One of the things I hear most often from students and customers is "I know the basic stitches, but have no idea how to read a crochet pattern". In fact, it wasn't so long ago that I was in the same boat, struggling to understand what all of the letters, numbers and abbreviations meant! Most searches on the internet throw up only a list of abbreviations for the terms used in crochet in either US or UK crochet. Of course this is crucial information, but it isn't the whole story. When you get to the basic instructions of a crochet pattern, there are a number of things you need to know in addition to the common abbreviations. In many ways, its like a code or another language that tells you how and where to make stitches. Unfortunately, each designer and publication will do things a little differently, which can add to the confusion. While I don't believe that there should be any sort of dogma in pattern writing, people do need to understand what you are telling them to do. And while testers and tech editors can really help with pattern clarity, the reader still needs some basic pattern information.
Let's look at an imaginary line of pattern:
At the beginning of the line, you should have some indication whether you are working in rounds or in rows.
Immediately following this, you will have an indication of what row/round you are currently on. Numbers in brackets (parentheses) refer to the corresponding instructions for different sizes, working from left to right, smallest to largest. If there is a "-" in the instruction, this means that this particular instruction doesn't apply to that size.
Next up, you should have some indication of what the beginning chain will be. You should also have an instruction, either in the pattern or in the beginning instructions of the pattern, of how this stitch will be counted in your stitch count. This is done because the first stitch at the beginning of a row or round in crochet needs to be raised up to the correct height of the rest of the following stitches, otherwise the work will be sloped. A designer needs to make a decision whether or not this is counted as a stitch and what works best with the pattern.
In this example, the next section of instruction means to make 2 half double crochet stitches into the next stitch of the previous round (the pattern tells us the previous round was a double crochet) and then make 1 half double crochet in each of the next 2 stitches. This is often when there variation occurs in crochet patterns. When I first started writing patterns, I would have written "HDC2, 2HDC" for the same line...not terribly clear. If you do come across problems in any designers patterns - ASK! Don't get in a muddle. Its not worth the frustration.
In this case, that line of pattern is in square brackets (some designers may use normal parenthesis/brackets) . This tells us that bit of pattern is repeated the number of times directly after the second bracket. In this case, 4 times. There may be variation in relation to sizes, following the same left to right, smallest to largest order.
When instructions are preceded by a *, this means to repeat that sequence of stitches as many times as indicated, usually to the end of the round or row.
'Join' means to join the round with a slip stitch. This is usually used at the end when working in rounds.
'Turn' means to turn your work. This may not be in the line if there is a general instruction at the beginning of the pattern for how to deal with turning.
The stitch counts at the end of the row tell you how many stitches you should have worked in that row or round. This may be followed with the specific stitch that is used in the round/row, the word "stitches" or nothing.
Does that help anyone? I certainly hope so!! Experienced crocheters, have I forgotten anything?
(I could not have ever written this post without the stellar tech editing skillz of Ms Joanne Scrace, she taught me most everything I know.)