Reading knitting charts is one of these basic skills which make a knitter’s life easier. It opens a world of possibilities as well, since very complex patterns are often much easier to write and then read in chart form, rather than only written out line by line. Also, Eastern knitting traditions primarily diagram and chart knitting patterns and do not use long detailed written patterns. Apart from the introduction, size, gauge, yarn and needle type and stitch glossary they often have very few, if any, written explanations. However, knitters from around the world are able to read such patterns with no or little understanding of the language in which they were written. As long as they are able to decode the legend and glossary, they are able to recreate the knit. Many people also discover with surprise that after years of knitting following the written out instructions, once they learn how to read them, they like and use charts.
What are charts then? Let’s think of them as technical, visual language of knitting. They are a graphic representation of the knit – often in the Eastern (i.e. Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Eastern – and Central European etc.) knitting dictionaries you’ll see a stitch swatch and the chart right next to it, in the same size, with each cell of the chart directly corresponding to an individual stitch in the swatch. This makes it easier to visualise the stitch and read the stitch chart correctly.
The most commonly used knitting chart format is a grid filled in with knitting symbols, accompanied by a legend or a glossary and sometimes, but not always, written line by line explanation of the chart. Let’s look at a simple example of a knitting chart:
This is a basic knitting chart for seed stitch knitted flat. The chart usually has the title the pattern will refer to consistently, especially if there are more than one chart used in the pattern. My title is “Seed stitch – example 1”. Not very original but it does the job.
After that comes the main body of the chart.
ROWS: Charts are almost always read from bottom right – there are exceptions but I’ll return to this topic in another post on more complex charts. The start point for my example chart is also in the bottom right corner, where number 1 is. Very much like in standard knitting, where we knit right to left, the pattern is then read from right to left in the first row. The cast on rows usually are not included, so my chart starts after I completed my chosen cast on and with stitches already on the needle. Edge stitches may or may not be included, so the pattern needs to be checked to confirm that. In this case there are no edge stitches.
The next row is row 2: the start point for this row is on the left this time, at number 2, and is read in opposite direction. It may seem a bit confusing at first, but it is important to remember that a flat knitting chart is a two dimensional technical drawing representing the right side of knitting only, laid out flat and looked at from above, so the instructions will go there and back, right to left and then left to right. Usually the uneven rows are right to left and even rows – left to right but, while very rarely, this can be reversed in some charts, so it’s important to have a quick check if there are no notes attached as where to start reading the chart. If there are no notes, the assumption is that it is bottom right.
Many charts use row numbers, I tend to use them in my patterns, however not all designers number their rows. It is easier to read numbered rows in charts representing complex stitches, so if the numbers are missing I print out the pattern and add them myself.
COLUMNS: Columns represent the vertical lines formed by stitches worked, or stacked, line by line during knitting. Columns are usually worked and counted right to left, representing the right to left knitting method most knitters use. Like rows, columns may be numbered, however most charts I encounter do not have numbered columns. Numbering does help hugely in tracking progress in complex designs – if in doubt it’s very easy to count and examine stitches on the needle and compare to the place in the chart where the knit should be. It is much more difficult to keep matching the stitches on the needle to the chart if the chart grid is not numbered properly! I always fully number charts myself – on the chart in my designs and on the printed chart if I’m using someone else’s design. As you see on my Example 1, the column numbering is on the top and this is how I usually do it, but for very complex designs I add numbers at the bottom too.
STITCHES: Stitches are represented by graphic symbols. In my chart a blank cell represents the knit stitch and a black dot represents a purl stitch on the right side. It is very important to remember that flat knitting charts represent work as if looked from the right side only, so on the wrong side of work (i.e. in rows with even numbers) my blank cell is a purl stitch and the dot is a knit.
One of the challenges in charts is that there is no uniform convention for using specific graphic symbols in knitting. Individual designers, publications and charting software uses various standards as adopted by them. The differences are also regional – an English chart will very likely have a different set of graphic symbols than a Japanese, Polish or Russian chart. Here are some most commonly used graphic symbols for knit and purl stitches. I’ll explore the topic of symbols for more complex stitches in one of the next blog posts.
Under the chart usually there is a stitch glossary, which clarifies what the graphic symbols in the chart mean. As the graphic symbols aren’t standardised, it is very important to find and read the stitch glossary in the pattern, even, or perhaps especially, if it’s in a different language. I’ve had reasonable success with Google Translate but Ravelry forums are also great help in locating translations of foreign language stitch terms, in particular Japanese and Russian ones.
The stitch glossary usually does not explain how to do a stitch. In Eastern patterns it is usually assumed that the knitter knows how to do the stitches or has a knitting manual which will help. Most Western patterns have some additional explanations here for more complex stitches but usually not for the basic ones. Every chart should be accompanied by a glossary.
MOTIF REPEAT: One more element on my example of a chart is a red frame around bottom four stitches. This frame represents a motif repeat, i.e. a set of stitches which are repeated in the same order, both horizontally and vertically. My stitch repeat is very simple, it’s 2 columns by 2 rows. If I keep repeating stitches in this box I will achieve the full seed stitch, as required. If the chart is not accompanied by the written description, the box will have an annotation how many repeats of the motif repeat are required.
In written pattern form this is represented as follows:
– horizontal repeat specifies required stitches in square brackets or between stars, in my chart it’s [P1, K1], and then the number of times the motif needs to be repeated. In my example it’s twice.
– vertical repeat are unique rows which form the pattern. These rows are described in detail; in my chart these are rows 1 and 2. Pattern then specifies how many times the motif rows need to be knitted again to complete the section. In my example it’s once again.
Motif repeats are usually marked on charts in thicker lines and in colour charts usually in red, green or blue. If there is no information about the number of horizontal and vertical repeats on the chart itself, it will be included in the written pattern.
WORKING IN THE ROUND:
Charts for working in the round look a little different. There are no rows and the work is not turned around, therefore the rounds are always read from the right to left. All the round numbers are also on the right. Column numbering doesn’t change.
Since the work is not turned, the stitches are always worked on the right side. Each stitch symbol has only one description of what stitch represents and is always worked the same.
In some cases the charts do not show all rows. In the last example only right side stitches are charted. While this chart looks almost the same as the first example, only uneven numbered rows are shown. Wrong side rows are not charted, meaning that the stitches are the same as the row below. This chart represents a double seed stitch, with a vertical repeat of 4 rows, instead of two.
This type of charting is quite common, therefore it’s important to check whether all rows are shown, right and wrong side, or only the right side of work.
Part two of reading charts for more complex stitch patterns will follow soon.
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