I’m about to teach you how to read a knitting chart. It’s not hard at all – in fact, it is more intuitive than knitting from a written pattern because a chart is a visual representation of the item you’re knitting, just as you would see it when looking at the finished object. It’s a simple schematic, like the assembly instructions you get with IKEA furniture – a little boxier than real life, but basically a picture of real life (ok, maybe even simpler than IKEA instructions).
First of all, you need to start thinking of your knitting as a grid. The stitches on your needles are a row, and the stitches directly above and below any given stitch form a column. When you start thinking of your knitting as a grid, it becomes easier to notice mistakes. For instance, it’s hard to misalign a cable when you notice whether or not the cable is directly above the previous one as you go along.
This is a chart for Old Shale (also known as Feather and Fan), a popular lace motif.
Your left needle at the very beginning of a row.
Your stitches are formed from right to left. Notice that the first stitch you knit comes off your left needle and gets pushed towards the right as you continue to knit across the row. And your rows are formed from bottom to top. Notice that the first row you knit ends up at the bottom of your fabric by the end.
Thus, we start reading a chart in the bottom right corner and work our way across from right to left, then from bottom to top. Row #1 and all odd/right-side rows are read from right to left.
Next, notice that when you turn your work, you’re immediately knitting right back across the stitches that you just knit.
Thus, Row #2 and all even/wrong-side rows are read from left to right. Note: If you’re knitting in the round, you always read from right to left because you’ll come back across the stitches you just knit without ever having to turn your work!
Next, notice that when you’ve turned your work and you’re knitting across the wrong side, you’re knitting the opposite stitch to what you want to appear on the front of your work. When you purl, you make a knit on a front side, and vice versa. Remembera chart is a simple picture of what your knitting should look like on the front side.
Thus, the meaning of a symbol depends on whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side. So, you can think of a symbol as having two meanings, or as instructing you to do whatever stitch or opposite stitch will produce the correct appearance on the right side of the fabric.
This chart includes the even rows, but you can see they’re all blank, so the chart could be made more concise by excluding them.
Fortunately, most patterns are written with most of the work done on the right side. Sometimes in lace charts, wrong-side rows aren’t even included – this is an indication to purl every stitch on the wrong-side row. Just check the row numbers at the edges of your chart. If 1 and 3 are right next to each other, without a row in between, then purl across the even rows.
Charts often only depict one design motif in a repeating pattern.
If you see bold, vertical lines on either side of the chart, that is an indication to repeat what’s in between the lines several times before moving on to the next row (just like brackets in a written pattern).
Here’s a chart with a pattern repeat indicated by the bold vertical lines. If you repeat the section between the lines, you’ll have a wide seed stitch panel flanked by cables. The pattern would tell you how many times to repeat a section of a chart.
That’s it! The only thing left to learn is what the symbols mean. There are several systems of symbols which are commonly used in charts from different sources. Barbara Walker invented the set which American knitters are most familiar with, but you can figure out what most symbols mean if you recognize some common themes – and the fact that knitting symbols aren’t arbitrary – they are meant to resemble the stitches they represent.
Here is a handy infographic which should begin to guide you to the symbols you’ll find in knitted charts. You don’t need to learn them all, though – a chart will typically come with a key clearly defining every symbol used in the chart!
Have you all seen fidget spinners? They are the newest, hottest fad toy to hit the small fry in every school and neighborhood. If you haven’t heard of them, you can look at this CNN article about the fad here. They were originally developed as an concentration aid for children with…what else can I call it…fidgeting disorders?…who seem to be able to concentrate better with their minds when their hands are occupied with something endless, mindless, but physically absorbing. But the toys have become so popular with kids of all thinking styles, that teachers are complaining that fidget spinners have become more of a distraction than the original fidgeting that fidget spinners were designed to help curb. Hmm. My sister has been looking high and low for a fidget spinner for my 7 year old nephew, and every place she’s looked has been sold out. I found a supply and picked up several of them in different colors, not knowing his preferences in the matter. (At Ocean State Job Lots in Rockland, Maine if you’re in similar straits and can’t get ahold of one) All the time with a nagging sense that I may be missing an opportunity.
See, I was recently encouraged to stock some fidget spinners as an impulse item on my counter top. All I could think of by way of reply was, “If you’re standing in the yarn shop and need something to fidget with, why don’t you just take up knitting…or crochet, or tatting, or…well SPINNING, for the love of wool.” I mean, really? Occupy the hands with a gadget that produces nothing, and produces nothing? I don’t think so, thanks.
Once upon a time, I was an education major. I’m also a mom. I know kids need to play. I know they need to bounce around and hop and skip and climb things. I also know there are kids who can learn better if they are engaged in meaningless physical activity while listening and looking at learning materials. I really, really understand that sitting still and absorbing like a sponge is not the ideal learning situation for most kids much of the time. They can do it in short bursts if they must, but then they’ll need to burst out into something more physical.
I also understand that kids like to feel accomplished and helpful. they like to know that they are making something, contributing in some way. In the way old days before there were public schools, children learned about the world at home from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, anyone who was around. And they were set to work early. Gathering eggs, milking goats, herding sheep, tending gardens, sweeping, washing, and fixing things. Their learning wove in and around all this physical activity. Guess what else they learned? How to card, wool, spin and knit…to keep their hands busy while they did other things. Even into the 20 century in USA schools, and even now in European ones, children learn to knit as part of their curriculum. Yup, right there in school, along side reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Turn the heel of you sock while listening to a lecture on the capitals of Africa.
How have we forgotten so? When I did a Google search for “children learning to spin,” I got an image page that looked like this… I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see anything on this that looked like learning to spin. Entertainment, maybe, but nothing to do with what I was looking for.
But if I Googled, “children learning to spin wool,” I got this. Ahh. Now that’s more like it. If children benefit from having something to do with their hand while they listen and learn, why not give them something useful to do? And actual skill that produces something?
This final week is bittersweet; I’m excited for my next adventure (whatever it may be), but I’m feeling sad to be saying goodbye to all of you. The thought of leaving behind a routine that I have followed five days a week for the past five years is really daunting. Fortunately, there is ice cream in my freezer. Lots of ice cream.
Also fortunately, I have a knitting project nearly done, so I’m all lined up for a great dopamine boost when I finally (finally!) bind off and get all those tiny buttons sewn on. You probably assumed I had finished it ages ago, but Maine’s Slowest Knitter is still plugging away on the Goldfish sweater. Only half a sleeve and the button bands (gulp) left to go…
I definitely recommend this pattern by Tin Can Knits, although I will be changing the number of buttons — the size I’m making calls for twenty small buttons. Yes, twenty. Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially not on a squirmy baby. Besides, there were only eight of the cute fish buttons I wanted. (And do we ever knit a project exactly as the pattern says?)
So here’s to wrapping things up — winter, a job, a baby sweater… Whatever you’re wrapping up right now, I hope that the transition is smooth, the next adventure is rewarding, and that your buttonholes are always the right size for your buttons.