Reading Charts (for stranded knitting)
Reading charts for stranded knitting is a bit different than reading chart for other types of knitting. For one thing, most are set up for knitting in the round. Secondly, while one square still represents one stitch, that stitch will most always be a knit stitch….as opposed to purl stitch, twisted stitch, knit into the back loop, yarn over, or any of myriad of other types of stitches.
Ok, you will see indications for some of the shaping stitches…k2tog, SSK, or central double decrease…in some stranded charts...like hats, mittens or waist shaping of a sweater…but on the whole, most stranded charts exist to let the knitter know what stitch is worked in what color.
This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Let’s take a look at some of them and talk about the upside and downside of each.
Color the square the same color as the yarn used to knit the stitch…i.e., if the round uses purple and green yarn, then the chart will have purple and green squares.
Upside: No need to have a key to tell you what color yarn to use. Chart square is purple, then stitch is knit with purple yarn.
Downside: Works fine for simple patterns, but printing and computer monitors can sometimes be imperfect and colors can be hard to distinguish, especially if some of the colors are similar. Also, if you decide to change the colors called for…say from green to blue…it can be kinda hard to knit blue every time you see a green square. Another thing is that you will need a color printer to get a hard copy of the pattern.
Use symbols for each color needed. Take that same motif, in this type of chart, the purple is represented by a small star, green is presented by a dot. Then there is a key to tell you what the star and dot represent.
Upside: Color substitutions are easy…just change the key. Also, no need for a color printer.
Downside: Sometimes with complicated, multi-colored motifs there are so many symbols that you can lose sight of the overall pattern…making it hard to get a big picture of what you are working on. Also with a large number of symbols, it can be difficult to distinguish similar symbols from each other. “Is that the large dot or the small dot?” “Is that the open square or the closed square?” You get the idea.
Use one symbol for the whole chart…with the indications for colors found to the side of each chart row. So, in our motif of purple and green, the chart would only have one symbol. (In the case above, a filled in square.) The two indication columns (to the right) would have either an abbreviation for purple or green (P or G), a symbol (number or letter) for purple or green, or the yarn company shade number.
Upside: Again, color substitutions are easy…and there is no need for a color printer. With only one symbols used, the overall pattern is easily seen and understood.
Downside: You will need a key if symbols or letters are used…and you will have to be vigilant at the beginning of each round to see if there are any color changes. With only one symbol, every round looks the same and it is easy to keep knitting with the same colors without realizing it.
These are just three of the various types of stranded charts. Which one do I prefer? If I am submitting a pattern to a magazine or book, then, of course, I will use whatever chart configuration called for. If I am designing and writing for my own patterns, I use the last one most often. It seems to be the most versatile for me. Will I change in the future if a better solution comes along? Sure. Have I prejudiced the "upsides" and "downsides" towards my preferred chart...either consciously or unconsciously? Maybe. But can you blame a girl for having an opinion. :)
But let’s move on to how to work a stranded pattern using one of these charts.
If you have worked with charts in knitting before, you know that one square equals one stitch….and instead of reading left to right, top to bottom, with knitting charts, you start out reading bottom to top, right to left….just like you knit. Add to that, with patterns that are knitted flat (knit one row, turn, purl one row), row 1 (right side) starts at the bottom right and moves to the left…but row 2 (wrong side) starts at the left and moves to the right…and so forth. In other words, all odd rows are read from right to left and all even rows are read from left to right. Add to that, the symbol for “knit” means “knit” on the odd rows, but the same symbol means “purl” on the even rows. On the wrong side, it can be as easy as “knit the knits and purl the purls” or it can be a bit confusing at first.
You will remember we discussed that most stranded work is knitted in the round….with the right side facing you…which means, when it comes to reading the charts, you will always read from the right to the left…always. It also means that all of the stitches are knit stitches. All you have to worry about is using the right colors at the right time.
A chart full of colors or symbols can be pretty intimidating. Fortunately, there are both digital and low tech solutions that help make things a bit more accessible and easier to work with. No matter what method you decide to use, essentially what you are trying to do is highlight the round you are working on so you can focus on that round only.
Some instructions say to put a straight edge (or digital line) under the round you are working on…putting the "to be worked" squares above the edge. This covers the completed rounds and reveals the rounds you have yet to work.
Some say to put the straight edge (or digital line) above the operative round…which puts the "to be worked" squares just under the bottom edge of the line….and reveals the completed rounds.
Some say to use clear highlighting tape to cover your working round…leaving both the rounds worked and the rounds unworked visible.
Digital solutions require loading a digital version (usually a pdf) of a pattern or chart into app. I’m sure there are more…but the few I can think of are JKnit and KnitCompanion which can help organize your pattern instructions as well as charts…and GoodReader which is an easy (and free) pdf reader app that allows annotation.
A low tech solution is to make a copy of your chart so you can make notes and still have a clean original. (You can also make it larger if you need to.) The copied charts are then put on a metal tablet with long magnets which act as the straightedge mentioned above. Highlighter tape, also mentioned above, used on the paper copy is a very portable solution and a perfect travel companion.
You can even put this printed chart into a clear sheet protector before placing it on the metal tablet. Using erasale markers for your notes makes the printed chart reusable.
What do I use? For years I used the metal tablet and magnet solution and it worked well. Now, I load a pdf version of my chart into Dropbox and open it in GoodReader. Since the charts I use are usually in the design process, being able to make notes on the chart helps.
Oh, and as to whether I put the straightedge above or below the working chart round…I put it above the round so the squares I am working on are below the bottom edge of the digital line. I like to see the relationship between what I am working on and what I have completed.
So that's it. How do you organize your charts? What type of chart do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below....or in the thread in the Stranded group on Ravelry. Next time: Adding in new colors and Finishing old colors...which means video, people!