Deciphering Charts

Are you a text or chart person? I’m more of a text person when it comes to reading pattern instructions, but I must admit charts are a convenient way to follow colorwork, lace, cable, and other stitch patterns. Charts take up less space on the page than row after row of text. Because a chart resembles the actual look of a pattern, it aids in visualizing unfamiliar stitches, and helps to keep track of a complicated pattern.

Chart Language

Knitting instructions are represented by symbols in charts. Instead of writing out directions in words and abbreviations, symbols are used. Although symbols are universal, they are not standardized.

Charts are often used for colour knitting, for textured patterns (knit and purl stitches), lace, and cables. The following are characteristics common to all charts. Typically, charts used in pattern instructions contain a key for the symbols and how to knit them. Symbol and colour charts are read in a similar manner. Each square represents a stitch or colour and each line of squares represents a row. A chart is read from bottom to top, starting at the lower right corner. When knitting back and forth, the right side or odd numbered rows are read from right to left, and the wrong side or even numbered rows, from left to right. There are exceptions, so carefully read the pattern instructions. The multiple or pattern repeat is enclosed by heavy parallel lines; the equivalent of the asterisk (*) in written instructions.

When knitting in the round, read charts from right to left on every round, because in circular knitting, the right side is always facing you.

Color work charts are easy to read and provide a visual guide as to the placement of motifs. Color work patterns are charted on square graph paper or knitters graph paper. The advantage of using knitters graph paper is the grid is proportionate to the gauge, so the finished pattern looks the same in the knitted piece. The motifs look slightly elongated on regular graph paper.

The colors are coded as symbols or shaded colors, and the charts have a key as to what each symbol or color represents. Often a blank square represents the main color. Repeat lines are used to show the stitch count for a “motif”. You can think of repeat lines the same as in written instructions; “rep from * or rep between *’s or [ ]”. Each color is knit as indicated in the chart, or large areas of color are knitted, and then small areas of color may be duplicate stitched. This is a good method to use with argyle patterns; the long narrow lines dividing the diamonds are worked in duplicate stitch after the large diamonds are knit.

Sometimes you may want to enlarge charts with a photocopier for easier reading. You may also find it easier to mark your chart rows with a highlighter as you finish each row, or simply use a ruler. Some pattern instructions consist of multiple charts. I often write the chart row numbers on a separate piece of paper, checking off each completed row, and at the same time use a row counter to count total rows. Organize this according to what works best for you. It is also important to work the stitches of all charts in the correct order across the row. Markers are useful, marking each group of stitches required for each chart.

Lace Chart
Lace Chart


Color Chart
Color Chart

Go ahead and try a chart!



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