7 Tips for Decoding Any Knitting Chart

If you prefer words to wonky diagrams, you may feel all sorts of confused by knitting charts. But here’s the truth: once you get the hang of reading these graphic versions of knitting instructions, it’s actually easier to follow than traditional written ones. These tips will help you decipher any knitting chart you see, no sweat.

1. Know Where to Start

Think of a knitting chart as a visual representation of your project shown from the front side. Each square represents one stitch. Charts are typically read from the bottom up, and the row/round numbers on the side will tell you exactly where to begin. (Usually, it’s in the lower right hand corner.)

2. Grab Your Stitch Counter

Reset your stitch counter so its numbers correspond with the numbers on the chart. If you need to keep track of repeats or alternate row/round numbers, use a separate sheet of paper or download a stitch counter app that allows you to keep tabs on multiple counts.

3. Go in the Right Direction

The direction you work the chart will depend on whether your knitting is flat or if you’re knitting in the round. If a chart is knit flat, there are numbers on both sides and right side rows are every other row. That means you should read right side rows right to left, and wrong side rows left to right.

If the numbers are only on one side, it’s likely knit in the round. Every row on the chart is a right side row, which means you’ll read right to left.

4. Look for Missing Rows

Some charts include only right side rows. If the row numbers are not consecutive — maybe you only see rows 1, 3, 5 and 7 — it could be because you’re just purling all the wrong side rows. Check the pattern instructions for more information before you begin knitting the chart.

5. Know the Signs

Most charts use standard symbols; once you know them, you’ll be able to whiz through pretty much any chart. The symbols are usually intuitive, like a circle for a yarn over (which causes intentional holes in the fabric) and left- or right-leaning slanted lines for decreases (which cause the stitches to lean to the left or right in the knitting). Always check the chart key (like the one above) before you start.

6. Check for Repeats

If your chart is only eight stitches wide but your round is 64 stitches, don’t freak out. The chart is probably asking you to work repeats. Repeats are typically indicated by two bold lines that mark the section of the chart you should repeat. You may also see some text below the chart that says something like “8-stitch repeat.”

Once you’ve worked those eight stitches of the chart, you’ll go back and do them again. The pattern’s instructions will tell you how many times to repeat.

7. Mark Your Place

To make a chart easier to read, place a piece of washi tape or a sticky note just above the row/round you’re working on. As you work through the chart, move the marker along with you. Pro tip: Placing the marker above the row you’re on allows you to see what you’ve already done (just like in your actual knitting).

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7 Responses to “7 Tips for Decoding Any Knitting Chart”

  1. Leslie

    I am working a chart with the stitch numbers written at the bottom number 1 to 20. The round number is on the right from number 1 to 15. I am using circular needles and working the chart from the bottom right to the left then onto round 2 working right to left. There are 120 stitches on the circular needles as I start the chart. The chart is a snowflake pattern but it doesn`t look like a snowflake when I finish. I am doing fair isle knitting with four colours. I understand how to work the four colours into the chart. I am knitting using the four colours but I must be misinterpreting the chart somehow, butI`m not sure what I am doing wrong? Any suggestions…

  2. Cristina

    I'm starting to knit a chart or diagram would help a lot.

  3. Vicki

    I have a chart for a piece knitted flat. The "1" is on the left side of the chart, 2 on the right side; so am I correct in that I will start with a 'wrong side' row, and the even numbers will be the 'right' side?

  4. Jacqueline Anne wright

    Do you read the chart from top to bottom if you are knitting a sweater from top to bottom on circular needles or the usual way bottom to top thank you jacqueline

  5. Monica McAdams

    I am working on a pattern that calls for steeking ( so clearly knit in the round) but I did notice the chart was written as if for flat knitting, assuming it was an editorial error. Then I noticed the starting stitch counts for each size are not able to be divided by the stitch repeat count of 34 in the chart. Am I missing something? I am not a total newbie to working charts, so I am stumped.

  6. Brenda Lockridge

    How do you work four stitches missing at the beginning of a row on a knitting chart. The previous row had four stitches at the end of the row where the next one starts back in the other directipn.

  7. Judy Meyer

    I'm knitting a table runner with a chart. It's straight knitting, not in the round. All consecutive numbers are on the right side of the chart. No numbers are skipped. Does this mean that you start each row from the right side of the chart?