So you want to knit 7: Reading a chart

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As you progress in your knitting, you will inevitably come to a pattern that contains a chart. The chart is simply a pictorial depiction of how the pattern is to be worked. Many patterns will also come with written directions that you can use instead of the chart, but this is not always the case. Either way, it’s a very good skill to learn, and it’s not as intuitive as many people think. We’ll go through a simple chart that I have created, and I’ll try to answer many of the basic questions I see. Also, a chart is read differently depending on if you are knitting flat, or in the round, so I will be sure to give the proper instruction for both.

First of all, here is your sample chart (this is just a simple triangle shape, but I wanted to show how decreases and yarn over’s work in a chart).

Sample Chart Blog

To start, lets look at the numbers on the side and bottom. Every time you begin a chart, you will begin at the lowest number, in this case 1. You may find if you are working a large shawl, this will not always be a 1, because there could be multiple charts and the shawl progresses. The number on the right (and left) sides of the chart are your row numbers. The numbers on the bottom are the stitch numbers. In this case, you begin by working stitch row of row 1 on the chart, on the first stitch of the row on your needles. You also have a key with your chart, which in this case appears to the right of the chart. It will tell you what each symbol and box means. For the very first stitch of the first row, the box is empty and white. The key explains that this is a knit stitch on the right side of your work, and a purl on the wrong side of your work. Since row 1 is our beginning, that is our right side, and will be a knit stitch for us.

Box 2 of row 1 is a circle, which the key tells us means we are to do a yarn over. This takes up a box, even though it creates and extra stitch. That is because somewhere in our pattern we have an offsetting decrease that will bring us back down to the correct number of stitches we need. So, move your yarn to the front of your work, to create your yarn over, and get ready for box 3 of row 1.

Box 3 is an SSK. There is our offsetting decrease. As you can see this only takes up one box, even though we are working two stitches. Again, this is because that yarn over is the other part of that stitch count.

Box 4 through 8 are all empty boxes, so knit each of these.

Box 9 is another decrease. This time it’s a k2tog (knit two together). Like the SSK, this only takes up one box even though we are working two stitches. That is because we have a yarn over coming up that will balance it out.

Box 10 is our next yarn over.

Box 11 is the last stitch of our pattern, and it’s another empty white box, so knit this stitch.

This first row, is worked on the right side of our work, and will be worked exactly the same for in the round and flat. The differences begin on the even numbered rows. That is because when we are working flat, these even numbered rows are going to on the wrong side of the work, but if we are working in the round, we never have a wrong side row.

In this pattern, I have kept it pretty simple, and left all of the even numbered rows as blank white boxes. As you can see from the key, it has each item labeled as to how it is worked based on whether you are on a right side (RS) row or a wrong side (WS) row. Another difference between working in the round, or working flat is how you read the even numbered rows. Picture this chart as being how you are looking at your knitted piece. If all the odd numbered rows are the right side, then as the chart sits, you are looking at the right side. When working in the round, that means that you are always going to be reading your chart from right to left. However, if you are knitting flat, you turn your knitting piece. That means, you need to mentally turn your chart. So, when you start row 2 (and all even numbered rows), you are actually reading your chart from left to right. Then Row 3 you go back to right to left, etc. This is one area that can really throw people off. But, if you think of it as if it’s a piece of knitted work, and you turn put your finger on the last stitch of your right side row, and then turn your work, you will see that it’s like you are looking at the back of your chart. You are still working your knitted piece right to left, but it’s as if you now have to work the mirror image of your chart to get the pattern to line up. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 That means that if you are working a flat piece, you will purl all of your stitches back. If you are working in the round, you will knit.

As you work your chart, you work your rows in order. You begin with row 1, then do row 2, then row 3, etc, until you have completed the final row in that chart. However, if you are not done with your piece yet, you will likely be given instructions that say, “repeat the chart until you reach your desired length”, or “repeat the chart 3 times”, or some variation of those. The first one, which is the length option, means that when you finish the last row of the chart, you begin the chart all over again, back at row 1. And you do the chart over and over again, until you have a piece that is the length you want it to be. This instruction is very common in blankets, sweaters, etc. The second option tells you how many times to repeat the chart. That means you work through the entire chart once, then go back to row 1 and work the entire chart a second time, then go back to row 1 and work the entire chart a third time. Then you can move on to the next instructions in the pattern.

Another part of the chart that you will see quite often is that red border that I have around the chart. This is called a repeat. It can become very confusing, because you will hear the word repeat thrown around a lot. Repeating the chart until x length or x times, refers to how many times you repeat all the rows of the chart. However, what happens if you piece is 33 stitches wide, but this chart is only 11 stitches. You will be given instructions that say “repeat the chart across the row 3 times”, or some variation of that. This repeat means that those first 11 boxes of the chart will be done again and again, until you have finished 3 repeats. So, in the case of our chart, after you have finished stitch number 11, you go back to row 1 box 1 and work all 11 stitches again. There are a few reasons for it be done like this. One reason is because you want to save space on your page. When a designer is working on something large, like a shawl, you don’t want to list all 300 something stitches in the chart. So, you showing all the ones that have this exact same section as a repeat, you can significantly reduce the number of stitches in your chart. You will very often see that they outline box (in this case the red box), will not be all the stitches, as I have it here. You will very often work a number of stitches, then see the outline box show up with instructions on how many times to repeat it, and then work more stitches afterwards. Again, this is very common in shawls because they have so many stitches, but they also have increases on the ends that need to be shown separately from the repeat chart.

Something else that you will see that can be very confusing is a grey box in the chart. They key will usually just label this as “no stitch”. Most people look at it and go okay, but then what. The reason this shows up is because stitches were decreased in the work somewhere. When you come across this grey no stitch box, you simply pretend it doesn’t exist, because that stitch no longer exists. It was decreased away in a previous row.

I really hope that this helps with chart knitting. If I have not answered a question you have, please let me know. Another great way to double check that you are reading the chart properly, is to compare it to the written directions. They should be identical.

So you want to knit 6: Decreases

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It’s time to increase your knitting skill repertoire once more. 😀 This time, we are talking about decreases. We have gone over basic knit and purl stitches, and have talked about increases, but now we should move to decreases. That will give you the tools you need to be able to make hats, or lace things. After this post, we will be able to focus more on just enhancing skills. Like anything, most of your skills will grow with just good ole practice. I really hope that this has helped you increase your basic knitting knowledge. One of the complaints I have heard from so many people, is that they feel that the ‘fancy’ knitting projects are out of their grasp. That knitting is a very guarded skill. I have found that with many things, if you know how to do it, it is regarded as some special club that only the select are part of. I strongly disagree, and feel that if someone wants to do something, we should all be able to sit here and let them know that we are here to help them grow. With this series of posts that I have done on how to knit, I want to make sure that you understand that none of this is out of your reach. I will be continuing these posts to explain how to knit various things. I already have a series out on how to knit socks, but that assumes a level of knowledge on how to either knit in the round in some manner. So far, these how to knit posts have not looked at this. I will probably look at how to specifically knit in the round and flat in the next post. It’s important that you are able to get even what many would consider the most basic information, because unless you already know something, it’s not basic. Beginner is not a term that should be shunned. Everyone was a beginner at something before they practiced and improved. Another important thing, is that you should never regard yourself as a lower class knitter because of your materials. I have been designing patterns and making lacework and other knitting things for years, and I still greatly value acrylic yarn. So many knitters will turn their nose down at it, but it’s not the hard plastic yarn of the 80’s. Besides, not all of us can afford yarn that is $20-30 for a single skein. That is why I love to tout Knit Picks yarn. I can get sock yarn for a much lower price than other places, and it’s still fantastic yarn. You need to be able to work within your means! Okay, now that I have gone through all of this, it’s time to move on to the actual learning portion of this post. 😀

Decreases are used to reduce the number of stitches you have on your needles. This could be for the toe of a sock, the crown (top) of a hat, or to work a lace pattern. The great thing is that once you know how to do a particular decrease, it is the same regardless of what your project is. I’m not going to go into every single kind of decrease, because there are many variations of a stitch. For example, I will go through the stitches called “knit 2 together” or “purl 2 together”, but there are variations where you might knit or purl 3 or 4 together. They are worked identically, just with more stitches. Once you know how to do one, you can work on how to do them all. 😀 Decreases also have leans to them. So you will find, as I go along, I will tell you which way the stitch will lean (and have photos, of course), which is needed for the detail of the decrease. It directs how the knitting piece will lay down. I’ll get into that more as I describe each stitch.

First up, will be the knitting decreases. These tend to be the most used stitches. That is because if you are knitting in the round, you are always knitting, but also when you work lace, many patterns will have the decreases on the knit (right side) side only. So, these will be very advantageous to have in your skill box. One of the common things I will say during the decrease instructions is slipping a stitch as if to knit, or as if to purl. So, I will put those two pictures here, so you can refer back to them, but I didn’t want to clutter up the instructions coming up with too many extra pictures.

Knit 2 together (k2tog): Knitting 2 together is exactly as it sounds. Slip your right needle into the two stitches on your left needle, and knit them as normal. Then slip both stitches off the left needle. This creates a single stitch, where there was once two. This gives you a stitch that will lean to the right. It is used on the left hand side of socks and hats, because when you look at the toe or the top of the hat, the left side of your toes or hat leans to the right. It helps to give it a smooth line of stitches.

Slip, slip, knit (ssk): Slip the first stitch on to the right needle, as if you were knitting it. Slip the next stitch on to the right needle, as if you were knitting it. Slip your left needle into those two stitches that were moved to the right needle, and yarn over to knit them together. Once again, this gives you one stitch, where there used to be two. The SSK will lean to the left. This get used a lot on the right hand side of socks and hats, because it helps direct that line of decreases to the left.

Slip 1, Knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, K1, Psso): This stitch sounds complicated, but it’s really just a blend of the first two. This stitch can be used quite often in place of the ssk, because many feel that it creates a neater stitch that will lean left. To work the stitch, slip the first stitch on your left needle, as if you were knitting it, knit the next stitch on your left needle, then insert your needle into the slipped stitch that is sitting on your right needle (it will be the second stitch from the end), and lift it up and over the first stitch that is on your right needle. Drop that stitch. This will decrease a single stitch.

Slip 1, Knit 2 together, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, K2tog, Psso): This stitch is a variation of the one above, but is used for different reasons, which is why I wanted to explain it. To work it, you slip the first stitch of your left needle onto the right needle, as if to knit. Then knit the next two stitches together. Pick up and lift the second needle on the right needle (the stitch you slipped), and pull it over the first stitch and drop it. This stitch will decrease two stitches. The counterpart to this stitch will be the Knit 3 together (k3tog), which will also decrease two stitches at once, and leans in the opposite direction. It’s the same method as the K2tog, so I’m not going to get into the how to’s on this one. I just wanted to make sure you knew what the opposite leaning version of this stitch is.

Central Double Decrease (CDD): This stitch is used very often when you want a decrease that does not lean in any direction. For example, when working a lace pattern where there are k2tog’s and ssk’s that come together in a bit of a point, the CDD is great at bringing them together to accentuate that point. It’s also used quite often when knitting a sweater neckline, particularly when you have a V neck sweater and want the neckline to keep that neat little V. To work this stitch, you will slip the next two stitches from your left needle, at the same time, as if to knit, on to your right needle. Knit the next stitch. Slip those two slipped stitches that are sitting as stitch 2 and 3 on your right needle, over the first stitch and let them drop. This creates a stitch that looks like a fatter little knit stitch. It keeps that knit stitch look, with no lean.

Now we’ll move on to the purl stitches. You will find that the language is very similar, and the main change is just moving from knitting the stitches to purling the stitches.

Purl 2 together (p2tog): Slip your right needle into the two stitches on your left needle, and purl them together. This creates a single stitch out of two.

Slip, slip, purl (ssp): slip the next two stitches on your left needle to your right needle, as if you were going to knit them. Slip your left needle into those two stitches that are now sitting on your right needle, and purl. This creates one stitch where there used to be two.

Slip 1, purl 1, pass the slipped stitch over (S1, P1, Psso): Slip the first stitch on your left needle to the right needle, as if to knit. Purl the next stitch. Pick up and lift the slipped stitch (2nd stitch on your right needle) over the first stitch on your right needle. This creates a similar stitch to the SSP, but many use it before they prefer the way that this stitch lays compared to the SSP.

As I mentioned above, there are fewer “common” purl decreases. There are other purl decreases, but they are not used often enough to showcase them here. If you are working on a project that lists a different stitch than these, please remember that a quick search online will provide a wealth of video instruction to help walk you through them. I recommend bookmarking ones you like, because you may not use them often enough to remember where you found them. I’ve been there many times, and have kicked myself because I could not remember the search string I used to discover my favorite videos.

We’ll be slowly increasing in difficulty as these posts progress, to learn how things work apart from just the stitches. If you ever have a question, or if I have not described something well enough, please send me a message. I want to do everything I can to help you in your knitting journey.

So you want to knit 5: Increases

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Oh Increases. They always make people a bit scared. They seem so daunting! But, they make so many things possible in your knitting. It allows you to shape items, like hats or sweaters. It allows you to knit lace. It allows you to add a bit of movement and texture. They are very important and very versatile. In general they are easy to do, but there are so many ways to do them, that it can become overwhelming. Let’s walk through your main options.

Before I begin, I want to give you some clarification on some terms I will be using. I will be saying “front of your work” and “back of your work” a lot. This is not actually in reference to a particular side of your work. This is simply a reference to the side of your work that is either closest to your body, or farthest from your body. As you hold your piece up, you will always have one side that is facing directly towards you. This is the front. At the same time, you will have a side facing away from you. This is the back. However, as soon as you turn your work to do your next row, the side now facing you is your new front. This is simply a directional thing. When we name an actual side of the work, we always use the term right side and wrong side. Those terms will define a side and are never changing. These new terms are just to give you a way to keep your bearings on where your yarn is going to be placed.

Yarn over
I am going to start off with increases. When you do increases, you have the option of leaving holes in your work, or not. Leaving holes in your work is how you can create that airy look of lace knitting. That is typically done with what is called a Yarn Over (usually abbreviated as YO). This is simply an action of moving the yarn around your needle, to wrap it. Then you will knit or purl it when you come back around to it in your next row or round. As with anything in knitting, everyone has their own preference of how to do it. I am going to show you the way that I do it, but if you want to see other options, simply head over to You.Tube and you will be able to search for ‘how to do a yarn over in knitting’. That should give you a bajillion results. 😀

My preferred way of doing a yarn over, is I move my yarn to the opposite side of where I want to be, and then work the next stitch as it would normally be worked. For example, if I am going to be knitting the next stitch, I will move my yarn to the front of my work (towards my body). Then I will insert my right needle into my left stitch to knit, as I normally would. As you can see in the picture, the yarn is sticking out towards the front, sitting under the needle when you go to knit the next stitch.

To work the stitch, the yarn will go over the needle from the front of your work, up and over towards the back, and then wrap around the needle. You then pull your stitch through. The yarn will now be on the back of the work, where it would normally be when knitting.

You are now left with the stitch you just worked, plus an extra loop of yarn just hanging out on top of your needle.

If your next stitch is a purl, it works very similarly. Move your yarn from the front of your work to the back (away from your body).

You will then insert your right needle into the next stitch as you would to purl any other stitch. As you purl this stitch, the yarn is going to look like it’s just sitting in behind the needle. But, when you pull your stitch through, you want to give just a bit of a wiggle of the yarn, and you will get a yarn over the sits on the top of the needle from the back to the front, and then you will have your purl stitch.

The Yarn over stitch has an added component, compared to the other increases. When you work your next row or round, you now need to deal with this extra bit of yarn hanging out. The other increases all just create a new stitch, and you’re done with them. But, this one needs one more step. The beauty of doing the yarn over as I have it written, you can just work the loop as you normally would. For example, if you are knitting, you will just insert your needle into the loop as normal and knit.

KFB and PFB
Next up, let’s talk about the Bar Increase. You will often see this written in abbreviated form as a KFB or PFB. KFB stands for Knit Front and Back. And the PFB stands for Purl Front and Back. This increase is made by working two times into a single stitch. Let’s start with the KFB.

To begin, you will work the next stitch as you normally would knit a stitch. However, you do not drop the stitch that is on your left needle.

Slip your needle back into that left stitch, by going through the back of the stitch, and then wrap your yarn as if to knit.

You can now drop the stitch from your left needle. There are two stitches where there was once one. As you can see, one of those new stitches has a bar across it, which resembles the purl stitch. This is what gives it the Bar Increase name. This is a great increase for making a more hidden increase with no holes. It keeps your knitting tight and compact and very neat.

M1R and M1L

Another option for an increase is the Make 1 Right (M1R) and Make 1 Left (M1L). This creates a twisted stitch that will twist either to the right or to the left. I use this a lot in sweaters when I am knitting from the neck down. It gives the look of an angled set of stitches, and is a nice detail. This does potentially leave a bit of a hole in your work, but it’s not as drastic of a hole as the Yarn over creates.

To do the M1R and M1L stitches, you are going to be pulling up yarn from the row you just worked. If you separate your stitches a bit, you will see that there is a strand of yarn between each stitch just sitting there.

To Make 1 Right (which is a twist that goes to the right), slip your left needle under that bar of yarn from the back of your work to the front of your work.

This loop of yarn now sits on your left needle, and you will slip your needle in just like you would to knit a regular stitch. This will twist the yarn to the right and give you a more solid stitch compared to the yarn over.

You now have a new stitch that is nestled into your work, and is twisted to the right.

To Make 1 Left (which is a twist that goes to the left), slip your left needle under that bar of yarn from the front of your work to the back.

In order to get the twist in this stitch you are going to knit through the back loop. Using your right needle, slip it into the loop of the stitch that is towards the back of your work. Normally you would go into the front, but this time, you will be going through that back loop. Wrap your yarn around your needle, and pull the new loop through.

You now have a new stitch that is twisted to the left.

Those are all the main increases that I am going to cover for now. They are all the main ones that you will see most often. I hope this helps to add some more stitches to your resume, and will allow you to expand the patterns that you look at. I will be doing a post on decreases very soon, but quite often, when you have a yarn over, you are going to have a decrease with that to create your lace motif. When you are working lace, it is quite common that you don’t want to actually increase your stitch count, but you just want to make a nice detail. Be on the lookout for the next post, which will be coming soon!

Sock Basics Part 3: Toes

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Oh the toes. Those cute little nubs at the end of our feet. Some of them are long and skinny, some are short and stubby, and some are just whatever length they chose to be. All those differences mean that one sock toes does not fit all. Take me for example. My left foot is “normal”. The big toe is the longest, and my toes have that nice slope to the baby toe. No problem! But, then there is my right foot. With the issues in my right foot, most regard me as disabled, but I’m not completely. I do however have a misshapen foot. That means that my toes are not that nice slope like my left foot. Nope, not even close. I have hammer toes (the curl down), and my 2nd and 3rd toes are the longest of my toes, making my foot look a bit like a pointed shoe.

So how do you get the toe shape that works best for you? Part of it is trying out the different toes, just like when doing the heels, to find out which one fits best for your foot. And if you are like me, you might even want a different toe for each sock. Now, I’m lazy and just do a basic wedge toe, that I will get into shortly, and don’t bother make different socks. But, the beauty of knitting is you can absolutely customize your sock toe! Since we have been talking about our sock as being knit from the toe down, I will cover those here. I’ll do the other options for toe up when I start the next post on the Sock Basics Part 4. 🙂

Option 1: Square toe, also referred to as the Wedge. This is what I put into all my designs, as it is a nice simple toe that can be quite forgiving. It actually does work well for both my feet, but I do admit that I could do something better for my right foot. The Square Toe has decreases on each side of the foot to create a tapering on both sides. This will end up with a sock that comes to a center point of stitches needing to bind off. It’s referred to as a wedge, because it’s very symmetrical on the sides, and does look like it’s a simple wedge. You have the option of altering this by decreasing more frequently, the decreases are typically every other row, to make a sharper decrease, or decreasing less to lengthen the toe area and have a longer slope. If you have more than a toe or two in the middle of your foot that is longer that you need room for, then you can stop your decreases earlier than what is usually stated and make a wider area for your toes, and make it look more square.

Option 2: Rounded or Pointed toe. This option has some of the alterations mentioned for option 1. The decreases are not done every other row, but more like every fourth row. This makes a longer toe. This is one that ends up looking like a pointy dress shoe.

Option 3: Star toe. I know of many people that really like this particular toe. Instead of having just the decreases on the left and right side of the foot, you end up with a line on the top and bottom as well. This is where the star shape comes from. The options above require some sort of grafting, like the Kitchener Stitch, which I will detail later, to close. The Star Toe, however, does not. It’s simply has you pull your yarn through and cinch it closed. This is great for anyone that struggles with the grafting, which many people do.

Option 4: The Anatomically Correct toe. These are toes that arrange the decreases so that each sock fits either the left or the right foot. It creates the initial pocket for your big toe, and the slopes down to the little toe, so it isn’t sitting there in a bunch of sock fabric. These are perfect for people that want to know which sock is which, or has the type of foot that is sloped and needs to make sure all their toes have their own space.

Option 5: Rounded Toe. This is the last one I’ll cover here. The Rounded toe is similar to the Star, but it has many lines of decreases. You will have multiple lines of decreases that run to the tip of the toes. It makes it look more like a hat for the tip of your foot. I find that it does look a bit bulky at the end of the sock, but if it fits your toes comfortably, then it doesn’t matter. 😀 The idea is to find whatever helps your toes stay warm and comfy.

So, these are some of the main types of toes. There are many variations on all of these types. The beauty of the toes is that you can change them out in any pattern. If you use my patterns, you can use the toes as written (wedge), or you can ignore my instructions completely and use the toe you prefer. Just keep in mind that all patterns are written so that you get a decent fit, so you will need to know exactly how much length of the sock your toe construction takes. The wedge in my patterns is typically 2″. So, you will want to make sure you know how long your toe construction is to make sure your foot is long enough before switching to the toes.

I mentioned above, the grafting technique called Kitchener Stitch. While this in theory is an easy way to sew the toes closed, many people find it very cumbersome. You need to be able to keep your tension just right to have it match all your other stitches, so it doesn’t cause a puckered look. One easy way to help with this is to do the entire graft while not pulling the yarn tight. Then you can take your tapestry needle and working from where you started, begin tightening the yarn bit by bit to make the tension match. It can be tedious, but it does provide a seamless look.

Kitchener Stitch: Divide your stitches, so that they are spread evenly on two needles. Make sure that your toe decreases (specifically the left and right side of your sock) are on the ends of the needles, and not the middle. You want you graft to be going from left to right, and not top to bottom. First, with your darning needle, thread your yarn through the first stitch in the front (needle closest to you), as if you were purling. Pull your length of yarn through. Then put your tapestry needle through the first stitch of the back needle (farthest from you), as if you were going to knit it. This is your initial set up. From this point on, you will be dropping stitches off your needles as you thread your yarn through. You are going to repeat this section until all your loops have been worked and are off the needle. Thread your yarn through the first stitch of the front needle as if you were going to knit. Pull the yarn through and then drop this stitch off the needle. Thread your yarn through the new first stitch on the needle closest to you as if to purl, leaving this stitch on the needle. Thread your yarn through the first stitch on the back needle as if to purl. Pull your yarn through, and then drop this stitch off the needle. Thread your yarn through the new first stitch on the back needle, as if to knit, leaving this stitch on the needle, and beginning this repeat section all over again.

There are alternatives to the Kitchener Stitch, such as the Three Needle Bind Off, which can be effective to graft, but also much easier on the brain. The Kitchener Stitch can feel very cumbersome, and most people do need to look up the instructions for nearly every pair of socks. I almost have it memorized now, but I still double check sometimes to make sure I’m knitting and purling the right stitches. It’s absolutely okay to have to keep looking it up.

I hope that everything I’ve talked about to this point have helped you with tackling your first pair of cuff down socks. Stay tuned for the next run of Sock Basics when we turn our socks upside down and go from the toe up!