(Knit Tips Tuesday is a series designed to offer tips and tricks to both new and seasoned knitters. Please feel free to contact Amy with any knit tips of your own, to be featured in future articles.)
Knitting and purling are a knitter’s two basic building blocks for any project; a common phrase in the knitting world is “If you can knit and purl, you can knit anything.” This may be true regarding the stitching aspect of the craft, but knowing in what order the stitches need to be made and understanding how to manipulate them is also necessary.
Knitting patterns generally come in two forms: charts, and written instructions. Some patterns will have the entire stitching pattern in both formats, while others will give a portion of the pattern in written instruction and another portion in a chart (this is common on patterns with a detailed or decorative edging). The reason charts can be confusing is that your finished project may not look anything like what the chart looks like on paper. Also, charts are the mechanical side of the craft, and let’s face it: not all of us have the perfect balance of creativity and mechanics. Reading charts can be harrowing to both new and seasoned knitters, but remembering a few pointers will ease the potential pain.
Familiarize yourself with your pattern: Read your pattern front to back, top to bottom, and left to right before you cast on. Study the chart enough to distinguish one symbol from another, note where any row or stitch numbers and pattern repeats are located, and read all written portions of the pattern. Even the most basic chart will have a sentence or two explaining how and where to use the chart in your project. If you need reassurance, count the number of boxes from left to right in a row. Since each stitch is represented by a box on the chart, then the number of stitches on the chart should match the number of stitches you are casting on.
Look for the symbol key: Unfortunately, not all charts are created equally. Since there is no standardized set of knitting symbols, a “knit two together” stitch may be written like a “2” in some patterns, and may be a “/” on others. The good news is that all charted patterns will have a list of symbols near the chart to tell you what they mean. If the symbols are confusing to you, then you can use the written instructions to double-check the meaning of the symbols by reading a row out loud and looking at the corresponding chart row.
Read in the order of the knitting: Charts represent the right side, or viewed side, of your fabric. Since most pieces are knitted from the bottom up, the chart will have row numbers in ascending order from bottom to top. The numbers on the right and left sides of the chart tell you the row number, and where to start reading. In other words, Row 1 normally starts at the “1” on the right edge of the chart, and you read the row from right to left, and Row 2 starts at the “2” on the next row up on the left side, and you read the row from left to right. If you are knitting in the round, every row is read from right to left. With color charts, the color of each stitch is indicated by the color of the square on the chart.
Practice practice practice: If you are not confident reading charts yet, then practicing the stitch pattern on a smooth, plant-fiber yarn (cotton, bamboo, etc.) may be your best bet. Plant-fiber yarns are easier to rip out because they do not have the little barbs that make animal fibers ideal for blocking and felting, and you will be able to physically see if you are knitting the pattern correctly without fuzz blocking your view. Another way to practice charts is to translate the chart to your own written instructions. If you can write down the stitches from the chart in order, and your version either matches the pattern’s written instructions or a more seasoned knitter can verify that your stitches match the stitches on the chart, then you’ve got it.
Get a second opinion: Some knitters are “chart people.” They love using charts instead of written instructions. Also, some knitters are just more experienced with charts than others, no matter how long they have been knitting. Ask members of your knitting group, or the employees at your local yarn shop, to help you. If the pattern is found for free online, you can ask for help from fellow knitters on the internet at Ravelry.com and other social-networking sites.
Once you tackle your first knitting chart, you will start to feel comfortable using them on a regular basis. Sure, there will be hiccups along the way, but chart-knitting is just like any other practice in the craft. The more you do it, the more you will get the hang of it. Just think: after knitting from several charts, members of your knitting group will be asking YOU for help!