What do all those crochet symbols mean? How do I follow instructions if there are no words? Knowing how to read crochet symbol diagrams will enhance your crocheting skills in many ways. Crochet symbol diagrams (also known as “charts”) are a visual representation of the crochet stitches, making them perfect for visual learners. They rely on stitch symbols rather than written words, which means you can understand crochet instructions from all over the world!
Once you understand what the symbols mean and how they are used, you’ll be able to see at a glance where your hook goes, what stitch to make next, and how the symbols relate to each other.
Crochet symbol diagrams show what type of stitch to make, and where to put each stitch. They indicate the shape of the thing being made, giving an overall “look” at where you are going before you even begin to crochet. Having the ability to decode these diagrams means that you can “read” pattern instructions in any language, since the symbols don’t rely on words to impart meaning.
Do you recognize this diagram?
Even if you have never read a crochet diagram before, I’ll bet you can tell what it’s for. That’s how powerfully informative symbol charts can be!
I’ll be using US terminology in this blog post (see A Quick Note on Terminology below).
Learning Your Letters
The first step in learning to read crochet symbol diagrams is knowing what the symbols mean. Just think of it as learning a few new letters. Letters, after all, are a kind of symbol, so if you can read words, you are already reading symbols!
Remember when you were learning to read and write? You learned that the symbol a (or A) is called an “ay”, but depending on where it is in a word, we pronounce it as “ah” or “ay”? In other words, we have a name for it: ay.
You know it can look a bit different, depending on who is handwriting it, or what font they are using on the computer. But you recognize all those different shapes as the same thing, and you do something with your body when you see it: you make a sound that is either “ah” (as in “cat”) or “ay” (as in “cake”).
When you put several letters together and you know the rules about what to do with your body when you see those words, you can form words that have meaning.
Crochet Symbols are Like Letters
Crochet stitch symbols are just like letters. When you see the symbol shown here, you call it a “chain”. It might look a bit different, depending on where it is and what’s around it, but the basic thing is called a chain. And when you see it, you do something with your body: crochet a chain.
If you see a bunch of chain symbols together, chain the number of chain symbols you see, no matter what shape they take in the diagram.
Whenever you see a crochet symbol diagram, there should be a stitch key nearby. This stitch key will define the symbols used, so you’ll know what they mean. You don’t have to memorize all of them! Just refer to the key that goes with the diagram.
One thing that makes reading crochet diagrams different from reading words is what direction you read. With words (in English), we read lines from left to right, then continue reading each following line from left to right.
In crochet diagrams, we “read” either back-and-forth for pieces worked flat, or in rounds (often from the center-out) for pieces worked in that direction. These center-out-in-the-round diagrams are read counter-clockwise, which is the way right-handed crocheters work. Left handers will notice that diagrams are drawn for right-handed crocheters; I’ll cover that challenge in an upcoming blog post.
Creating New “Words” with Symbols
To continue our analogy about learning to read and write, let’s learn a couple of new symbols and see what we can do with them.
A (US) single crochet might look like a cross or an X, depending on the chart. This same symbol in the UK indicates a double crochet, but here’s the trick: no matter what you call it, you do the same thing with your body: insert the hook into a stitch or space, yarn over and pull up a loop, yarn over and pull through two loops.
A slip stitch symbol looks like either a small solid circle or a small solid oval.
Now you know three symbols: chain, slip stitch and (US) single crochet or (UK) double crochet. Here are three easy flowers you can crochet from just knowing those symbols:
I’ll help you out by writing out the text instructions for the first flower using US terminology. See if you can figure out the other two on your own!
Chain 4, join with a slip stitch to form a ring.
Round 1: Chain 1 (does not count as a stitch), [single crochet in ring, chain 3] six times, join with slip stitch to first single crochet. Fasten off.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Stitch Symbol Variations
The most common crochet symbols are worth memorizing, because they build on each other. If you know the basics, you start to see a pattern in the way stitches are combined, and you probably don’t even need to look at the definition to understand what the combination means.
Sometimes the stitches will be bent, skewed or slanted in a particular direction. This helps show the angle the stitches will take after you make them.
Sometimes all the bottom of the vertical strokes will be in the same place, indicating that you put the hook in that same stitch or space for all those stitches. When a symbol appears over a chain, work into the chain-space instead of into the chain, unless otherwise indicated.
Sometimes the short hash mark on some of the double crochet or taller stitches will be slanted rather than straight across. These little hash marks indicate the number of times to yarn over before inserting the hook.
For example, double crochet has one short line under the top stroke, because you do one yarn over before inserting the hook.
Double crochet: Yarn over, insert hook into stitch or space indicated, yarn over and pull up a loop, [yarn over and pull through 2 loops] two times.
(Note that half double crochet doesn’t have a hash mark, but there is still a yarnover involved. Just consider half double crochet a special case.)
You might see symbols that have their “feet” in the same place AND only one horizontal stroke across the top, but all kinds of stuff going on in between. Or their “feet” might be above different stitches but they are gathered together into one horizontal stroke across the top. These are various types of cluster stitches. You can often figure out what they are just from looking.
For example, the symbol shown here has all the bottom of the vertical strokes in one place, and all the tops collected into a single horizontal stroke, but there are a total of five vertical strokes with a single smaller line across each of them. That little line shows us that it is a double crochet stitch.
The symbol tells us that we should work a 5-double-crochet cluster, as follows: [Yarn over, insert hook, yarn over and pull up a loop, yarn over and pull through 2 loops on hook] five times into one stitch or space, yarn over and pull through all 6 loops on hook.
Of course, there should be a stitch key and glossary definition in your pattern, so you won’t really have to guess at it if you don’t immediately recognize what to do!
Looking at the Common Crochet Symbols provided here, can you make out the individual stitches in the following diagrams, and figure out what they mean?Get Your FREE Copy of Common Crochet Symbols
Help with Turning Chains
Another awesome thing about symbol charts is the clarity they give when it comes to turning chains. Not sure how turning chains work? If the chain symbol is kind of hanging off the edge, and you don’t see stitches on top of it, the chain doesn’t count as a stitch.
If the turning chain looks like it’s sitting in the place of where a stitch would be, that turning chain counts as a stitch. (For more on turning chains, see Where to Put the First Stitch of a Crochet Row.)
Learning to read crochet symbol diagrams may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! My suggestion is to find patterns that include both text instructions and stitch diagrams, then practice following the diagrams, with backup from the written text.
In the beginning you may find yourself relying on words more than symbols, but as you continue to practice, and relate what you are crocheting to the symbols you see, you will find yourself turning to the diagrams more and more.
You can start by checking out a couple of my blog posts that include stitch diagrams:
How to Crochet a Flat Double Crochet Circle
How to Crochet a Granny Square
Most of my premium self-published crochet patterns include symbol diagrams, and my best-selling books on motifs and borders also include hundreds of diagrams with written text for you to practice with! Here are a few to start with (including affiliate links which may pay me a small amount if you buy something through a link you click, but doesn’t cost you anything extra).
A Quick Note about Terminology
As I mentioned above, no matter what you name the stitch, the symbol indicates what to do with your body when you see the symbol. This is important, because American crocheters and British crocheters use different labels for the same stitch. That can get confusing when you are reading text instructions, but it isn’t as much of a concern with symbols. Here’s a reminder of the differences in terminology.