Whether you’re using a knitting magazine or scouting for knitting patterns on Pinterest, you’ve probably come across knitting charts and went “What on earth?”
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Learning how to read knitting charts is actually easier that it seems at first when you only see blocks with a bunch of symbols in them.
In this article you’ll learn how to read a knitting chart, from a basic chart to an advanced knitting chart.
What is a knitting chart?
A knitting chart is a way to visually represent a knitting pattern. They can be used for any knitting pattern, and is often used for lacy stitches. If you have a knitting chart in front of you, you can usually imagine how a finished piece is going to look even without having a photograph of the pattern at hand.
How to read a basic knitting chart
For this example, we’re using “English Fern Lace” which is a traditional pattern (this one is from Tricksy Knitter).
Now this probably looks very confusing – for one, it’s so small so how are you supposed to make anything with it? Here is the first thing you need to know about charts – each block represents one stitch, but they usually show a repeated pattern only once or twice. For example, the repeated stitches are in the red block.
So, to make a scarf that is, say, 52 stitches wide, you’ll need to repeat the red block’s repeat five times per row as one repeat is worked over stitches. The other 2 stitches will “end” the pattern on either side. (This is stated just below the chart, but you can also count the blocks).
Next, you’ll see the odd numbers on one side and the even numbers on the other. This is to show you from which side you’ll be reading the chart for that specific row. For the odd numbers, you’ll read right to left, for the even numbers, left to right.
Now for the tricky part – as soon as you know this the whole chart is unlocked! - the different symbols are used to show which type of stitch you’re supposed to make for each stitch that you work.
The blank blocks are either knit or purl. So, for example, in row 1 you’ll knit 1 stitch for every blank block. In row 2, you’ll purl 1 stitch for every blank block. This is also why it’s very important to keep count of your rows, as a knitted row when it should be purl can spoil the whole look of the pattern (we’ve all been there!).
Then, you need to follow the other symbols to know which stitch (yarn over, knit 2 together, slip slip knit, or slip 1 knit 2 together pass 1 stitch over) you need to work for those stitches where the blocks aren’t blank.
For example, row 1 written out for our scarf, will be:
knit 1, *knit 3, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, slip slip knit, knit 3* repeat * to * five times, knit 1.
For your second row, you will purl all 52 stitches.
As you work rows 3 – 16, keep following the pattern as it is shown in the chart, and purl every even row. Once you reach row 17, you need to start with row 1 again and work row 1 – 16. This will be 2 vertical repeats of the pattern.
Keep going until you’ve worked the number of repeats that the pattern states (or, for this scarf example, until your scarf is the length that you like).
And there you have it! That’s how you read a basic knitting pattern chart. With this in mind, you will be able to work just about any chart that you see. Next, we’ll look at more advanced charts and how to read those.
Why not try working this English Fern pattern yourself? Grab your favorite yarn in whatever weight you have at hand and some needles to go with them and work a swatch. You can even make a pretty dishcloth or face cloth by making a square of knitted fabric!
Keep reading for tips on how to easily keep track of where you are in the knitting chart.
How to read a more advanced knitting chart
You’ve probably seen knitting charts that are triangular, or have another shape that isn’t square or rectangular. In this part of the article we’re going to look at how you read these charts.
Reading advanced charts is basically the same as reading simpler or “beginner” charts. The advanced charts are usually for advanced lace patterns and the like where the repeats may be many and the stitches worked in one repeat wide to accommodate all the yarn overs and knit 2 together, etc. stitches.
Before starting to knit one of these advanced charts, make sure that you know what you’ll have to do in the pattern. Usually these charts are a mixture of written pattern and charts. Read through the whole pattern to make sure that you understand what each part of the pattern will look like.
At this early stage, you can also work swatches of the different lace patterns to make sure that you know exactly which stitches you need (and how many of them) to complete the pattern. You should also use lifelines while working these charts in case you do make a mistake. Lifelines make it so much easier to undo rows without being left with a mess of dropped stitches at the end!
Now that you’re ready to start knitting the chart, make sure that you have a way to mark where you are in the pattern (more about this below). Start at the bottom of the chart, knitting row 1. Check if the numbers are on either side of the pattern or only on one side. You read each pattern row from the number of the row. So, if the number is on the right, read from right to left and vice versa. Sometimes lace charts are read only right to left or left to right.
The one main thing with these advanced charts are the gray blocks. These can throw you right off the pattern! Always remember that these gray blocks mean that there is no stitch there. Zilch. Nada. Empty. If you need to, color these blocks in with another color pen like a bright red or yellow. This will make them really stand out and keep you from accidentally knitting them as a knit or purl stitch while you’re busy with the row.
As an example, let’s use this Diamond Edging from Knitting-and.
As you can see, almost every row of the pattern has some gray blocks. These are the ones you can color in. The odd and even numbers also switch sides, which means that every odd row you read right to left, and every even row left to right.
The whole pattern, at its widest part, is 12 stitches wide. At its narrowest part, it’s 9 stitches wide. The repeat is over 12 rows. Where it’s 12 stitches wide, it makes the “point” of the diamond, while the rest of the rows form the “sides” of the diamond shape.
Written out, the first row of the pattern will read:
knit 3, *slip slip knit, yarn over* twice, knit 1, yarn over, knit 1
The second row of the pattern will read:
*knit 1, purl 1* three times, knit 4
In the third row, there is one “extra” block (the final knit stitch). This is because you need to increase the number of stitches in that row. The same goes for row 5. Rows 7, 9, and 11 have less blocks because the number of stitches are decreased again back to 9 stitches.
Once you’ve finished knitting row 12, start again at row 1.
And there you have it! Finally we’ll look at the ways in which you can keep track of where you are in a knitting chart.
How to easily keep track of where you are in the knitting chart
Here are some easy ways to keep track of where you are in a knitting chart, if the chart is printed on paper.
- Using sticky notes, place one sticky note below the row you’re busy with, and one above the row you’re busy with. Leave only the row you’re going to knit open.
- Use a ruler and place it beneath the row you are going to work next.
- Use highlighter tape to highlight the row you are busy with.
Remember to use lifelines every 10 – 20 rows, or even after every repeat of the pattern, and to use a row counter. The row counter can be manual, digital, or in an app.
Now that you can read knitting charts, the only thing left to decide is what to knit first!