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Cool stuff! Techniques with Theresa Thinking beyond the pattern Watch this space
Charts are our friends Don't give it away Renovation, transformation Knit by numbers

I used to like row-by-row instructions. They told me what stitches to make, and I made them. It was very simple. But then I bought a kit for a lace shawl, and the directions came as charts. No problem, I thought: I just covered up the rows I hadn't made yet, and pretended that each row of the chart was a set of instructions that someone had written out in a strange language. Annoying, but if I could learn what "k2tog" meant, I could learn that "/" meant the same thing.

And then I realized what I was missing.

With row-by-row instructions for, say, seed stitch, you alternate knits and purls. But if you make one mistake, then suddenly all of your knitting is off, and half of a row will be worked in broken ribbing instead. On the other hand, when presented with a chart of seed stitch, I know to work knit stitches into purl stitches only. I can catch my mistakes, quickly, because the chart will tell me where my next stitch is to be worked.

At this point, I'm in love with charts; for any kind of complicated pattern, I'd rather work from a chart than from written instructions. Unfortunately, I keep coming across patterns with no charts. So I started making my own. And here is what I know.

WHAT DO THOSE SILLY CHART SYMBOLS MEAN?

Everyone means the same thing by "k2tog," and every pattern writer uses "k2tog" as an abbreviation for "knit the next two stitches together." Unfortunately, charts are nowhere near as simple. Different people use different symbols to mean the same stitch, or use the same symbol to mean different stitches. Sometimes, there's a good reason for this.

In lace patterns, the important point is the gaps and the decreases; the symbols for plain knit and purl both need to be small and unobtrusive. In textured patterns, on the other hand, the whole point is the contrast between knit and purl; hence, they have to look very different.

And sometimes there's no reason for symbols in two charts being different.

As should be obvious from all of this, it is absolutely essential that you include a key with your pattern or chart, to tell your readers what you intend a dot or slash to mean.

Here's a listing of some common symbols that I've seen in American patterns -- in some cases, different publications use a different symbol, so you'll see several for each category. While there's no logical reason why you couldn't use, for example, an ampersand (&) to mean k2tog, most readers will find it easier to read your chart if your symbols look like symbols they've seen before.


Knit one stitch


Purl one stitch


No stitch. In some patterns, using this symbol properly is essential.


Yarn over or make a bobble


Knit two stitches together

  
Any left-sloping single decrease: ssk, k2tog through back loop, or slip one, knit one, psso.


A left-sloping double decrease, such as k3tog through back loop.


A double decrease that doesn't slope very much to either side.


A right-sloping double decrease, such as k3tog.


Cables

"NO STITCH"

My first lace project was the Petal Sonnet shawl from Blackberry Ridge designs. In the shawl is a large water lily pattern, designed specifically for this shawl by Hazel Carter. To get the look she wanted, she had to let her petals flare out drastically. This meant that she had to change the stitch count of her pattern from row to row. To chart this, she had to include a lot of blank squares in her chart. Because the spaces were distributed irregularly, the chart was hard to read: I had to treat it as row-by-row instructions, which meant (for me) that the main point of using a chart was lost.

Most patterns do keep the stitch count consistent from row, but even in this case, blank squares at the edges may be necessary. A triangular shawl will need to have a steadily-increasing number of blank squares on the edges; an edging may need blank squares added to its outside edge to keep the inside edge straight.

Cabled or lace patterns which increase or decrease the stitch count will need rows of blank spaces inside the chart, not at the edges. An excellent example is the Twining Trees chart. Charts of garments which taper or flare may also need spaces in the middle of the chart.

To figure out where to put blank squares, remember that a chart should show roughly which stitches are worked into which other stitches. Add spaces so that symbols in later rows end up above, or at least near, the symbols for the stitches into which they are actually worked.


MAKING YOUR CHART COMPACT

A chart should include all of the necessary information, but does not need to include absolutely everything. There are a number of things that can be left out.

One example is repeats: the charted equivalent of "*k2, p2, repeat from * to end." To get more mileage from repeats, don't be afraid to use symbols that change meaning. Consider line 7 of Cozy.

The last stitch in each pattern repeat is a double decrease, except for the final repeat, where the last stitch is a single decrease. Rather than writing out the pattern twice to show this (nearly doubling the width of the chart), it is perfectly fine to use one symbol to mean a double decrease in internal repeats and a single decrease in the last one.

Also, you don't need to show every row. If all even rows can be summarized by quick directions, leave them out of the chart. Put them in the pattern or next to the chart. If you do it, bear in mind that your chart might start to look squashed compared to your knitting. To fix this, if you can, make the cells of your chart twice as tall as they normally would be.

Well, we know what we want our chart symbols to look like. We know how to arrange blank spaces, and we know what we can leave out of a chart. How do we make a chart?

WORD PROCESSOR

My favorite tool for making charts is a word processor: I just type my charts in, one row per line. If you use a fixed-width font such as Monaco or Courier, your characters will line up into neat grids on their own. Alternatively, if you like the look of charts with a lot of space, you can put a tab between every pair of symbols to line them up.

If you don't mind your charts reading from the top left, you can convert written patterns to charts fairly quickly using the "find and replace" function. I've done this with charts as complicated as Mon Petit Chou, with very little editing by hand afterwards. This method has the most options for publishing on the web. You can display your chart as text, since that's all it is. Alternatively, you can take a screen picture as for a spreadsheet. Also, most drawing programs (MS Paint, AppleWorks, and Adobe Photoshop, for example) will let you type in your chart and then save it as a JPEG or GIF. This is especially useful if you use unusual fonts.

You can find symbols that look like many of the standard symbols on the keyboard: dashes, Os, slashes in both directions, blank spaces. However, you will not find any letters that resemble the symbols for double decreases or cables.


You can deal with this two ways. You can use letters instead of symbols, or you can download a font with the symbols you need already in it. For typed charts, I recommend using David Xenakis's fonts. Simply download the font and install on your computer. About.com has tutorials for installing fonts on Windows and on Macintosh.

SPREADSHEETS

Another way to make a chart on the computer is to use a spreadsheet: one symbol per cell, with cells scaled appropriately. You can even adjust the cell dimensions to be the same shape as your stitches.

Spreadsheets are easy to edit. You can insert rows or columns, or copy and paste large rectangular chunks of stitches. Inserting a new column into a word processor can be annoying.

As with typed charts, you can make your charts look better by using a better font. In a spreadsheet, I like to use the font from Aire River Design. To turn your spreadsheet into a JPEG image file suitable for web publication, your best option is to take a screen picture. Your computer may have come with a program which will take screen pictures. If not, a Google search for "screen capture" and your computer's operating system will probably yield a shareware or freeware program which will take screen pictures.

PENCIL AND PAPER

When all else fails, go back to a good old pencil and a piece of paper. This method gives the pattern writer the most control over the finished result. You can use any symbols you can draw to represent your stitches. If you're charting a pattern that uses a lot of unusual stitches, this can be very useful. These charts can be done easily on ordinary graph paper.

However, if you want your chart to look a bit more like the finished product, you can also print out some knitter's graph paper. This is graph paper which has been stretched out so that the boxes are the actual proportions of knit stitches.

This page will make graph paper to fit your gauge. Unfortunately, the only way to make a paper chart into a digital chart is a scanner. Either you have one and can do it, or you don't, and can't. Also, depending on your handwriting, your readers might be grateful for a typed chart.

However you make a chart, anyone following your design who likes charts will be grateful that you did.

Knitter's Symbols fonts used courtesy Knitter's Magazine - Copyright İ 1998 XRX, Inc., and Aire River Designs-Copyright İ 2003.

Patterns used in charts are taken from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns and Susanna Lewis's Knitting Lace, via Kat Coyle's "Leaves and Waves" pattern, and from Danielle Schoonover's "Cozy" pattern, boths in the Fall 2004 issue of Knitty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ariel is a first-year graduate student in mathematics at the University
of Chicago, and makes socks and lace in the evenings and weekends.