Day 3 – Decoding the Pattern

I realise that I made a tactical mistake yesterday when I put up only the pattern for the cowl without an accompanying explanation. That seems to have raised an alarm that the pattern is some sort of a hieroglyphic that needs decoding. Let me assure you it is no such thing. Like every club or group, which has its own special lingo, making it sound highly exclusive – knitters too have their language. But just like once you get to know that LOL means nothing more interesting than ‘Laugh Out Loud’ – leaving you to wonder what the big fuss was about – once you figure out your Ks and Ps, you will never have trouble in the knitting world again.

As promised, I will explain each and every line. Lets begin one block at a time

This one is fairly simple. It lets you know that this is a project which is easy to knit (see I told you!) and gives you the designer’s name.

This one tells you about the essential things you’ll need for this project (which I’ve already told you about in detail on Day 1).

If you want a cowl that looks like the one in the picture, then this tells you which yarn to use – in this case, it is 1 ball (or skein) of the Red Heart Yarn in the Papaya colour (I doubt it will be available in India). It also tells you the length and weight of each ball of this yarn.

Then, it mentions the size of needles that you need to use – in this case, it is a circular needle of 6 mm thickness (I will almost always mention needle sizes by their thickness and not by their US/UK size since there is some confusion regarding that). It also tells you that the length of the circular needle should be 29 inches from needle point to needlepoint.

I had mentioned earlier that you can use any type of yarn and any type of needle you want, which is where Gauge comes into play. The gauge usually tells the number of stitches and rows/rounds for a unit of length in a particular project – in this case there are 14 stitches and 22 rounds per 4 inches. So if you want your cowl to be of the same size as the one in the picture, you need to ensure that the needle and yarn you use results in a similar gauge. This is usually done by something called Gauge Swatching, which deserves its own post because it is the single most important thing you need to do when you’re knitting fitted garments. For this project, it will not matter a great deal if the gauge varies a bit.

This one tells the completed size of the cowl in the picture. The Notes sections tells you about the various sections of the cowl – Garter Stitch Border, Zigzag Eyelet Trellis Pattern and Gull Wing pattern.

A very important thing to note is that any pattern can be written in two ways – by written instructions or through a chart. This particular pattern has given you both. I’m going to put the pictures of both types to make it clearer.

Main sections of the Cowl


This one tells you to cast 210 stitches on your circular needles while placing a stitch marker at the beginning. Usually the casting-on part is not depicted in a chart.

If you’re using straight needles, it means you have to turn the pattern by 90 degrees. So the number of stitches in circular knitting will become the number of rows in straight knitting and vice versa. This means on straight needles, you will cast on 57 stitches.

Garter Stitch Border

This section forms the top and bottom edge of the cowl. It will also be inserted between the lace sections. The most important thing to remember is that in the case of circular knitting when you knit garter stitch, alternate rounds have to be Knit and Purl Rounds.

On the other hand if you’re knitting this cowl on straight needles, then you will have a Garter stitch section at the beginning and end of the row and between the lace sections. For Garter stitch on straight needles, every row has to be a Knit row.

Zigzag Eyelet Trellis Pattern and Gull Wing pattern

These two are the lace sections of the cowl. Making these sections is optional for you. If you want to keep it simple, you can make these sections of simple stockinette stitch. Stockinette stitch in circular knitting means that every round has to be knit.

Stockinette stitch on straight needles means alternate rows of Knit and Purl stitches.

At the very end comes, the key to unlock the entire mystery.

Abbreviations and the Key tell you exactly the same thing except Abbreviations are to understand written instructions, whereas the Key is to understand the graph. I’ll tell you about the different types of stitches when we start knitting. Right now, you only need to know that the asterisk (in the left picture) and the red box (in the right picture) tell you the number of times you have to repeat what is contained within them, in order to complete the pattern. Repeats are usually only needed when the pattern includes some sort of a design element like lace or cables or colour work.

If you’re using circular needles and want to include lace sections, the pattern asks you to repeat what is contained between the asterisk/red box, 11 times. If you don’t want to include lace sections, then the entire round has to be knit or purled, depending on the round.

If you’re knitting on straight needles and not using lace sections, then for the next 210 rows you have to repeat the same stitches as those in Row 1. In written form, it will read like this

Row 1: P1, K1, P1, K12, P1, K1, P1, K21, P1, K1, P1, K12, P1, K1, P1

Row 2-210: Repeat Row 1

If however you want to knit on straight needles and use the lace sections, then I would be happy to rework the chart for you. But this one is only on request because otherwise its too much effort (wink!).

The only other thing this pattern mentions is to bind off and seam in the ends, which believe me is the best part because your project is now complete and ready to be worn. YAY!!

Hope this very, very long post has lifted some of the clouds. This one needed to be long because I had to tell you about so many things. Promise to keep it shorter in the future.


P.S. When I re-read this post, I felt that everything was simply written and was easily understandable. But I’m the author and obviously have blinkers on, so if it all sounded Greek to you, please let me know and I’ll try to change my style. I am also open to any and all sorts of questions. Email me directly if you find that more comfortable.

Please note that the pattern mentioned above (in red) for knitting on straight needles without lace sections has some mistakes. It has now been corrected and can be found here.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Deeksha says:

    That’s very helpful.. I was quite intimidated by that pattern and started on a simple cowl first because I really didn’t know what to make of it. Also, I had very chunky yarn so I thought I could just try a simple one with it first.


    1. Pallavi Mohan says:

      Chunky yarns make great cowls since they are so soft and squishy. You can reduce the size of the cowl if you use chunky yarn.


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