how to read a knitting chart

I splurged on a skein of pretty, pretty Sundara Petit Sock Yarn this month for my birthday, and within a day of receiving it, cast on this terrifically ornate lace shawl. The pattern is charted only, so I thought it might be useful to do a little chart reading tutorial. Well, not so much a tutorial, as a “this is what works for me, and maybe I can offer some helpful hints to the chart-phobic” post.

teasdale

First of all, I’m a visual person, so I just naturally like knitting from charts rather than long written row instructions. I find that a chart helps me not only knit a row fairly quickly, I can also easily see where a stitch should be sitting in relation to the stitches above and below it. This has helped me learn to “read” my knitting, so I can figure out where mistakes have happened or just where I am in a particular project. I can understand why looking at a knitting chart for the first time might feel a little overwhelming. And I don’t expect that everyone will learn to prefer charts to written patterns, because I know brains work differently, but I hope I can de-mystify them a bit.

To work from a chart I do a few things to prepare. First, of course, I print it out, fitting the chart to the whole page whenever possible (unless it’s a relatively small chart with just a few stitches and rows that repeat, then it’s nice to keep it smaller). The designers of most of my latest charted projects have included full-page charts, which makes it easy. I really appreciate that in a pattern. I’ve quickly charted a simple pattern (that I do not recommend you actually knit, because it’s just some random stitches and I seriously doubt that it would produce anything attractive) to use as an example.

samplechart

This chart is for knitting flat, as opposed to knitting in the round. If you look at the row numbers you’ll see the odd numbers on the right side of the chart and the even numbers on the left. This is a visual clue that tells you which direction to read the row, starting from the side with the number. You’ll always start at the bottom of the chart and work your way up. In this case, you’d start working on a right-side row, following the symbols in row 1, from right to left. When you finish that row, you’ll turn your work and begin row 2, reading the symbols from left to right. If you look at the key, you’ll see that some of the symbols mean different things depending on which side you’re currently working. This can take a little while to get straight in your brain, but it makes more sense once you’ve done a few rows. Here, for example, you’ll end up with a few columns of knits and purls. In other words, you’ll purl a stitch on the right side, but when you turn and work the next row, the stitch on top of that purled stitch will be a knit stitch, even though on the chart it’s the same symbol (the single black dot). That’s because the black dots are always purl stitches on the right side, but knit stitches on the wrong side.

Next, let’s talk about those cable stitches. They look almost exactly alike, but there are really two different kinds of cables in this chart. When I have more complicated stitches like these, I like to color-code them to make it even easier on myself. I did this the first time I made a Habitat hat, which has a plethora of different cables, and it made it so much easier. I use colored pencils or highlighter markers, and choose a color for each type of cable. I color the symbol in the key and then go through the chart and find all the matching symbols, and fill them in with the same color.

When I’m working from any knitting pattern, regardless if it has charts, I like to keep the printed pages in a sheet protector, just so it doesn’t get too wrinkled and tattered. I discovered that putting a chart in a sleeve like that was great, but my usual method for keeping track of what row I’m on using Post-it notes didn’t work at all since they fall right off the plastic. Then I discovered a use for all the washi tape I’ve been hoarding. It works great on the plastic sheet protector, but peels right up to move to the next row. I can use the same piece of tape many, many times before it starts to lose its stickiness. And I can cut it to any length I need. So I start with a piece of tape that is about the length of the row, and I fold over the end just a bit, to make it easier to peel it up when I need to move it.

knitting chart in action

I always put my tape marker above the row I’m about to work. This helps keep me from making mistakes, because I can see what kind of stitch should be directly below the stitch I’m working. For example, when I’m working row two, I can see that I should be purling when I get to that yarnover stitch from row one. If my count is off and I knit into the yarnover instead, hopefully I’ll notice before I get any further.

A few more random tips:

  • If you’re knitting in the round, chart reading gets a whole lot easier. Since you’re not turning your work, but always working on the right side, you’ll always follow the chart from right to left (again, starting with row 1, at the bottom). You’ll also not need to worry about working the same symbols differently on the wrong side.
  • If a pattern doesn’t have the key for the chart on the same page, I like to make a copy and tuck it in with the chart so I don’t have to flip back and forth if there are unfamiliar symbols.
  • If a chart has a section enclosed in a border (usually a contrasting color, like the red I used above), it means that the pattern repeats itself. This is where stitch markers come in handy. The stitches outside the border are usually the edge of your project, and you repeat the stitches within the border a certain number of times per row. Place a marker after every repeat, and you’ll have another little checkpoint to prevent mistakes.

If you’d like to go digital, I’ve heard really good things about the knitCompanion app. I haven’t tried it yet because I seldom have access to our iPad Mini. My husband usually takes it with him to work or is using it when he’s home. He insists that it’s our iPad, but it was really his birthday/Christmas gift, and I have all I need with my phone and my kindle, so I don’t mind at all. I think I’ll download the 15-day trial and see if it will be worth the $16 investment to use on my phone. It just seems like the screen would be a little too small for big charts. I will report back!

Did I miss anything? Are you still confused or chart-phobic? Do you have any good chart-reading tips? I’d love to know all the different ways others use charts, so please share in the comments!

 

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a hat in the colors of spring

Instagram has messed up my blogging. I posted so many pictures of this project there that it feels a little redundant to blog about it, but obviously I’m going to anyway.

Hat

I’ve reached a point in my knitting life where I fear no knitting pattern, but I know there are lots and lots of techniques I want to learn and skills to develop. One of my knitting bucket list items is to knit a Fair Isle sweater (a là this pin, for which I am searching desperately for the origin), but I’ve only done a little stranding while making mittens. I haven’t been totally successful at keeping the tension of the strands even and loose enough, so I thought I’d practice some more before tackling a whole sweater. I found this hat pattern and despite that fact that I don’t often wear hats and usually don’t even look good in hats, I fell in love and had to make it. I picked a bunch of colors of Knit Picks Palette yarn, keeping my fingers crossed that they would work together. I think my next Knit Picks order is going to include a color card, which will make it so much easier to choose colors for a project like this. I do appreciate that they describe each color, and what I received was just what I was expecting, but having the actual yarn in front of me will make it so much easier.

Once I had my yarn I worked out which color would be used where and got to work. The pattern starts with a tubular cast on, and links to this video. I’d done it once before, but didn’t remember how to do it at all. It was a challenge, and I had to do it a couple times, but now I  think I’ve got it down. I will definitely be using it whenever I can, because I love the edge it creates, it’s round and stretchy.

Photo Mar 14, 11 29 38 AM

Once I got to the colorwork, it was impossible to stop knitting. I had to just keep doing one more row to see how the next colors looked. The whole thing only took about three days. I knit English style, so I made up my own technique which involved keeping both yarns on my right index finger and flipping them back and forth with my thumb. It meant that I had to untwist the two balls of yarn pretty often, but it also helped me keep a good tension and my floats are nice and even and all going the same direction.

hat3

Look at that stranding! So pretty! So neat! So even! I impressed myself a lot with this project. There was very little puckering, even before I blocked it, and then once I did block it, it became nice and soft, and drapey. The only puckering left is in where I changed needle sizes, but that’s not in the stranded areas. And now I’m looking for any opportunities I can find to wear my hat, even though spring is on its way.

Photo Mar 19, 7 05 03 PM

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drat

Oh sure, I planned out all my spring and summer (and probably fall and winter, if I’m honest) knitting, and Quince and Co releases a collection of patterns for their linen yarn. I love linen. I especially like the little apron-like top. It’s fun and different, and I have a thing for linen and aprons.

apron

In fact,  I have a pinafore from Rough Linen and I love it so much. I wear it all weekend no matter what I’m doing-yard work, cooking, cleaning. It’s the best thing ever. I have the natural linen color, but I think I might save up for a black one too. And then I’ll wear it everywhere, and pretend it’s a tunic top and not an apron at all.

pinafore

I also love this linen dress (found via Miss Moss). I might need to make myself something similar. I could wear a dress like that every day and be happy about it.

jane-sew-006

Next time I’ll have a post about something I actually made, instead of talking about things I want to make.

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overly ambitious

As I do, now and then, I’ve re-visited and re-organized my Ravelry queue. I also went on a bit of a yarn buying spree, and stash clean-out, and now have yarn organized for no fewer than five sweaters. That doesn’t include the three on the needles at the moment, or the one I recently finished. I blame that success for making me think I can knit and/or finish a total of eight more sweaters this year. Whatever, I’m going to give it a shot. I obviously need a vacation from sock knitting.

Here’s what’s in the queue (links are all to Ravelry):

aidez

Aidez, which I’ve wanted to do forever. I have some Cascade Ecological Wool in the natural gray color. It’s bulky, so I think this will be a quick one, which is why it’s at the top of the list. Plus, all those cables look so fun (even though I’m also in the middle of the biggest cable project ever).

aisance

Aisance is one of those patterns that went straight to the queue as soon as I saw it. How flattering is that ribbing on the back? I love it so much. I splurged on the Quince & Co Tern (in the Dusk color) yarn used in the sample. It’s silk and merino, so this is going to be so luxurious. It’s also fingering weight, so it’s going to take me some time. But I’m hoping my love of the design will propel me quickly to the finish, because this will be a great sweater for spring and even summer, when the air conditioning is blasting in my office.

liesl

Liesl is another one for warmer months. I think it will be cute as a jumper over a t-shirt with leggings or skinny jeans. I’ve got some Juniper Moon Farms Zooey in black, which is a cotton and linen blend. It’s sportweight, but it’s knit on size 8 needles, so I don’t think it will take forever. Plus it looks like good TV knitting. That’s me being optimistic.

raiun

I just realized I’ve got some great spring/summer knits in my queue, so maybe I need to re-think the order. I’ve had a bunch of pink Rowan Cashcotton  4-ply in my stash for years and I want to get rid of it. I came across this, and love how it looked in that yarn, and with the longer sleeves. Here’s the main pattern page, I obviously have a thing for side and back ribbing.

quesera

Yet more cotton yarn, what’s up with that? Again, this is basically a “I want this yarn out of the stash, asap” project. I have the Blue Sky Alpacas worsted cotton in light blue, from a sweater I frogged a long time ago. It’s taking up too much space, and I’ve liked this sweater since it first appeared in Knitty a gazillion years ago. I still like it, and some lace will be nice after so much stockinette, right? Pattern page is here.

So now I have to finish a hat I just started and at least one of the three sweaters currently on the needles. And I need to get to it soon, because I know I’m going to want to start working more in the yard in the evenings as it stays light later and later. I’m giving myself knitting anxiety.

Am I the only one who likes to re-arrange the knitting queue?

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love hate

tulips

This is not a post about tulips, but it’s never wrong to start with a picture of tulips, regardless of the subject matter.

I straightened and organized my sock drawer. And then I straightened and organized my sock yarn drawer. And then KnitPicks had a sale on sock yarn, so I bought even more sock yarn (the sale is still going on for a couple more weeks, I think). I do like always having a sock on the needles, because first of all, they are so portable, and I can just keep them in my purse. Second of all, I love handknit socks. Third of all, sock knitting is (generally) therapy for me when I’m stressed. And fourth of all, many of my socks are starting to look pretty shabby.  I can and will repair them as much as possible, but sometimes there is a point of no return. I’m also on the lookout for the ultimate sock yarn, so all my sock knitting is also in the name of science.

I started a pair of toe-up socks recently, using Knit Picks Stroll (Tonal, in Thunderhead). The only other time I’ve knit socks from the toe was, weirdly enough, for the first socks I ever knit. I used Wendy’s Toe-up sock pattern and I think a sport weight yarn (this was pre-Ravelry). And then I never knit one again. I don’t remember it being terribly difficult, and it was a heavier yarn and a plain sock with a ribbed leg, so I don’t think it took all that long. I think I just found patterns I liked that were cuff-down and I was comfortable knitting that way.

grace sock

I was looking for a sock pattern to knit a couple weeks ago, and came across this pretty pair. I love the lace and didn’t let the fact that the pattern started at the toe deter me at all. By the time I got to the heel, I realized that I really don’t enjoy knitting from the toe up. I vowed to press on, though, because these socks, they are so pretty! So I slogged through the heel and started up the leg. I tried them on and they were a little long in the foot, and the heel flap seemed a little tall. But still, I kept going, because I am not a quitter! Then I sat down last night to do just a little more, because it seems like every quarter-inch of these suckers takes an hour. I pulled on the cord to pick up my knitting and ooops! I had pulled the needle right out of half the sock.

I thought I could be stoic and brave, and get all those k2tog and yo stitches back on the needle. I’ve certainly done it before. After a few minutes, though, in perhaps a tiny fit of hatred and frustration, I pulled the other half off its needle and ripped it out completely.

It was such a relief. I immediately cast on and knit a cuff, and I’m going to try to just knit the same lace from the top. It may not work, but I’m going to give it a couple inches, and if not, I’ll do some other lace-y cuff-down pattern, and I will enjoy every bit of it. Am I alone in my love of cuff-down sock knitting?

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lovely things

I want to do more blogging, so I’m going to start with a tiny post of three things I like right now.

This charming instagram stream.

kheisti

Tiny houses.

tiny house

A pretty song I keep listening to.

I have been knitting like crazy lately, so I have a whole lot to say about that. I should be back with more soon!

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autumn to-do list

Now it really is starting to feel like autumn up here in the mountains, and the cottonwoods have the barest tinge of yellow. Something about the change of seasons makes me want to get some things done. I made a list, and I’ve already started working on it:

  • Wash and re-block hand knits.
    I pulled out a couple scarves, and they’re not dirty, just a bit crumpled from being shoved in a drawer all summer. A good blocking will do them all some good.
  • Take a crochet class.
    I went on Saturday for a class, and it was so helpful! I’ve done a little crochet on my own, but was never sure if I was doing it right. I especially never felt very comfortable juggling the hook and the yarn. In my class I learned a good way to hold them both, and I can single and double crochet quite well now. I even found a pattern for a ripple blanket and started on the first stripe. I actually had tried to do a similar pattern years ago, but I was never happy with the way it looked. I thought it would be a great project to use up leftover bits of worsted weight yarns. I’ll be working on it for a long time, but it will be a nice break to do a stripe here and there. 

DSC_1310

  • Make roast goose.
    So, I’ll be brief on this one. We had two mean geese. They were noisy and unpleasant and I found someone who was willing to “process” them for me. And now they are in the freezer. I’m still working myself up to it, but I found a good tutorial for when I am ready.
  • Get some more chickens.
    My girls aren’t laying much, and two of the six hens are now six years old, so it’s time for some fresh young hens. I’ll let my old ladies enjoy the rest of their days in our yard, though. They don’t try to nip at me when I feed them.
  • Finish website re-design/cleanup.
    I want to keep things clean and simple around here. I’ll probably do  a little here and there on this one, but I’m still not in a mood to spend my evenings in front of the computer.
  • Learn to use Lightroom, and organize my photos.
    I’ve started doing this too. In fact, I’ve even switched to shooting in RAW. I’m not totally sure what that even means, but I’m doing it! 
  • Bake a cake (flourless, of course).
    Done, and it was good, but I’m still searching for a really good grain-free cake recipe. I used this recipe, and it was dense and moist, which I expected. It was just a little too sweet for me (which might have been the pears I used, they were very ripe and sweet), and a little heavy. But it was so fun to bake again. I won’t be making it a regular habit, just a now and then treat.  

DSC_1312

  • Make a scarf from a piece of Liberty fabric I’ve been hoarding.
    This should take about ten minutes, I’ve got a yard, so I think I’ll just cut it in half and sew it end-to-end for length. 
  • Make a sweater for Pulley
    He doesn’t have fur like the other dogs, I think he’s going to need some warm clothes for the winter. 
  • Start making soup.
    I need to find some new soup recipes. Do you have any good ones? 
  • Knit the perfect cabled sweater.
    I want something cozy and slouchy. This might be just the thing. I have to decide what kind of yarn to use. 
  • Buy a lot of pumpkins and decorate the porch.
    I’ve got two so far, but I’m going to need some more.

Bonus items:

The Autumn pin board.
I also just needed to share the fact that you can follow an astronaut on pinterest.

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