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Cracking the (Pattern) Code, Part 8: Understanding Instructions

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Cracking the (Pattern) Code, Part 8: Understanding Instructions

Technical editor and yarncrafting expert Kj Hay joins us for a series on understanding the different elements of patterns. Click here to read her earlier blog posts.

Cracking the (Pattern) Code, Part 8: Line-by-Line InstructionsObviously the most important information in crochet and knit patterns are the instructions. They are also the most challenging to decrypt. Instructions consist of two basic types, 1) row/round instructions, and 2) prose instructions. Row/Round instructions provide detailed directions for completing one row or round. Prose instructions are sentences or paragraphs that provide more general directions for completing a section, repeating sections, or finishing a piece.

Row/Round Instructions

Each Row/Round instruction consists of a name, a series of steps separated by commas or semi-colons, and as mentioned earlier, possibly a stitch count at the end of the instruction. Names of Row/Round instructions can indicate the order (e.g., Row 10, Next Round), purpose (e.g., Decrease Rnd, Set-Up Row), and/or relationship to the fabric (e.g. (RS), (WS)). Some of this information may be included in parentheses, e.g., Row 12 (Decrease – WS).

The series of instruction steps are usually arranged in a specific order.


A typical knit instruction is arranged in the following order:

  1. What? – What stitch to work, e.g.  a knit (k), purl (p), slip (sl), special, or grouped stitch.
  2. How Many? – How many stitches to work.
  3. Where? – Where the stitch to be worked into is located. This part is usually omitted; by default the “where?” is the next stitch on the left needle. If a different stitch or strand is to be worked into it is clearly indicated. Often this indication is within a special stitch definition (e.g., M1 where the strand between stitches is worked into).


P4 = What? Purl ; How Many? 4

K1b = What? Knit; How Many? 1; Where? B(elow)

(p1, yo, p1) in next st = What? (P1, yo, p1) grouped st; How Many? 1; Where? All in the next st


A typical crochet instruction is arranged in the following order:

  1. How Many? – How many stitches to work.
  2. What? – What stitch to work, e.g., sc, hdc, special, or grouped stitch.
  3. Where? – Where to work the stitch(es), e.g., in the next st, around the post of the st 2 rows below, in the middle stitch of the next shell, in the end of the next row.
  4. How Often? – How many times to work the stitch, e.g., in next 3 sts, [sc2tog] twice.


3 sc in ch-1 sp of next V-st = How Many? 3; Which? sc; Where? In ch-1 space of next V-st; How Often? once.

2 dc in each of next 3 sts = How many? 2; Which? dc; Where? In next st; How Often? 3 times.

(3 dc, ch 3, 3 dc) in next 2 sts = How Many? 1; Which? The grouped st (3 dc, ch 3, 3 dc); Where? In the next st; How Often? twice.

Order in Instructions

Working simple patterns of stitches and rows or rounds in a specific order is what creates the wide variety of lovely pattern stitches. Written instructions use various methods for indicating the order in which instructions and parts of instructions are to be worked.

The parts within a single row or round instruction are either worked in order, one after the other, or are repeated until certain criteria are met or a number of repetitions have been worked. Square brackets and asterisks paired with a repeat statement are used most often to indicate repetition. For example, [ch 1, sk next st, sc in next st] to next ch-3 sp indicates that the instructions inside the square brackets are to be repeated until work reaches the next ch-3 space.

Understanding the use of asterisks paired with a repeat statement can be a little trickier. The words following the repeat may indicate criteria to be met before the repetition should stop or they may indicate exactly how many times the instructions between the asterisk (*) and the repeat statement are to be worked. Examples of repetition stopping criteria include “across”, “around”, “to the last 5 sts”, and “to the next Bobble”. “Across” and “around” have special but simple meanings. They mean “to the end of the row” and “to the end of the round”, respectively. Examples of repetition to be worked an exact number of time include “*sc in next dc, dc in next sc; rep from * 4 more times” and “*k1, p1; repeat from * 6 times”.

In the first example the instructions between the asterisk and the “rep” should be worked a total of 5 times, once for the first time the instruction is encountered and then 4 more times for the repetitions. Similarly, the instructions in the 2nd example should be worked a total of 7 times. Sometimes repetition is “short circuited”. This means that all the parts of the repeated instructions may not be completed when working the final repetition. You will know when you are working a “short circuit” repeat if you reach a specified criteria (e.g. “to last 4 sts”) when you are only part way through working the instructions within a repeat.

Groups of row and round instructions can also be worked in order or repeated. In addition, groups of row and round instructions can be worked only under certain conditions or skipped entirely. For example, a set of instructions may only be worked when making a piece of a certain size (e.g. Size S and M only) or when choosing between different features (e.g. Full-bust only).


Notice that the number following the rep indicates how many more times the instructions are to be repeated, not the total number of times to work the instructions. This is true whether or not the word “more” is used in the repeat instruction.

It can be difficult to distinguish between a “short circuited” repetition, an error in the written instruction, or an error when following the written instruction. Whenever you reach a specified repetition criteria before completing all the instructions within the repeat, carefully study the pattern of stitches across the row or round to ensure that it makes sense to short circuit the repetition, and  that your stitches line up logically and as previously.

Prose Instructions

Repetition and conditions for working groups of instructions are often expressed in prose style.


Repeat last 6 rows 10 times.

Repeat Decrease Row every other row 0 (2, 4, 6, 8) time(s), every 4th row 2 (4, 4, 4, 4) time(s), every 6th row 0 (2, 4, 4, 4) time(s), and every 8th row 0 (0, 2, 2, 4) time(s).

Sizes S (L, 1X) Only: Repeat Decrease row once more. Bind off.

Such prose instructions often contain a lot of information in a small space, as in the 2nd example above. Do not be deceived by the small amount of space needed for some prose instructions, they may represent many, many rows of instructions and quite a bit of detailed shaping.


If you find it difficult to follow these instructions, write them out line by line, so that you can see what each row/round will entail. Writing it out can also help you to  make sure that you understand the instructions before you start knitting or crocheting.

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