How To Read A Knitting Chart

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In this post, you will learn how to read a knitting chart.

In many knitting patterns, especially those with cabled designs, you will probably see a chart.

Charts use squares to show each individual stitch, with symbols inside to tell you how to work those stitches.

A chart will normally have a key to help you to read it and understand the symbols.

You should always read the chart key before trying to understand the chart.  

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How to read a knitting chart

How Do I Read A Knitting Chart?

Charts show you the knitted fabric as you are looking at it – that is the right side of your work.

Because of the way they can condense complicated stitches and techniques into simple symbols, charts are commonly used for lacework, cables, and other patterns that have interesting designs. 

They are also used for intarsia, fair isle, and other colorwork techniques.

Flat Knitting

If you are knitting flat, back and forth for every row, you will turn your work to start every new row.

On this type of chart, the numbers will alternate between the left and right sides of the chart.

You would then turn the work to knit row 2 (from left to right), which would be the wrong side of the work.

This will become easy once you get into the swing of things and the pattern key will be there to help you out.

How do you read a chart in the round?

If you are knitting in the round, it will be slightly different and you will not have to worry about which side of the fabric is facing you.

You will read the chart from right to left on every round.

Girl knitting at a cafe

What Is The Chart Key? 

​The chart key is the text instructions​ explaining all the symbols on your chart.

Understanding knitting symbols and chart symbols is a little bit like learning a foreign language so it’s always better to start with a basic chart before moving to complex patterns (like a lace chart). 

Once you get the hang of it you’re going to love chart reading, especially in colorwork patterns many makers actually prefer the graphic representations of knitting instructions rather than a written pattern.  

Sweater knitting

In Which Direction Do You Read A Knitting Chart?

When you begin to read a chart – you have to remember that you don’t read a chart from the top down or from side to side.

You read it from the bottom up (start from the bottom of the chart and work your way up).

This is because it shows a knitted piece as it is knitted and as with knitting you will start from the bottom up.

Depending on the pattern, it may also start from the top down (the pattern and chart instructions should tell you this).

The numbered rows alternate between the right and left sides of the chart.

You would begin row 1 on the right side of the work and row 2 will be on the wrong side of the work.

If you are reading the chart from right to left or left to right will depend on the row you are working on, for example:

  • Right side rows (RS rows) – You read the right side of the chart to the left.
  • Wrong side rows (WS rows) – You read the chart from left to right.

To make your own charts you can check out Stitch Fiddle.

knitting chart example with a key
You can see in this example the knit stitch and purl stitch have two symbols depending on the row you are working on.

What if the pattern has repeated stitches?

If the design uses a repeating pattern – the chart will generally show a single or double repeat and not the whole garment piece.

Unless the number of stitches in the piece you’re making is an exact multiple of the stitch repeat, you’ll have to begin and end on a part of the repeat. 

The chart will tell you where to begin knitting the repeat.

Always pay attention to the written instructions you will find on the left side of the chart.

Everything you will need to decode your knit chart including decreases, increases, and the knitting abbreviations will be there.

Cable Chart Example

If you have ever seen a cable knitting pattern before, then you will have most likely seen a chart to go with it.

The charts will show you the cable stitches, turning rows, and other stitches that are needed.

if the cable pattern design is quite intricate, the chart might show you the whole pattern or just one repeat.

The chart below is an example of a Celtic cable pattern.

Celtic Cabled Fingerless Gloves chart

Reading the symbols on the cable chart

As you can see in the chart above, there is a key to help you to understand the stitch pattern.

The chart is showing you the front side of your knitting.

Each square is a stitch that you knit and each square with a black dot inside is a purl stitch.

You can see that the cable stitches are all marked differently, as there are four different ways of making cable stitches in this pattern.

The key has cable symbols alongside the pattern instructions.

You can see that the symbol for holding the work in the front is different from that for holding the work in the back.

  • When the cable symbol starts at the bottom and moves up diagonally to the right you will hold the yarn in the front.
  • When the cable symbol starts at the bottom and moves up diagonally to the left you will hold the yarn in the back.
Celtic cable fingerless mittens
The chart above is for the Celtic cable knit fingerless gloves pattern.

Cable Chart Tips

Tip 1

If you have any of those long sticky notes or page marker sticky notes, they are great to use when reading a knitting chart.

Use them to keep track of your place on the chart by sticking them along the row above the row you are currently working on.

You can also use a ruler – this will also allow you to keep track of where you are in the chart.

Seeing only the rows on the chart that you have already worked on helps you to see where you are in the chart and in your knitting.

Tip 2

Always keep track of what is happening in your cable knitting as well as how you are following any chart or instructions.

Make sure you are working the cables in the right direction and that you are working the number of rows stated.

You can use stitch markers to help you to know where a cable begins and ends on your row.

When you gain more confidence with it and have been working on it for a while, you will no longer need the chart or the pattern to continue with your cable design.

Complex cable stitch pattern

Fair Isle Knitting

Fair isle knitting is a type of pattern that uses more than one color in a row.

Working with two strands of yarn carried across the back of the work and picking them up and putting them to the side when needed.

Fair isle knitting or stranded knitting is the technique you use to create repeating color patterns.

For any designs that involve large areas of the fabric knit in different colors, this is known as intarsia.

Fair Isle charts (Colorwork Charts)

Fair isle color charts read the same as other knitting charts in that each square is a stitch and the symbol or color in each square is the color to use for that stitch.

The pattern chart will include a key that tells you which color should be worked where.

It may also specify the MC – main color or the CC – contrasting color.

Free fair isle hat knitting pattern

Example Of A Fair Isle Chart

This is an example of a chart for a repeating color motif for the fair isle hat pattern shown above.

You can see that the key includes the color guide.

The numbers on each side represent the rows you will knit.

Fair isle hat knitting chart

Reading this Fair Isle color chart

For this chart, you would begin with the square in the bottom right corner.

This square is the first stitch on your needle.

Then you will read and knit from the chart from right to left, knitting in the colors given (the first color A).

Then when you are ready you will change to the next color (color B in row 2) and work the number of squares for that color.

When you change the color, you join in the yarn by knitting the stitch with the new color and holding the other color at the back of the work.

If you change colors at the end of a row, you can knit in the new color joined with the old color held together.

Fair isle knit hat pattern

Tips On Reading Charts

When reading charts, pay attention to the key provided.

Various publishers, designers, and charting software apps may chart the same stitches using different symbols.

  • The first row of the chart shows you the right side of your knitting and is worked from left to right.
  • The second row of the chart shows the second and wrong side row of your knitting.
  • This is worked left to right.
  • The color charts are normally knit in stockinette stitch unless it says otherwise.
  • That means that you will knit the pattern on the right-side rows and purl on the wrong-side rows.
  • If the chart is telling you to work in a different stitch pattern, there will be a symbol in the square as well as the color you are to use.
  • If you are knitting in the round, all of the rounds will be right-side rounds.
  • You will work the chart right to left on every round.

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6 Comments

  1. thanks for this.
    it has been decades since I last picked up needles and I am only doing so for my Dad who wants a St Brigid jumper.
    I have been struggling with the interpretation of the pattern, but this has really helped and given me the reminders I needed. wish me luck,

    1. Hello Nina, thank you for your comment, I am so happy that you found the post useful. Happy knitting! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thank you so much, this has been very helpful, you have written such clear instructions I now feel confident after many years of knitting to have a go at cables and a simple Fair Isle hat. Off to my wool stash now to get started! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ