My Stitch Notebook: Chart Reading 101
Knitters know how easy it is to create a nearly infinite number of stitch combinations by using basic knits, purls, yarn overs and decreases. In this first workshop, you will learn how to master reading these stitches in knitting charts, empowering you to
This Stitch Notebook series will present a collection of new and traditional stitch patterns written from a designer’s perspective. With each new installment, we’ll walk you through all the essentials required for executing specific knitting techniques (such as cables, mosaic patterns or novelty textures) and will include a project to encourage you to try the patterns.
In this first installment, you’ll learn how to read charts from the ground floor up so you can master this useful way to read knitting patterns. This skill will help you become more visually attuned when working stitch patterns. Written patterns, although helpful for double-checking your work, can be cumbersome because the eye tends to get lost in all those words and abbreviations. Charts, on the other hand, are compact and easy to follow once you get the hang of reading them.
Our first focus will be lacy openwork patterns. But before we get started, let’s review how to read and use stitch charts.
Knitting patterns are often presented in chart form. At first glance, charts and their symbols might seem like a mysterious secret code or a foreign language, but they’re easy to translate and use.
Each square of the charted grid represents one stitch or maneuver, and every row of squares corresponds with one row of knitting. You’ll read the chart starting with Row 1 at the bottom and work your way up in the same way that you knit, i.e. by casting on at the bottom of the fabric and building the patterning up from there.
A chart’s right-side rows are read in the same order that the stitches present themselves to you on the left-hand needle, i.e. from right to left (Figure 1).
Each square of the grid will contain a symbol to represent the knitting maneuver used to create its stitch. Often, these symbols resemble the way the stitches will appear on the public side of the finished fabric. A blank box, for example, symbolizes smooth, flat stockinette stitch, while the dash symbol represents the bumpy horizontal purl stitch. Easy!
All rows in charts are shown as they appear on the public side of the fabric.
Therefore, symbols mean different things on right-side and wrong-side rows. The blank box, for instance, represents a knit stitch on a right-side row, but if you’re on a wrong-side row and want the stitch to appear as a knit stitch on the flip side of the fabric, you’ll purl it, thereby creating smooth stockinette stitch fabric. But don’t worry. If a symbol is used on both right- and wrong-side rows of the chart, a stitch key nearby will tell you what to do on both sides. There’s no need to memorize anything!
Sometimes, you’ll see a bold or colored box or vertical lines on a chart. These are graphic devices that outline the pattern repeat and function much like the asterisks in written instructions. For example, in the Lace B stitch pattern in the Nobis Wrap on page 34, a red frame surrounds eight stitches and eight rows with one column of stitches outside to the left. This indicates that the pattern repeat is a multiple of 8 stitches + 1. The extra column of stitches helps balance the pattern so it’s centered on the fabric. It’s worked once per row— as the last stitch of a rightside row or as the first stitch of a wrong-side row—while the stitches within the box may be repeated several times across a row.
Lace Stitch Patterns
Openwork is the ideal fabric for lightweight, summertime knitting. It is created by intentionally making decorative holes within the knitting. In order to keep the stitch count constant, every yarn over must be compensated for with a decrease. Some decreases slant left, some lean to the right, and others appear perfectly vertical, depending on the technique used; they create the fascinating structure and patterns of lace knitting. The three lace patterns used in the Nobis Wrap are both charted and written out. Practice reading the charts by casting on the appropriate number of stitches for the given pattern (based on the stitch multiple), then working a swatch from the chart. Doublecheck your work by comparing the chart to the text version. For example, the Lace A pattern is a multiple of 8 stitches + 9, so cast on either 17, 25 or 33 stitches for the pattern plus 4 more stitches for 2-stitch edgings on either side of the lace pattern. The more stitches you cast on, the wider the resulting piece of fabric. This is how I turned the Nobis Wrap—which was originally a scarf—into a nice, comfy shawl.
You can knit the Nobis Wrap as is, showcasing all three lace stitch patterns learned, or bring out your “inner designer” and customize it by plugging in just your favorite of the three lace patterns. Or feel free to make it your own by adjusting the size of each lace section. The options are unlimited and are totally up to whatever you can dream up. Enjoy!