Reading Charts

This is a most basic introduction to reading charts.  Examples for both Reading Charts for Knitting in the Round and Reading Charts for Knitting Flat are included.


Some abbreviations you may run across on this page:
RS = Right (public) Side
WS = Wrong (non-public) Side
R = row or round
st(s) = stitch(es)
k = knit

Why Charts?

The old “a picture’s worth a thousand words”.

Here’s an example:

 2 over 2 Left Cross Cable with a Purl Axis Stitch
Written Directions: Slip next 3 sts to cable needle and hold to front of work, k2, slip left-most st from cable needle to left needle, p1, k2 from cable needle


a symbol representing all those words.

If you are symbol-oriented rather than text-oriented, you’ll love charts once you learn how to read them. If you are a text-oriented person you may never “get” charts and even if you do, you may not like to use them. That’s OK – knitting is about being happy 🙂

Chart Properties

There are 2 main types of charts:
#1 for knitting in the round (circular) (like a hat or socks), and
#2 for knitting flat (like a scarf or blanket).


#1 are easier to read –

‘what you see is what you get’ since the chart always represents the Right Side of the work and, when knitting in the round, the Right Side of the work is always facing you.

#2 are more difficult –

because they take a little mental gymnastics – you have to be able to visualize working from the Wrong Side of the work, creating a stitch that will give the desired result on the Right Side, and work Wrong Side rows from left to right.


Elements of a Chart

How do I know if it’s a chart for Knitting in the Round or Flat Knitting ?

Look at the row numbers along the side of the chart.

 #1: If all of the row numbers are sequentially along one side (usually the right side) then it is a chart for knitting in the round*. #2:  If the row numbers alternate between being on the right side and on the left side, then the chart if for flat knitting.

* There’s always a but, isn’t there? Many lace charts leave out the Wrong Side rows (when each WS row is worked the same e.g. purl) and therefore only show numbers along the right hand side of the chart. However, the row numbers will be 1, 3, 5, etc. so you know that rows have been hidden. See the Lace Charts section below.


Reading Simple Knit and Purl Charts

Let’s use one of the above charts as an example.

How charts are read depends on whether it is worked “flat” or “in the round” so this is the first thing that needs to be identified.

What I already know:
~ 4 rows (shown along the right hand edge)
~ because all of the row numbers are along the right-hand edge, and they are sequential, I know it’s for knitting in the round
~ it has 8 stitches (shown across the top of the chart) per row
What I don’t know:
What are those 8 stitches in each row? How am I to actually work them?The answer is in the Legend or Key that accompanies the chart.

The Legend (Key)

This is the legend that accompanies the chart above. It tells us that a blank square is a Knit stitch.

OK, you say, that’s not a very exciting chart — true — so let’s look at a chart with a tiny bit more variety.

Reading Charts for Knitting in the Round

What I know by looking at the chart above:
~ 8 rows (shown along the right hand edge)
~ because all of the row numbers are along the right-hand edge, and they are sequential, I know it’s for knitting in the round
~ it has 8 stitches
~ the legend tells me that the blank squares are knit stitches and the black dots are purls


How Do I Translate that into Knitting?

Charts represent the public face or Right Side of your work – they show you what the Right Side will look like.
Charts for knitting in the round are read (and worked), beginning at Row 1 from Right to Left <—————-. I work Stitch 1, Stitch 2, etc. all the way to Stitch 8. Every Row is read from Right to Left <—————- until you’ve finished working the last row of the chart.

So, we begin at Row 1, Stitch 1 i.e. the bottom right-hand corner of the chart.
The first 4 stitches are blank squares so I would knit 4 stitches.
The next 4 stitches are black dots so I would purl the next 4 stitches.

The same procedure is followed for R2, R3 and R4 of the chart; for each Row:
The first 4 stitches are blank squares so I would knit 4 stitches.
The next 4 stitches are black dots so I would purl the next 4 stitches.

Now at Row 5, things change. So, for R5 – R8:
The first 4 stitches are black dots so I would purl 4 stitches.
The next 4 stitches are blank squares so I would knit the next 4 stitches.

Now, since we are working this in the round, and unless we have gigantic yarn, 8 stitches will not make a circle of anything, so we need to repeat this pattern if it’s to be at all practical.

Working Multiples
The beauty of charts is shown again here because we don’t need to do anything else to the chart. All we need to know is how many times to repeat the chart stitch sequence. This information is usually given in the written pattern directions.

For an adult hat worked in worsted-weight yarn [about 5 sts to 1″ / 2.5 cm], casting on 96 sts would create about a 19 1/4″ / 49 cm circumference hat. Each row of our 8-stitch chart would have to be repeated 12 times to reach the end of round. Then R2 would be started and worked for 12 repeats and so on.

Reading Charts for Knitting Flat (back and forth)

Now comes the harder part. Because charts always show the Right Side, in order to read a chart for knitting flat, you have to be able to visualize how to work a stitch on the Wrong Side so that it creates what you want on the Right Side (RS) i.e. what the chart is showing you.

First, I have to tell you that stitches are two-faced! Yes, yes, yes! When you knit a stitch and look at the back side of that stitch it’s not a knit at all but a purl!!!!!

Yes, every time you create a knit stitch (the swatch on the left shows lots of them), and you take a peek at the Wrong Side (the side not facing you) of the work — what do you see? — why a purl stitch (swatch on the right)!

Right Side

Wrong Side

Ok, But How Does That Help Me?

Well, knowing that working a Purl stitch on the WS creates a Knit stitch on the RS is all you really need to know to work the chart example from above. Let’s have a look at that same chart formatted for working flat:

What’s Changed:

~ Notice the Row numbers are now showing on both sides of the chart
RS rows numbers on the right ———-> and
WS row numbers on the left <———–

~The Legend shows both RS and WS definitions for the stitches.

The first row number is at the right side of the chart, indicating it is a RS row *.
* There are charts that begin with a Wrong Side Row i.e. R1 is labeled at the bottom left, but we’ll leave that discussion for later 🙂

Read R1 from right to left <———–, so (if you did your homework up above you’ll know that the 4 blank squares represent 4 knit stitches and the 4 black dots represent 4 purl stitches), K4, p4 and turn your work to begin R2.

It’s with R2 that things become interesting 🙂

Notice the directional arrows in the chart below – they show the direction that you work each row.

There are 2 challenges when working those WS rows:

#1: The chart shows you the RS of the work but YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE WORK FACING YOU (it’s like you’re hiding behind the chart – you could play peek-a-boo!)

#2: Those rows are worked from Stitch 8 to Stitch 1 i.e. in reverse order.

Here’s a quick visual – the first chart on the left (<——-) shows only the first 4 rows of the above chart (to save space).

Stitch #8 is highlighted in red to keep tabs on it. The second chart on the right (—->) shows what it looks like when you’ve turned your work so the WS is facing you. Notice Stitch #8 in the second chart is at the right edge of the work and becomes the first stitch to be worked. (That second chart shows what you have to visualize for each even-numbered row.
(You’ll only ever see the RS charts in patterns – you always have to visualize the WS charts.)

So, beginning at Stitch 8, you have to figure out how to make the stitch you are creating appear as it should on the RS.

How Do I Work Those WS Rows?

For R2, Stitch 8 appears on the chart as a black dot meaning it is a Purl stitch on the RS of the work. We know from our swatch experiment above that the back of a purl stitch is a knit stitch.

Our Legend in the chart above also tells us that, when working a WS, a black dot is a Knit.

So, to work R2, I will Knit Stitch 8, Stitch 7, Stitch 6 and Stitch 5 and I will Purl Stitches 4 – 1, and turn.

R3 (RS): K4, p4, turn.
R4 (WS): K4, p4, turn.
R5 (RS): p4, k4, turn.
R6 (WS): p4, k4, turn.
R7 (RS): p4, k4, turn.
R8 (WS): p4, k4, turn.

These are just some simple examples to get you started. Hope they’re helpful.

Lace Charts

Here’s a sample of a lace chart. Notice that only odd-numbered rows are shown.

The row numbers appear along the right-hand edge, so these are all RS rows, i.e. all chart rows are read from right to left <————–.

All of the even-numbered rows (Wrong Side rows) are hidden. Why?

This type of chart is used to save space and to simplify the chart (make it less busy) when all WS rows are worked the same. The pattern instructions will say how each of those WS rows should be worked e.g. “Purl all WS rows.”  or “All WS rows: K1, purl to last st, k1.”


Chart Symbols = Actions

Every chart symbol represents an action. This action may involve only 1 stitch or 2 or more stitches.

Charts may show knitting where A) the stitch count remains constant (no gains of losses of stitches overall) or B) where the stitch count changes.

A-1) No Gains or Losses (of Stitches)

In the following chart, each symbol represents an action that involves only 1 stitch:

R1: K1, p1, k1, p1.

A-2) The Losses and Gains Even Out 

The following chart shows examples of chart symbols (actions) involving more than 1 stitch.

An even number of stitches in a chart can also be maintained by balancing decreases and increases i.e. for every stitch that is decreased in a row, a new stitch is created.

These pairings can happen side by side or apart from each other with very different effects. We’ll look at the first example: side-by-side increases and decreases.

In this chart we have 2 new scenarios:

1. Increases: creating a new stitch – yo in R1 and R3

2. Decreases: combining stitches to make 1 stitch from 2 stitches – the / = knit 2 together* (R1) and \ = ssk (R3)

* for a more detailed look at this decrease, see Looses (of Stitches) section below


Reading R1:


yo (at this point, since the decrease has not happened yet, there are 5 sts total on the needles),

k2tog (2 sts are reduced to 1 sts so our total stitch count is back to 4 sts)


Reading R3:


ssk (2 sts are reduced to 1 sts so our total stitch count is reduced to 3 sts since our corresponding increase has not yet happened)

yo (stitch count is increased by 1 st giving us a total of 4 sts again)


Losses (of Stitches)

The K2tog Chart below shows another example where an action takes more than 1 stitch. It also shows an example of reducing the number of stitches being worked.

Let’s “read” this flat knitting chart:
R1: K4.
R2: P4.

The 2 green stitches identify the 2 stitches that will be knit together in the next row.

R3: K1, k2tog, k1.
R4: P3.

Let’s take a closer look:
R1 contains 4 stitches.
R2 contains 4 stitches.
R3 only contains 3 stitches.
In R3, we: k1, k2tog (an action which takes 2 stitches – the green ones – and makes them into 1 stitch), k1.

Note that the k2tog symbol only takes up 1 square in the chart since the action results in a single stitch on the needle.

Since our decrease gives us only 3 stitches in this row now, the last stitch has been turned into a “no stitch” (gray square). A ‘No Stitch’ symbol means “ignore me, I’m not really here – just carry on…”.  A ‘no stitch’ can be placed at the end of the row or within the row; it depends on the chart and designer’s preference. Sometimes ‘no stitch’ symbols are placed within a chart to keep other  chart elements lined up.


Hope this has been somewhat helpful 🙂

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