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Reading Knit Stitch Diagrams

Prepare to become a knitting whizz and read on for guest blogger Mary Beth Temple’s guide on knit stitch diagrams, that is sure to get you and your needles ready to begin your latest project.

In an earlier post, I wrote about reading symbol diagrams for crocheters, see post here, so it seems time for the knitters to get some info on the same topic!

I am going to cover a few common symbols, and how to read three different chart layouts. While there are a seemingly infinite number of symbols and variations, once you get the basics down, you'll find you can easily manage the more complicated charts.

To begin, you'll need to look at the legend or key. This is a visual list of all of the symbols used in your particular chart, with their text equivalents written out next to them. Here is a small sample.

You can see that for many tasks, the symbols represent what you're meant to do. For example, the knit 2 together (k2tog) is a right leaning decrease, so the lines of the symbol show two lines (stitches) becoming one, which leans to the right. The reverse is true of the ssk symbol. And the yarn over looks like a yarn over!

Sometimes when you are presented with an unfamiliar symbol, perhaps if you want to knit a pattern that has lovely diagrams but no English text, you can intuit what you need to do with a particular stitch by analyzing the way the symbol lines are drawn.

Here is a simple stitch pattern I have used several times in my designs:

And here is a chart showing all rows and stitches of that stitch pattern – its repeat is 16 stitches by 8 rows.

Look at the numbers for the rows. You'll see the odd numbers are on the right hand side of the chart, so you know you'll knit those rows with the right side facing you, and begin reading on the right hand side. The even numbers are on the left, meaning you will have the wrong side of the work facing you, and you need to count from the left hand side.

In the case of this pattern, all of the wrong side rows are purl stitches so counting is not important, but it IS important to note row numbers when following a diagram! No matter which row you are working, the row number on the chart is always written on the side you'll begin with.

Note on the legend that the blank space means two different things – knit on right side (RS) rows and purl on wrong side (WS) rows. Some charts will show a different symbol for knits and purls but most use the one symbol for both.

It common when using large or complicated charts in which the WS rows are either all knit or all purl to eliminate the wrong side rows altogether. Here is a chart of the same stitch pattern shown above, but the wrong side rows aren’t drawn. A quick visual clue to remind yourself of this is that all of the row numbers are shown on the right hand side, and they are all odd numbers.

Lastly, oftentimes there is a specific stitch repeat that happens over and over again, but there are other stitches you need to see that are not repeated. In this case, the stitch repeat is highlighted somehow in the chart – with lines, or in the case of my chart below, a box outlining the stitch/row repeat. You can see that no matter what else is going on in the pattern, the repeat is the same 16 stitches by 8 rows it has always been.

When beginning your exploration of knitting from diagrams, it’s often easiest to begin with a pattern that contains both text and charts. That way you can compare your understanding of the chart to the text to make sure you're doing what’s required. As you get more experienced, though, you may find that you don’t need much of the text at all and can knit fabulous things simply from the diagrams! For some of us who are visual learners this method can save hours of frustration, and in addition being comfortable with charts opens up a whole world of knitting patterns to explore that are beautiful but not written in English!


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