Crocheting with Symbols

Sometimes the best way to understand how crochet stitches combine to create intricate stitch patterns is to “see” the pattern. Crochet stitch diagrams allow you to visualize not only where to work individual stitches and how a collection of crochet stitches work together but also what the finished piece will look like.

I recently reread a fabulous article on stitch diagrams, also called symbolcraft, in the Interweave Crochet Fall 2005 issue. I love being able to revisit past issues! Here is a short excerpt from Sandi Wiseheart.


It’s not always easy to translate a three-dimensional craft such as crochet into clear, step-by-step written instructions; sometimes words are not enough to describe the process of looping loops through other loops that produces crochet. Fortunately, there already exists an international language for crochet, a language where one picture literally is worth a thousand words.

Learn how to crochet with crochet stitch diagrams.Symbolcraft, as it is known to some, is a way of diagramming the individual crochet stitches that produce the fabric structure; it lets you “see” how the stitches fit together to form a particular pattern. Each crochet stitch has a unique symbol; groups of symbols are linked together to illustrate rows, rounds, and motifs. The symbols for some of the basic stitches used in this issue are shown below.

The first thing to notice is that the symbols are logical in their representation: a chain stitch is shown as an oval; half double crochet is shown with a single crossbar, representing the single yarnover drawn through all the loops in that stitch; double crochet has two crossbars; treble crochet has three. This makes it easier to puzzle out new symbols in diagrams just from the way they are constructed. Complicated stitches become less of a mystery when you can visualize how they are constructed.

Learn how to read crochet sttch diagrams.The logical format of the symbols also makes it quite easy to diagram combinations of stitches, as in the symbols for various types of cluster stitches also shown below. At a glance, you can see that the shell stitch consists of five double crochet stitches worked into a single stitch. Looking at the diagram, it is easy to grasp the difference between this shell stitch and the fan stitch below it: the double crochet stitches in the fan are separated by chain stitches, whereas there are no chain stitches in the shell. Likewise, you can see the difference between a bobble stitch (several incomplete double crochet stitches connected by a single yarnover through all the final loops), a popcorn stitch (several completed double crochet stitches pulled together into a cup shape by connecting the first and last stitch), and a puff stitch (multiple loops on the hook pulled together with a single yarnover).

From individual stitches and stitch combinations, you can build diagrams for entire stitch patterns. There are basically two kinds of diagrams: those that represent part of a repeating pattern worked in rounds or rows, and those that represent an entire motif (such as a granny square or flower). It’s important to note that both types of diagrams show the right side of the fabric, and both assume that the crocheter is right-handed.-Sandi Wiseheart, Interweave Crochet Fall 2005Check out the past articles and gorgeous patterns from some of our first issues. Order your copy of 2004-2006 Interweave Crochet Collection today.

Best wishes,

P.S. Share your best tip for using stitch diagrams in the comments.

Learn how to crochet sweatersBlueprintCrochet

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Crochet for Beginners, How to Crochet
Toni Rexroat

About Toni Rexroat

Toni Rexroat is the Online Editor of Crochet Me. Outfitted with several crochet hooks and surrounded by bins of yarn, she has been the assistant editor for Interweave Crochet magazine as well as PieceWork, Interweave Crochet’s sister magazine. She was born and raised in a little town in Wyoming where she was exposed to wool and other fibers at an early age, and began crocheting in her early teens. Enjoying a wide variety of fibery hobbies from crochet and knitting to sewing, she is determined to learn to spin so she can crochet with her own yarn.

12 thoughts on “Crocheting with Symbols

  1. With regards to your crocheting-with-symbols of March 17, 2014, in the chart from the crochet symbols shown, a half double crochet is marked as a “T” and a double crochet is marked as a “T” with 1 cross. In your text, you have the half double crochet as a “T” with 1 cross and a double crochet as a “T” with 2 crosses. Are we mixing US crochet stitches with UK crochet stitches? It makes a difference in following symbol written patterns which stitch you actually use.

  2. I like to have both symbols and written instructions, once I have read the instructions I then go to the symbols and use them. I find the symbols help in understanding the pattern and correcting any errors in the pattern. I would like to become proficient enough in symbol reading to work some of the Japanese patterns that are only symbols.
    Catherine MacKinnon

  3. I like to have both symbols and written instructions, once I have read the instructions I then go to the symbols and use them. I find the symbols help in understanding the pattern and correcting any errors in the pattern. I would like to become proficient enough in symbol reading to work some of the Japanese patterns that are only symbols.
    Catherine MacKinnon

  4. I cannot function without the symbols. I find even doing some of the simple patterns so much easier when I have the symbols with the instructions. I can say I even go as far as when I buy a book or magazine or pattern if it does not have a symbol chart I do not buy it. Thanks

  5. I was given a whole bunch of old “Magic Crochet” books, which are basically all symbols. After the first project I was hooked. With diagrams I can even crochet some of the gorgeous lace patterns published in Japanes.

  6. Thanks for this article! It’s just in time for spring break and the summer project queue 😉

    I knit and crochet – for some reason I had found the crochet charts harder to figure out (although often really beautiful!!). The article has inspired me to keep trying to understand and eventually master this important skill. There are so many incredible Japanese and Russian patterns out there 😉

  7. I havea lot of old “Magic Crochet” books but have had a hard time using the symbols. Lately, I have downloaded written instructions with symbols and these are the best. I mainly use the written instructions but the symbols help when problems arise. The symbols are especially useful for the beginning and ending of rows. Many times I realize that crocheting in the same stitch as the first chain or not causes major problems and using the symbols in a chart clarify this better than the instructions.

  8. I learned to crochet using written instructions and couldn’t make head nor tail of the diagrams. Finally, about five years ago, I was doing a pattern that wasn’t working out for me. It had both the written and diagram instructions and I was able to, very slowly, follow my work via the pictures until I found the problem.

    Now I tend to look for patterns with both and use the symbols as a cross-check so I catch any little mistake before it becomes huge. If I have both, I’m also more likely to try something that’s a bit more difficult because I know I have two ways to figure it out so I have more confidence. It’ll be a while before I try those Japanese patterns but someday …

  9. I would like to know where to buy books with the symbols. I have asked around, looked online, and not finding a really good source for it. I need these diagrams because 1, I’m left handed, so I get confused quickly!, 2, I have a brain injury, and so I’m not able to process the dialect as easily on the directions, and 3, well, I”m just me, and so I’m just unique like that! 🙂 I like crocheting and knitting, but I find very little in regards to the symbiology- maybe a note here or there in some books. It’s frustrating! Thanks!

  10. I downloaded the Wedding Crochet patterns – I was really curious and wanting to do the garter. I admit I’m more of a seamstress, but I’m “functional” with crochet. I am confused while following the directions for the garter, I succeeded through rows 1-3 and most of row 4… until the “turn”. I chained 12 and now I’m lost. What does “12 ch-4sp” mean? I love the symbolcraft idea. Once I know what I’m supposed to be doing, I want to diagram it for reference. Thanks!

  11. Each row ends with an emdash (—) and total of the stitches in the row you just worked so that you can make sure you are working it correctly. So for Row 4 when it says “—12 ch-4 sps” it means that, for the row you worked, when you count the ch-4 sps you should have 12. These are not stitches that you actually work, just a count of the stitches in the row you just worked.

    For Row 5 you will turn. Now remember the 12 ch-4 sps you just counted, chain 6, skip 3 of them, and single crochet in the next ch-4 sp. You have now created a ch-6 “loop”. For the next section you will be working in this loop.

    I hope this helps. Let me know if you are still confused. Good luck!