Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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Reading Charts: An Introduction

August 10th, 2013

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Throughout this season, we’re reposting some of our favorite columns by Barbara Breiterauthor of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, previously featured in our Weekly Stitch newsletter.

Stitch patterns and motifs are sometimes presented in charts instead of written out in words. You sometimes see this in crochet, particularly in filet crochet, but it’s more common in knitting.

Charts have several advantages. The visual depiction enables you to easily see where you are in the pattern (and how the stitches line up) and thus it’s easier to keep your place. They generally contain fewer errors than written instructions, as it’s easier to see if something doesn’t align correctly.

There really is nothing to fear when working a chart. Each square represents a type of stitch or the color of the stitch to be worked, indicated by a symbol or the color you are to use. Stitch keys, or legends, are included so you’ll know the meaning of each symbol or color. [Bonus tip: If you've ever see a grayed out box that the legend tells you is "no stitch" and wondered what that meant, it means that the stitch was used up by a decrease in a previous row and no longer exists. Simply skip that box and keep going across the chart!]

For the vast majority of charts, you’ll begin reading charts at the lower right corner. The first row and all odd rows are read from right to left. The second and all even rows are read from left to right. With crochet charts, you’ll want to look for the starting point, which is usually at the number 1, representing the first row or sometimes by a symbol as indicated in the legend. As you complete each row, you can tick it off in the margin or move a Post-It note to cover rows already worked. This also prevents you from mistakenly working the wrong row.

A Few Chart Examples

(Click on the highlighted pattern name or the photo of the completed item to access the pattern.)

Color work chart from the Knit Hanna Cowl
Color work chart Hanna Cowl
Crochet lace chart from the Crochet South Bay Shawlette
Crochet chart South Bay Shawlette
Cable chart from the Knit Cabled Cowl
Cable chart Cabled Cowl
Knit lace chart from the Knit Atelier Gloves
Knit lace chart Atelier Gloves

Finally, if you’re a visual learner and you find yourself preferring charts to represent some of these motifs such as lace or cables, don’t forget that you can make your own from the stitch explanations in your patterns! Use the common symbols or come up with your own symbols and using graph paper (or even a spreadsheet program on your computer), you can draw your own to make reading these motifs easier.

  • Judith Lund

    I would like to see many more patterns done with charts. I much prefer charts to line instructions, esp for crochet.