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Tips for Beginners: Reading a Pattern

How Do I Know What I Need?

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When you are new to knitting, most knitting patterns will seem built to confuse. Most patterns are written in code that only knowledgeable knitters know how to decipher.

The good news is, with a little help you can learn the basic knitting terms you need to know to read and work your way through your first patterns.

Pattern Basics

The trouble begins before you even get to the knitting instructions. But once you can decipher this information you'll know a lot about whether the pattern is right for you.

Skill level is often one of the first things you will see on a pattern, after the name and a picture of the finished piece. This is great news for beginning knitters because you know right away to skip the ones that say "advanced" or even "intermediate." Some companies have a scale of one to four that indicates difficulty; one is the easiest, so stick to those for your first projects.

Size is important if you are making a fitted piece, but it is not so important in beginning projects, since you'll probably be making scarves, blankets and other pieces that don't require fitting. But as you get more skilled, you'll want to look at the measurements for a pattern to make sure it will fit you. For sweaters and other fitted items, a range of sizes are given, and the instructions will vary according to the size you want to make.

Gauge is also much less important in beginning projects, because they aren't shaped and fitted. But you should get into the habit of checking your gauge before you start making more complicated garments; you'll be glad you did when your first sweater actually fits.

The gauge of a pattern is indicated by a measurement, something like six stitches and 10 rows equals four inches in pattern stitch on size 13 needles. That means if you were to knit in whatever the pattern stitch is across six stitches and 10 rows, you should get a four-inch square. Try it. If your size isn't quite right a different sized needle can be used to get the right measurement.

The pattern information will tell you what kind of yarn was used in the pattern, what size needles and any other special tools you might need. It will also indicate how much yarn you need to buy. You don't have to use the exact yarn that was used in the pattern, but a yarn of a similar weight or thickness would be helpful for best results.

Once you've made it through the top of the pattern, you can move to deciphering the pattern itself. If you're having trouble telling your Ks from your Ps, read on.

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