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My first glance at a knitting chart made me think of a brain-teasing puzzle or a perplexing scavenger-hunt map. It had symbols and gridlines that looked more like it led to treasure rather than create a sweater. But, once the symbols were explained to me, I fully understood that these knitting charts really did both. They are a treasure map to beautiful works of art.
I’m sure you’re anxiously awaiting to read your first treasure map and find what beautiful things it leads you to, so, let’s get going. The first step to learning how to read a knitting chart with symbols is to learn the basics of knitting, which is what we are doing in this knitting chart symbols explained post.
Back to Basics
We simply cannot jump over this step. It may seem redundant or feel rudimentary, but if you don’t know what knitting is, you’ll have a very difficult time understanding chart symbols.
Casting On – this is the technique used to begin adding new stitches to a project. This technique is independent of other stitches, meaning it does not require you to have finished any previous stitches in order to begin the process of casting on. There is a whole family of techniques for casting on so it is best to decide which technique works best for your fingers and project.
Casting Off – this technique is also known as binding off. Casting off comes after all the purls and knits have been made and it is the last part of any knitting project. Since it ties the loose ends of the final stitches, it is an essential technique for any knitter to know.
Purl – this is the technique of creating a stitch with yarn. It is done by moving the yarn from the left needle onto the right needle. Simply insert the right knitting needle into the front of a loop on the left knitting needle, catch the yarn, wrap the yarn around the needle starting from the front side, and pull the loop onto the right needle.
Knit – this is another technique for creating a stitch with yarn and is the mirror image of a purl. The process for a knit is to move the yarn from the right needle to the left needle. To do this, insert the left knitting needle into the back of a loop on the right knitting needle, catch the yarn, wrap the yarn around the needle starting from the backside, and pull the loop onto the left needle.
Learning the basics of knitting does take some time and practice, but once you master the techniques of casting on and off and creating a purl or a knit, it will be a breeze to learn everything else about creating knitting stitches.
Fit for a Purpose
Now that we have learned or at least reviewed the basics of knitting, we can move on to those enigmatic knitting chart symbols.
It helps to know the purpose of these charts. Knitting charts are not actually created to confuse and frustrate knitters. They are meant to be a visual aid. If you look at them closely, you can see how they show the pattern you are going to knit even before you begin.
Charts are especially useful for patterns that involve a variety of colors. A pattern using words alone would be difficult to follow when knitting a complicated color scheme.
These types of patterns also provide space to cross off the stitches that have been made so you don’t lose your place in the pattern. All in all, their purpose is to help with the knitting process, not make it more difficult.
Notice how much easier it is to follow a color scheme with a visual aid such as a knitting chart.
Deciphering the Code
Patterns that are written with a chart and symbols should not be difficult to read and follow. You simply need to understand what the symbols mean and how to read the grid. Fortunately, once you learn to read one pattern, you will be able to read any other.
Chart Patterns: What They Are
The first thing we need to learn about chart patterns is what they are. They are actually small boxes lined up next to and on top of each other. The boxes contain the symbols that explain the action to take, such as purl, knit, or yarn over (we’ll get to the symbols for these and other actions later). These boxes keep the symbols in order, help the knitter visualize the pattern, and keep track of progress.
Chart Patterns: How to Read Them
The next step we need to take in order to learn about chart patterns is how to read them. Just like reading a map, a knitting chart must be read correctly if we want to reach our objective. All charts are read from the bottom right corner, move left, and then, upward.
There are different ways to read a knitting chart based on what the pattern is. There are charts for flat knitting, knitting in the round, right and wrong side patterns, and right side only patterns. Let’s look closely at each of the different knitting charts and learn how to recognize and read them.
Flat Knitting Chart:
These charts contain a right side and a wrong side. Usually, the odd-numbered rows are on the right side and the even-numbered rows are on the wrong side.
A chart built for a flat knit project can be written in two different ways. It can be written as a right and wrong side pattern or a right side only pattern. Both types will begin at the bottom right corner, move left, and then, upward. The difference is how the rows (horizontal lines) of the chart are displayed. It is best to see a visual of these differences to understand them.
Right Side and Wrong Side Chart Pattern:
This type of chart is worked in the same way a field is plowed. The first stitch is written in the box at the bottom right corner, the second stitch is in the box on the left of the first and so on until the end of the row is reached. Once the end of the row is reached, the next stitch is located in the row above. This row is now worked from left to right. Rows continue to be back and forth, left to right, then right to left until the final box is reached.
A right side and wrong side chart can be recognized by the fact that it includes a number at the end of each row. It does not exclude the even numbers as the right side only charts do.
Notice how the pattern is worked in a similar way to how a field is plowed.
Notice that all numbers (odd and even) are listed next to the rows.
Right Side Only Chart Pattern:
This type of chart is worked the same way as a Right Side and Wrong Side Chart Pattern. The difference between these two types of charts is how they display the numbers next to the rows. A Right Side Only Chart Pattern will only include the odd numbers that represent the right side of the knitting project.
Because these patterns only show the right side (odd-numbered) rows of the pattern, there will be a written pattern to explain what to do when it is time to work a wrong side (even-numbered) row.
Only the right side (odd-numbered) rows are visible. The wrong side rows are worked the same way every time and should be explained in a written pattern.
The pattern is worked in the same direction as a Right and Wrong Side pattern (similar to a plowed field).
Knitting in the Round Chart:
These types of charts are used for projects worked in rounds. There are no wrong sides to these patterns and every row is worked from right to left. The pattern should clarify if this is a Knitting in the Round Chart.
This type of pattern begins at the bottom right corner and moves left. It is worked in the same direction from beginning to end.
The vertical rows of all knitting chart patterns are numbered. These rows are there to show how many stitches should be made in each horizontal row. They also help to keep count while working through the pattern.
Notice the numbers on top of the vertical rows. These are used to count the number of stitches in each horizontal row.
Many patterns come with a key that lets you know what each symbol means. Not all patterns include a key, and even if they do, some patterns include special symbols created just for it, so, it may be necessary to lookup certain knitting abbreviations or terminology.
Below is an example of some of the symbols contained in a knitting chart key and what they mean. Once you know what action the symbol stands for, you will be able to accurately read and create the pattern.
Knitting Chart Symbols
For easy reference, we have included some of the basic chart symbols and their definitions.
An empty box indicates a knit on the right side, but a purl on the wrong side
A dash in a box indicates a purl on the right side, but a dot in a box indicates a knit on the wrong side
A circle in a box indicates a yarn over
A large “u” sign or a plus sign indicates when to cast on
An arch indicates when to bind/cast off
A shaded box indicates that no stitches are formed in this area
These symbols indicate that a slip slip purl should be placed on the right side, while a slip slip knit should be placed on the wrong side
A large “p” in one box and an “mp” in another box indicate that one purlwise should be made on the right side, while one knitwise should be made on the wrong side
A large “b” and a large filled-in circle indicate that a bobble should be made
Knitting contains a variety of symbols, some specifically created for cables. Below are some examples of what cable symbols look like and their common definitions.
This symbol indicates that a 1-over-1 right twist should be made followed by one slip stitch onto the cable needle. Hold in back. Knit one, then knit one from the cable needle. Or it indicates that two should be knit together without dropping a stitch from the left needle, then knit one, finally drop both stitches from the left needle.
This symbol indicates that a knit one over one right purl cross should be made followed by one slip stitch onto the cable needle. Hold in back. Then, knit one and purl one from the cable needle.
This is another type of cable symbol that is commonly used. This particular symbol indicates that a knit two over two right cross should be made followed by one slip stitch to the cable needle. Hold in back. Then, knit one, then knit one from the cable needle. Or it indicates that two should be knit together without dropping a stitch from the left needle, then knit one, finally drop both stitches from the left needle.
Untangling the Symbols
The best way to deal with symbols on a knitting chart is to learn what they mean before beginning the project. If the pattern includes a key, study it first and learn all the stitches that will be made throughout the project.
There may be times when a symbol or a knitting term or abbreviation is unfamiliar, but all you will need to do is reference a knitting book or do a simple internet search.
Question: Are knitting patterns with charts and symbols more difficult than written patterns?
Answer: No, they are not. As we have already discovered, knitting charts are meant to simplify knitting patterns. Anyone can work through them, even beginners.
Question: Can I create my own knitting chart pattern?
Answer: Yes, you can. There are several ways to do this. You can use an online service such as Stitchfiddle, an Excel spreadsheet, or graph paper. If you are particularly artistic, these can be really fun and personal projects.
Pulling It All Together
Now that we have taken the time to review the basics of knitting and followed that up by learning how to read a knitting chart with symbols, we must make our conclusions.
- Knitting charts are designed to help knitters visualize their project and keep the stitches in order.
- Symbols are used on the chart to simplify the pattern.
- Unfamiliar knitting symbols and terms can be researched online or in books.
Knowing all this information will only better your knitting experience and lead you to make more and more beautiful works of art.
For further read:
- English vs Continental Knitting: Should You Learn Both?
- How to Find the Best Circular Knitting Needles
- Knit Stitch vs Purl Stitch: What’s the Difference?