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.
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 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.
Here are some of the most common abbreviations you will encounter
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 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.
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.