Tutorial Tuesday: Chart Reading

As of late I have stopped including written instructions in my patterns that are better suited to charts. This is for quite a few reasons but here are the main ones: space and errata. Written instructions take up too much space. A charted pattern will average 4-6 pages long for one of my shawlettes. A totally reasonable number of pages to print at home and a workable number of pages to print and sell wholesale to yarn stores. The same pattern with written instructions will run anywhere from 8-18 (!!!) pages depending upon the complexity of the charts.

Errata is the second reason. Probably 95% of the time that there is an error in one of my patterns it is in the written instructions. Although I have my patterns professionally tech edited it is so much easier to read and see errors in charts than it is in writing.

So there you have it. But what if you can't read charts and you love my patterns? (Hey a girl can hope she has fans!) Today's tutorial will rescue you. We're going to do a little class on how to read charts. So grab some yarn and some needles - any smooth yarn will do  - and settle in!

A few basics: Charts are configured to be a pictorial representation of the right-side of knitted fabric. Charts are kind of read the way you knit. The right-side rows are read from right to left - just like the sts are worked off the needles. The wrong-side rows are read from left to right. Look at the little example below - see how the numbers are? The RS rows have the numbers on the right-hand side and WS rows have the numbers on the left-hand side - that tells you where to start!

Each of the little blocks represents a stitch or a combination of stitches. When you are working a charted design you should be provided with a legend or key that will tell you what the symbols represent. Some of the symbols are pretty universal - a white block is usually a knit stitch on the RS and a good sized black dot is usually a purl. An open circle is usually a yarnover. Different publications and designers will use different symbols though - so make sure to check the legend.

We're going to start with a simple chart and work our way through the stitches. Grab your yarn and needles and cast-on 10 stitches. Starting on the right-hand side work the stitches as they appear in chart - there is one stitch represented by each block in the chart below:

After you've worked the first row, it's time to work the wrong side. Starting on the left-hand side (where you see the number 2) work the sts as they appear in the chart. Make sure you are looking at the legend - you are working the wrong-side of the fabric so make sure you are working the correct stitch. Continue to work rows 3 and 4. You should have a little teensy swatch of knitting that looks like this:

If you look carefully you can see how the knitting stitches look like the chart. See what I mean about it being easier to read?

Now we're going to take it up a notch. You've already worked two rows of knitting, now we're going to throw some increases and decreases into the mix. Work the next 4 rows - making sure to begin your row on the same side as the number - RS (odd) rows start from the right-hand side and WS (even) rows start from the left-hand side.

The chart gets wider, but each stitch is still represented in the chart. But as your knitted piece gets larger things change. Chances are your knitting will probably include repeats - combinations of stitches that are worked over and over. These are usually represented with a heckuva lotta asterisks in written knitting. In charted knitting outlines are used (commonly red) to indicate a set of stitches that will be repeated.

You should have 11 sts on the needles. So now instead of each st being represented, the stitches on the outside of the red box are represented individually and the stitches within the red box are repeated. So you work the first 3 sts, then you repeat the next 4 sts to the end of the row.  For the WS row you  just reverse the order: repeat the 4 sts until 3 sts remain, and then work the final 3 sts.

Are you still with me or did I scare you off? A lot of times folks will use stitch markers to offset the repeated stitches. You would place the stitch markers for the sections of the stitches repeated. Obviously this is more helpful with something a bit more complicated than ribbing.

The biggest way to get comfortable reading charts is just to do it - a lot. Always choose the charts over the written. Pay attention to how the charts correspond to the knitting. And try some of these tips to help you along:

  1. Use stitch markers to offset repeats
  2. Put your chart in a plastic sleeve and use a dry erase marker to cross off the lines as you work them. Then erase the lines when you have to start the chart over again.
  3. Or use the magnetic chart markers to help you keep track of where you are in the chart.

But what about more advanced charts? There are a couple of other things that are good to know about charts.

For charts that are worked in the round, every round is read from the right to the left. So all the numbers for a chart in the round will be on the right-hand side of the chart.

A common symbol used in charts is the "no-stitch" symbol. This is used as a place holder for charts where the stitch counts change. It is easier to read charts when the lace or cable patterning lines up properly, and the no-stitch symbols help keep all the little boxes in line.

The best thing to do when working from charts is to pay attention to the legend and read any notes that the designer has provided. The more you work with charts the easier it gets. You might even find like me, that you take written patterns and chart them out so that it's easier to knit!