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!

Easy Lacy Rib Knitting Stitch Pattern

Easy Lacy Rib swatch

This Easy Lacy Rib knitting stitch pattern is perfect for warm-weather knitting. With only a 3-stitch and 4-row repeat, you’ll soon get into the rhythm of the pattern without having to think too much.

Can’t you see this as a cotton summer wrap, or perhaps as a tunic to wear over your tank top or swimsuit? Or use a lightweight yarn to create a simple shawl for cooler weather.

The yarn I’m using is Chic Sheep by Marly Bird from Red Heart. I’m using US 8 [5 mm] Clover Takumi bamboo knitting needles. The grey yarn pictured below is Nifty Cotton from Cascade Yarns.

Easy Lacy Rib

Easy Lacy Rib stitch chart
Easy Lacy Rib stitch chart
Easy Lacy Rib stitch key
Easy Lacy Rib swatch in grey

Cast on a multiple of 3 sts + 1.

Row 1 (WS): K1, *p2, k1; rep from *.
Row 2: P1, *yo, ssk, p1; rep from *.
Row 3: Rep Row 1.
Row 4: P1, *k2tog, yo, p1; rep from *.

Repeat Rows 1-4 for pattern.

That’s it! Watch the video for tips on how to read your knitting so that you can go “off pattern” and pick up wherever you left off.

Abbreviations
k: knit
k2tog: knit 2 sts together
p: purl
rep: repeat
ssk (slip, slip, knit): slip the next 2 sts one at a time knitwise, insert left needle into the fronts of these two sts, then knit them together through the back loops
st(s): stitch(es)
WS: wrong side
yo: yarn over

For more knitting stitch patterns, check out the list of stitch pattern dictionaries


Baby Eyelet Cables Knitting Stitch Pattern

Baby Eyelet Cables is a knitting stitch pattern that’s fun to do and easy to memorize. It has a repeat of only four rows, and three of those are “knit the knits and purl the purls”. That means you only have to think on one row!

Despite its name, Baby Eyelet Cables are not true cables. You won’t need a cable needle because the stitches don’t really switch places.

It’s easily converted to knitting in the round, which makes it a versatile stitch pattern for many projects.

This post contains affiliate links, which won’t cost you anything extra but may provide a small income to me.

Chic Sheep yarn ball

The yarn I used for the sample is Red Heart Chic Sheep by Marly Bird. It’s a sqooshy medium weight yarn with excellent stitch definition. However, this stitch pattern looks great in any weight yarn; solid colors are best to show up the patterning.

Clover bamboo knitting needles are a good choice for beginning knitters. I’m using 5 mm (US Size 8) for this yarn.

Baby Eyelet Cables

Baby Eyelet Cables chart
Baby Eyelet Cables chart
Chart stitch key for Baby Eyelet Cables

Cast on a multiple of 6 + 3.

Set-Up Row (WS): K3, [p3, k3] across.

Row 1 (RS): *P3, slip 3 sts purlwise, pass 3rd st on right needle over 2nd and first sts on right needle, slip those 2 sts back to left needle, k1, yo, k1; rep from * to last 3 sts, p3.

Row 2: K3, [p3, k3] across.

Row 3: P3, [k3, p3] across.

Row 4: K3, [p3, k3] across.

Repeat Rows 1-4 for pattern.

Abbreviations
k:
knit
p:
purl
rep: repeat
RS:
right side
st(s): stitch(es)
WS:
wrong side
yo: yarn over

For another fun rib-stitch pattern, see Mistake Stitch Rib. The Broken Rib Hat uses a rib-stitch pattern worked in the round. How many ways can you use Baby Eyelet Cables?

How to Block Knitting and Crochet

Knowing how to block knitting and crochet is a crucial skill. Blocking may be the most important step in getting a professional-looking finish for your project. It sets the stitches and can even out irregularities. It makes it easier to work seams and edgings and it can even make minor size adjustments.

While most projects will benefit from blocking, it’s important to do it right. Some crafters are afraid of blocking because they’ve heard blocking horror stories about someone killing a sweater. Blocking doesn’t have to be scary, but it does help to know what you are doing.  

This a big topic. What follows is an overview of blocking basic two-dimensional knitted and crocheted fabric. Projects worked in three dimensions or those with highly textured surfaces may be blocked a bit differently.

This post contains affiliate links, which may provide a small income to support this website but don’t cost you anything extra.

Blocking Supplies

You’ll need a few simple supplies for successful blocking:

In addition, you need a large, flat surface to work on. The ideal blocking surface has these characteristics:

  • Is large enough to hold the entire piece (or all the pieces) you need to block
  • Can withstand heat, moisture, and being stabbed with pins
  • Is colorfast, to avoid transferring color from the blocking service to your fabric
  • Can be left undisturbed while the fabric dries
  • Has a printed grid to aid in getting lines straight and dimensions correct
  • Is flexible in shape and easy to store

I’ve used many types of blocking surfaces successfully:

  • Ironing board – works well for small pieces like swatches.
  • Quilter’s Cut ‘N Press – also for small pieces. It’s more compact and easier to use than the ironing board.
  • Interlocking floor mats – not pretty, but large and inexpensive. These can be used in many different configurations and sizes. A better option might be a set of grid-printed blocking mats, like the ones from Knitters Pride or KnitIQ.
  • Large blocking board – made of three 24″ x 58″ Styrofoam panels in a cotton canvas casing. The panels unfold and create a surface that’s even larger than my dining room table. It’s great for blocking shawls and other large items. As far as I can tell, it’s no longer sold, but it wouldn’t be difficult to make.
  • Spare bed – covered with beach towels. It works surprisingly well. Just be sure to collect all the pins when you are finished!

The Importance of Pins, The Allure of Wires

At some point in the blocking process, you’ll be pinning your pieces to a flat surface. Depending on your blocking method, this will happen before or after the fabric gets wet. Make sure your pins are rustproof. Nothing is guaranteed to ruin a project faster than pins that will leave a permanent stain on your yarn!

Some people swear by the Knit Blockers from KnitPicks. I haven’t used them yet. Let me know in the comments if they work for you.

Blocking wires are not a necessity, but they make it so much easier and faster to block. You’ll use fewer pins, your edges will be straighter and your pointy bits pointier if you use blocking wires. I have two sets!

Whether you are using pins, or a combination of pins and blocking wires, begin by securing the corners (if any) of your fabric. Use a yardstick or tape measure to ensure that the piece is the desired size from edge to edge and corner to corner. I prefer a yardstick because I can measure one-handed, and use the other hand to make adjustments. Make sure right-angle corners really are 90 degrees.

Blocking can be used to make minor corrections to the finished size of a piece, but it’s not a substitute for making the piece the right size to start with. Don’t use blocking for that purpose!

Choose a Blocking Method

Proceed to add pins along each edge every 1 1/2-2″ [4 5 cm]. If you are using blocking wires, use enough pins to keep the wire straight where it should be straight.

If the fabric rolls, gently unroll it and use pins to keep it in place. If there are points or scallops, pin each one out individually. This is where a blocking wire comes in especially handy, as the wire can go through each point.

The blocking method you use will depend on the content of the yarn. Acrylic, cotton, wool, cotton, and other fibers require different care. If your yarn is a blend of fibers, choose the method that is appropriate for the most delicate of the fibers. Wool and many other animal fibers can be steam blocked, cotton is often wet-blocked. With acrylic and other man-made fibers, cold blocking is often the safest method.

Another consideration is the stitch pattern you used, and how aggressively the fabric needs to be blocked. Fabric with lots of openwork, for example, needs to be stretched to allow the holes to open up. If the fiber allows, wet blocking or steam blocking will be your best options for lace.

Highly textured fabric like cables, ribbing and bobbles may not react well to too much steam. There are nuanced ways to deal with these textured stitches, but that will be the focus of a future blog post.

Always practice your blocking method on a swatch or two before trying it on your finished project!

Wet Blocking

Wet blocking is appropriate for cotton, silk, and wool, as well as for any fiber that can get completely wet.

To wet block, fully immerse your fabric in water, either by washing it or simply by putting it in a sink. Allow the water to fully soak the fabric. Gently squeeze out the water – don’t twist or wring – and pin the pieces to shape on the blocking surface.

Wait until it dries completely before removing the pins. Obviously, this is the most time-consuming blocking method. It’s hard to be patient and wait for that yarn to dry, especially in humid climes.

Steam Blocking

Steam blocking works well for wool and most animal fibers. Be careful, however, of using it on fibers that can be damaged by heat.

Begin by pinning your pieces to the blocking surface. Use a steam iron or steamer that’s shooting out plenty of steam. Hover the surface of the iron or steamer over the fabric, about 1.5 – 2″ [4 – 5 cm] from the surface. Never touch the iron to the fabric! You are using the moisture from the warm steam to do its work, not the heat from the iron.

Get the fabric warm and damp with the steam, then allow it to dry completely. When the fabric is cool and dry to the touch, remove the pins.

Cold Blocking

Cold blocking is the safest method to use with acrylic yarns, which can be damaged beyond repair with too much heat.

Pin your pieces to the blocking surface. Use a plant mister to spray water over the fabric, taking care to dampen the entire fabric thoroughly. Allow it to dry completely before removing the pins.

Killing Acrylic Yarn

Did you know that you can kill yarn? Yes, that’s an official term for an actual thing. It happens when you use too much heat on an acrylic fiber — such as when you press a hot iron onto acrylic yarn. This causes the fibers to melt together and changes the characteristics of the fabric permanently. It can’t be undone.

Despite my warnings to you not to steam block acrylic yarn, I confess that often do. I always always always practice on a swatch first. I’m very careful to use as low a heat as possible and to hover the steamer (or iron) above the fabric. I watch carefully to make sure I’m not killing anything. I understand the consequences of failure. So if you decide you want to steam block your acrylic yarns, that’s up to you. Your mileage may vary. You didn’t hear it here.

More About Blocking

I could write another thousand words on blocking. Or teach an entire three-hour class. In other words, there’s a lot to learn! Just remember: tailor your blocking techniques to the project, the fiber, the stitch pattern and the finished use of the project. Some projects (like amigurumi) don’t need to be blocked at all, while others demand it.

Ask your questions about blocking in the comments.

Now that you know how to block knitting and crochet, go forth and practice what you’ve learned. Your projects will thank you!

Free Knitting Pattern: Broken Rib Hat

Broken Rib Hat by Edie Eckman shown on stand

Here’s a free knitting pattern for a unisex hat that even new knitters can master. The broken rib pattern is an easy-to-memorize 4-round stitch pattern. More skilled knitters will find it a soothing project, with just enough going on to keep you from getting bored. Knit it in the round on circular and double-point needles, or use the Magic Loop method.

This post contains affiliate links. Abbreviations are at end of pattern.

Sizes & Finished Dimensions

Broken Rib Hat on model

Adult Size
Circumference: 16” [41 cm] relaxed. The stitch pattern stretches a lot; the hat fits with negative ease.

Materials

Worsted Weight Yarn (CYC #4): approximately 130 yds /119 m Sample used Manos del Uruguay Maxima (100% extrafine merino wool, 3.5 oz / 100 g, 219 yd / 200 m), 1 skein M8977 Tigerlily

US size 8 [5 mm] 16” [40 cm] circular knitting needle and set of 4 or 5 US size 8 [5 mm] double-pointed knitting needles , or size to obtain correct gauge

OR one US size 8 [5 mm] 36″ [90 cm] or longer circular knitting needle for the Magic Loop method , or size to obtain correct gauge

One stitch marker

Row counter (optional)

Gauge

22 sts and 26 rnds = 4” [10 cm] in Broken Rib pattern, relaxed (not stretched out)

To save time, take time to check gauge.

Broken Rib Pattern (over a multiple of 4 sts)

Rnds 1-3: *K2, p2; rep from * around. 

Rnd 4: Purl.

Rep Rnds 1-4 for pattern.

Instructions

With circular needle, long-tail cast on 88 sts. Place marker and join for working in the round, being careful not to twist sts. (If using Magic Loop, cast on and arrange stitches for working in the round.)

Broken Rib Hat by Edie Eckman close-up image

Work in Broken Rib Pattern until piece measures 6½” [16.5 cm] from beginning, ending with Rnd 4 of pattern.

Crown Shaping

Note: If using 16″ [40 cm] circular needle, change to double-pointed needles when necessary.

Rnd 1: *K2tog, p2, k2, p2; rep from * around—77 sts.

Rnd 2: *K1, p2, k2, k2; rep from * around.

Rnd 3: *K1, p2, k2tog, p2; rep from * around—66 sts.

Rnd 4: Purl.

Rnd 5: *K1, p2tog, k1, p2; rep from * around—55 sts.

Rnd 6: *K1, p1, k1, p2; rep from * around.

Row 7: *K1, p1, k1, p2tog; rep from * around—44 sts.

Rnd 8: Purl.

Rnd 9: *K2tog, k2; rep from * around—33 sts..

Rnd 10: Knit.

Rnd 11: *K2tog, k1; rep from * around—22 sts.

Rnd 12: Purl.

Rnd 13: [K2tog] around—11 sts. 

Rnd 14: K1, [k2tog] around.

Cut yarn, leaving 10″ [25 cm] tail. Thread tail through remaining stitches and tug gently to close. Weave in ends.

Broken Rib Hat by Edie Eckman shown on male model

Abbreviations

  • k: knit
  • k2tog: knit 2 stitches together
  • p: purl
  • p2tog: purl 2 stitches together
  • rep: repeat
  • rnd(s): round(s)
  • st(s): stitch(es)

Looking for more hat patterns from Edie? Click on the images to check out these knitting and crochet patterns. Some are free!

Crafting A New Family Holiday Tradition

crochet lesson on the sofa

This year the Eckman family started a new family holiday tradition: crafting together. Over Christmas week, both my 20-something children were home for a visit at the same time.

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Daughter Meg had brought a variety of left-over yarns to crochet flowers for a Spring Wreath.  Charles, visiting from far-away California, had in mind that he wanted to crochet a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) dice bag. He asked if I’d teach him to crochet.  How could I possibly refuse?

A Crochet Lesson

Crochet hook in jeans pocket

I grabbed a ball of Meg’s green yarn (conveniently sitting on the coffee table in front of us), a 5 mm crochet hook (conveniently within reach on my rolling cart), and demonstrated holding the hook and yarn.

A bag is a great first project. We covered the skills of slip knot, chain, slip stitch, chain-1 build-up chains, working into a ring, and single crochet in the first five minutes. Charles was a quick study, understanding the concepts right away. It was just a matter of his becoming comfortable manipulating the yarn and hook.

Wreath with crocheted flowers
Meg’s wreath with crocheted flowers

With the basic skills in place, we went back to our respective projects. I worked on my Crochet Skill-Builder Afghan (Crochet Along coming very soon!), Meg grew an entire garden of blooming flowers, and Charles worked out his own way of holding yarn and hook. And husband Bill? He joined in by helping untangle and re-wind a mess of yarn. It really was a family affair!

After a while, I demonstrated double crochet, so the bag-in-progress got a round of taller stitches here and there. When the bag was the right size, he added a drawstring chain in a contrasting color. By the end of the day, the bag was complete, and it was a rousing success!

Outfitting the Newbie

Crocheted Drawstring Bag with Teal accent

Of course, our next step was to go shopping in the Yarn Room (AKA “the attic”) for yarn for the next bag. Mountain Colors Weaver’s Wool Quarters in color Glacier Teal was the winner, with a bit of odd-ball teal of unknown origin for accent. This bag is a bit larger. It’s designated as a project bag, to hold not only a WIP (Work in Progress), but also the small collection of stitch markers, scissors, and other necessities that every crocheter needs.

Over several days, we worked on various projects. Instead of staring at our individual device screens, we worked with nice yarn, created beautiful things and (gasp!) talked to one another.

He’s Hooked

Charles crocheting

We now have a Crochet Convert. Between stitching sessions, Charles polled members of his D&D campaign to ask what two colors would best represent their characters. He headed back to California with enough yarn to make custom dice bags for all the players in the campaign, along with hooks in varying sizes, and a copy of The Crochet Answer Book. (I’m assuming that none of them read this blog, so a spoiler alert wasn’t necessary there.)

Planning for Next Year

Crocheting together was a lovely way to spend time together as a family. I think we’ve crafted a new holiday tradition! This year it was crochet. I wonder what we’ll do next year?

Next week, I’ll share the pattern for the Crochet Bag for Beginners (AKA D&D Dice Bag).

For a bit of perspective, check out Teach a Young Child to Knit. These same two “children” appear with yarn there, too.


Knit Socks For Those You Love - 11 Original Designs By Edie Eckman