, and there is a lot less reading that needs to be done.

Knitting Terms and Abbreviations (in alphabetical order)

Here are some of the most common abbreviations you will encounter

  • approx - approximately
  • beg - to begin, beginning
  • bet - Between
  • BO, bind off or Cast Off - Means to take stitches off the needle in a way to create a neat finished edge
  • Cast on or CO -Cast on means to add stitches to the needle before beginning to work.  There are several ways to cast on.
  • cc - Contrasting Color
  • cont - continue
  • cn - Cable needle
  • dec -   decrease
  • dpn or dpns - double point needles
  • foll - follow(s)
  • inc  - increase
  • in/cm/mm - inches/centimeters/millimeters
  • K - knit stitch
  • k1B - knit stitch in row below
  • K2tog - Knit two together (meaning insert the needle into two stitches and knit them together as if it were one stitch, which is a common way to decrease the number of stitches on the needle; it is a right-leaning decrease, and the mirror image of the SSK.
  • K3tog - Knit three together (same as k2tog except you would be picking up three stitches together instead of two)
  • Knitwise - Insert the needle into the stitch as if you were going to knit the stitch
  • kfb or kf&b -  Knit in the front and then the back of the same stitch. It is an easy way to increase a stitch and leaves a horizontal purl bump under the increased stitch.
  • ksp - knit 1 stitch, slip this stitch from right needle to left needle, pass second stitch on left needle over first stitch and off left needle. Lastly, return stitch to right needle, single right leaning decrease
  • LH - Left Hand
  • lp(s) - Loops
  • M1 - Make one stitch knitwise, single knit increase
  • M1R - make one right; single right-leaning knit increase
  • M1L - make one left; single left leaning knit increase
  • Oz/g - ounces/ grams
  • P - purl stitch
  • P2together -  purl two stitches together, which is another way to decrease stitches on the needle
  • pat - pattern
  • Pfb -  Purl first in the front of the stitch and then in the back of the same stitch
  • pm - place marker
  • Psso -  Pass slip stitch over
  • Purlwise -  insert the needle into the stitch as if to make a purl stitch
  • Sk2p - Slip one stitch, knit two together, pass slipped stitch over the k2together
  • Rem -  remains, remaining, remain
  • Rep or * or ( ) [ ]  - repeat instructions within * or ( ) and [ ] as required
  • Rep from or * - repeat the instructions after the asterisk as many times as indicated; 
  • Reverse shaping -  A term used when making sweaters or other garments where the shaping for both the right and the left front pieces are identical but reversed; they are mirror images of each other
  • RH -  Right Hand
  • Rnd -  Rounds
  • RS - right side
  • Skp - slip one stitch to the right-hand needle.  Next, knit the next stitch and pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch
  • S2KP - Slip 2, Knit, Pass. This reduces the number of stitches by two and is neatly centered (no leaning at all). (Also called Centered Double Decrease)
  • Slip -  Slip the number of stitches indicated from the left needle to the right needle without purling them
  • SSK -  Slip Slip Knit:  Another way to decrease
  • St or sts  stitches
  • St or st -  stockinette stitch
  • Tbl -  through the back loop; as in K tbl (knit through the back loop) and P tbl (purl through the back loop)
  • Tog -  together
  • Wyib -  Means with yarn in back
  • Wyif - with yarn in front
  • Work even -  continue to work the pattern without adding or deleting any stitches.  
  • WS -  Wrong side
  • Yo -  yarn over

Knitting Terms and Abbreviations:  Size Terminology for Wearables

If you are creating a garment where size matters, you will likely encounter a pattern that can be used for more than one size. 

For example, if you are making a sweater, the design may call for Small, Medium, Large, 1X, or 2X). 

The first number usually outside of the parentheses would refer to the small size, the second indicates the medium size, and so forth in the instructions. 

So, your pattern might say, Cast on 109 (121, 133, 145, 157).  If you were making a small size sweater, you would cast on 109 stitches, and for a medium sweater, 121 stitches.

Before determining the size, always refer to the pattern's sizing and measure who ever you are making the garment for.

More Knitting Terms and Abbreviations

Here are some more common terms you will likely encounter early on in your knitting journey

Alt rows:   work on every other row

Bind off in rib:  This means to bind off in the same pattern you are using to do ribbing, such as K1P1 or K2P2.

Back of work:  The side of your work that faces away from you when you hold the needles

Block, Blocking:  This is a finishing term where you lay your work down and shape or form it into the finished product.  It often involves steam or a wet cloth

Cont in pattern:  This term is used when you have a specific stitch or color pattern you are working.  It means to continue in the way you are working 

Gauge:  The knitting gauge is a measurement of stitches needed to create a project of the right size.  It can be broken down to include the number stitches needed on the needle, the number of rows worked and the type of stitch used.  This is important because some people knit tightly and others loosely and this is a standardized way to be sure all knitters will create a project that is the correct size.

Example of Gauge: 18 stitches & 28 rows / 4 inches in Stockinette stitch

Mattress stitch is a way to seam together pieces of knitting. To make this process as easy as possible, block the pieces to be seamed and use a sturdy, contrasting yarn as your seaming yarn.

Slip knot:  The first knot made when beginning to cast on stitches.   It anchors the yarn to the needle.  There are several ways to make a slip knot.

Skill Level Designations on Knitting Patterns

Many patterns will have a skills level icon that has been assigned based on the recommendations of the Craft Yarn Council of America’s rating system.  Skills range from beginner to experienced. 

Beginner:  Beginner Projects are intended for first-time knitters using basic knit and purl stitches.  There is minimal shaping required.

Easy:  Easy projects use basic stitches, simple color changes, simple shaping and finishing, and simple repetitive stitch patterns.

Intermediate:  Intermediate Projects will involve using a variety of different stitches and may incorporate basic cables and lace or knitting in the round.  There will be mid-level shaping and finishing techniques used.

Experienced:  Experienced projects use advanced techniques and stitches not encountered with any of the first three levels.  Expect to see Fair Isle, intarsia, cables, lace patterns, and many different color changes.

Knitting Terms and Abbreviations: Pin for Future Reference

various colored yarns are shown in this knitting terms and abbreviations pinKnitting terms and abbreviations: Pin for future reference

Knitting Terms and Abbreviations: Conclusion

I know this is a lot to take in, but you don’t need to memorize all of these terms at once.  

The patterns on this site will have easy-to-follow instructions, and you can always bookmark this page and come back to it often.