Pattern Basics: Part 1- How to Read a Pattern for All Its Worth

Being in the crochet biz, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry. And there is so much to take in; creative new designers, crochet as art and fashion garments fit for the runway. But one topic of perennial discussion among crocheters always comes back to reading and understanding patterns, getting gauge, and yarn substitution. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, we are going to dive a little bit deeper into these topics and try to shed some light on how to get results you’ll be happy with and proud to share.

Many people approach a new pattern either blissfully unaware, just diving in or overwhelmed by all the information. Either way you can end up being disappointed with your project.

My approach to a new pattern is to treat it like a new recipe. When you try a new recipe, do you read through it first to see if you understand the steps, making sure you have the right ingredients and tools? Crochet patterns can be approached in the same way. Reading through a pattern before you begin, even if you don’t understand every step, will save you much heartache and ripping later.

Trellis Tee Design by Margret Willson
Trellis Tee
Design by Margret Willson

Go ahead and look for a garment pattern you would like to make and we’ll take a look at a pattern together. We’ll use the Trellis Tee from the April 2016 issue of Crochet World as our example. If you have that issue, you may want to read along with me. Once you find a pattern that you want to crochet, let’s begin looking at it from the beginning.

The first bit of information after the project name and designer on most patterns will be the skill level, which indicates the level of proficiency needed to successfully crochet the pattern. In Crochet World, the Skill Levels are listed in the back pages of every issue.

The Trellis Tee has a Skill Level of 5; Moderately Challenging which according to the chart means you need to be comfortable with a wide variety of stitches and techniques, as well as more detailed shaping, construction and finishing. Just checking this bit of information alone can save you time and aggravation. You may be looking for a simple easy pattern you can take with you on your next trip or you might want to take on a more challenging project and learn something new, but being surprised by a difficult pattern when you were not expecting it is never fun! The Skill Levels used by Crochet World are based on the standards established by the Craft Yarn Council. If a pattern only lists a skill level, but doesn’t give an explanation, their website is a great place to start.

The next step is to figure out the size you want to make and honestly this is where most people make their first mistake! Look at all the information, don’t assume that just because you wear a medium, you want to crochet the medium size. Patterns are written in many styles by many designers and one person’s idea of a medium may not be the same for another designer. Think about all the different brand names of clothing and how different the sizing can be. Here is the best way to decide on the size that will best fit you; go and measure a favorite top or sweater similar in style to the one you want to crochet. Lay it out flat and measure the bust. Now go and look at the pattern and the Finished Measurements and find the closest size. It may be the medium or it may be the small! If the pattern doesn’t include Finished Measurements, look for a schematic on the pattern. Often patterns include a simple line drawing of the garment with all the measurements. From that one drawing you can check other measurements too such as armhole depth, sleeve length, etc.

Once you have decided on the size to make, you can go through and circle all the corresponding numbers on the pattern before you begin so you won’t lose your place. By the way, making a copy* of your pattern is a great idea. You can mark on that copy keeping your magazines and books in good shape. Plus, it’s easier to carry just a few pages around than a whole book, and if your pattern gets lost, you still have the original. Trust me, we’ve heard more stories of lost patterns than you can imagine!

Now you are almost ready to begin crocheting! If I plan to use the same yarn as the pattern calls for, I often times will purchase just one ball of yarn and do up my gauge swatch before committing to the whole project.

You can learn a lot from crocheting up that small swatch! We’ll talk more about getting gauge next week.

If you have questions about the information covered in this post, please feel free to contact me. I would love to get a discussion going on this topic.

*Most publishers give permission for individuals to make a copy of a pattern they have purchased for personal use only. You do not have permission to make copies of patterns to give away or sell. That is copyright infringement and is against the law.

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