How to Knit Lace, Part 2 – knitting with charts

Lace knitting chart from Knitting by NatureRecently my knitting group went on a retreat. Our friend, Sue, brought along her nine-year-old granddaughter, Tate, who is an experienced knitter of monsters and other toys. During that retreat, many of us knit squares that we’ll eventually join into baby blankets. The squares had knit-purl patterns that formed designs like rain, umbrellas, and coffee mugs. (Hey, we’re from Seattle!)

Excited to be on her first knitting retreat, Tate wanted to help. She chose a pattern with a chart. (So did I.) But many of the women in our group shied away from those patterns. Tate quietly worked away, practically holding her breath as she knit. Finally, she looked up and declared, “Finished! My first time knitting from a chart!” Applause all around. Good job, Tate!

I don’t want to say that Tate is the exception, but when it comes to knitting with charts, there are definitely two schools of thought—love ’em or hate ’em. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, let me make my case for knitting charts—for knitting lace, cables, colorwork, and more!

3 Things I Love about Charts

1. Charts are visual. When you glance at a knitting chart, it gives you a rough visual of what your pattern will look like. Each box of the chart represents one stitch. Knit symbols are used to fill in those boxes to tell you which type of stitch to make. Each knit symbol has been devised to represent the look of the stitch.

No symbol = a knit stitch—smooth and plain.
• = a purl stitch—a bump on the otherwise smooth surface of Stockinette stitch.
O = a yarn over. Remember, yarn overs are used to create a new stitch, but they leave a little hole, thus the big round O.
/ = SSK (or other) right-slanting decrease
\ = K2tog, a left-slanting decrease

Here’s an example below; are you starting to get the picture?

Knitting chart for "Lattice Cable Sweater"

FREE RESOURCE! If any of the terms used here are mystifying, download our free Basic Stitches for Lace Knitting guide now.

Knitting bag with chart2. Charts are compact. Knitting charts consolidate paragraphs or even pages of row-by-row knitting instructions into a graph. The graph shows the row numbers along the sides and often includes the stitch count along the bottom so you can easily keep track. So rather than lugging an entire book or multiple pattern pages with you, you can simply copy the chart (I like to enlarge it first!) and it will fit into the tiniest of knitting bags.

3. Charts are easy to read—once you understand the concept. Here’s how to read knitting charts: Unlike reading a book in English, where you start at the top and read from left to right, follow a chart in the same direction as you knit. That means you start at the bottom-right corner. (Imagine the first chart row is going to be the first row of knitting on your needles.) Because you start by knitting the first stitch on the right end of the needle, that’s where you start following the chart.

Work across the first row of stitches, reading from right to left. Then, even though you have to turn your knitting, which makes the last stitch now on the right, work the even-numbered or wrong side rows from left to right.

Handy row numbers along the side of the charts will clue you in to this, so don’t worry about forgetting. Odd numbers are right-side rows, and they appear along the right edge. That’s where you start knitting from. Even numbers are wrong-side rows, and they appear along the left edge; work them from left to right. Just follow the numbers!

Knitting chart from Knitting by Nature

Numbers along the sides of the chart indicate where to start knitting each row.

More Chart-Reading Pointers

Sometimes charts don’t show the wrong-side rows. Often, wrong-side rows are simply all knit stitches or all purl stitches. The pattern will mention that. So you only need to follow the chart on the right-side rows.

Knitting chart--right side rows only
Here, only the RS rows are charted; all WS rows are purled.

When knitting in the round, follow each charted row as a RS row, reading from right to left.

Colorwork in-the-round chart from Knitting the Chill Away
All round numbers are indicated along the right edge of the chart to prevent confusion.

Charts often consolidate knitting instructions even further by dividing the charted rows into sections: beginning stitches, pattern-repeat stitches, and end stitches. This is where stitch markers come in handy. Place one after the beginning stitches, one after each stitch repeat, and one before the end stitches. Then you can focus on working each group of stitches as a unit. If your stitch count goes off, you can figure out where you went wrong before moving to the next group—or before you’ve knit 300 or more stitches, all off by one. (Ask me how I know!)

Stitch markers in Karen's knitting
Stitch markers in the knitting indicate the end of one repeat and the beginning of the next.

Keeping Your Place

Over the years, I’ve knit many projects from charts—cables, Fair Isle colorwork, lace, and even basic knit-purl pattern wash cloths. But it wasn’t until I saw my friend Sue (Tate’s grammy) working from a chart that I learned this tip.

Sue had her chart on a magnetic board. The long magnet strip that holds the pattern in place can also be used as a guide to show you what row you’re on. But I always used the bar under my row, and I’d follow along with the first row above the black bar. Sue, however, used her bar immediately above the row she was knitting. “That way, the knitting in my hand always looks like the part of the chart below the bar. I can easily see if I’m off or where I might have made a mistake.” (Head thunk—why didn’t that ever dawn on me?) I’m beginning to see how Tate came by her chart-reading prowess.

Don’t have a magnetic board? That’s okay. I bet you do have sticky notes handy. Simply peel off one and place it above the row you’re working on to mark your place. As you advance, peel off the note and place it above the next row. Sticky notes are handy, small enough to tuck into your knitting bag, and you can even write reminders on them—such as how many repeats of the chart you’ve worked so far. I’m never without them.

Post-It Notes for knitting charts

Ready to put your chart-reading abilities to work? Try any of these fabulous projects:

Messenger Bag from Knitting the Chill Away
“Messenger Bag” from Knitting the Chill Away

Lattice Cable Sweater from Easy Cable Knits for All Seasons
"Lattice Cable Sweater" from Easy Cable Knits for All Seasons

Maple Leaf from Knitting by Nature
“Maple Leaf” from Knitting by Nature

Ripple and Bead Cardigan from Successful Lace Knitting
“Ripple and Bead Cardigan” from Successful Lace Knitting

What tricks do you use to keep track of your knitting charts and stitches? Share your tips in the comments!

6 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Post-it notes are great, but the corners can easily get bent making them more susceptible to being accidentally knocked off the page. I’ve taken to using highlighter tape instead. It’s designed to act as a removable highlighter pen for students, but it’s perfect for knitting charts, too. The "stick-em" is strong enough to last through several charts and I’ve never had one fall off unintentionally.

    —Peg on July 28, 2012
  • i use one of those slotted book marks and just slide it up as i go. when i put my knitting down for awhile, i mark the last row i worked. love charts!

    ritainalaska on July 28, 2012
  • I love charts because they can be used for so many different crafts – cross stitch, filet crochet, needlepoint, quilting, to name a few besides knitting! I have a metallic "clipboard" with a strip of flexible magnet that lies just below the row I am working on. The magnetic strip is easily moved as I work through the pattern. As for markers in the knitting, I started with safety pins slipped over the needles every ten stitches, but prefer the plastic ring markers as they don’t catch the yarn.

    —Carol C on July 28, 2012
  • I mark the chart with highlighter pens of various colours. One stitch, one colour. A carry over from cross stitching. I also use the on-needle counter plus a split ring from the same range of knitting accessories to count rows of pattern repeats. I like intarsia and traditional fisherman’s gansey patterns from Aran,Scotland and Cornwall. Next, Shetland patterns from a book I recently bought.

    —Helen a on July 28, 2012
  • I just wanted to say "Thank you" for posting this informative guide to knitting lace. I am just about to start my first lace project, and I am glad that I read this first. Great help!

    Auntie Em on July 29, 2012
  • Auntie Em, you are welcome!

    —Karen on August 9, 2012

Leave a comment

*Indicates required field