Introduction: Knitting Pattern Abbreviations and Gauge

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Hey hot-shot, you've got your basics down! With this knowledge, you can make a lot of things! In this lesson, you'll be introduced to common knitting terminology used in patterns, and learn to make garments fit properly by measuring and adjusting the gauge of your knitting. With this info, you'll be able to follow knitting patterns you find in books and online! Additional terms are defined in the Knitting Glossary for this class.

Step 1: Knitting Pattern Abbreviations

You'll find terms abbreviated in knitting patterns very frequently. The patterns turn out looking like some kind of cryptic message, but not once you know what the abbreviations mean!

Abbreviations for things you've already used:

  • co - cast on
  • K - knit
  • P - purl
  • st(s) - stitches
  • bind off - also called "cast off"
  • in - inches
  • cm - centimeters
  • mm - millimeters
  • oz - ounces
  • g - grams

Abbreviations used to complete the rest of the projects in this class (you haven't learned all of them yet):

  • alt - alternate
  • beg - beginning
  • DPN(s) - double pointed needle(s)
  • pat - pattern
  • rem - remain(ing)
  • rep - repeat
  • rnd(s) - round(s)
  • dec - decrease
  • tog - together
  • k2tog - knit two together (decrease)
  • p2tog - purl two together (decrease)
  • PM - place marker
  • SM - slip marker
  • st st - stockinette stitch
  • ssk - slip two knitwise, pass back to left needle and knit together through back loops (decrease)
  • m1 - make one stitch (increase)

Abbreviations not used in this class, but you may commonly find in patterns:

  • CC - contrasting color
  • cn - cable needle
  • Cont. or cont - continue
  • Foll(s). - following/follows
  • G. St. - garter stitch
  • Inc. or inc - increase
  • pwise - purlwise
  • skp - (decreases 1) slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over
  • sk2p - (decreases 2) slip 1, k2tog, pass slipped stitch over
  • Sl. or sl - slip
  • Tbl. - through the back of the loop
  • yb - yarn back
  • yfwd - yarn forward
  • yo - yarn over (type of increase)
  • yrn - yarn around needle (tyoe of increase)

Step 2: Establishing Gauge

Yarn gauge is a funny thing (called "tension" in the UK and Canada). It's dependent on three main variables: yarn size, needle size, and how tightly you knit. That third one varies from person to person, which is why it's important to have a target gauge (tension) when creating a project. Without it, your hat or mittens may turn out too big or two small, even if you followed the pattern exactly!

A dedicated gauge checker is a handy tool, but not strictly necessary. Instead you can use any ruler or tape measure. You'll also need a sample swatch of work on your target sized needles.

To create the swatch, read the pattern's description of your target gauge. For instance, it might say "17 stitches and 23 rows = 10cms square in st st" or "4.5 stitches/6 rows per inch." Cast on four more stitches than described, and then purl all stitches in the first row. Knit all stitches in the second row. Alternate purl and knit rows. This is called stockinette stitch (also called stocking stitch), and it might look familiar if you've ever looked closely at the fabric of your t-shirts or hosiery. Create four more rows than described in your pattern's target gauge, then bind off. It's important that the stitches are off the needles to get an accurate measurement.

Set your measuring device across the inner stitches (each stitch looks like a V) to calculate your gauge. If it doesn't match your pattern, the project won't turn out the right size-- go up a needle size if stitches per unit are higher than target, and go down a needle size if the stitches per unit are too low.

This might seem like a lot of work, but it's not a waste! Taking time now will guarantee a proper fit later. Label your swatches and store them with your yarn so you can save this step on future projects made with that yarn.

Step 3: Knitting Glossary

This glossary will help you quickly define common terms and abbreviations used in this class and throughout most knitting patterns. Even experienced knitters look things up regularly. You are encouraged to leave this glossary open in a separate window while working on the projects in this class, so you can refer to it frequently.

[ ], ( ), * * - symbols commonly used to indicate repeating pattern sections

Alternate (alt) - perform the instruction every other stitch or row, or repeat as described

Blocking - a process of wetting and/or steaming finished knitting projects to form them to a desired finished shape and remove rolling

Bind off (BO) aka cast off - securing stitches at the end of a project or section

Continental style - style of knitting where working yarn is fed into knitting with left hand without releasing needles from grip

Decrease (dec) - general term for combining stitches together to reduce the total number of stitches

English style - style of knitting also called "throw" where the right needle is released and picks up the yarn for each stitch

Increase (inc) - general term for creating new stitches during a project to add to the total number of stitches

Knit (k or K) - main stitch used for knitting

Knitwise - enter the stitch from the left, as if to knit

Garter stitch - ripply-looking fabric resulting from knitting all stitches (straight needles) or alternating rows of knit stitches with rows of purl stitches (circular needles or DPNs)

Gauge - the number of stitches per unit measure for a particular pattern, important for sizing

Make 1 (see increase) - a basic type of increase usually created by knitting under the strand between stitches

Moss stitch - patterned-looking fabric resulting from an offset K1, P1 rib

Purl (p or P) - the second main stitch used for knitting, can be thought of as an inside out or backwards knit stitch

Purlwise - enter the stitch from the right, as if to purl

Ribbing - alternating combinations of knit and purl stitches resulting in a stretchy fabric

Right side (RS) - the side of knitting to face the outside

Row - a horizontal line of stitches

Skein - a unit of yarn you can buy

Slip (sl) - passing a stitch over without knitting it

Stitch (st) - a single loop of yarn within your project

Stockinette stitch (St st) - flat fabric resulting in alternating knit and purl rows (straight needles) or knitting continuously (circular needles and DPNs)

Tension - how tightly you hold your yarn while knitting, also used to refer to gauge in the UK and Canada

Wrong side (WS) - the inside of the garment

Step 4: Optional Tools

Ball winder and swift

Sometimes yarn comes already wound into an easy center-pull ball. Other times it may come in a looser twisted loop, called a hank. You can't easily knit directly from a hank, as it will tangle quickly. Instead you'll need to wind it into a ball. You can do this with just your hands and the help of a friend or chair, but a ball winder and swift make the process go much more quickly and smoothly.

A ball winder is a crank-operated device with an offset spindle. As you rotate the crank handle, the yarn is applied to the spindle, eventually forming a very tidy center-pull ball of yarn. Even without a swift, a ball winder and a friend can cut the winding process time down significantly over winding by hand. A ball winder is also handy for tidying up factory-wound balls that are mostly used up and may have come apart or become tangled.

A swift is a spinning device to hold a large winding or hank of yarn. It is adjusted to snugly fit the hank of yarn and spins to release the yarn easily as the ball winder uses it up.

Needle and gauge check

Once your needles get mixed together, it can be hard to remember which ones are which size. This handy combo tool helps you determine the size of your needles and is also a ruler for finding your gauge (stitches per inch/cm). The flat metal plate holds your knitting flat while the cutout makes it easy to see the stitches clearly. The needle and gauge check is not a mandatory tool, but like the ball winder and swift, it will save you time!

Stitch holders and cable needles

In more advanced projects, you'll find the need to store a set of stitches for a short while, and then come back to knit them later. This is true when knitting cables, where a set of stitches is twisted to the front or back of another set, or in our mittens project, where the hand portion is knit before the thumb.

Stitch holders have closures, and the stitches must come off the same way they went on.

Cable needles look like a crooked double pointed needle. The stitches rest in the crook before you knit them off the opposite end from which they entered.

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