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Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Mini Tip - De-mystifying Charts

I know lots of knitters hate charts but for a lot of knitters that's because they're not sure how to read the charts, they find them confusing or they don't have the confidence to read the charts correctly.  I include 'how to read charts' in many of my classes and by the end of those classes, those who were reluctant to use charts to start with are usually happy. However, I do know that some knitters have tried charts and still prefer written instructions which is absolutely fine. I provide charts and written instructions for most of my patterns, except for fair isle (stranded) colour work patterns which only have charts.

Charts are basically a representation of what your knitting looks like with the right side facing and once you know a few basics, they're not too hard.


  • Charts are read from the bottom to the top, so row 1 will be at the bottom of the chart.
  • Right side rows are read from right to left.
  • Wrong side rows are read from left to right.
  • If you're knitting in the round, then all rows are read from right to left.
  • Each square is a stitch and each symbol has a meaning.
The various symbols used in charts, is what confuses knitters the most. Unfortunately there is no standard set of symbols used in knitting charts. Each designer or publisher can use their own symbols. I use a software called Stitch Mastery which is a really easy to use software with some great features. 

The software I use includes a set of standard symbols for the most common stitches but I can also create my own symbols for less common stitches. My challenge is to make sure I use the same symbol every time I use a stitch for which I've created a custom symbol. 

All charts should have a chart key or legend which will list the abbreviation or a description for each symbol. I list the abbreviations in my chart keys. You then need to go to the abbreviations list to find out what that abbreviation means.



Below is a basic lace chart. You can use the key above to work out what the symbols mean. On this chart I've shown both right and wrong side rows. The wrong side rows are all purl stitches.
If the wrong side rows are plain, then it's normal to take those out of the chart. Which will make the chart look like this:
It's the same chart as the one above but all the wrong side rows are gone. So you will read all the rows from right to left as they are all right side rows. For charts where wrong side rows have been taken out, there will be an instruction for what to do on wrong side rows.

The red box in the charts above, marks the pattern repeat. In written instructions this is usually marked by brackets or 'repeat from *' instruction.

If you were to knit the chart above and work two pattern repeats, you would cast on 26 stitches. You would knit the row to the end of the pattern repeat (read line between column 14/15) then work the 12 stitches in the pattern repeat again. Then knit the last stitch.

One thing that confuses many knitters when it comes to charts, is if there are areas of no stitches. This can happen because the stitch count is increasing or decreasing on that row. Charts for triangular, half hexagon, top down crescent usually have no stitch areas. 

In the chart below, which creates a triangle shape, you will be working two stitches more per right side row. These extra stitches need to be accounted for, so we fill in the empty areas with a no stitch symbol. My charting software uses either a grey square or a cross to signify no stitch. I find the grey square easier to read than the cross so that's what I use. 

 However, if the no stitch symbol is at beginning and/or end of the row, I have the option to make that area white. To me it makes the chart look cleaner. The chart above is the same chart as the one below.

Sometimes the no stitch symbol may come in the middle of a row and I agree that this is more confusing. The chart below has two grey squares in row 3. In lace knitting every yarn over is an increase and will have to be balanced  out by a decrease, unless you wish to increase the stitch count (as in the triangle chart above). Usually the decreases are on the same row as the yarn over but sometimes it can be on a later row as in the chart below. On row 3 I'm working two decreases which leaves me with two stitches less after finishing row 3. I need to show this in the chart somehow so I've put in two grey squares. I would add this to the chart key so it's clear that grey squares = no stitch. The yarn overs have been placed on row 5 which has 4 yarn overs and only two decreases. After row 5 the stitch count will be back to normal.

This is a bit of a crash course in chart reading and although, I've focused on lace charts, it applies to all types of knitting charts. The only way to get used to knitting from charts, is to give it a go. Practice makes perfect! Choose an easier chart to start with or a chart which has written instructions also, so you can refer between the two if you get stuck.

There are lots of ways to keep track of which row you are on in a chart. Many knitters use washi tape, highlighters, a ruler, or magnetic strips to keep track of which row they're on. I used to colour in the rows I'd worked with pencil so I could rub the pencil out again if I was knitting the chart more than once. These days, I only struggle if it's a big (lots of rows and stitches) chart with lots of symbols. I have a magnetic board with magnetic strips I use on those occasions when I need a little bit of help.

Do you have any questions about chart reading? Do you like knitting from charts? Tell me why or why not in the comments below.

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