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.

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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
p=purl
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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 needleora 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.

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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

Easy!

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.
Voila!

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.

Example:
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.
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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!!!!!

Example:
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.”

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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:

K1,

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)

k1.

Reading R3:

K1

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)

k1.

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.

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Hope this has been somewhat helpful 🙂

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31 comments

  1. Very informative site. I do have a question, though. On the lace chart I am working with, what do I do with the “no stitch” stitches. They decrease the # of stitches to 25 sts & I will need 31 sts. to repeat pattern…I’m perplexed. Help! Thank you.

    • Hi Julia, ‘No stitches’ are used as place holders only — they have many uses. For example, they are put into a chart when a decrease has been worked: let’s say you have just worked a ‘k2tog’. The 2 knit stitches that were knit together had each occupied a square on the chart; the k2tog symbol (usually / ) only occupies 1 square on the chart since you have made only 1 stitch out of those initial 2 knit stitches. The other square in the chart is then filled with a ‘no stitch’ to say that that stitch is no longer there.

      Feel free to drop by our Ravelry group if you have any further questions…always glad to help any way I can. Luise

      http://www.ravelry.com/groups/impeccable-knitters-gathering-place

  2. Im trying to make a aimple hat using the breaking waves pattern on ravelry. Problem im having is it is just a color graph with no instructions. Im trying to make the decreases to shape the hat but my pattern is falling apart. How do I work this type of pattern? Its a back and forth hat pattern thanks!

    • Hi, I’m sorry, I don’t know the pattern. My best suggestion would be to contact the designer on Ravelry or through their website — or maybe looking at any Ravelry projects linked to the pattern on Ravelry and see if there are any helpful notes in the projects.

      Best of Luck!

  3. I want to make a mosaic cowl. I know how to read a basic chart however, on this chart the numbers do not alternate up the rows. On the right is number 1, and on the left of the same first row is number 2. The numbers continue this way up the chart with 3 on the second row and 4 at the left of the same row.
    The patterns are in the new Vogue winter magazine.

  4. I understand some charts when you are doing letters or numbers on a flat piece say
    A dishcloth how would you you write out when doing your own CHART
    Would ypu start at bottom and read right to left and then ROW 2 left to right and just KNITTING those STITCHES as TRING to make a small butterfly and then a name
    On the same cloth
    Was just curious how to do that or if you would do differently for letters and numbers
    Also how many spaces also should you put between each letter thanks

    • Hi Pat,
      When I chart an idea for a textured block – say for a child’s blanket (like my Lighthouse Magic and Nature’s Child) – I use charting software (or graph paper) and place the purl stitches on the chart to form the design (doesn’t matter if it’s a picture or letters). The chart is a picture of the Right Side of the finished product. If you begin with a Right Side row, you are right that when knitting from your chart you begin knitting with the stitch in the bottom right-hand corner and work from right to left; the second row would then be a Wrong Side row and you would read the chart from the left to the right and work each of the stitches the ‘opposite’ of what the chart shows (i.e. when your chart shows a knit, that stitch must be purled on the Wrong Side so that it appears as a knit stitch on the Right Side, and vice versa).

      How many spaces you should leave between letters really depends on how much space you have in total and what weight of yarn you’re using. I would try and centre the letters across the work if you have several letters; if you are only putting in two initials I would place them closer to the centre and balance them there.

      One thing to be aware of is that most charting software (and graph paper — if you’re a pencil and paper person) are squares while knitting stitches are actually rectangular so you might have to play with the proportions to make the picture come out the way you want. Pictures charted on squares will always appear more stretched vertically when they are knit up.

      A lot of it comes down to trying it out because so much depends on your yarn and gauge and what your specific design is — so, create a chart, knit it and see how pleased you are with the finished design. Don’t be discouraged if your first design takes a few tries — each one is a learning experience and will make your next effort better and better.

      Hope that helps a bit. ~ Luise

  5. Your site is good you commented to me above but still having problems
    All I’m doing is s flat KNITTING dishcloth has a butterfly and then a three letter name
    My name is. Charted and the butterfly
    On right side reading right to left I’m doing the design
    Then ROW two on left side doing all even ROWS KNIT except
    For border then I go to do the name and its either backwards
    Or today it was on opposite side of the butterfly so what is causing this all I want is the butterfly and the name to become the same side
    Tried different ways and once name came out backwards
    The butterfly the blank STITCHES are KNIT STITCHES the design and read right to left
    Then the next row is all KNIT except for border
    And then the name above the butterfly comes out either backwards ña
    Or on the opposite of the cloth trying different ways but no luck yet
    I’m left handed but I always read the directions backwards
    As I know this from buying dishcloth PATTERNS from people on net
    But thought I’d the for my own pattern for my daughter
    Thanks

    • Hi again Pat,
      Are you on Ravelry (http://www.ravelry.com)? It’s a free knitting and crochet site that has over 5,000,000 helpful knitters and crocheters. I think my best suggestion given that you’re a left-handed knitter (which is NOT my expertise) is to ask your question in one of the Ravelry groups dedicated to left-handed knitters — like the On the Other Hand group. I know there are many different ways of knitting left-handed and I’m sure you’ll find someone in that group who is very experienced in exactly what you are trying to do and will be able to help. Sorry that I’m not able to be of more help myself. Best of Luck, Luise

  6. Hi there, I’m getting the gist of this chart stuff but am wondering if you cast on 120 stitches but the pattern chart for 1st row only shows 12 stitches how does that work?

    • It depends on the pattern but my best guess would be that you repeat the first chart row 10 times until you reach the end of the row. So you would have 10 repeats of the charted pattern in total across your work. Hope that helps 🙂

    • Black or grey squares in a chart are often used as placeholders to make the rest of the stitches line up further up in the chart. Just ignore those squares on the chart and work the next stitch that is shown.

      So, for instance, if your chart shows 2 knit stitches, a black square, 2 purl stitches, a black square, 2 knit stitches — you would work that as a 2 knits, 2 purls, 2 knits, ignoring the black squares altogether. Hope that helps.

  7. So, I’m working on a cable chart for a hat and one of the rows has two symbols taken off of the front of the row and added to the back so it looks like
    xxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxxxx

    Do you slip the first stitches or just start it from the first marked stitch?

    • I don’t know the pattern specifically but I do see a note on page 2 that the end of round marker needs to be moved to be able to cross the cables so we’re on the right track!

      So, if I were knitting this, for R13 I would remove the end of round marker, k2, and replace the end of round marker then start working R13 of the chart. At the end of the R14, stop 2 sts short of the end of the round and move the end of round marker back to its original position to line up with the chart again.

      Hope that helps 🙂 If needed maybe the designer, Kate Gagnon Osborn, could provide more detailed help via her blog http://kelbournewoolens.com/blog

      All the best!

  8. Can somebody please help me?

    I’m trying to alter the pattern below to be adult sized.

    http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/merikelpoinen

    I’m working on a lace pattern in the round, with repeating sets of 16 sts that includes two yarn overs and a s2k1 p2sso, so it should all even out. However, when I complete the round (288 sts =18 repeats of the pattern) and begin the next row, the pattern isn’t lining up and I’m baffled.

    In the original I notice the pattern wouldn’t divide evenly into the number of stitches on the round (there would be 3 extra), and I was wondering if there was a purpose for this that I have overlooked?

    Any suggestions or advice is appreciated, thanks!

    • I’m sorry I don’t know the pattern. Is there a way you can contact the designer on Ravelry? Or perhaps someone else who has made it has included some helpful information in their project notes? Best of luck – sounds like a fantastic project!

  9. This is the best site I’ve seen so far about reading charts! Here is my question.
    I am knitting a lace caplet (my first lace pattern) and I have a repeat in the middle of the chart. I start with 212 stiches and should end up with 443.

    The first row of the chart has 63 squares, with a 30-square repeat in the middle. Of course each square is different with no stitch boxes, increases and decreases.

    I knitted the first 17 stitches and knitted the 30-square repeat twice, and now according to the chart I have 16 squares to knit but I have over 100 stitches on my needle. Do I keep repeating the 30-stitch repeat? How many times? Or I knit the entire row again?

    Unfortunately the pattern has no information except for the symbols, and this statement, ’19-st rep increased to 40-st rep’. I’m all excited to get started, and I read the chart over and over before I started, but I am stumped. Can you advise me? Thank you so much!

    PS: IF it helps, the pattern is Catlett Shawl in the Interweave Knits Fall 2016 magazine.

    • Hi Pamela, I think your best help option would be Interweave themselves since they will be in touch with the designer of the pattern or, if you are on Ravelry.com, search for the pattern and then check out the associated projects. They often have super helpful notes and someone may have the answer to your exact question. Hope one of those options will give you the answer you need. Best of luck!

  10. LOVE YOUR LIGHT HOUSE MAGIC AND T SAYS 15 DESIGNS BUT I COUUNTED THEM THERE CHILLD WANT TO ORDER IT BUT ARE 17 SO WOULD YOU LET ME HOW MANY DESIGNS FOR SURE BEFORE ORDERING THANKS PLEASE EMAIL MEKNOW

    • Hi there, There are 15 motifs included but some are used in both blanket designs, that’s why it might lok like there are more.

      The Lighthouse Magic features the following motifs: a lighthouse, seahorse, octopus, starfish, moon, dragonfly, sailboat and anchor.

      The Nature’s Child features the following motifs: a lighthouse, butterfly, dragonfly, tulip, apple, tree, maple leaf and heart.

      Hope that helps.

  11. JUST DOING YOUR CHART BY MYSELF THE ONE THAT SAYS KNIT PURL SQUARE WORKING FLAT ROUND 3 AND 4 ARE THE SAME THINK YOUR DIRECTIONS FOR ROUU 3 THRU 8 ARE WRONG AS YOU HAVE 3 AND 4 THE SAME ETC
    WAS TRYING TO DO A TEST IF I GOT IT BUT THINK ITW WRONG BUT YOU ARE THE PRO WOULD YOU EMAIL ME THANKS

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