How to Read a Knitting Chart: The Basics

Charts are really useful for knitting because they look the same as the finished knitting, so it’s easier to know what you’re doing and if you’ve gone wrong. However, they can be a bit confusing if you’ve not used one before. This blog post is going to help you learn how to read a knitting chart.

The Grid

The basis of a knitting chart is the grid. This is a rectangle of squares, where each square represents one stitch. The columns will be numbered, either at the top, the bottom, or both and the rows will be numbered at the side.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Flat Knitting Chart

A flat knitting chart ©Rachel Gibbs

A flat knitting chart is read from right-to-left on right-side (RS) rows and left-to-right on wrong-side (WS) rows. To help you remember this, the row number is always on the side where you start. It’s done like this so that the stitches line up as they will when knitted, with a turn at the end of every row.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Circular Knitting Chart

A circular knitting chart ©Rachel Gibbs

A chart that is to be knitted in the round will have all the row numbers on the right-hand side, because every row is read from right-to-left. The columns are always numbered from right-to-left as well, to match the direction of knitting. If there are no increases or decreases, the column number is always the same as the stitch number. You can use that to help you keep track of where you are.

The Symbols

Every knitting stitch is represented by a symbol. These aren’t always the same for every chart, although there are some standards. In order to know what a symbol means, look at the key.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Key

An example of a key ©Rachel Gibbs

The symbols are often designed to look like the stitch they’re describing, so a k2tog is a right leaning decrease, and the symbol slants the same direction as the stitch. If you find it hard to remember which stitch is which, you might find it helpful to highlight the stitches in different colours, so yellow is k2tog and blue is ssk, for example.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Flat Key

A key for a flat knitting chart, showing RS and WS definitions ©Rachel Gibbs

A chart is designed to look like the knitting from the RS. So in a flat chart, the same symbol is often used to mean knit on the RS and purl on the WS. This is because a purl on the WS looks like a knit when viewed from the RS.

Example Chart

Here are a small chart and the corresponding knitting, to help you see how the two compare.

How To Read Charts: Example Chart

A simple chart ©Rachel Gibbs

The chart is a simple 6 row pattern, with purl stitches, yarn overs and decreases. It would be written out like this:

Row 1 (RS): k1, p1, k2, p1, k1. (6 sts)
Row 2 (WS): p1, k1, p2, k1, p1.
Row 3: k1, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo, k1.
Row 4: purl.
Row 5: k1, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo, k1.
Row 6: purl.

When you’re not sure how to read a chart, check it against the written instructions, if these are included in the pattern, or try writing them out yourself.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Knitted Swatch

A swatch knitted from the chart ©Rachel Gibbs

This is that chart knitted up, with a garter stitch border. You can clearly see the holes made by the yo’s.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Swatch with Chart Overlay

The swatch with the chart overlayed ©Rachel Gibbs

Here the chart has been placed over the knitting, to help you see where they line up. See how the yarn over holes match the circle symbol on the chart, with the purl bumps below.

No Stitches

If you increase a stitch in knitting, you’re creating an extra stitch where none was before. As a chart is grid based, when we add an extra stitch in the middle we need to create a space for it by having an empty column below. To do this we use something called a no stitch.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: No Stitch

A chart including No Stitches

In this chart, the first two rows have three knit stitches, separated by two no stitches, represented by grey boxes. When you get to the no stitch while knitting, you just ignore it. It’s a placeholder, not a real stitch. On row 3 there are two increases, bringing the total number of stitches to five. The no stitches are shown underneath the increases to make the chart line up the same as the real knitting.

On row 5, there are two decreases, bringing the number of stitches down to three again. This means that there will be too many boxes for the number of stitches we now have. Therefore, no stitches are used again.

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