By Janice Jones |Updated 05-19-2023
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 directions to proceed.
You may not need to know many abbreviations and terms if you are just starting out with simple patterns, but as you progress, patterns may get more complicated and the knitting designers that write the patterns need to have a way to condense them into some more manageable.
Likewise, if you want to be a knit designer, you will want to know and understand standard knitting terms.
Knitters prefer the shorthand version as there is less to read, making it easier to scan a pattern beforehand and decide if it is something you want to tackle. The less you must read, the faster you can begin your project. The best part of using standardized abbreviations created by the Craft Yarn Council is that you can pick up any pattern and understand it. US designers often use different terms than those written in the UK and Europe.
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:
So, if this line were written in its entirety, in a knitting pattern instructions, 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 purl one until you reach the end of the row.
So, using abbreviations makes sense so that the patterns can be printed with less paper, and much less reading needs to be done.
This comprehensive glossary of knitting terms includes all the most common abbreviations you will encounter as a beginner
Bulky - a type of yarn that is thick, usually a number 5 or 6.
Cake - yarn sold in a type of ball that resembles a cake
Dye Lot - the number assigned to a batch of yarn all dyed at the same time
Fingering - A fine yarn, usually a number 2
Hank - yarn wound in a long loop, twisted around itself and secured with separate threads. It can't be worked until it is wound into a ball of yarn
Ply - the number of strands a yarn is composed of by twisting them together.
Skein - yarn wound into an oblong bundle
Superwash - yarn that has been chemically treated to remove scales from its surface. This prevents felting and allows machine-washing
Yarn Weight - the thickness of the yarn; according to the craft yarn council, there are 7 weights of yarns from 1-7; also 0 for crochet thread
WPI - wraps per inch. A method to determine yarn weight
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.
Here are some more common terms and lingo 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 use for 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 on. It means to continue in the way you are working.
Crochet hook - The type of tool used in crochet and is useful for picking up dropped stitches.
Frog, frogging - to rip out previously worked stitches to correct a mistake.
Gauge - The knitting gauge measures the stitches needed for the right size project. It can be broken down to include the number of 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.
Garter stitch - another term for knitting every stitch
I-Cord - a thin cord in stockinette stitch
Intarsia - knitting in multiple colors in one row through a special joining method and the use of bobbins or individual balls of different colors
Jog - a visible stair-like that may occur after a color change when knitting in the round. There are methods to correct this and have a jogless join.
Knit side - Often used when describing a stockinette pattern where the knit side is the right side or front of work, and the wrong side or the back of the work is the purl side
Leading leg - the part of a knitting stitch closest to the tip of the needle.
Lifelines - a strand of yarn inserted into the work so that it is easy to rip back to that point if an error is encountered.
Long tail - normally seen in long-tail cast-on, which is one method of casting on or placing stitches on the needle before beginning to knit.
Mattress stitch - A seaming technique to join two pieces of knitting.
Needle size - refers to the size of the circumference of the knitting needle and can be written in Metric (mm) or American style
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.
Stash - all the yarn you own
Trailing leg - the part of the stitch that is connected to the working yarn.
Working Yarn - the yarn that is connected to the yarn ball or skein
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.
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.