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On Working with Charts

It’s obvious that I’m a big fan of charts.  I can work from line by line instructions, and there are often times I choose to do so, but I love how charts depict what your knitting should look like.

But not everyone loves them.  In fact, a fair number of people hate them.  My mom in law, despite being a very graphical learner, hates them.

However, I do think it’s worth having a working knowledge of using them, if at all possible, so you can work with patterns that are charts only.

I strongly recommend JC Briar’s book – I interviewed JC here.

Here’s a quick overview of using charts in the meantime!


Charts are a graphical, or visual, way of displaying a pattern.  Each stitch occupies one square of the chart.  What happens to that stitch is designated by various symbols.  Stitch patterns that use multiple stitches, such as cables, extend over the number of stitches, or squares, required to work them.

Being able to read charts allows you to use stitch dictionaries from other countries, such as Japan & Germany, without needing to understand the language.

Unfortunately, chart symbols are not standardized.  However, each chart should have an associated legend & key (often patterns, or books, will include one legend & key for all the charts in the pattern or book, which is a perfectly fine option).

If a stitch is uncommon or tricky, directions on how to work the stitch should be included (of course, ‘uncommon’ or ‘tricky’ is very subjective, and dependent on the skill level of the knitter!).

Read charts from right to left if you’re working on the right side of your knitting, and from left to right if you’re on the wrong side.  If you’re working in the round, read each line of the chart from right to left.   Basically, you’re reading the chart in the same direction you are knitting.

One thing to note that is very critical:  Symbols depict how the knitting appears from the right side.  (Rarely a designer will chart what stitches you work, regardless of whether you’re on the right or wrong side.  I find this utterly confusing for knitters, and think it negates the underlying principal of charts; that is, what is charted depicts how your knitting looks.)

If a chart is to be worked in the round, it will have the row numbers along the right edge of the chart (see example below).  If it’s to be worked flat, the wrong side row numbers will be along the left edge, and the right side row numbers along the right edge.

Repeats may be surrounded by bold lines or highlighted.  Pattern instructions will tell you how many times to work the repeat.

Many Japanese or Aran patterns, or patterns that have multiple different stitch patterns,  have individual charts for each stitch pattern.  The pattern instructions will tell you in which order to knit these.  This is especially common if the stitch patterns have different row counts.

Charts can be created in Excel, Word, Illustator or other vector based programs, or in various different charting programs (Envisioknit, StitchMastery, etc).

This little sample chart has a fair amount going on, with a cable stitch, a couple different decreases, and varying stitch counts.  It’s a stitch pattern from Annie Maloney’s Aran Lace stitch dictionary, and is one of the smaller lace cables.

I’ve shown it as worked in the round (row numbers along the right edge).  Note that there’s a ‘no stitch’ block;  the stitch count varies from row to row because of the decrease in row 4.  Note the yarnover in row 6;  that brings you back up to the original stitch count.

So, row 1 would be p1, k5, p1.  Row 2 is p1, k1, yo, k1, ssk, k1, p1.  And so on.

(If it were knitted flat, and Row 1 was a wrong side row, you would work k1, p5, k1.)

3 comments… add one
  • K. Stephen Nelson November 20, 2012, 12:29 pm


    Just a minor irritant I have with some charts, as found in your example. Treating the “yarn over” as stitch. For example, row 2 shows the “yo” over stitch 3, when in reality it’s between stitch 2 and 3 ( perhaps there should have been a no stitch in row 1?). This then leads to the next “k” erroneously being in stitch 4 when it should be stitch 3, and the “ssk” in stitch 5 when it should be stitches 4 and 5. In fact this depiction , seems to indicate that I can magically do a “ssk” with a single stitch!

    The real problem, in my opinion, is that for some reason (probably historical) knit charts are in fact just that, a square chart. Like we can (with a big enough hammer) make everything we knit into a square. Maybe if knit charts were like crochet charts and not tied to a square, they would in fact do what you said in paragraph 1, “but I love how charts depict what your knitting should look like”! And please do not jump to the conclusion from that remark that, I’m just another crocheter bashing knitting. I have over 50 years experience in both, and actually prefer knitting.

    In case I haven’t said it enough before. I thoroughly enjoyed your book “California Revival Knits”.

    yours truly,


    • StephCat November 20, 2012, 2:15 pm

      But a yarnover does create a stitch, and it does ‘move’ the other stitch over. And though a ssk consumes two stitches, it ends up producing only one stitch.

      Perhaps a good way to think of it is that the chart symbols generally show the result of working the stitch. For the row above, you *do* end up with a purl in position 1, a knit in position 2, a yarnover in position 3, and so on.

      Re: squares…well, you can always use ‘no stitch’ to show different shapes. Even a crochet chart is showing things in two dimensions, not three.

      I’ve seen & used charts that use expanded charts for sections where stitch counts vary (I’m thinking of some of the Japanese stitch patterns I’ve seen, or the acorn & oak leaf patterns).

      I’m glad you like CRK 🙂

  • Cambria Washington November 20, 2012, 2:44 pm

    I love charts. My eyes get lost when I try to follow a long line of written instructions, and I have a difficult time being able to tell where my mistake is (if I’ve made one). I much prefer having the visual 🙂

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