The Chart’s the Thing: Tips on Reading Knitting Charts

Sandi’s recent blog (“What’s on My Needles“) got me thinking about what’s in my UFO (unfinished object) pile.

My “pile” is less like a pile and more like a parade of different sizes of Ziplock baggies overstuffed with yarn, patterns, and projects on the needles—all shoved on a shelf in my storage room. (No wonder I don’t have any 7s available! I must organize my stash and UFO situation, but that’s a different day and a different post!)

Among several items in my UFO collection, I found a lace cardigan. It’s black, which I think is the main reason it’s still in the UFO pile. I love the pattern and the idea of a black lace cardigan, but my old, tired eyes have a hard time seeing the stitches. Lacework just compounds that problem for me.

I’ve worked on just a few big lace projects, and the majority of those have been written out line by line. For some reason, most of the projects I’ve worked on that could be charted (cable and lace projects) have row-by-row instructions instead. And if a chart is offered as well, I opt for the written directions instead.

I can use colorwork charts with no problems, but pattern charts are harder for me because I’m not that great of a “memorizer.” I have to really make an effort to memorize charts, pattern repeats, phone numbers, you get the picture. (Maybe that’s why I can’t play a single song from memory on the piano after years of piano lessons. . .) I find myself constantly going between the symbol key and the chart, losing my place visually. Simple colored squares are so much easier to follow!

I’ve taken to coloring in pattern charts and coloring the keys to match, somehow that color cue makes it easier for me to memorize. It might be the years of cross-stitch I did before taking up knitting. Whatever, though—it works!

I was looking through my back issues of Interweave Knits recently, and I came across this article on reading charts, “Making Sense of Symbols: A Guide to Reading Charts,” in Interweave Knits Summer 2000. Ann Budd wrote it, and as with all of her information, it was very helpful for me. In her article, Ann says, “Charts have several advantages over row-by-row knitting instructions written out in words: They let you see at a glance what’s to be done and what the pattern will look like knitted; they help you recognize how the stitches relate to one another; and they take up less space than written instructions.”

Armed with this information, I picked up my black cardigan, situated myself under a light, and used the chart instead of the written instructions. The symbols were easy to recognize since I already had a couple complete repeats done. As I worked the row, I could see the pattern emerging and I found I was anticipating the upcoming stitches. The visual aid of the chart was helping me memorize the pattern. Bonus!

So check out Ann’s article, I think you’ll get some good tips, too.

And here’s a tip from me: Use a Post-It note to keep track of your rows—if you place it above the row you’re currently working on you can see the rows already completed on the chart. These will correspond to your knitting, so you can see the pattern on both the chart and the knitted piece.

And take some time every once in a while to look through your old magazines—I usually find a few gems I didn’t notice the first time!






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