Throughout this season, we’re reposting some of our favorite columns by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, previously featured in our Weekly Stitch newsletter.
Last week, I wrote about pattern terms and concepts people often find confusing. This week, I am covering a couple more concepts that you will often encounter.
Parentheses, brackets, asterisks, and phrases are commonly found in patterns; they are intended to make it easier to follow, and they also decrease the chances of a typographical error in a pattern. Here's some help on deciphering what you are being asked to do.
You will find parentheses or () used in two ways:
The first is to indicate you are to repeat everything in parentheses the given number of times. For example:
(k2tog, yo) twice
What it means is that you should work k2tog, yo two times or k2tog, yo, k2tog, yo.
The second way they are used is to show a grouping or sequence of stitches that are related to each other in some way. You might see (2 dc, ch 3, 2 dc) in next ch-1 sp. The pattern is telling you that everything in the parentheses is all worked into the next ch-1 space.
Brackets or  indicate either to repeat something or a sequence of stitches, just as parentheses do; however, a bracket is needed when a set of instructions within the brackets are already in parentheses. Occasionally, you will brackets used instead of parentheses.
In this example, brackets are being used to indicate you are repeating instructions:
[k2, (yo, k2tog) 3 times] twice
The above means that you would repeat everything in the brackets twice while making sure you also repeat yo, k2tog 3 times in the order written.
Here's an example where the brackets are used to indicate a sequence:
[2 dc (ch 1, 2 dc ) 3 times] in next sc
Everything in the brackets is worked into the next sc and ch 1, 2 dc is repeated 3 times.
An asterisk or * shows the point where you are to begin repeating the stitches indicated. They are very common and make it much easier to keep your place in a pattern stitch, especially if the row instructions are very long. You will usually see the phrase "rep from *" meaning you repeat everything from the point of the asterisk to where you see the phrase.
Sometimes the number of stitches repeated is evenly divisible over the number of sts you are working. Other times, you will have stitches left over after the repeating part of the pattern. In this case, you will end the row differently than how you have been repeating the stitch pattern.
You will be asked to end the row one of two ways:
First, the pattern will usually state, "end" and then have an instruction:
p3, *k5, p3; rep from *, end k3
You may also see this written as p3, *k5, p3; rep from * to last 3 sts, end k3 OR p3, *k5, p3; rep from * to last 3 sts, k3 -- they all mean the same thing; the pattern is asking you to repeat from the * and when you come to the last three stitches of the row, k3.
The second way the pattern may ask you to end a row is to state, "end last rep" followed by an instruction. This is not quite as straight forward, as you are being asked to work the repeat again but end it in a different way the last time it is worked.
K2tog, *k5, yo, k1, yo, k2, sl 1, k2tog, psso; rep from *, end last repeat ssk
In this example, you are being asked to end the last repeat ssk instead of sl 1, k2tog, psso. So you would work the last repeat of the row:
k5, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk
Hopefully, these explanations will make deciphering the next pattern you knit or crochet a bit easier! Good luck!