A Fresh Take on Knitting Charts

Many people are intimidated by knitting charts, but learning to read them is a really important skill.

Charts put line after line of written instructions into one graphic set of instructions. Once you learn how to read a chart, you'll be able to tackle the most intricate of knitting instructions without flipping through pages of written instructions.

Designer JC Briar has a new video workshop, called Knitting Charts, that will help you learn how to read charts. A self-confessed technique freak and skill junkie, JC has a special fondness for textured knitting and inventive construction techniques. She teaches from her book, Charts Made Simple, and her new project, stitch maps, presents an exciting new way of charting knitwear. Here's JC to talk a little about stitch maps, which I think are a revolutionary new way to present charts in knitting.

Stitch Maps: A Fresh Take on Charts

Stitch maps are a new form of knitting chart that use traditional symbols in a novel way: without a grid.

Feather and Fan stitch pattern

The symbols within a stitch map clearly show what stitches to work. And—not being confined within grid squares—they also show which stitches of the previous row should be worked. The end result? Charts with unparalleled fluidity, authenticity, and beauty.

Knitting progresses in rows of stitches. So it's no surprise that charts often consist of rows of symbols, each contained in a grid square. The symbols represent stitches, and the grid squares keep everything aligned in a neat, tidy, and orderly fashion. But is this tidy alignment really a good thing?

Consider Feather and Fan (at left), a classic stitch pattern with a lovely undulation to its rows. That undulation isn't apparent in a typical, grid-based chart.

Traditional knitting chart for Feather and Fan

But if you toss the grid aside, something magical happens. Freed from the constraints of a grid, the symbols can be arranged into a new kind of chart, called a stitch map. A stitch map clearly shows how the stitches knit together (pun intended!) to form fabric. You can see how the rows bend. You can see how each yarn over snuggles between two stitches. You can see which two stitches each k2tog joins together.

Stitch map for Feather and Fan

What stitch maps let you do

Stitch maps let you see how the parts of a stitch pattern fit together—not just the sequence of stitches along a given row, but also how those stitches interact from row to row. As with a crochet chart, each symbol both describes a stitch and shows you into which stitches of the previous row it needs to be worked.

Following the vertical pathways in a stitch map—connecting the dots between its symbols—lets you visualize the stitch columns of knitted fabric. You can trace a stitch column from its start in a cast-on stitch or increase, to its end in a bind-off or decrease.

Why is this helpful? Consider this: the spaces between stitch columns are excellent places to put stitch markers – you'll never get a marker stuck in a lace decrease again! They're also places where stitch patterns can be modified easily. But if you toss the grid aside, something magical happens—say, by adding columns of purls to create a novel rib pattern for a special sock design.

And, yes, you can knit from stitch maps. As with a traditional grid-based chart, you'll read a stitch map in rows, from the bottom up. When working a right-side row or when working in the round, read from right to left; when working a wrong-side row, read from left to right. (That's assuming, of course, that you knit conventionally, creating new stitches on your right needle. If you knit "lefty," creating new stitches on your left needle, read in the opposite direction: left to right on right-side rows and on rounds, right to left on wrong-side rows.) Not sure what a symbol is telling you to do? Check out our symbol key.

—JC Briar, stitchmap.com and Knitting Charts: Follow the Symbols for Successful Knitting

Here's a preview of Knitting Charts:

Find out more about JC Briar and stitch maps on her website, and get Knitting Charts, JC's new DVD and video download.


P.S. Do you have tips for reading knitting charts? Leave a comment and share them with us!

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