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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reading Charts

A lot of knitters are frightened of knitting from charts but once you understand how they work they're not scary at all. I knitted several traditional Norwegian 'fair isle' style sweaters in my teens/early 20s and all those had the fair isle motifs charted. I didn't think any of it but then when I took up knitting again after a long break and decided I wanted to learn to knit lace and cables, neither of which I'd done before, the charts for those patterns baffled me. Luckily I'd just discovered knitting websites and I'd joined a couple of knitting forums, which were very useful for asking questions and I got a lot of help from those forums. This was in the days before Ravelry.

I remember coming across an article on chart reading in an American knitting mag and that helped me tremendously too. Once I understood the charts they are so much easier to knit from than written instructions.

I've got a squint and especially when I'm tired or reading very small text, long lines of text (that aren't a sentence) like knitting abbreviations and numbers (like pass port numbers) especially if the writing is small, I really struggle with seeing double. It's also easy to loose your place if the line of abbreviations is long. If the abbreviations used in the pattern are not those you are familiar with then that can cause problems too.

My workshops: Easy Lace, Lace Improvers and Fun & Fabolous Cables all include instruction on how to read charts and I usually find that most students are converted to knitting from charts by the end of the day.

So let's take a look at some chart basics.

These are the basic rules that apply to most knitting charts:
  • Charts are a visual representation of your knitting and show what your knitting will look like when you look at it with the right side facing you.
  • Each square on a chart represents one stitch. 
  • Charts are read from bottom to top. 
  • Right-side rows , which are normally rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 etc, are read from right to left and will have the row number on the right side of the chart. 
  • Wrong side rows, normally rows 2, 4, 6, 8 etc, are read from left to right and will have the row number on the left side of the chart. 
  • If it's a circular piece of knitting all the row numbers are on the right and all rows are read from right to left.
Think about having a piece of knitting laying on the table in front of you with the right side facing you. To knit a right side row you knit from right to left. If you were to knit the wrong side row without turning your knitting you'd have to knit from left to right. Now, although knitting backwards is possible and some knitters do it (although I find it rather difficult), most of us would turn our knitting so we are still knitting from right to left on the wrong side rows. But imagine if you didn't turn your knitting and knitted backwards.

Well, that's how you read a chart.

On most lace patterns, every other row is a ‘rest’ row, which means it’s a plain knit or a plain purl row. Plain rows are quite often taken out of the chart. This means that only right side rows are charted.

In fair isle and cable charts both right side and wrong side rows are charted. If there are any rows that aren't charted the pattern will tell you what to do so it may say something like:
'Only RS (right side) rows are charted, purl WS (wrong side) rows' or
'Only RS rows are charted, on WS rows k (knit) all k stitches and p (purl) all p stitches'.

Chart key or legend:
All charts have a key or legend that will tell you what the different symbols mean. Fair isle charts may use colours to show which yarn colours to use where or they may use symbols. I prefer to knit fair isle charts from colour coded patterns but I guess it costs more to print colour so many publishers still use symbols.

Charts use different symbols for each stitch. Although there is no international charting standard, there are some symbols that are commonly used. For ex 'o' is usually a yarn over/yarn forward. But do check the chart key especially if you're knitting a pattern from a new publisher/designer. Also, the same designer may sometimes use the same symbol to mean different things in different patterns so I'd recommend always checking the chart key and making sure you know what the symbols mean.

some times the symbols may mean different things if they're used on the right or wrong side. So if, for example, you come to a '/'. On a right side row it may mean k2tog (knit 2 stitches together) but if it's on a wrong side row it may mean p2tog (purl 2 stitches together). But it may still mean k2tog, which is why checking your chart key is so important.

Here's an example of a chart key for a lace pattern:

Pattern repeat:
Pattern repeats are usually shown inside some kind of  borders on a chart and brackets or using * on written instructions. My current charting software, The Knitting Chart Editor from Stitch Mastery, (which I highly recommend) uses a read border to show the pattern repeat but my old software used a black border. The chart key will tell you how to identify the pattern repeat.

So how does the pattern repeat work?

The chart above consist of 12 rows but only right side rows are charted. The first time you work this
chart you work straight across the row from row 1 to row 12 (which is a wrong side row and not

The second time you start on row 1, you work to the end of the red box, then work the stitches in the red
box again, then continue to the end of the row. The third time you work the stitches in the red box 3 times

The chart below is an example of a cable chart and the chart key. I've just noticed an error in the chart key.

The white square should say: RS: knit and WS purl. And the solid dot should say RS purl and WS knit.
And here's the cable chart that goes with the chart key. This is the cable chart from my Kennedy sweater form the current Knitscene.
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Liz said...

I think I tend to find written instructions easier to follow - or at least faster to follow - than charts but I won't not knit something because it only has a chart. Having said that, I recently was following some written instructions but the pattern also had a chart, and when I got confused by some of the instructions, it was helpful to have the chart to look at to check exactly what I should do.

Sea said...

Very informative.
I prefer written instructions myself, but when I was first faced with a chart I just made myself take it slowly a section at a time. It is worth doing this, even marking out each pattern repeat on a lace pattern when you are beginning helps. I never had any problem with colourwork, just dived straight in.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the comments. checking written instructions and charts against each other if you think there is an error or if you're not sure is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the comments. checking written instructions and charts against each other if you think there is an error or if you're not sure is a great idea.