Looking over a knitting pattern for the first time can be intimidating or even scary, especially if you’re looking at abbreviations for lifting stitches, cabling, or making bobbles. Sometimes though, even writing out knitting abbreviations like k3, p2, c4b, p2, k3 is too much work, and that’s where knitting charts come in.

I don’t know anyone that likes charts and is eager to learn how to read them right away, but they are useful and if it’s a complicated piece of lacework, I do find myself preferring charts to written instructions.  That said, reading charts is a learned skill so I have a few tips for you to help you interpret these not-so-frightening boxes that seem to invade the more advanced knitting patterns.

  1. Always consult the legend first. Occasionally it happens that a legend doesn’t exist, but most of the time, there is a key somewhere, and you should make sure you understand what the symbols mean before you begin. Don’t assume that everyone uses universal knitting symbols because that doesn’t exist! (That said, there are industry standards, and you can find a US based list of symbols here.)
  2. Know if you’re knitting in the round or if you’re knitting flat. This affects how you’ll read the chart. More on that in a second.
  3. Start at the bottom right hand corner of the chart. You’ll read the chart from right to left for the first row. start here
  4. If you’re knitting flat, the wrong side is sometimes omitted from the chart. If the wrong side is on the chart, you’ll read the wrong side rows from left to right – and reverse the symbols. Notice that the even rows, aka the wrong side rows, are numbered on the left – it’s to remind you to start from the left and work your way right. Also notice the legend; the stitches are reversed so even though it looks like the knit symbol, because it’s the WS row, you’re purling. flat chart
  5. If you’re knitting in the round, each line chart will be read from right to left, as you’re not knitting on a wrong side, and thus, there’s no need to “knit back” or reverse stitches. Check out the way the chart is numbered for knitting in the round. Also notice the difference in the legend for this chart.round chart
  6. Double check with the written instructions if anything is unclear or looks wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, including designers and tech editors, so sometimes there’s an incorrect instruction. If something looks wrong, find the same row in the written instructions and cross check.
  7. While you can use a highlighter or pen to mark off your work, I prefer using a post-it note or slip of paper to keep track of which row I’m on. It also means I can reuse the pattern!

Do you have any great tips for reading and understanding knitting charts? Share them below!

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