The other day, a visitor to the shop pulled out a scarf that she’d set aside for several years and asked me to write down the pattern so that she could continue working on it. This is not a service that I typically offer – after all, writing down patterns for my own designs is challenging enough. But in this case, it was plain to see exactly how her scarf was made as soon as I glanced at one side and then the other.
Her scarf looked essentially like this:
But in my head it looked like this:
And in a traditional chart it would look something like this:
But what I assumed that she wanted was this:
CO multiple of 4 + 1
Row 1: k2, (p1, k3) to last 3 sts, p1, k2
Row 2: p1, (k3, p1) to end of row
Rep Rows 1 & 2 until desired length.
But there’s a fundamental problem with the latter format. The problem is that your knitting is a grid, not a series of rows. A grid has both rows and columns. When you glance at the written pattern, you can’t see how the stitches are meant to stack on top of one another.
When jotting down a written pattern while looking at a knitted thing, one must do a mental translation from the visual into a coded format. Likewise, when attempting to read ahead in a written pattern, one must translate the code into a visual format, which most people will contend is practically impossible. It just gets confusing. I get it. It’s a mental exercise scarcely worth engaging in.
An infographic I made to help you follow charts. Click the image to expand it.
A chart, on the other hand, is just a schematic drawing of the actual knitted thing. It’s simply a picture of how it looks from the front side. You can’t dramatically mess it up or make it literally impossible to follow by making a simple mistake (like I did). Unfortunately, I discovered after this kind, trusting woman had walked away, I’d accidentally written something like “(p1, k3) to last 5 sts, k4”. Well, obviously that makes no sense at all – what would one do with the final stitch?
I’m sorry that I didn’t take the opportunity to teach her to follow a chart, because this very simple stitch pattern might just be the best possible example of the usefulness of charts. It’s usually called “mistake ribbing”. It’s similar to broken ribbing, except it ripples and fluffs a bit, almost like brioche knitting. But unlike brioche knitting, it’s suitable for a very beginner. Your very first project could be a mistake ribbing scarf – if you can knit and purl, you’re off to the races.
The size of the knitting needle or crochet hook that you use is crucial if you have any interest in replicating a pattern with precision or achieving a predictable fit. We alter our gauge (stitches per inch) by increasing or decreasing the size of our needles or hook to match the gauge listed in a pattern.
The only challenging thing about understanding hook and needle sizes is that there is no standard. Just as with more modern technologies, it’s hard for the amorphous world-wide group of individuals who decide what to call fiber crafting tools to agree upon a standard naming system (and stick with it). What any pattern calls a knitting needle or crochet hook of a certain size depends on several factors:
In what year was the pattern written? In what country was the pattern written? Which system was the pattern writer familiar with?
Use a knit-check to check what size a mystery needle is or compare sizes between two needles, and use the ruler on the edge for measuring your gauge.
The issue is even more complicated by the fact that manufacturers of knitting needles may decide on their own standard if they wish. For instance, we carry needles from both Addi and Knitter’s Pride here at Over the Rainbow Yarn. Addi calls a needle measuring 3mm in diameter a US 2, and Knitter’s Pride calls a needle of the same size a US 2.5. Perhaps Knitter’s Pride or an earlier company set out with the noble goal of differentiating between the 2.75 and the 3.0mm needle, which were both called US 2 previously?
For crochet hooks, there are two separate sizing systems – one for the very small hooks which are typically used with thread and made of steel, and one for the larger hooks which are typically used with heavier yarn and made of aluminum, wood or plastic.
Some needle conversion charts include more or different standards from this one, such as Japanese sizes, French sizes, or old American sizes versus new American sizes. Old American sizes (from the mid-1900’s) are similar to the dual-system used for crochet hooks: a 2.5mm is a Size 1, and larger needle sizes increase to 2 and then 3, etc., but smaller sizes (for steel dpns) have larger numbers beginning at 12 and going up from there, much like wire gauge sizes. Don’t get old American sizes mixed up with UK sizes, though; for the small sizes, they are close but not the same.
The chart below covers the most common sizes you’re likely to run into in the English-speaking world, and in some cases includes common naming discrepancies. You can use it to convert sizes from one standard to another. Of course, the best way to be sure you’ve got the size you think you have is to know the actual measurement of your hook or needles in millimeters.
Knitters often find it difficult to transition into crochet because it requires a different way of thinking about your fabric as a whole. It might be fair to say it’s less precise. It’s a little but wonkier. It’s also a little more forgiving, and I think it lends itself better to free-form experimentation than knitting does. Working only one stitch at a time gives you the freedom to put that stitch wherever you please – and there are about a million places one could potentially insert one’s crochet hook and pull up a loop. It can be hard to describe which loop you’re referring to when writing a pattern, and often requires some interpretation when you’re reading a pattern! Though there are a limited number of gestures comprising the basic crochet stitches, there are a mind-boggling number of ways that one could combine chains, single crochets, double crochets, and half-double crochets, depending on exactly which loops you decide to grab.
Crochet chart example from By Number 19.
Knit chart example from knittingobsession.com
I think the origin of most confusion pertaining to crochet comes down to this fact: crocheted stitches are staggered, rather than stacked atop one another in a grid formation. That is why many new crocheters find their early swatches biasing one way or the other, and that is why it’s hard to produce a crocheted fabric with perfectly straight edges. That is why knitting charts are drawn on graph paper, and crochet charts usually look more like hand-sketches, even when they’re produced by a computer.
But before you can experiment, you need to know the basics. To get you started, use the visual guide below to help you find your place in crochet.