The Most Misunderstood Thing about Knitting & Crochet Patterns

There’s one thing that can tie a knitter or crocheter in knots: confusing wording in a pattern. And the most misunderstood thing about knitting and crochet patterns is how pattern repeats are described.

There are some commonly accepted ways of describing repeated sections in a pattern. If you don’t understand this conventional “patternspeak”, you might be confused. But even if you understand it, sometimes the pattern writer doesn’t follow the conventions, leaving you to figure out what they mean.

The problem occurs in both knitting and crochet patterns. I’ll show examples of both.

When the Pattern Creates Confusion

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6; rep from * a total of 5 times, k4.Here’s an instruction you might see in a pattern:

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6; rep from * a total of 5 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts; rep from * a total of 5 times, dc in each st to end.

As an experienced crafter, I’ve got to say this wording drives me absolutely crazy. How many times am I supposed to “k4, p6”, or  “sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts”?

From experience, I think the pattern writer intends you to do the sequence of stitches—k4, p6 or sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts—a total of five times. But that’s not what the pattern says.

Using Brackets & Parentheses to Show Repeats

Brackets or parentheses can be used to group a sequence of stitches and to tell how many times to do that sequence, as they do in these examples:

Row 1 (RS): [K4, p6] 5 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): (K4, p6) 5 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, [sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts] 5 times, dc in each st to end.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, (sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts) 5 times, dc in each st to end.

Using Asterisks to Show Repeats

Asterisks are used to show a point of repeat, and are usually used together with “rep(eat) from * “to show the full repeat.

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6; rep from * 4 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts; rep from * 4 times, dc in each st to end.

Here, the number of times to do that sequence seems to have gone down, but in reality this is the exact same instruction you’ve seen above. How can that be?

In these examples, you do the sequence of stitches once, then you repeat that sequence four more times, for a total of five times. You can’t repeat something you haven’t done before.

Another Point of Confusion

You can't repeat something you haven't done beforeSometimes you’ll see asterisks used this way:

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6*; rep between * * 4 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6*; work between * * 5 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts*; rep between * * 4 times, dc in each st to end.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts*; work between * * 5 times, dc in each st to end.

As an experienced pattern writer and a tech editor, I steer clear of this construction. It offers the same opportunity for confusion as previous examples, and it adds more *’s than the eye can easily track.

However, if you do see this “between **s” construction, pay careful attention to the wording used to make sure you are following the repeats correctly.

The “Repeat” Paradox

Let’s go back to our original confusing instruction:

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6; rep from * a total of 5 times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts; rep from * a total of 5 times, dc in each st to end.

Can you see the contradictions? If you repeat the sequence of stitches a total of five times, you’ve done that sequence a total of six times. But if you do the sequence a total of five times, you’ve only repeated them four times.

You’ll have to use clues to figure out what the designer means to happen.

In the knitting example:

If you have 54 stitches on the needle, you can work the k4, p6 sequence five times, which will use 50 stitches, then knit the last 4 stitches, for a total of 54 stitches.

If you have 64 stitches, you’ll work the k4, p6 sequence once, then repeat it five times, then knit the last 4 stitches, using up all 64 stitches.

In the crochet example:

This one is harder to figure out, because the row ends with “dc in each dc to end”, which leaves the number of total stitches unknown. You will know how many stitches you have in the row. You’ll have a good idea of whether you are supposed to be working all the way across the row. Using this information, you will have to figure out what balances the stitch pattern on the row, and how many total repeats you can fit it, then go with that.

See? It’s not ideal wording.

A Solution

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts; rep from * 4 more times, dc in each st to end.There’s an easy wording solution that helps clear up all of this confusion, and that is using the word “more”:

Row 1 (RS): *K4, p6; rep from * 4 more times, k4.

Row 1 (RS): Ch 3 (counts as dc), dc in next 4 sts, *sc in next st, dc in next 2 sts; rep from * 4 more times, dc in each st to end.

See how easy that was? It reminds the crafter that they are doing the thing then repeating the thing a certain number of times.

Even if the word “more” is not included, now that you understand repeats you can head forth confident in your knowledge of how many times you’ll do those instructions.

Let’s spread the word that you can’t repeat something you haven’t done yet. It will clear up the confusion for everyone!

3 Replies to “The Most Misunderstood Thing about Knitting & Crochet Patterns”

  1. It is a great explanation. The one thing I find my students having trouble with. If they as me why the pattern isn’t working out we usually find that they aren’t “readying” everything. I emphasize learning to “read” the pattern completely. I always go over the pattern with them and talk about what the all of these things mean. I think I learned from my Master Instructor for my Knit Certificate when she told me to”learn to read my work” also. Thank you

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