This is one of the most basic things to learn. If you don't know how to read a pattern, you will have a hard time learning how to crochet in the first place! So lets start at the beginning. When you first look at a pattern, it is going to tell you a few KEY things you will need to know:
Here is a chart I really like that tells you all about the different sizes of yarn, what they are used for, and the suggested size of hook that you use.
Most patterns will tell you how difficult the pattern is.
|Image from crochet-world.com|
Most patterns will tell you the size in metric AND U.S. Size Ranges.
|Image from coatsandclark.com|
Click on any link for a brief explanation of each on LionBrand.com
Here are a few others:
 -- work instructions within brackets as many times as directed
() -- work instructions within parentheses as many times as directed
* -- repeat the instructions following the single asterisk as directed
** -- repeat instructions between asterisks as many times as directed or repeat from a given set of instructions.
" -- inches
alt -- alternate
Last but not least:
This is one of the most misunderstood crocheting tools. Mainly, because people, like me, get impatient and don't check it and most of the time the hat or whatever comes out the wrong size. Everyone crochets differently, we hold our hooks different, our stitches are different sizes, etc. The gauge is what we check so that we are working the same size as the author of the pattern. For example: Say the pattern tells you that the gauge is 12 dc = 4". Well, this means that if you did 12 double crochets and measured them, then it should be 4 inches long. If it is shorter, you may need to use a larger hook. If it is bigger, than use a smaller hook, and work it out again to get closest to 4 inches as you can.
Here is was Lion Brands says about gauge:
Gauge is the term that is used to define the proper tension you should work to insure that the crocheted piece you make will be the right size when it's completed. The hook size listed in the pattern is just the size used by the designer to work at the proper gauge. You may need to change hook size in order to work at the given gauge. It is especially important to work to the proper gauge when making garments -- anything that you want to fit properly!Now, don't look at all this and get discouraged. ALL of this isn't going to be in a single pattern! This is only a guide to help you read one. Let's look at an example.
Gauge is usually defined in the pattern by a ratio of stitches and rows to a given measurement such as 16 stitches and 14 rows in single crochet = 4". You should always work a swatch of fabric (approximately 4" x 4") in the stitch pattern of the piece you are making. Then count the number of stitches and rows in the measurement designated by the gauge given in the pattern. If you find that your swatch has more stitches and rows than the gauge, you are working too tightly so change to a larger hook and try again. If you have fewer stitches and rows in the area, you are working too loosely and should try a smaller hook. Keep changing hook size until you arrive at the proper gauge.
Let's say we are going to make this Santa Hat from FaveCrafts.com:
Hat circumference at bottom edge: 20 (22)". (This is telling you the size)
Directions are for size Small/Medium; changes for size Large are in parentheses.
RED HEART® “Holiday”: 1 Ball each 140 White/Silver A and 9090 Red/Red B. (This is the exact colors that they used, doesn't mean you have to. This is also in it's way telling you the size. Red Heart yarn is Worsted, Med, #4: so any other brands that size would do just as well)
Crochet Hook: 5mm [US H-8]. (We go by the H in the US)
Yarn needle. (A must have for weaving in loose ends)
Pompom maker. (I just use a tongue depressor or my hands)
GAUGE: 12 dc = 4”; 8 rounds = 4”. CHECK YOUR GAUGE. Use any size hook to obtain the gauge. (This is the same as the example above)
You can read the rest of the pattern here!
Then you begin!
Stay tuned this week with more beginning lessons in crocheting.
How to chain and slip stitch, and do some other things.
How to Single Crochet
How to Double Crochet
And much, MUCH more!