Making Sense of Modular Knitting Patterns

Have you ever come across a knitting pattern that wasn't written in straight rows? Instead of reading "Row 1, Row 2, Row 3," some patterns give instructions in chunks, and then put those chunks together to create a full project. If you've never read one before, these modular knitting patterns can be a bit confusing.

Designers often choose to write patterns this way when each row will be very similar. When every single row is the same except for a stitch or two, it can actually be easier to read broken-down instructions — otherwise, you might miss the details. Many knitters find a rhythm in the modules.

There are two main types of modular knitting patterns.

Both pattern types are similar, giving you building blocks to create a finished piece. The patterns are written to encourage an understanding of the rhythm of the overall pattern, rather than giving line-by-line instructions.

For both pattern types, you'll find instructions for the the sections or modules listed toward the beginning of the pattern. You'll reference these sections as you knit.

You also might find a foundation or cast-on section, which is the start of the pattern before the modules really begin. Be sure to start here before jumping into the modules. 

Whole row modules

Some patterns use modules that are made up for whole rows. That's how the Drachenfels Shawl pattern, pictured above, is constructed.

For example, a knitting pattern could have a few main sections: A solid colored stockinette stitch section made up of 6 rows, a colorwork section made up of 10 rows, and a garter stitch section made up of 6 rows. These sections are stacked upon each other and repeated several times to create the design.

Imagine building blocks stacking up: You start with 10 blocks of Section 1, then 5 blocks of Section 2, another 2 blocks of Section 1, then 5 blocks of Section 3. When you're done, you have a skyscraper.

Row modules

In the other type of modular pattern each row contains stitches for several different modules. For example, the first few stitches might create a border, the next few might form a cable stitch, the next section could be stockinette, and it might finish with another border. Each of those elements, separated by stitch markers, would be considered a module.

In fact, that's how the Scania Shawl , pictured above, is built. 

Things can get a bit confusing when the motifs in the modules are created over a different number of rows. For example, you only need 2 rows to create stockinette, but you might need 4 rows to complete a cable repeat.

In that case, the module instructions will include row numbers. It might look something like this:

Section 1:
Row 1:
Row 2:

Section 2:
Row 1:
Row 2:
Row 3:
Row 4:

Section 3:
Row 1:
Row 2:

In this instanced you'd knit:

  • Section 1 Row 1, Section 2 Row 1, Section 3 Row 1
  • Section 1 Row 2, Section 2 Row 2, Section 3 Row 2
  • Section 1 Row 1, Section 2 Row 3, Section 3 Row 1
  • Section 1 Row 2, Section 2 Row 4, Section 3 Row 2

If it's helpful, you can write out one full set of the longest pattern repeat by row.
When you think about it in terms of building blocks, you're building a long, expansive wall. Each layer of the wall uses several different shapes or colors of bricks, slowly building up.

Using modules in combination

These two types of modular patterns aren't mutually exclusive. The two can be combined to create even more complex designs.

In fact, the Scania Shawl uses both types of modular patterns. In addition to the row modules, the pattern includes whole row modules in the form of colors. That is, while you're knitting the modules back and forth, you're also creating color modules of different sizes, following a different chart.

January 18, 2018
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Making Sense of Modular Knitting Patterns