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Learn It: Reading Charts

Aug 11, 2014

Certain knitting techniques come easier to some than to others. Reading charts, for example, was easy to me from the beginning. I worked a lot of cable charts after knitting my  first few sweaters, so I became used to applying the symbols on the chart to my knitting.

    
Texture and eyelets create a fun pattern in Heather Zoppetti's Akron Cowl. Simple lace and clever decreases make the garter-stitch block appear to tilt. This is a perfect pattern for the novice lace knitter. Knit it with a special skein of super-soft yarn (shown here in Madelinetosh Tosh DK) and you won't want to take it off.
Charts can be scary, though, especially large charts. In her new book Everyday Lace, designer Heather Zoppetti provides a tutorial for reading and understanding charts. Here it is!

How to Read a Knitting Chart

When it comes to knitting lace patterns, the power of charts is unquestionable. Charts graphically present the stitch manipulations in such a way that the symbols on the chart mimic the appearance of the right side of the completed knitting.

Once you understand how the symbols relate to the knitted stitches, you'll find that charts are easier to follow than row-by-row instructions and that errors are easier to detect. For example, yarnovers, which form intentional holes in the fabric, are represented by open circles on the chart. Decreases, which cause the stitches to lean to the left or right in the knitting, are represented by left- or right-leaning slanted lines on the chart. Although most of the symbols are intuitive once you're familiar with them, every chart is accompanied by a key that defines how to work the stitch represented by each symbol.

In general, each cell on a chart represents one stitch. Charts are read from bottom to top and from right to left for right-side rows and are numbered along the right edge of the chart, indicating that these rows are worked from right to left. Wrong-side rows are often not labeled—you need to remember that they're worked from left to right. It's important to note that some chart symbols represent stitches that are worked differently on right- and wrong-side rows. For example, a purl stitch is denoted by a single dot when viewed from the right side, but the same appearance is achieved by knitting a stitch on a wrong-side row. Be sure to check the key for stitches that are worked differently on right- and wrong-side row, so every row of the chart is read from right to left.

Many new lace knitters struggle with reading the repeat boxes on charts. These boxes, typically outlined in red, are used to condense a chart into the smallest possible representation of the fabric. If the repeat box extends across the entire width of the chart, simply work from edge to edge (from right to left for right-side rows and from left to right for wrong-side rows) the necessary number of times to the end of the stitches on your needles. If the repeat box sits in the center of the chart, work the stitches to the right edge of the box (for right-side rows), then work the group of stitches within the box as many times as instructed or until the number of stitches within the box as many times as instructed or until the number of stitches remaining on your needles matches the number of stitches to the left of the repeat box, then work the stitches to the left of the repeat box.

    

The chart for Heather Zoppetti's Akron Cowl, and a close-up of the cowl. You can see how the
yarnovers and
the garter ridges on the chart correspond to the knitted cowl.

Because a chart represents the knitting, you can compare your knitting to the chart to make sure you haven't made any mistakes. If yarnover symbols form diagonal lines in the chart, they should do the same in your knitting. If diagonal decrease lines come together in a point in the chart, the same should happen in your knitting. If your knitting doesn't look the same as the chart, you've likely made a mistake. In such cases, rip back to the place where your knitting matches the chart (this is where lifelines come in handy) then proceed again.

    
Terre Hill Tunic by Heather Zoppetti,
from Everyday Lace
If you're intimidated by the amount of information represented by a chart, narrow your view to focus on just the row at hand. Use a sticky note, highlighter tape, or magnet board to hide the rows above the one you're currently working. This will help your eye focus on the chart row that coordinates to the row you're knitting and, by hiding what has yet to be worked, you'll only see the rows that have already been worked, which will correspond to the rows that have already been knitted.

—Heather Zoppetti, from Everyday Lace

I think all of that information is really helpful, especially the part about the red repeat box. I have to admit, that part of reading charts was a bit confusing for me.The other thing that threw me off was the gray "no stitch" box on certain charts.

From time to time, a designer incorporates a decrease with no corresponding increase, therefore decreasing the stitch count. This is usually marked on a chart with a gray-shaded box.

By placing this no-stitch box in the chart, the designer is telling you that the stitch will no longer exist, and should not be worked on this row.

Once you know what it means, the no-stitch concept is easy to incorporate.

Get the Akron Cowl plus many more simple, sophisticated knitting patterns, in Everyday Lace! Now that you understand how to read charts, you'll be able to knit all of the lace patterns you desire.

Cheers,

P.S. Chart or no chart? Leave a comment below, and cast your vote!


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Comments

Takeli wrote
on Aug 16, 2014 7:42 PM

I like to have both a chart and detailed instructions...I tend to use the instructions to begin with, then I move to using the chart when I am more familiar with the pattern, as by then it's a faster reference.  And, if instructions are confusing, a chart can help with clarity as to what is needed, when a pattern is doing things differently than the more usual processes...or when a pattern has an error in it :)

So my vote is for both!

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:42 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

on Aug 16, 2014 3:41 PM

When doing lace, I copy the charted rows to index cards, one row/repeat per card .

Usually I write out the directions in words/abbreviations.

Where a stitch is made into a YO, I usually mark with a red dot.  

Then, I put the cards in order, put a hole through the corner of each card, and put them on a ring.  

This is a super way to keep your place;  a rubber band or large paper clip will hold the correct card on the top for easy reading.

egrace440 wrote
on Aug 16, 2014 11:01 AM

I'd like to know whether symbols on knitting charts are internationally universal or whether one needs to learn different symbols in different languages.

LCTwoCents wrote
on Aug 16, 2014 9:54 AM

I agree with Bonniepurr and JeanneA that stitch markers are crucial, to aid you in reading (only) sections of your work to isolate a mistake, as well as lifelines,  which makes it much easier to catch errors in your knitting, if you look at the knitting in sections.  My lace knitting teacher Sandy Terp of Moonrise Lace Knitting has added a brilliant aid to her lace charts, which should help everyone:  At the end of the right side row when she does a decrease but no corresponding increase, she lists the correct stitch count at the end of the row in the chart, in parentheses, along the left edge of the chart.  Thank you, Sandy!!  This is  indispensible to make sure you have the correct number of stitches at the end of each row.

luciwheels wrote
on Aug 16, 2014 9:31 AM

I agree with most of the other comments. The charts are Greek to me and I don't want to learn a new language. I love to look at your magazines, but since I'm not able to use the patterns I am not going to be able renew.

mary.fisher wrote
on Aug 16, 2014 8:42 AM

Hatlady's right, that sentence doesn't make sense unless you put a LOT of time and effort into it.

Clarity of writing is very important in instructions.

on Aug 14, 2014 8:39 AM

Charts!  I can visualize how the fabric should look and more easily detect mistakes.  I do agree designers should proof read their patterns.  I once started a shawl three times, getting to the third chart each time.  I couldn't get the last chart to fit the previous one--only to find out there was a mistake in the chart.  Turned out the book was FULL of errata.  :-(

AbigailMay wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 1:53 AM

I certainly find charts very useful and I don't have any problem understanding them as a rule but they need to be correct!  I'm knitting the Venetian Windows top from The Knitter (issue 59) and there are several mistakes in the charts.

This is bad enough for an experienced knitter but for someone new to charts it is horrendous!

I found some corrections in 'Errata' on The Knitter website, but continued to find more errors which I am correcting for myself.  I know I'm right as the picture shows what the pattern should look like and the chart shows something different.

Designers do need to check and double check their charts!

Ohhhdear wrote
on Aug 12, 2014 9:44 PM

I'm grateful for this article. Charts, frankly, baffle me. Mostly because of a pattern I tried not long ago...the symbols meant one thing on the right side and the opposite on the wrong side for the same line!  What's up with that?  I was soooo confused.

I prefer written instructions over charts if the pattern I valiantly attempted is representative of most chart designers.

spinner27 wrote
on Aug 12, 2014 1:59 PM

Charts are a great tool for designers since they don't have to spend time writing out the patterns in text form.  HOWEVER, they are useless for blind and visually impaired knitters, of which there are many.  The screen readers that visually impaired knitters use to access the computer cannot read knitting and crochet charts and having only a chart without the text instructions deprives us of opportunity to knit  the pattern.  So while charts are great for some people, not all of us knitters can use them.  Chart AND text would be my vote.

Sighle wrote
on Aug 12, 2014 10:19 AM

Great article. Charts definitely. Seeing the pattern visually is a must. Although in the learning process and even now with more experience, I appreciate written directions in addition to the chart. The gray square was a bugaboo for me as the stitch count never quite came out evenly. Let's face it, I'm still learning!

Hatlady54 wrote
on Aug 12, 2014 9:28 AM

Sixth paragraph down, last sentence:  I can't quite understand its meaning?

Mokihana wrote
on Aug 12, 2014 12:29 AM

Very helpful, especially the part about the red box!  

I used to be scared of charts, but now vastly prefer them over two miles long written instructions. But I will use written instructions if for some reason the chart isn't clear.  Which generally doesn't happen.

I love that I can see how my knitting should look since the chart is a clear representation of what my knitting should be. I also like seeing how the stitches stack up on a chart.

Terry@2 wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 4:10 PM

I'm greedy! I prefer charted patterns with written instructions available as a cross-check. kbaltman's post brings up an important point not covered in this article excerpt--the designer must always provide a clear key to the symbols and how the chart is written. There ARE differences; not every designer uses the same symbols for each stitch as every other designer (though most publishers do standardize everything they produce), so it's essential that a key and glossary decoding what those stitches are and how to make them are included.

mafleur wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 1:32 PM

I really like charts, and not just for lace knitting.

I recently resurrected  a pattern for an "Irish Fisher Man" sweater I knit about 45 years ago.  Lots of honey comb, cables, bobbles, etc.  No chart since that was not the style of pattern writing then.  The many, many lines of instructions were incredible.  I don't know how I had the courage to undertake it.  Well, I was young and in love.

If I were to undertake that design again, I would try to reduce the instructions for each panel to a chart.

mafleur wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 1:32 PM

I really like charts, and not just for lace knitting.

I recently resurrected  a pattern for an "Irish Fisher Man" sweater I knit about 45 years ago.  Lots of honey comb, cables, bobbles, etc.  No chart since that was not the style of pattern writing then.  The many, many lines of instructions were incredible.  I don't know how I had the courage to undertake it.  Well, I was young and in love.

If I were to undertake that design again, I would try to reduce the instructions for each panel to a chart.

on Aug 11, 2014 1:13 PM

I need all the help I can get. Something that isn't clear to me in the written instructions is helped by seeing how it looks AND how it's charted.

M-E B.J. wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 11:35 AM

I like the chart idea. Many of my patterns have no chart. I'm sure this would make it simpler than tearing out entire project and starting over. If it becomes TMI for you ignore the chart.

M-E B.J. wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 11:35 AM

I like the chart idea. Many of my patterns have no chart. I'm sure this would make it simpler than tearing out entire project and starting over. If it becomes TMI for you ignore the chart.

on Aug 11, 2014 10:01 AM

I am a convert to charts, although a well written verbal instruction is highly worthwhile.  The thing is, once we learn the written instructions, I think most look at each motive as we are knitting to orient ourselves as to where we are in the scheme of the  entire stitch pattern and that is easier to learn from a chart.

For the previous comment wonering about circular knitting, the realization that you are always working on the right side of your work should be helpful.  There for no purling on the wrong side, the way you would with back and forth knitting.  And remember you are making a spiral not a series of circles sitting on top of one another.

sincerely, Wendy Leigh-Bell

Bonniepurr wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 9:23 AM

I've not tried charts yet but I do intend to and I already have some patterns chosen so thank you for this article, it makes me think I should just get on with trying charts because you have just demystified them for me :-) I've worked lace from a written pattern and I learned the usefulness of stitch markers so I expect I'll find them just as useful with charts - maybe it's just as well I make (and sell) stitch markers because I suspect I'll need lots of them!

kbaltman wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 8:01 AM

Unless I missed it, I didn't see mention of chart reading in circular knitting. I learned the hard way.  I really had to search to find the info because I didn't really know what to look for. I just couldn't understand why my knitting didn't look right!! It might help others to add a piece about the differences.

JeanneA@2 wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 7:44 AM

I use stitch markers to mark the repeats thus if a problem occurs I easily know where the problem is, rather than ending up at the end of the row with too many or too few stitches.