How to read a pattern

Don’t be put off reading a pattern just because it looks like gobbledygook!  Actually, patterns are not my forte, especially when trying to follow a pattern without a diagram.  I work much better using visuals – I seldom use rulers.
I am doing my first Crochet-A-Long mystery piece, organised for Knit 4 Charities' 10th Anniversary conference.  All the volunteers make a bit at a time, and everything will be put together at the end to make a wonderful final piece for donation.  Nobody knows what it's going to be!  Part 1 required 4 squares and 4 triangles.  The only information I had was the pattern instructions and the finished size.  I knew I wasn’t reading the pattern right when my squares were the wrong size…and all different!

So here are some pattern-reading strategies I discovered after much trial and error.

Read in lines, not in stitches
I would very much like it if patterns were set out with rows in corresponding lines.  Alas this is not to be and I’m sure a lot of page space is saved by not starting new lines all the time.
Try to find punctuating repeats in a pattern.  For example with a square, finding the comers first will help set the rest out.  Corners would be marked in brackets, because you are working the numerous corner stitches into one space, to make the work ‘turn’ the corner.

Make it visual
To find the corners easily, I colour coded my pattern.  Check visually that the spaces, clusters (or whatever you have worked), are symmetrical.

Make a template
After a few attempts without a successful result, I thought of drawing my own diagram.  This turned out to be even harder than crocheting because lines on the paper don’t bend, move and thread as yarn does.  So once you have crocheted one correct square, you can refer back to it as a template.

Work single-mindedly
Decoding a pattern takes concentration, especially when there are small differences in similar sequences (for example, the same sequence but with a single ch inserted).  I made the most mistakes when I tried to read a pattern while watching tv, or chatting.  Here's what happened when hooking into the wrong space: a curly triangle

So stay focused.  You will only get the full effect of your crochet flow when you are truly absorbed in counting stitches instead of the to-do list!

Trust the word
The tricky part where we all trip up is interpreting.  When I had made a mistake in the previous row, it meant that there were not the right number of spaces to work with in the next row.  That means it’s time to go back and check your interpretation.  To help with this,

Make notes as you go
As I went along, I jotted down my interpretation.  So if I found a mistake, I could go back and check how I had understood it.  If you don’t do this, when you go back to undo, you will not remember what you did and so are likely to repeat the mistake.  Yes, I learnt this the hard way!

Work to a rhythm
I found it helpful to work to medium-paced music, something repetitive like a mantra (= the turn of the hook), or canonical (= the sequence of patterns) like those of JS Bach.

Finally, don’t give up!
Re-doing work just means you get to crochet more … turning, weaving, making … just enjoying that lovely process.

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