Reading Charts

A knitting chart is a graphic representation of a stitch pattern or knitted fabric. Charts are often provided in patterns as a more intuitive and shorthand way of showing how to work particular stitch patterns that would otherwise require too much space or time to write and read if provided as text instructions only. They give a concise visual of the stitches and techniques involved in the stitch pattern, illustrate how your fabric will knit up, help you track your place and catch errors more easily as you work, and help you learn and memorize a new stitch pattern more quickly. As such, they can be immensely useful for projects involving intricate textured, lace, or cabled motifs.

If you’re unfamiliar with knitting charts or would like to learn more about their mechanics, we invite you to read on as we break down how to read and work from them.

Symbols and Legends

Knitting charts are presented in grid format, with each box or cell representing one stitch, each row representing a row or round knitting, and each column representing a column of stitches. The chart as a whole illustrates the right side (RS), or public facing side, of the work. Thus, the different types of stitches that can be in one cell are represented by symbols that mimic what those stitches look like from the RS of the fabric.

In our patterns, we use a consistent set of stitch symbols. However, the stitch symbols that other designers and publishers use may differ slightly from one another. This is why it is important to first familiarize yourself with the symbol legend provided with the chart. Shown above are the symbols we use for basic knit and purl stitches.

APPLICATION: Deciphering Chart Symbols

Chart adapted from Woodfords by Elizabeth Doherty.

Shown above is a chart for a textured stitch pattern (left), with its knitted counterpart (right). Notice how the symbols in the chart (blank boxes and shaded dashes) correlate with each stitch worked (knits and purls).

The rows of blank boxes at the head of the chart represent rows of knit stitches (stockinette stitch) at the top of the RS of the swatch, while the arrangement of shaded dashes throughout the rest of the chart represent the purl bumps that create texture on the fabric. (Often, stockinette stitch is not charted, but we have done so in this example to serve as a helpful comparison point for deciphering the chart.)

Tip: Notice that on the chart, you can see how stitches align vertically, row over row — this makes it easier to catch a misplaced knit or purl, and with lace, a misplaced decrease or yarn over.

IN DEPTH: Symbols That Represent More Than One Stitch

Chart adapted from Ilia by Michele Wang.

Some techniques (for example, cabling) require multiple stitches in their application. In such cases, their symbol in a chart spans more than one box or cell. Notice how in the cable chart shown above (left), the symbols for a 4/4 Right Cross and a 4/4 Left Cross are each as wide as 8 boxes. This is because these crosses (or cables, as they are more commonly called) require 8 stitches to be worked — two columns of 4 stitches cross over each other. Likewise, the symbols for a 4/1 Right Twist and a 4/1 Left Twist are each as wide as 5 boxes because they require 5 stitches to be worked.

One interesting thing to note (and another reason to first study chart legends before knitting) is that a symbol spanning more than one stitch may involve a sequence of multiple different stitches. In the close-up of the chart above (left), you may notice that in the symbol for a 4/1 Left Twist there are blank white areas and blank shaded areas. The white areas mimic knits, while the shaded areas mimic purls. This is because a 4/1 Left Twist involves 4 knits and 1 purl. This symbol is doubly shaded in this way precisely because it gives an accurate visual of what your fabric will look like — the twists occur amidst a background of reverse stockinette (i.e. purls), as shown above (right).

IN DEPTH: Symbols That Represent Changes in Stitch Count

Visual representations of certain construction methods, such as shaping through increases and/or decreases, may result in a chart that does not appear quite like a standard rectangular graph. Since single stitches are represented by one box or cell, then some boxes may be “added” or “subtracted” throughout the chart to reflect the changes in stitch counts that often accompany shaping. Thus, the shape of a chart can very quickly give you a sense of what shaping will be involved in your work.

Chart adapted from Juneberry by Jared Flood.

For example, the lace chart above shows you that you end Row 1 with 3 stitches and end Row 20 with 21 stitches. The shape of the overall chart, blocked out by heavier lines, also shows you that the gradual increase in stitch count creates a triangular shape achieved by yarn overs at the beginning and end of the RS rows.

Chart adapted from Grove by Jared Flood.

On the other hand, the mitten thumb chart above shows you that at the end of Rounds 1-13 you have 20 stitches that gradually decrease to 8 stitches at the end of Round 16. Notice that on Round 14, the Raised Central Double Decreases (RCDD) are flanked by empty boxes on either side. This is because an RCDD is a double decrease worked over 3 stitches that then decreases to 1 stitch. Thus, 2 boxes are “subtracted” from the chart for every RCDD encountered.

Chart adapted from Fieldstone by Norah Gaughan.

The example of a charted sleeve cap above further shows how stitches are “subtracted” from strategic points in the work to create a curved shape. The accompanying chart note also tells you that you begin working the chart with 58 stitches and decrease to 23 stitches. However, there are times when changes in stitch count must be conveyed in other creative ways to show the changes that occur in the chart while still maintaining readability. In these cases, we use “No Stitch” symbols: dark grey shaded boxes that are darker than the shading we use for purl symbols. As noted in the chart legend, no stitch needs to be worked when you encounter this symbol — it’s only used as a placeholder to keep the chart aligned properly. Simply proceed to working the next stitch in the row!

Direction of Reading

Charts for flat knitting are read in the same direction you would knit your work: starting from the bottom and reading from Right to Left () on RS rows (usually the odd-numbered rows) and from Left to Right () on WS rows (usually the even-numbered rows).

Because charts typically only illustrate the RS of the fabric, WS rows are read from the opposite direction of the RS rows. In other words, when you turn your piece to work a WS row, you’re still working your stitches from Right to Left, but in the opposite direction of the RS — in a visual representation of the RS, this translates to Left to Right.

Tip: For additional clarity, we provide arrows next to the first odd row and the first even row in our charts to show the direction in which you should read and work them, as shown above. 

When you’re working a WS row, not only are you working in the opposite direction of the RS, but you’re also working the WS equivalent of each stitch. Thus, charts for flat knitting involve “chameleon” stitch symbols that mimic their RS equivalent, but include instructions for how to work the WS equivalent. For example, to achieve what looks like a knit stitch on the RS, on the WS the stitch is worked as a purl. Thus, to ensure that your RS fabric looks the way you intend, it is very important to familiarize yourself with the symbol legend provided with a given chart.

Above is an example of the symbol definitions we use for basic stitches for flat knitting charts. Notice that there are instructions for how to work each stitch on both the RS and the WS.

According to these principles, the chart above would be read and knit as follows:

Row 1 (RS): Purl 1, knit 1.

Row 2 (WS): Knit 1, purl 1.

On the other hand, for circular knitting charts, all rounds are read from Right to Left (). This is because you only ever see the RS of your work when knitting circularly.

Tip: For additional clarity, we provide arrows next to the first two rounds in our charts to show the direction in which you should read and work them. Seeing that the second round is knit in the same direction as the first round tells you that the chart is knit circularly.

The symbol legend for charts knit in the round will provide instructions for how to work only the RS equivalent of each stitch. As such, the chart above would be read and knit as follows:

Round 1: Purl 1, knit 1.

Round 2: Knit 1, purl 1.

IN DEPTH: Other Notations    

Chart adapted from Arbre by Andrea Rangel.

Other common chart notations include brackets, heavy lines, or boxes around a certain section of stitches that indicate a pattern repeat. We use heavy, orange boxes to indicate such repeats in our charts, as shown above (left).

This notation shows you that the bracketed section repeats itself across the row a certain number of times before you work the rest of the chart. The number of repeats is often directed in the written instructions or chart notes provided in the pattern. For example, the accompanying written instructions or chart notes for the above chart may instruct you to knit as follows:

MAIN FABRIC

Note: Work 12-stitch repeat 2 times per row.

Work Rows 1-14 of Lace Chart 3 times, then work Rows 1-7 once more.

Your knitted work will then look something like the swatch shown above (right). Notice that the knitted swatch is the expanded version of the shorthand chart, and that the bracketed notation and corresponding chart note minimize the need for longer, stitch-by-stitch written instructions like the following:

MAIN FABRIC

Row 1 (RS): Knit 2, *knit 2, k2tog, YO, knit 1, YO, ssk, knit 4; repeat from * to * once more, knit 3, k2tog, YO, knit 1, YO, ssk, knit 5.

Working from a Chart

Now that you know the basics of reading charts — from deciphering chart symbols and notations to determining the direction in which to read the chart — you can start working from them!

One thing to note is that while charts provide a visual “map” of how to knit a certain stitch pattern, you may still need to simultaneously follow some written instructions. These written instructions will guide what charts to work (if the pattern involves multiple charts), and where to start or stop working from them in your piece. For example, a pattern for a sweater may have a chart only for a small panel of decorative stitches, with the rest of the sweater being worked from standard written instructions. Alternatively, some patterns may have you begin and end your row or round part-way through a chart, depending upon the size you’re working.

APPLICATION: Working Charts in a Pattern

Chart adapted from Ilia by Michele Wang.

You may notice that the swatch above (right) involves 2×2 ribbing at the top and bottom edges that are not represented in the chart (left). This is because it is more intuitive for simple stitch patterns (e.g. stockinette stitch, garter stitch, ribbing, etc.) to be worked from written instructions rather than from charts.

You may also realize that the swatch involves more than one repeat of the chart. How do you get from Point A (what seems like an abstract, barebones representation) to Point B (the tangible, knitted piece)? The key is in the written instructions! Thus, it helps to get acquainted with not only the chart, but also the written instructions — both are not meant to be in competition, but instead, they work seamlessly together to guide you in working your item.

As such, the written instructions accompanying the chart above may instruct you as follows:

CABLED SWATCH

Cast on 42 stitches using the Long-Tail Cast On.

Row 1 (RS): {Knit 1}, *knit 2, purl 2; repeat from * until 1 stitch remains, {knit 1}.

Repeat Row 1, establishing 2×2 Ribbing, until piece measures 1” from cast-on edge, ending on a RS row.

Next Row (WS): {Knit 1}, purl until 1 stitch remains, {knit 1}.

CABLED SECTION

Work Rows 1-22 of Cable Chart, then Rows 1-14 once more, working each row as follows:

Row 1 (RS): {Knit 1}, purl 4, work chart until 5 stitches remain, purl 4, {knit 1}.

Row 2 (WS): {Knit 1}, knit 4, work chart until 5 stitches remain, knit 4, {knit 1}.

Next Row (RS): {Knit 1}, *knit 2, purl 2; repeat from * until 1 stitch remains, {knit 1}.

Repeat until piece measures 6” from cast-on edge, ending on a WS row.

Loosely bind off all stitches knit-wise.

We invite you to practice your chart-reading skills using the Cable Chart and corresponding instructions we’ve provided!

Converting a Chart to Written Instructions

If you find that in certain settings, it’s more convenient for you to work from written instructions rather than charts, you can certainly translate the charts into written instructions once you learn how to read them. Here’s how:

  1. First, establish the direction in which you should read the chart by determining whether it is for flat knitting or circular knitting.
  2. Once you’ve established the direction in which you should read the boxes in the chart, start with Row or Round 1 and translate each symbol in that row, according to the corresponding symbol legend. If you’re translating a chart for flat knitting, remember to write out the WS equivalents of each stitch on the WS rows!
  3. If there is a stretch of the same symbol/stitch (e.g. 3 knit stitches in a row), write them out as one step — for example, knit 3 versus  knit 1, knit 1, knit 1. This will make your work go faster, as you won’t have to read instructions for each individual stitch.
  4. If you reach a section within brackets or boxes that indicate a repeat, write out that sequence of stitches within asterisks or parentheses. You can then refer to all the stitches within those markers as one repeat. For example, *knit 2, purl 2; repeat from * until end versus knit 2, purl 2, knit 2, purl 2, ….
  5. Continue translating row by row until you reach the end of the chart.

If you’ve made it this far, you are surely on your way to becoming a chart-reading wizard. Despite the length of this piece, once you get the hang of charts, they will help to simplify your knitting, we promise!