How To: Reading Knitting Charts – NorthCoast Knittery

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How To: Reading Knitting Charts

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     Charted instructions seems to be one of the largest sources of anxiety for many knitters- especially those who've only just begun wrapping their heads around all of the abbreviations and terms in patterns. I do remember that cross-eyed confusion when I first saw a knitting chart, but also, I knew that was the same feeling I had when I was first learning how to knit. So, with the "I can do this!" attitude I sat down and figured it out. You know what? It didn't take long, and now I always prefer charts over written instructions! 

Chart Basics:

    • Each box in the chart represents a stitch.

    • Each row in the chart represents a row of your knitting, and you'll follow the chart from the bottom to the top.

    • Right Side rows are read from right to left.

    • If knitting flat (back & forth), the Wrong Side rows will be read from left to right.

    • If knitting in the round, Wrong Side rows are read from right to left.

     Like following a map, the key is important. Before getting woozy looking at your knitting chart, look through the pattern's symbol legend. See the example below, to the left of one of its corresponding charts. In addition to each charted pattern's key, most books and patterns also include an index with descriptions of the stitches and abbreviations used. Many symbols are the same from pattern to pattern, but there are occasionally differences- so take note of what your specific pattern instructs. Check out the standardized symbols according to The Craft Yarn Council. 

     Occasionally you'll come across charted boxes that have two different definitions that change depending on whether you're knitting on the Right Side or Wrong Side. For example, think about how you knit stockinette. On the Right Side you knit across the row, but on the Wrong Side you're purling. It's the same concept, only displayed in a chart. Take a look at the chart below demonstrating the two row repeat of a 2x2 rib:

Written out, this chart indicates:

Row 1 (RS row, read from right to left): Purl 2, Knit 2, Purl 2, Knit 2.

Row 2 (WS row, read from left to right): Purl 2, Knit 2, Purl 2, Knit 2. 

     Another thing to note is that Wrong Side rows are occasionally left out of charts. If this is the case, your pattern will have written instructions on what to do. This usually happens when all Wrong Side rows are the same. For example, many lace patterns have you work the fancy stitches on the Right Side, while the Wrong Side rows are just purled across. 

     The bolded, heavy, or color lines within charts dictate pattern repeats. It's the equivalent of when you see "repeat across row" inside written instructions. Take a look at the first several rows of one of the charts for my current WIP, Melanie Berg's Rheinlust. The twelve stitches outlined in red are the stitches I repeat across the shawl before or after working the stitches shown on the right side of the chart.

The written instructions for Rows 1 & 2 in the chart above:

Row 1 (RS): k1, [yo, k2tog tbl, (p1, k1 tbl) 5 times] repeat to end.

Row 2: [(p1 tbl, k1) 4 times, p1 tbl, p2tog tbl, k1, yo] repeat to last st, kfb.

     My examples in this blog post are all referring to charted stitch patterns, however charts are also useful for colorwork! Colorwork charts use the same basic guidelines as I've mentioned here, only instead of indicating different stitches- the boxes indicate which colors to use (and sometimes they indicate both!).

     Charts are excellent because of how quickly they allow you to visualize where you are and what you need to be doing. They condense the pattern into a smaller space, so you aren't flooded with full pages of nearly identical lines of abbreviations and numbers.

     My final word of advice is to keep track of your rows. There are a lot of different methods of doing this, so do what comes naturally to you! I like to scribble notes and make tally marks directly on my patterns. While the excessive note-taking does make the paper look messy, it helps me keep my knitting looking fabulous! Post-it notes and highlighter tape are other fantastic (and easily affordable) options for keeping track of your rows. 

     So? Are you ready to start a charted pattern yet? Before trying a more complicated design like the Colina Scarf, consider the garter-stitch lace scarf design Golda. Golda's pattern is completely charted, however there are no stitches more complicated than k2tog, ssk, sk2p, k3tog, kfb, and yo. If you can do those, you can do this pattern! For more photos and details on Golda, check out last week's blog post!

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  • Virginia (NCK marketing assistant): November 07, 2017

    Hi Judy! I know I would be able to help you with this if I could see the pattern myself, because I’m afraid I can’t quite visualize your question. It sounds like there may be some confusion surrounding the directions you read the chart(?). If you are knitting in the round, you will read every row in your chart from right to left. If you are knitting flat, then the Right Side rows will be read from right to left, and the Wrong Side rows are read from left to right. PLEASE feel free to email me at and I am more than happy to continue to try to help you through this!

  • Judy Rowe: November 06, 2017

    Hi – I am working with stitch chart when I reach the left side chart – (there is message " Center of body/sleeve."
    Do I repeat the chart from the Right side until I use up all the stitches? I have used colours to represent the different patterns
    on my chart, but I am not sure if I go back to the right side again to finish with the number of stitches I have left on
    my needles.
    When I reach the left side there are only 3 knit stitches in pattern if I go back to the right side it tells me to start with
    4 purls. This does not connect to the 3 knit stitches on the left side. The rest of columns are all 6 squares long.
    How do I read this chart? Thanks for your help. Judy Rowe

  • Marissa: September 18, 2017

    Great explanation and pics!

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