Understanding Crochet Symbols: Plus How to Read and Use

Understanding Crochet Symbols by Janice Jones

If you're new to crochet, you may have already met the vast universe of crochet patterns. While this is a good thing, trying to understand all of them may seem overwhelming to beginners. 

Written instructions are common, but many patterns also use a system of symbols to convey stitches and techniques efficiently in the form of a picture or diagram.  That is where understanding crochet symbols comes into play.

Yarn and crochet fabric in the background with an assortment of crochet symbolsUnderstanding Crochet Symbols

These amazing symbols may look like some ancient hieroglyphics, once understood, these symbols can make following a crochet pattern easier to read and visualize. They may even become your friend.  In this guide, I will help you understand crochet symbols, starting with their historical roots,  the anatomy, and how to read them.

Before we get into understanding crochet symbols, I must note that the stitches and instructions on this page are all in US terms.  There are some differences between UK and US terminology.

Difference between UK and US terms in crochet

What Are Crochet Symbols?

Crochet symbols are graphic representations of stitches used in charted diagrams to illustrate how to complete a crochet project.

Each symbol corresponds to a specific crochet stitch, technique, or instruction. Charts containing these symbols are like visual maps that guide you through the pattern.

Even though they may not have any meaning to you now, you will be an expert by the time you finish reading this post.

Why Learn Crochet Symbols?

  • Universal Language: Crochet symbols break language barriers, making international patterns accessible.
  • Visual Aid: They represent stitches, which can be easier to follow than written instructions.
  • Complex Patterns: Charts make understanding stitch placement and pattern repetition easier for intricate designs.
  • Perfect for Visual Learners:  If you are a visual learner, this is the way to go: Once you understand the anatomy of the crochet symbol, you will understand that each symbol looks like the stitch it stands for. Crochet diagrams are a visual representation of the finished fabric.

How Long Have Crochet Symbols Been Around

The history of crochet symbols is an interesting journey that parallels the development and globalization of crochet. Here’s an overview of how these symbols came into being and evolved.

19th Century: Illustrations

The origins of crochet symbols can be traced back to the 19th century when crochet began gaining popularity, particularly in Europe. Written instructions were the norm, and they were often lengthy and convoluted.

Patterns included detailed descriptions of each stitch and its placement, making simple designs cumbersome.

Early pattern books sometimes included illustrations to support written instructions. These illustrations were not yet standardized but helped beginners visualize the process. However, they were still relatively rudimentary and not widely adopted.

This is likely the reason why people relied on family, friends and neighbors for hands-on learning.

Mid-20th Century: International Crochet Symbols

The mid-20th century saw increased efforts to standardize crochet terminology and symbols. This period marked the beginning of a more formalized approach to crochet instructions.

Crochet became more popular globally, and the need for a universal language grew.

Organizations such as the Craft Yarn Council of America (later the Craft Yarn Council) started working on standardizing crochet terms and symbols.

European crochet patterns, particularly from countries like Japan and Russia, began incorporating symbols more extensively. These patterns reached a global audience, needing a standard notation system.

1970s and 1980s: Development of Modern Symbols

During this time, Japanese crochet books and magazines significantly developed and popularized crochet symbols. Japanese publishers were some of the first to embrace symbol-based patterns, which were clear and concise, making it easier to follow intricate designs.

Efforts to create an international standard for crochet symbols gained momentum. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) introduced standardized symbols for crochet stitches, furthering the push for a universal system.

1990s and 2000s: Technological Influence

The Internet revolution helped spread crochet patterns and symbol charts worldwide. Countries that traditionally relied on written instructions began adopting symbol charts. Global crochet communities refined and popularized these symbols, creating a more cohesive and widely understood system.

The rise of digital patterns, online tutorials, and apps brought about greater uniformity in symbol usage. Software like Adobe Illustrator enabled designers to create clean, scalable diagrams, making it easier to produce professional-quality symbol charts.

Current State

Today, crochet symbols are an integral part of the craft and are used in patterns worldwide. The symbols have been largely standardized, though slight variations may still exist depending on regional or publisher-specific practices.

The continued efforts of organizations, designers, and crochet enthusiasts ensure that this visual language is still clear and accessible.

Understanding Crochet Symbols

Each basic crochet stitch has a corresponding symbol.  Here are a couple examples of those basic stitches.

Chart showing the basic crochet stitches and their symbols in U.S. Terms

Beyond Understanding Crochet Symbols:  Examining the Anatomy

When I think about the word, anatomy, I think back to high school biology, but here we are examining the different parts of a symbol.

Each symbol can tell you many things if you know what to look for.

  1. The number of turning chains for each row.
  2. How to make the stitch (back or front post double crochet)
  3. Whether to increase or decrease stitches (example: dc3tog)
  4. Where to make the stitch (work in back or front loop only)
  5. How to make clusters, puffs, popcorn stitches and others

Studying the Anatomy, Step-by-Step

Let's start with the double crochet stitch.  What can this symbol reveal to us? Here are two versions of the double crochet stitch symbols.  Both mean the same thing.  We know that it is the double crochet because we can see

Crochet symbol for double crochet in US termsDouble Crochet Symbol
Double Crochet stitch symbolDouble Crochet Stitch Symbol
Double crochet symbol that identifies the cross bar

Work in Front or Back Loop Only

Next, let's look what we can do with that same double crochet stitch symbol. If the pattern wants us to work in the front or back loop only, these symbols will appear at the base of the symbol.

Crochet symbols for working in the back and front loop only
Double crochet symbol work in front loop only

Post Stitches

We know that the double crochet stitch can be a front post only (FPdc) or back post double crochet (BPdc).  This is how these stitches would appear in symbol form.

Crochet symbol for back post double crochetBack Post Double Crochet Symbol
Crochet symbol for the front post double crochetFront Post Double Crochet Symbol

Increases and Decreases (Double Crochet Stitch)

There are symbols that tell us when to increase and decrease and how many to make.

Crochet symbol for dc2togDouble Crochet 2 together (DC2tog)
Crochet symbol for dc3togDouble Crochet 3 together (dc3tog)
Crochet symbol for 3 double crochet increase3 Double Crochet Increase
Crochet symbol for 5 double crochet increase5 Double Crochet Increase

More Speciality Double Crochet Stitches

Crochet Symbol for 3 dc cluster3 Double Crochet Cluster
5 double crochet cluster stitch5 Double Crochet Popcorn
5 Double Crochet Shell Stitch Symbol5 Double Crochet Shell Stitch

Understanding Crochet Symbols:  More Stitch Pattern Symbols to Know

We've looked at how double crochet stitch symbols look, but that is only the beginning.  There are many more.  Other basic stitches such as single, half double, and treble stitches can be combined as you saw with the double crochet.  Here are a couple more basic symbols you will encounter frequently.

More crochet symbols including chain, magic circle, and turning chains

Understanding Crochet Symbols in Charts

Most crochet charts show symbols worked in either rows or in the round. The first chart is fictional.  I doubt that you'd find it in any pattern, but I want to make one that is easy to understand.

Crochet Chart for a Fictitious Pattern

Crochet chart showing basic crochet stitch symbols

Written Instructions

For more information on the abbreviations used in these written instructions, jump to my page on crochet abbreviations.

In written form, this would look like this:

Ch. 21.

Row 1:  Sc across row.  Ch. 2 and turn.

Row 2:  Hdc across row.  Ch 3 and turn.

Row 3:  Dc across row.  Ch 4 and turn.

Row 4:  Tr across row.

Repeat rows 1 - 4 for pattern.

This would be an unusual pattern, but it does show what a crochet chart looks like when using crochet symbols.  

Understanding crochet symbols is also very important when working in the round.

Crochet Chart for Traditional Granny Square

This is a traditional granny square pattern.  Look at the very middle of the chart.  This one starts with four chain stitches and connected with a slip stitch.  The only other stitches in this chart are single and double crochet stitches and chain stitches.  Take a look and see if you can identify the different parts of the chart.

A crochet chart showing the granny square made with the red heart granny square  yarn.Traditional Granny Square Crochet Chart courtesy of Red Heart Yarn

Written Instructions

Ch 4, Join with a sl st to the first ch to form a ring.

1st round: Ch 6 (3 dc, 3 ch) 3 times in ring. 2 dc in ring. Join.

2nd round: Sl st in ch-3 space. Ch 6. 3 dc in same ch-3 sp. *Ch 1 (3dc, 3 ch, 3 dc) in next ch-3 space. Repeat from * twice more. Ch 1, 2 dc in first ch-3 sp. Join.

3rd round: Sl-st in Ch-3 sp. Ch 6, 3 dc in same ch-3 sp. *Ch 1, 3 dc in next Ch-3 space. Repeat from * twice more. Ch 1, 3 dc in last ch-1 sp. Ch 1. 2 dc in first Ch-3 sp. Join.

4th and 5th rounds: Sl st in ch-3 space. Ch 6, 3 dc in same Ch-3 sp. *(Ch 1, 3 dc) in each Ch-1 sp to next Ch-3 sp. Ch 1. *(3 dc, ch 3, 3 dc) in next ch 3 sp. Rep from * twice more, then from *to **once, 2 dc in first ch-3 sp. Join. Fasten off.


Understanding crochet symbols is a skill that most beginners need to learn at some point.  As patterns get more complicated, a picture or chart makes instructions easier to understand.  Charts are especially beneficial for visual learners.  

Symbols are not hard to understand if you break them down into their parts.  You may feel as though you need to memorize these symbols, but that is not necessary as most charts also come with a key and most stitches can be deciphered by remembering those "anatomy" lessons.

So grab some yarn and a hook and practice some stitches using crochet symbols.

Understanding Crochet Symbols:  Pin for Future Reference

Crochet Symbols Pin Image

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About Janice

Hi, I’m Janice, the voice behind Smart-Knit-Crocheting. I love to knit and crochet and even more, I love teaching others what I know.

Though I learned to knit and crochet as a child, I didn’t get serious about these amazing hobbies until I retired. I’m a certified knit and crochet instructor through the Craft Yarn Council and am working on becoming a Master Hand Knitter through The Knitting Guild Association.

I’m currently living with my husband of over 50 years and our 7 Shih Tzu dogs.

I love hearing from you, so please drop me a line and let me know what you’re working on, whether you love knitting or crocheting more, and if you have any questions. Please visit my about me page for more information.

Happy Crocheting