Learn It: Reading Charts

Certain knitting techniques come easier to some than to others. Reading charts, for example, was easy to me from the beginning. I worked a lot of cable charts after knitting my  first few sweaters, so I became used to applying the symbols on the chart to my knitting.

Texture and eyelets create a fun pattern in Heather Zoppetti’s Akron Cowl. Simple lace and clever decreases make the garter-stitch block appear to tilt. This is a perfect pattern for the novice lace knitter. Knit it with a special skein of super-soft yarn (shown here in Madelinetosh Tosh DK) and you won’t want to take it off.

Charts can be scary, though, especially large charts. In her new book Everyday Lace, designer Heather Zoppetti provides a tutorial for reading and understanding charts. Here it is!

How to Read a Knitting Chart

When it comes to knitting lace patterns, the power of charts is unquestionable. Charts graphically present the stitch manipulations in such a way that the symbols on the chart mimic the appearance of the right side of the completed knitting.

Once you understand how the symbols relate to the knitted stitches, you’ll find that charts are easier to follow than row-by-row instructions and that errors are easier to detect. For example, yarnovers, which form intentional holes in the fabric, are represented by open circles on the chart. Decreases, which cause the stitches to lean to the left or right in the knitting, are represented by left- or right-leaning slanted lines on the chart. Although most of the symbols are intuitive once you’re familiar with them, every chart is accompanied by a key that defines how to work the stitch represented by each symbol.

In general, each cell on a chart represents one stitch. Charts are read from bottom to top and from right to left for right-side rows and are numbered along the right edge of the chart, indicating that these rows are worked from right to left. Wrong-side rows are often not labeled—you need to remember that they’re worked from left to right. It’s important to note that some chart symbols represent stitches that are worked differently on right- and wrong-side rows. For example, a purl stitch is denoted by a single dot when viewed from the right side, but the same appearance is achieved by knitting a stitch on a wrong-side row. Be sure to check the key for stitches that are worked differently on right- and wrong-side row, so every row of the chart is read from right to left.

Many new lace knitters struggle with reading the repeat boxes on charts. These boxes, typically outlined in red, are used to condense a chart into the smallest possible representation of the fabric. If the repeat box extends across the entire width of the chart, simply work from edge to edge (from right to left for right-side rows and from left to right for wrong-side rows) the necessary number of times to the end of the stitches on your needles. If the repeat box sits in the center of the chart, work the stitches to the right edge of the box (for right-side rows), then work the group of stitches within the box as many times as instructed or until the number of stitches within the box as many times as instructed or until the number of stitches remaining on your needles matches the number of stitches to the left of the repeat box, then work the stitches to the left of the repeat box.

The chart for Heather Zoppetti’s Akron Cowl, and a close-up of the cowl. You can see how the
yarnovers and
the garter ridges on the chart correspond to the knitted cowl.

Because a chart represents the knitting, you can compare your knitting to the chart to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes. If yarnover symbols form diagonal lines in the chart, they should do the same in your knitting. If diagonal decrease lines come together in a point in the chart, the same should happen in your knitting. If your knitting doesn’t look the same as the chart, you’ve likely made a mistake. In such cases, rip back to the place where your knitting matches the chart (this is where lifelines come in handy) then proceed again.


Terre Hill Tunic by Heather Zoppetti,
from Everyday Lace

If you’re intimidated by the amount of information represented by a chart, narrow your view to focus on just the row at hand. Use a sticky note, highlighter tape, or magnet board to hide the rows above the one you’re currently working. This will help your eye focus on the chart row that coordinates to the row you’re knitting and, by hiding what has yet to be worked, you’ll only see the rows that have already been worked, which will correspond to the rows that have already been knitted.

—Heather Zoppetti, from Everyday Lace

I think all of that information is really helpful, especially the part about the red repeat box. I have to admit, that part of reading charts was a bit confusing for me.The other thing that threw me off was the gray “no stitch” box on certain charts.

From time to time, a designer incorporates a decrease with no corresponding increase, therefore decreasing the stitch count. This is usually marked on a chart with a gray-shaded box.

By placing this no-stitch box in the chart, the designer is telling you that the stitch will no longer exist, and should not be worked on this row.

Once you know what it means, the no-stitch concept is easy to incorporate.

Get the Akron Cowl plus many more simple, sophisticated knitting patterns, in Everyday Lace! Now that you understand how to read charts, you’ll be able to knit all of the lace patterns you desire.


P.S. Chart or no chart? Leave a comment below, and cast your vote!





  1. Cathy B at 4:28 pm July 25, 2017

    Thanks so much for this. I am confused however with how to know whether a chart is for a pattern reading the same appearance symbol being the opposite based on whether it shows on a wrong side numbered row of the chart? Are there times when you can just knit the stitch for the symbol based on exactly what that symbol represents regardless of wrong or right side? I’d like to think there are ones where whenever I see a symbol for a purl stitch that I just purl and not have to reverse. a knit symbol on any row being knit etc. I’d love to think there are ones in which I could do that. thanks for whatever info you can add for me :)!

  2. Kate J at 2:26 pm June 17, 2018

    I would like to knit a complicated lace shawl, and I can read charts, except that when a chart shows a “pattern repeat” and the shape of the repeat is not a simple rectangle or square, I am very confused. Some “pattern repeats” jog back and forth. How can I knit a pattern repeat for gauge when the repeat is a weird shape?

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