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Understanding Knitting-Pattern Abbreviations and Charts

October 8, 2020

K2tog, ssk, yo, k1, p1, SM, DPNs, inc, dec, and kfb. Is this just gibberish to you? As you learn to knit, you’ll learn to interpret a number of abbreviated terms. Here’s an example from the free Flax sweater pattern:

Set-up round 1: [kfb, knit to 2 sts before raglan marker, kfb, k1, SM] 4 times [8 sts inc – 2 per section]

This single instruction, for example, includes five abbreviations: kfb, sts, k1, SM, and inc.

Patterns have been written this way for years to pack maximum information into minimum space on the page. While it may seem inconvenient, when it comes down to it, there are relatively few terms to learn with each new pattern – and for most knitters, interpreting abbreviations becomes natural with practice.

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below to read the other topics.

Free Barley hat pattern

Knitting abbreviations

The free Barley hat pattern begins with the following instruction:

Using smaller needles, cast on 66 (72, 78, 84, 90, 96) sts, PM and join for working in the round, being careful not to twist the cast-on.

To follow this instruction, you need to know that sts means stitches, and PM means place a marker. To decipher the shorthand used in a knitting pattern, review the abbreviations section below.

Illustration of the page of a pattern with abbreviations list highlighted
The abbreviations list is located on page 2 of the free Barley hat pattern.

If there’s a term you’re unfamiliar with, but it’s not included in the abbreviations section of the pattern, check our comprehensive abbreviations list. A quick google search should also give you the answer you’re looking for.

Note: Tin Can Knits’ PDF patterns include highlighted links and question bubbles; clicking these will take you right to our helpful resources.

Knitting charts

Another shorthand used in knitting patterns are charts. Charts illustrate stitch patterns in a compact and concise way, and they also give visual clues about how the knit fabric will look when it’s completed. With practice, most knitters find charts easier to follow than lengthy text instructions, so we describe stitch patterns in chart format where practical. For more help, check out our in-depth tutorial, How to Read a Knitting Chart.

A pale minty green cabled hat with ribbed brim.
The free Antler hat pattern is a great pattern for learning to knit cables!

When a pattern includes a chart, the pattern abbreviations are often found alongside the chart in a key that explains the meaning of the symbols. For example, the free Antler hat pattern includes the chart and key shown below. This pattern includes both a chart and text instructions, to aid learners and those who cannot use charts.

A diagram of a knitting chart, key and abbreviations

Now that we have covered abbreviations and charts, the next step in this pattern-reading tutorial is Reading Multi-Size Knitting-Pattern Instructions, which will cover what all the odd brackets ( ) [ ] mean!

Ready to get started now?

The Simple Collection is a free, learn-to-knit series that covers all the basics of knit and purl through to turning a heel and knitting your first sweater. Check out all the free patterns and cast on now!

~ Emily and Alexa

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill Beadles permalink
    September 5, 2021 1:54 pm

    Hi- I have a question to clarify the Flax light pullover… working on the sleeve and have decreased the one row. Next is work 6 even- does that mean with the decrease or back to the original pattern with the garter panel? Then it says “work these 7 rounds”??? Thanks for any clarification you can provide

    • September 6, 2021 7:02 am

      It means you work 6 rounds without decreasing, but keeping the garter stitch panel going.
      Work these 7 rounds means that you repeat the pattern of one decrease round, then 6 ‘even rounds’, as many times as stated.
      Hope this helps!

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