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Befriending a knitting chart

Oct 28, 2013

Heather Zoppetti's Lace Sampler Scarf
Lace knitting seems so daunting. When you see a beautiful lace piece, you think, "That's so complicated. I could never do it!"

I hate to be rude, but you're wrong. Most lace is knitted using simple yarnovers paired with decreases. If you know how to work a yarnover and how to knit two (or three) together, you can knit lace. (There are sometimes other types of increases or decreases used, but they're easy, too.)

Something that can help you become an accomplished lace knitter is learning how to read a lace chart.

Think of a knitting chart as a shorthand representation of the knitted fabric. Each square represents one stitch. The shapes and slants of the symbols imitate the shapes and slants of the knitted stitches.

Charts are a visual representation of many, many lines of written out instructions. Although a chart may look scary at first, compared to five pages of uninterrupted text, charts are really much easier to deal with.

Coral Lace Pattern, used as one of the patterns on Heather Zoppetti's Lace Sampler Scarf

Charts are almost always read from the bottom to the top, right to left for right-side rows, and left to right for wrong-side rows. If you're knitting in the round, the chart is read right to left for every row.

The symbols on a chart represent different stitches. Not all patterns use the same symbols, so it's important to study your chart key (shown at right) to see which stitches correspond to which symbols.

Pattern repeats are most often shown bordered in a dark colored or red box. The pattern instructions will specify how many times you work the repeat in each row. Charts usually show at least one pattern repeat; more if a repeat is complicated or if you need to see how repeats work with each other.

In the chart shown above, you can see that the repeat encompasses ten stitches. The stitches on either side of the repeats are the edge stitches. So, you work the edge stitches, and then the repeat for as many times as the pattern specifies, and then, at the end of the row, you work the edge stitches again.

Chart Tips

  • You can photocopy a chart for your own use. I like to make an enlarged copy so my old eyes can see the symbols better.
  • I use a Post-It note to keep track of which row I'm working on. I place the Post-It above the line I'm knitting on so I can see how it works with the row that I previously worked.
  • A magnetic board works really well as a chart keeper. I have one, and I use the magnet in the same way that I use the Post-It note. I have a friend who knits complex lace patterns with multiple charts, and she uses a big sheet pan as her magnetic surface.
  • Use a row counter along with your magnet board or Post-It system. It's a safety back up in case your magnet slips or your Post-It falls off your pattern. Eeek!
  • Some knitters like to place markers between each repeat so they know when a new repeat is coming up.
  • This isn't a chart tip per se, but I always advise new lace knitters to count their stitches after each row to make sure a mistake wasn't made. It's a lot easier to fix a mistake on the row it's made than to try and fix it several rows later!

There's a lot to learn when you first knit lace, but it's so fun and so rewarding. Designer Heather Zoppetti is an accomplished lace knitter, and she has a new workshop all about beginning lace knitting, Start Knitting Lace. She'll teach you more about charts, increases and decreases, lace blocking, and fixing your mistakes.

You can put all of your new-found skills together with Heather's fabulous Lace Sampler Scarf pattern, which is included with the workshop.

Knitted lace is so beautiful, and you can do it! Get Start Knitting Lace today and . . .  start knitting lace!


P.S. Tell us about your first lace project. Mine was a simple lace scarf, and I still wear it today!

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Start Knitting Lace Download in HD

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Learn to knit lace with this knitting workshop with Heather Zoppetti and learn how to read lace knitting charts, knit simple lace patterning, and more.


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kathydiane01 wrote
on Apr 25, 2014 10:33 AM

I purchased this lace knitting course but I can't get past the row 2 on the coral lace chart!  there aren't enough stitches to work the lace pattern on this row and I don't know where I am going wrong!  there are 39 stitches but with the ssk's and the k2tog's it requires 6 additional stitches? I realize that there are also 6 stitches increased but they don't count in the stitch count until the next row?   Help!

Greylady12 wrote
on Nov 8, 2013 1:29 PM

I love using the removable transparent colored tape from any knitting store.  You can still easily see the chart symbols, it immediately draws and holds your eyes on the colored line you're working, it doesn't permanently mark your pattern, and it doesn't move until you physically move it to another row.  

DebraB@22 wrote
on Nov 2, 2013 7:27 PM

Thanks to MrsKnitsALot.  I have a lace scarf in my UFO basket.  I used lifelines but kept coming up short on stitches.  I got tired of frogging and put it away.  The markers at each pattern repeat may do the trick.  I'll be able to finish!

sewlucky wrote
on Nov 2, 2013 10:07 AM

Use a Frixion by Pilot pen or marker to highlight the row you are working on.  When you are done with the project, iron your pattern and the markings will disappear so you can use it again.

selinda wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 8:22 PM

When I start a complicated chart I copy it enlarged and then I use my colored pencils to code each element with its own color.   I use my magnetic board and magnet to keep track of my row.

JodiW wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 2:24 PM

I had so much trouble  with Post-It notes and magnets that I finally devised a my own method. I enlarge my pattern to help with reading it, then cut each row into a strip using my paper cutter. I use a glue stick to put that row strip on a 3x5 or 4x6 notecard or even an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of heavy stock paper. One row per card or paper and I number them. I then use a paper punch to punch holes in the card/paper and attach binder or stitch marker rings. Then I just flip each row over after I've  completed it. I know it sounds labor intensive at first but with a complicated lace project it makes the work go so smoothly and I never lose my place. When I set the work aside, I know exactly which row I am to do next - the one on the top! I am also big on lifelines and stitch markers.

dablmo wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 1:18 PM

My first lace knit project is a scarf (of course!). I am working on it now and have about 10 inches of pattern done. The pattern has 8 rows with 3 repeats each row. I would consider myself beginner to intermediate in skill level and I fell in love with lace knitting. I wanted to try it but I was intimidated by the yarnovers and decreases. I have a wonderful friend who is an advanced/expert knitter and she has helped to overcome my fear of yarnovers and decreases. We both tried this same pattern. She is finished with hers while I am still going along slowly, but surely. I will get it done! I wanted to pass along a tip my friend and I are using to keep track of our rows in the pattern. My friend laminated our pattern doublesided so we have both pages on one laminated page, then we are using blue painters tape (the kind you use to tape off where you don't want to tape) to keep track of the row we are on. It comes off easily and leaves no residue so we can move it over and over where we need to. Easy and keeps the pattern clean and easy to read and re-use.


alash wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 1:01 PM

My first lace project was the Tappan Zee Cardigan. At the time, I still knitted so tightly that it was murder doing all the k2tog's, so that project taught me to loosen the choke hold on my working yarn, and I've been closer to gauge on all my projects since.

I like to hand copy my charts into a graph paper notebook.  I make a tally mark each time I finish a row.  Without doing this, I lose track of where I am when I set my knitting down and come back to it later.  

The more lace you do, the easier it becomes too read your lace and make sure you haven't missed anything.  With repeating patterns that havea few different stitches at the beginning and end of the row, I like to place a marker to isolate those stitches.

When I made my Tappan Zee, I called the project "first and probably last lace sweater." Now, about a year later, I find myself searching stitch dictionaries for lace patterns to insert in plain patterns because I love to knit lace so much.  I can't seem to knit a non-lace sock to save my life now!

MrsKnitsAlot wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 11:51 AM

While I do sometimes count stitches at the end of each patterned row (particularly at the beginning), this can get tedious especially with shawls that grow in width (triangular, crescent).  So, I find that using stitch markers to separate repeats is often more helpful in catching errors: if you have too many or too few in the repeat you are on, you know something went wrong and it is confined to that repeat.  Hopefully you only have to tink back a few stitches to fix it.

As for lifelines, they are grrrrreat!!  A few tips:

1. If using the hole in your interchangeables, use markers you don't mind keeping on your lifeline for a while (small hair elastics or inexpensive jump rings are great for this) because this method will run the lifeline through the stitches AND markers.  This will come in handy if you have to frog back to your lifeline -- all those repeats will still be marked.

a. In the row immediately following your lifeline, you will have to drop the markers (they will stay on your lifeline) and replace as you go to continue marking your "live" repeats.

b. If you like to use fancy markers, just replace them with the jump rings or hair elastics as you go on a row before you do your lifeline row.  When it comes to the row after your lifeline, just put your fancy markers back on.

2. If threading it through by hand, it is easy to go around your markers if preferred, or you can go through and do the switching around as in tip 1.

LisaH@2 wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 11:47 AM

I agree with Claire, a lifeline is the way to go.  I use floss and run it along with the yarn and highlight the line of the chart that it is on.  In my experience, the hard part of doing lace is not following the pattern, it is keeping track of where you are in it.  Sometimes the post-it becomes a toy for the cat, sometimes the magnet works too well and you skoot it too far when you move it.  Sometimes, just like in counting rows, you put it down and can't remember if you moved your place marker.  When you us a lifeline, no matter what happens you are covered.

I also used the same technique at the lengthen/shorten line in stockinette garments if I am unsure about fit.

acgene wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 10:48 AM

Charts like this are uber simple. What daunted me for a long time, and what doesn't have a lot of tutorial information online, are charts that grow, such as triangle shawls that start with five stitches on a tab that go through different charts and bind off hundreds of stitches at the edge. I finally had to just decide I'd try it myself to figure it out, so I did. Instruction is great and all, but there is nothing like teaching yourself through trial and error.

Claire VDV wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 10:13 AM

Put a lifeline! That's one of the best advice I ever got from my experienced friends. And if the pattern is a bit tricky and require lots of conversation, skip the social knitting and knit when you are in a quiet environment where you focus.

My first lacy project was the edge of a shawl, and it was a disaster. But I am now much better :)

on Oct 28, 2013 10:01 AM

Lace Tip

Until you get comfortable with a new lace pattern, it's VERY helpful to put in a lifeline after the first and second repeat.  Then if you make a mistake, you don't lose all of your work.  Just work a thread through all the stitches with a blunt needle.  Or, if using a circular needle that has a tiny hole in it, pull a thread along with knitting the last row of the pattern.  Believe me, you'll be very glad you took the time!

Carolyn Kastelic

gmaconnie wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 9:58 AM

Use a sticky note to keep track of which row you are knitting.  Just move it up the chart as you go.

TeresaM wrote
on Oct 28, 2013 9:49 AM

Lace is addictive! I love it, especially when I add beads!

My first project was a small triangle scarf ....Ishbel was the pattern.

I find keeping my place is simple when I put the photo copy in a plastic sleeve and use a piece of colored marking tape. It comes on rolls like scotchtape. I bought mine at a knit shop. Very handy!