Vintage Knit Terms Translated


CONTEST ALERT: Get yer Raverly project page up! The first random drawing prize is this Friday. To be eligible, you need to have a vintage project started in ravelry and have it tagged with “revive-a-vintage”.

Vintage Knitting Terms Translated

Yep. You knew this posty was coming. After yesterday’s roundup of vintage crochet terms, I had to give some lovin’ to my knitters. Knitters are nice people after all. Also they carry around very pointy sticks and I don’t want to piss them off. So here are some vintage terms translated for my weapon-toting friends.

Making Sense of Vintage Knit Terms

There isn’t enough standardization in the knitting terms published today in my opinion. We use too many different terms and symbols to mean the same thing. That gets worse when you work with vintage patterns. The further back you go, the worse it gets.

Terms that mean Knit :

  • plain
  • k

As in “work plain to end”, “make two plain rows”, etc. You’re on easy street. Just knit.


Terms that mean Purl:

  • p
  • pearl
  • knit with wool in front
  • knit with yarn before needle
  • seam (Sometimes the term “seam” in an old pattern is not an edge that you sew. It’s a purl. No idea why.)
  • rib-stitch (Sometimes “rib” means ribbing. Sometimes it seams to mean purling. Hopefully the pattern will give you a clue.)


Terms that mean Slip:

  • S
  • Sl
  • pass (Sometimes “pass” means pass a stitch over like it does today. Sometimes it means to slip.)


Terms that mean Yarn Over:

  • over
  • O (O2 would mean double yarn over)
  • cast-over
  • Bring Yarn Forward (byf)
  • make 1 (If your pattern is from the Victorian/Edwardian era then do a yarn over instead of a modern Make 1)
  • Throw yarn over
  • loop stitch

It’s a long list, right? I suspect that some of this is pattern writers trying (ineptly) to be specific about what kind of yarn over they used. Yes, there is more than one. You can put your yarn over the needle, under the needle, or looped around the needle. All that results in yarn over holes of slightly different sizes. The designers of these vintage patterns were being picky and fussy and wanted things just so. I also suspect that knitters back in the day said “nuts to that” and did the yarn over that they liked to do. Which is pretty much what I do too.


Terms that mean knit two together (k2tog):

  • narrow
  • n


Terms that mean slip, knit, pass (skp):

  • Sl and b. (slip a stitch, knit the next stitch, the pass the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch. Can also be used as a bind off edge.)


Terms that mean to knit/purl through the back loop:

  • twist or twist stitch
  • at the back (“n. at the back” = knit 2 together through the back loops)


Terms that mean Bind Off:

  • b
  • cast off


A few other terms:

To rib means to work some sequence of knits and purls, such as knit two, purl two. The older patterns don’t always specify. I take that to mean “do any rib you like!”

A pin or “third pin” sometimes means cable needle. Special needles for cabling are fairly modern. Older patterns didn’t have that term at all.

Want to take this list with you? Use the handy “Print & PDF” button in the lower left.

More Places to Go For Help on Vintage Knit patterns

7 Tips to Read Vintage Knitting Patterns

Terms Used in Vintage Knitting Patterns

My Knitting Book by Ms. Lambert published in 1843. There is a short but very helpful explanation of terms on page 9.

Translating Vintage Patterns with Karen Brock (a youtube video). Karen Brock is the editor of Piecework Magazine and an authority on recreating vintage patterns. Her explanation of terms starts at around the 4:30 mark.

This post is part of our series on Revive-A-Vintage!, a contest that runs from March 6 to April 15 (2015). We are challenging you to take a pattern, picture, style, etc from 40 years ago or more and make it. And if you do… there are prizes to be had. Its not to late to get started!

The page with all the contest info

♦ A post with lots of sources for free, on-line vintage patterns

Vintage Crochet Terms Translated

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5 Comments on "Vintage Knit Terms Translated"

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I always thought that as a knitter I could fend off any attacker (including vampires!) with my sharp and pointy sticks 🙂


This is helpful…I spent quite a while scratching my head over knitting “patterns” from the late 1800’s, before deciding that reverse engineering a 1930s-style “Harriet Vane” hat would be exciting enough for me. But today I added a second hat pattern (tagged) to my projects page, which may not be eligible for this contest but maybe it is and I’ll try knitting it either way because it’s got an interesting construction. 🙂
Much swatching has commenced!


Sounds like you are elbow deep in patterns, yarn, and fun! I’ll go find the hat and get back to you.


Fantastic resource! Thank-you!


You are very welcome!