Understand Knitting Abbreviations and Knitting Terms

To knit from patterns, you need to know knitting abbreviations and knitting terms. As you work with knitting patterns, you'll get to know the most common abbreviations — for example, RS (right side) and WS (wrong side). Knitting-pattern instructions explain any unusual abbreviations and terms or ones that may vary from pattern to pattern.

Knitting terms (or phrases) can be confusing until you've had some experience with them. Here are some of the more common knitting phrases that you'll come across in patterns. Others exist, but this list should take care of most knitting patterns that you'll come across as a beginner.

  • as established: When your instructions set up a series of steps or patterns to work, rather than repeat them row by row, they'll tell you to continue working as established. For example, if you're knitting a cardigan with the center front band knitted in, the stitches for center front band may be worked in a different pattern from the rest of the sweater body. Once the pattern tells you how many border stitches to work in the border pattern and how many stitches to work in the sweater body pattern, it will tell you to continue to work the patterns in the front piece as established.
  • at same time: As in "dec 1 st every other row 4 times, at same time, when piece measures same length as back to shoulder, work shoulder shaping as for back." This phrase indicates that two things need to happen at the same time. In this example, the neckline shaping (dec 1 st) continues as the shoulder shaping begins. Be on the lookout for this phrase; it's easy to get going on one task and forget to pay attention to the other. When you see this phrase, it's a really good idea to make yourself a chart of the part of the pattern piece you'll be shaping.
  • back of your work: As in "yarn to the back." The back of your work is the side of your work that faces away from you as you hold your needles. Not to be confused with the right and wrong side of your work, which refers to how you will wear the piece.
  • bind off from each neck edge: As in "bind off from each neck edge 3 sts once, 2 sts twice, etc." When you shape the neckline on a pullover, you work both edges of the neckline at the same time, but you shape the right side (as you wear it) on right-side rows and the left side on wrong-side rows. Although this instruction may sound tricky, it's quite obvious and simple when you're doing it.
  • end with a WS row: When you see this phrase, you're to finish the section you're working on by working a WS (wrong-side) row last. The next row you work should be a RS (right-side) row.
  • front of your work: As in "yarn to the front." The front of your work is the side of your work that faces you as you hold your needles. It could be the wrong side or the right side.
  • inc (or dec) every four (six, eight, or whatever) rows: Increase or decrease on a (usually) right-side row, and then work three (five, seven, or whatever) rows without shaping. Increase or decrease on the next row. This is how the increases along a sleeve seam are written.
  • inc (or dec) every other row: Increase or decrease on the (usually) right-side row, and then work the following row without increasing or decreasing. Then, on the next (usually) right-side row, work the increase or decrease again.
  • pat rep: Same as "pattern repeat." When instructions tell you to do something with the stitch repeat, they write it this way. Pattern repeat refers to what's given between an asterisk and a semicolon (* . . . ;) in written patterns and between heavy black lines in a chart.
  • pick up and knit: As in "with rs facing starting at neck edge, pick up and knit 28 sts along right front edge." Use a separate strand of yarn to create a row of stitches on a needle by pulling loops through along a knitted edge, usually a cardigan front or a neckline.
  • place marker (pm): As in "join, place marker, and begin round." A marker is a plastic ring or tied loop of yarn that sits between stitches on your needle to indicate the beginning of a round in circular knitting or to mark pattern repeats. You slip the marker from one needle to the other. Sometimes you use row markers, too. But usually your pattern won't tell you to — your common sense will.
  • preparation row: Some stitch patterns require a set-up row, which is worked only at the beginning of the pattern and is not part of the repeat.
  • reverse shaping: As in "work to correspond to front, reversing all shaping." When you knit a cardigan, you work two pieces that mirror each other. Most patterns have you work the side that carries the buttons before you work the side that carries the buttonholes. Instead of writing a separate set of instructions for each side, the pattern asks you to work the shaping in the opposite direction on the second piece. This means that you'll be working bind-offs and neck shaping on the reverse side of the fabric as well. If you work the shaping on the wrong side in one piece, you'll work it on the right side when you reverse the shaping.
  • right: As in "beginning at right front neck edge." Refers to right as opposed to left. When a pattern specifies a right front, it means the front that would be on your right side as you would wear it. When in doubt, hold your knitting up to you (wrong side to your body) to determine whether it's the right or left front.
  • RS: As in "with RS facing, pick up and k . . . sts." Refers to the right side as opposed to the wrong side of the fabric. The right side is the side of the piece people will see when you wear it..
  • when armhole measures . . . : Signals that your instructions are about to tell you to do something other than what you've been doing. Measure the armhole not from the edge of the piece, but from the marker you've put near the middle of the row on which the armhole began.
  • work as for . . . : As in "work as for back until piece measures 21 1/2" from beg." Work the front piece the same as the back. This phrase saves writing out the same instructions twice.
  • work even: Continue in whatever stitch pattern you're using without doing any shaping.
  • work to end: Work in whatever stitch pattern you're using to the end of the row.
  • working inc sts into pat: As in "inc 1 st each side (working inc sts into cable pat) every 4th row." You see this phrase when you're increasing along a sleeve. Whether your pattern is a rib, cable, lace, or color work, as you add stitches, work your stitch pattern over them. For lace and cables, you have to have a certain number of stitches before you can begin to work them in pattern.
  • WS: As in "with WS facing." The wrong side of the garment piece — the one next to your body.

You may run into other knitting phrases that aren't as clear as they could be, but experience will make you familiar with them. Eventually, you'll be surprised at how understandable this language becomes, and you'll wonder how it ever seemed confusing.

For the most part, if you read your instructions carefully, work each step between commas or semi-colons as a complete step, look at your work, and think about what you're doing, you won't have any problems.

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