How to Translate Patterns

Published November 23, 2015 by estherknit

One summer I went on holiday to the Rhine Valley in Germany. It was a lovely holiday and on my travels I found some wonderful knitting books and magazines. There was only one problem – they were all written in German! Although I picked up a few words of German on holiday and was quite adept at saying “Good morning” and “thanks” by the end of my stay, I must admit the thought of translating a German knitting pattern did seem rather daunting. Unfortunately, the knitting patterns were just too tempting and I came home with some knitting books and magazines.

On the journey home I thought about how I could translate these patterns. I only had to translate the patterns, I didn’t have to speak the language! Then I realised, that knitting patterns aren’t written in English anyway! Knitting is a technical language which is then abbreviated. “Fully fashioned” only means something if you are a knitter and “ff” means even less. So, if you had a translation of all of the knitting terms and abbreviations, then translating the patterns would be a breeze – wouldn’t it?

Well, I was determined to have a go. I studied the patterns and I could see that the layout was similar to English patterns. At the beginning of the patterns, there were instructions such as “50g” and “10 x 10 cm”, Obviously this was how much yarn you would need and the stitches and rows needed for the tension. How many stitches and rows to 10 cm would give me a fair idea of the weight of the yarn; was it double knitting or 4 ply. There were also charts and diagrams which would help.

With a large German dictionary to hand I set about translating a very simple looking pattern for a headband. The European patterns often have less pattern instructions than we are used to, but the greatest difference is that frequently only one size is given, and you are left to work out other sizes for yourself.  The original pattern had a snowflake design, but I wanted my headband to have a ‘snow’ design.

Tension or Gauge

The first thing a knitter needs is the tension, so where was the instructions for the tension square? I looked for the tell-tale “10 x 10 cm” and saw that the pattern said:
24 Maschen
26 Reihen
im Jacquardmuster =
10 x 10 cm
Using the German dictionary and a bit of guess-work I translated the tension instructions as:
24 stitches/26 rows in Fair isle pattern = 10 x 10 cm
You can see that maschenprobe means tension, maschen means stitches and Reihen means rows. I was able to guess that Jacquardmuster means Fair Isle since we sometimes call it Jacquard! So far so good.


The next thing to work out was the size.
Kopfurnfang: ca. 53,5 cm;
Breite: ca. 10 cm
Translated as:
Length: approx: 53.5 cm
Width: approx: 10 cm


Then, I needed to find out what materials I would need.
Das wird gebraucht:
je 50 g Schachenmayr Regia o-fadig
(LL 125 m/50 g),
graublau (Fb 1980)
und natur (Fb 1992)
Stricknadeln Nr. 3 – 4
Translated as:
The things needed:
50 g “Schachenmayr Regia o-fadig” yarn
50 g in blue and 50 g in white
This was a bit more difficult because the yarns and needle sizes are a bit different in Europe, but with a little bit of deep thought I decided that the materials would be:
100g of double knitting yarn
50 g in blue (colour A) and 50 g in white (colour B)
One pair of 4 mm needles.

Substituting the yarn

I’d never heard of the make of yarn but if I wanted to I’m sure I could buy it over the internet. However, if you match the type of yarn (cotton, acrylic, wool, etc.) and the weight of yarn (4 ply, double knitting etc.) you should be able to match the tension.


The Fair Isle pattern was illustrated with a chart. Foreign patterns often have charts and diagrams, and knitters are familiar with these. The charts and diagrams give you a lot of information and you don’t need to know the language to understand what is required.

stars chart 2

Substitute a similar stitch pattern

Of course, I could substitute many other Fair Isle (jacquard) patterns as long as the stitches and rows were the same.  I could even substitute a lace or knit and purl textured pattern instead of the Fair Isle.  The original headband had a snowflake chart but I substituted my own design.

Now the hard work

I must admit translating the pattern was a bit more involved than I at first thought and I got so engrossed I forgot the time. Eventually I had an English version of the pattern. Just one problem – some parts of it didn’t seem to make sense! When you translate using a dictionary you get a literal translation. So, I had a literal translation of the pattern instructions as follows:
The things to be made:
29 stitches in blue cast on and 1 back row left knit. Afterwards over the outer edge every 5 stitches in neckband pattern in blue and over the middle 19 stitches in Fair isle pattern knit. Approximately 53.5 cm (= 140 rows) in Fair isle pattern all gone stitches cast off. The casting on and casting off together.

There was apparently a 1 x 1 rib pattern along the edge of the headband (5 stitches each side) and a Fair isle pattern in the middle (19 stitches). Cast on 29 stitches, and follow the Fair isle chart for 140 rows.  From the translated pattern, I produced my own ‘Snow’ headband.

Headband 5a


Snowboarding is one of the latest crazes. It is also very fashionable to wear the gear even if you don’t go anywhere near the snow!  You might think that this is a lot of bother for a simple little pattern. Couldn’t I just have looked at the picture and guessed what to do! Well, yes maybe I could have, but now I have something I did not have before;  I have a whole load of knitting terms and abbreviations in English and German so it will be easier next time!  When I took another look at my German knitting books and magazines I found that I understood a lot of what was written and translating the next pattern would be easier. I still can’t speak much German and I have no idea what those funny two little dots are above some of the letters but I can’t wait to add all of these lovely patterns to my collection. I thought I might tour Spain next and I’ll be on the look out for more knitting patterns!  For more help with translating your patterns, take a look here

Let me finish with an interesting tale. You’ve all heard the story about Cinderella and know all about her glass slipper and how it only fitted her little foot. Well the original Cinderella had a slipper hand-made in a fine deer skin. However, when the story was translated into English some idiot translated it as a glass slipper. If you think about it for a minute a glass slipper just doesn’t make sense. But the glass slipper idea stuck and the rest is history. I tell you this story just in case I’ve translated something incorrectly and you try to knit a glass slipper!


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