Charts: Why and How

Welcome back, knitters!

We’ve had a BUSY week here in the shop. Our ball winder (and our arms!) are worn out, our outgoing mail box is stuffed with packages, and our to-do list is done….We’re ready to kick off our next Brown Bag Mystery Knit Along!


Many of you are participating or know someone who is, and we hope you’re excited too. This project will be full of fun techniques, healthy challenges, and surprises. We’re especially thrilled that the designer will be contributing her expertise to our KAL. We’re so thankful for her support and can’t wait to hear more from her!

One of the key components of this pattern is charts. Whether you’re a KAL knitter or not, you’ll appreciate the value of a well-written knitting chart; they make techniques like lace, cables, and colorwork a walk in the park! But reading a chart can be a challenge for newcomers; even veteran chart knitters are often stumped by an unfamiliar symbol or an unusually formatted chart. Read on for our best advice on charts!

Why Use A Chart?

Of course, any pattern can be written out stitch by stitch, row by row, and be followed successfully by a careful knitter. But charts visually represent the stitch pattern as a whole. You have the advantage of seeing how the stitches of each row line up to create the design; you can visually check your work by comparing it to the chart, and you can intuitively avoid or correct errors as you go. Have you ever tried assembling a jigsaw puzzle without a completed picture for reference? Was it a struggle? Charts are the picture of the finished design that guide you in your knitting.

Look at the chart and the swatch above. Note how the arrangement of the symbols on the chart gives the impression of the knitted design on the right. Charts offer not only stitch-by-stitch instructions. They allow you to see the big picture as you knit!

How to Read a Chart

  • Charts are read from the bottom up- the same direction that you knit. Notice how the rows on the chart below are numbered for clarity.
  • Right side rows (usually but not always the odd numbered rows) are read from right to left- again, the same direction that you knit.
  • Wrong side rows (usually the even numbers) are read left to right; they must be written this way so that the stitches line up correctly! Occasionally a chart will not include wrong side rows, if they are extrememly simple (knit or purl across). If you’re knitting in the round, there are no WS rows and all rows are read from right to left.
  • Each square on the chart represents one stitch. The symbol inside the square will tell you what to do with that stitch- knit it or purl it, increase, decrease, etc. Your chart should include a key that explains each symbol’s meaning.
  • A symbol looks like the stitch it represents as much as possible. Below you can see that a dot indicates a purl (which creates a small bump), an “o” represents a yarn over (which creates a hole), and a “/” or a “\” represents a k2tog (a right-leaning decrease) or an ssk (a left-leaning decrease). This similarity makes it easier to visualize the knitting and to memorize the symbols’ meanings!
  • If a certain group of stitches or rows must be repeated more than once to create the design, that section of the chart may be outlined in bold or in another color.

Image Source:


Using these tips, could you follow the chart above? Try reading the instructions represented by the chart out loud to yourself or better yet cast on 34 stitches and try knitting it! Does the knitted design look like the chart?

Whether you’re a newcomer or a vetern of knitting charts- and whether you’re participating in our MKAL or not- we hope you find these tips on charts helpful.

Happy knitting!


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra David
    Oct 19, 2016 @ 17:09:58

    Great tutorial. Hurray for charts. Once I learned to read charts, knitting life got SO much easier! Can’t wait for the charted fun to being with the MKAL.



  2. yarnpatch
    Oct 19, 2016 @ 19:00:11

    Thanks, Sandra! This one’s going to be a lot of fun.



  3. Christine Reese
    Oct 20, 2016 @ 04:51:23

    Very helpful, thank you!



  4. Kathy
    Oct 20, 2016 @ 07:05:23

    That was very clear and concise explanation of charts,especially for anyone who has never tried it before. Thanks chippy



  5. Diane
    Oct 20, 2016 @ 08:24:56

    In the second chart are the symbols reversed when you knit the ws rows…..left to right ?



    • yarnpatch
      Oct 20, 2016 @ 08:43:54

      Excellent question, Diane! The order in which you read the symbols is reversed because you read in the opposite direction, AND the meaning of the symbols is reversed- i.e., a blank square means “purl” and a dot means “knit” on the wrong side!



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