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After giving my usual knitting class syllabus a look over it was obvious that a truly well written tutorial will need much more information since I won’t be there in person to blather away non-stop while everyone casts on and tries to make sense of my printed mash-up. Because I want to share so much info this tutorial will have to be in several parts. Once I’m happy with the whole thing and have answered any questions that come up in the comments I will make the whole shebang into a PDF file and keep a link to it on this here blog.
When I first started knitting I was dismayed at how hard it was to understand the lovely patterns I saw in books and magazines. The language was sprinkled with abbreviations with very scant explanations about them. It seemed that I needed to learn a new language in order to knit something as simple as a stockinette raglan sweater. I was very lucky that I discovered Elizabeth Zimmermann and her plain way of speaking early in my knitting “career.” Being a drafter by trade, it seemed logical to me to chart those patterns that were written out in KnitSpeak so that I could better understand exactly what was happening. At that time knitting charts weren’t all that common, at least not in the books available at my small town library, and so I developed my own charting system. It goes without saying that the internet was still in its infancy, not the wealth of easily accessible knowledge that we enjoy today.
Why didn’t I just go over to the LYS and ask questions? It was a 20 minute drive and they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand something so “simple” – we had a language barrier to overcome and I got frustrated and decided that I would figure it out myself and then write patterns in English with easy charts and give them away to whoever showed an interest. Some years later I taught a few classes and discovered even more about the different ways that people absorb information.
There seem to be two groups of knitters when it comes to knitting patterns – those who read charts and those who don’t, and both groups have their reasons for knitting the way they do. There’s nothing “wrong” with either method – each knitter should decide for his or herself what method works best with their way of learning and not take too seriously the arguments from the “Other Side.”
There are five basic types of charts –
- Those with patterning on every other row or round, with those rows or rounds in between being worked as plain Knit or Purl.
- Those with patterning on both Right Side and Wrong Side rows. (When knitting with circular needles every round is a Right Side round.)
- Cabled designs.
- Colorwork designs.
- Patterns with varying stitch counts from row to row.
Each type of chart has its own idiosyncrasies and warrants a separate post in order to really get to the heart of the matter, but before we can begin to delve into the “mystery” of knitting charts gather the following – Knitter’s graph paper, pencil and eraser. Knitter’s graph paper differs from regular Engineer’s graph paper in that the squares are not square, but rectangular (wider than they are tall) just as your knitting stitches are. You can use regular square graph paper, but it won’t give you a true representation of what your knitting will look like and disappointment can follow.
With these simple tools I hope to show you how easy it is to convert any written pattern into chart form, and vice versa, if you really want to 😉
The Stitch Key:
The Key above is not universal, but the one that I use when designing a new pattern. I have taken the best (IMHO) elements from several different sources and combined them in an order that seems logical to me. This is by no means the only Key to use for charting, but until there exists a true “universal” Key, you will find the same stitch shown many different ways, depending on where you get the pattern.
All charts have a Key associated with them, although you will find some books that have only a Main Key in the front of the book and no further reference to it – make a copy of the Key to keep handy while working the pattern.
Most of the latest magazines have very similar Keys, so once you are familiar with one, the others will make sense, too.
Take a minute to look over the Key before you start to work with a charted pattern to be sure you understand what each symbol means. Each box on a charted pattern represents one stitch, and the symbol inside that box represents what you do with that stitch – Knit, Purl, Increase, etc.
One Row Patterns:
The first type of chart (pattern only on RS rows) is the easiest to translate from written word to chart form, and the chart can show all rows or only those with patterns – whichever fits space requirements.
Our first example is an Orenburg pattern that I’m sure you’ve all seen before called “Cat’s Paws”
This allover pattern consists of (6) stitches and (5) rows, so mark a box 6 stitches wide by 5 stitches high on your paper. The pattern will fall within these 30 boxes.
Since knitting patterns are read from bottom right to left (the same way the stitches are formed), the pattern will start in the bottom right box in your marked off area.
Written, the pattern looks like this –
Row 1: Knit 1, YO, K2tog, YO, K2tog, Knit 1
Row 2: Knit plain
Row 3: YO, K2tog, YO, K2tog, YO, K2tog
Row 4: Knit plain
Row 5: Knit 1, YO, K2tog, YO, K2tog, Knit 1
I use a blank square for a plain knit stitch, a circle for a YO, and a / for a K2tog (a right-leaning decrease.)
So, the first square on row one is blank, the second has a circle in it, the third a /, the forth a circle, the fifth a / and the last square is blank. Remember to work from bottom right to left.
Row two would have only blank squares, since it is knit plain. The Key should show the blank squares as being Knit on RS rows and Purled on WS rows if the piece in question is being worked in stockinette stitch back and forth. If the knitting is being worked on circular needles the blank square will of course represent Knit stitches because the RS of the knitting faces the knitter at all times. Except when working short rows, but that’s another post 😉
Row three, from right to left is – 0/0/0/.
Row four would again be blank, and row 5 would look exactly like row one.
This forms the repeat, and can be copied over and over to create an all-over design, or arranged in shapes of your choosing.
This is what it looks like charted:
Any lace design that has a row of patterning alternating with a plain row can be easily charted in this way.
If space is at a premium (as it is in the magazines) the plain rows may not be charted. The same pattern looks like this with the WS rows eliminated from the chart –
Because of copyright laws I’m not including charts from any of the major magazines here, but I will comment on some of the current conventions.
1) There isn’t an international standard for charting knitting patterns as of yet, so each publication will have its own way of charting patterns, so be aware that a chart from one magazine may be very different than that of another magazine even though the results are much the same.
2) Some publications use colored boxes, with or without symbols, in their charts, so if you like to make a working copy of a chart, be aware that it might not copy very clearly and some notes and even the use of colored pencils will be required if you want to be able to decipher the chart when you’re away from the magazine.
See? It’s easy! Just take the pattern one stitch (box on your chart) at a time, and even seemingly complex designs can be made into an easy to read chart.
Patterning on RS and WS Rows:
The second type of knitting chart has patterning on both the Right Side and Wrong Side, so there are no “plain” rows or rounds. If the pattern is knit in the round, each row of the pattern is read from right to left, and if it’s knit flat, the WS rows must be read from left to right.
One example of a pattern that has patterning on both sides is Bead Stitch, and it goes like this –
Row 1 (RS) – Knit 1, K2tog, YO, Knit 1, YO, SSK, Knit 1
Row 2 (WS) – P2togTBL, YO, Purl 3, YO, P2tog
Row 3 (RS) – Knit 1, YO, SSK, Knit 1, K2tog, YO, Knit 1
Row 4 (WS) – Purl 2, YO, Purl 3 tog, YO, Purl 2
By counting the stitches, we can see that the pattern is 7 stitches wide, and 4 rows high, so mark off a grid of 28 squares on your graph paper, and add the symbols the same way as the Cat’s Paws chart for Row 1. Here’s where it gets tricky – since this pattern is knit back and forth and has patterning on both sides, the WS row must be charted from left to right, just as your knitting goes. Be careful not to reverse the stitches on those WS rows…
Here’s the Key to refresh your memory –
Here’s what the chart looks like –
But, what if we want to work the same lace pattern on a circular item? Another translation has to take place, one that reverses the stitches on the WS row to make them look the same when worked from the RS row. It’s not as hard as you might think!
A Purl 2 Tog (right slanting decrease on the RS of the knitting) becomes Knit 2 Tog, and a Purl through the back loop (left slanting decrease on the RS of the knitting) becomes a SSK to keep the decreases slanting the correct direction. The pattern soon becomes apparent in the knitting, and the repeat is easy to memorize.
Here’s what the chart for circular knitting looks like –
By arranging this small motif in various ways across the paper, you can expand on this basic idea to make a lacey panel, or the patterning for a sock cuff, or a sachet or bag, or anything you can think of –
Take each pattern one stitch at a time, one motif at a time and then combine them in ways that fit with your idea and create an original whatever.
Next up – Cables!