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).
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.