Charts are graphic representations of knitting instructions. They are a compact way to illustrate more patterns that would take much more space if described in text instructions.
Charts also illustrate how a lace, colourwork, or cable pattern will look once it is knit up, and this means that when you use charts, it is easier to see where you are in a pattern, and identify errors early.
After a bit of practice, most knitters find working from charts much more intuitive, quick, and simple than working from line-by-line text instructions.
This tutorial covers:
- Introductions to charts
- Right side and wrong side rows
- How to knit from a chart
- How chart repeats work
- How to read a lace chart
- How to read a colourwork chart
- How to read a cable chart
The basics – each square is a stitch, start with the key
In a chart, each square represents a knitting stitch, similar to the way that each abbreviation in text instructions does (for example k2tog or p1). The first thing you should check when you start knitting from a chart is the key or legend, and chart notes if they are included. This will explain which symbols represent which kind of stitches. Often, an empty square means to knit the stitch, and generally, a yarn-over will be represented by an O in the square. However, each designer may have a different format and set of symbols. Once you understand the meaning of each of the symbols, you can proceed to knitting the chart.
Are all rows shown… or just the RS rows?
Charts will either show all rows (or rounds) or only illustrate one side of the work, usually the right side. If the chart shows only right side rows, text instructions will be given for how to work the wrong side rows. The omission of wrong-side rows is common in lace charts, because many lace patterns are simply purled on wrong-side rows. As you can see from this illustration, the structure of the lace pattern shows up much more clearly when the wrong-side rows (which aren’t conveying much information) are removed.
But how do I actually knit following a chart?
Once you’ve reviewed the key and chart notes, and determined whether all rows are shown, or just the right-side rows, you can get started knitting from the chart.
Typically, for right side rows, you will work the stitches one at a time from RIGHT to LEFT.
So where only right side rows are shown, this means that you read each row shown in the chart from RIGHT to LEFT. To work the wrong side rows, follow the instructions given in the text or chart notes.
If the chart shows BOTH right side and wrong side rows, you will work the RS rows from RIGHT to LEFT, and the WS rows from LEFT to RIGHT.
If you think of the chart as a picture of the finished fabric taken from the right side of the work, this makes sense, as the RS rows are worked one stitch at a time from right to left, and the WS rows are worked from right to left too… but on the opposite side.
A careful reading of the chart key is crucial in this case, because often chart symbols are worked in one way on the right side of the work, and in another way on the wrong side of the work (for example, knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side).
What are the heavy lines?
Commonly, stitch and row repeats are indicated by heavy lines (or boxes) in the chart. This is similar to the use of brackets in text knitting instructions. So you would work the edge stitches one time, then work the ‘repeat’ stitches as many times as possible (always reading the set of instructions from right to left on right side rows), before ending with the edge stitches at the end of row.
What do I do when I get to the end of the chart?
After you’ve worked the last (top) row of a chart, you would typically begin again at the bottom at row or round 1, if the stitch pattern is repeated several times. The text pattern instructions will let you know how many rows / inches to work following the chart.
If you’ve placed markers at each pattern repeat you made need to remove and re-place them when you start the chart over again.
How to read a lace chart
Lace patterns are often described only in charts, as they may have large stitch and row repeats can make writing out (and reading) lace patterns quite cumbersome.
At Tin Can Knits, 90% of our lace patterns use charts that only illustrate the RS of the work, because we find these types of patterns much more intuitive, simple and satisfying to knit.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, and when both sides of the work are charted, you will work the RS rows from right to left, and the WS rows from left to right, making sure to check the key so you understand how stitches are worked on the RS vs the WS of the work.
How to read a colourwork chart
Fair-isle stranded colourwork is usually worked in the round, so that the RS of the work is always facing, you are working the knit stitch most of the time, and you can easily see the pattern forming as you work it. However, there are some exceptions to the rule in which colourwork is worked flat (in rows). Either way, charts for colourwork patterns will generally illustrate every round (or row).
If the pattern is to be worked in the round, then you will read every round from right to left.
If the pattern is to be worked flat, then you will read the right-side rows from right to left, and the wrong-side rows from left to right (in the opposite direction); in order for the pattern to form as designed.
As fair-isle colourwork is typically stockinette stitch (knitting all sts on the RS, purling all sts on the WS), the chart key will typically describe which colours to work each stitch with, rather than the kind of stitch to work. So when you see a square that corresponds to CC1, you will knit one stitch with contrast colour #1.
How to read a cable chart
Cable charts may either show every row or round, or show only right side rows, with instructions for ‘keeping in pattern’ given for the WS rows (typically you would knit the knits, and purl the purls).
One special feature of cable charts are the symbols for cable turns. Cables are worked over more than one stitch, so the symbols for cable turns are more than one stitch wide. As you can see from the antler cable below, c4b and c4f – cable 4 back and front – are worked over 4 stitches. Be sure to review the chart key before you cast on!