Pattern design can get complicated, but enjoying a more advanced project doesn’t have to be! This article will show you how to take an idea from concept to reality.
If you’re looking to level up your work with more intricate stitches like lace, charts are a great way to keep track of your knitting as you go. The example I’ll be using is from the Trellis Shawl, one of Whiskey Knits’ first charted patterns. This free pattern is available to download in the shop here, so you can follow along. If you’re not ready to download the pattern just yet, I’ve included the chart below:
HOW DO I READ THIS THING?
Not all charts are universal, but the highly visual format makes it easy to see what’s going on, even if you don’t necessarily know the stitch. This means you’ll no longer have to sit out on a pattern because the written instructions are confusing or in a different language.
Here is a legend of common stitches and their meanings:
This is by no means inclusive, but it should get you through most of what you need to create beginner and intermediate lace patterns.
Charts are read from right to left. This is done so the pattern can mimic items as they’re knitted. (Most) knitting starts with holding stitches on the left hand needle and following the desired pattern until the stitches sit entirely on the right side. A chart starts where the needles intersect, which is the right-most stitch.
Lace and other complex patterns have so much going on in the front, the back side is usually just a purled row to the border of the garment. This doesn’t make for interesting charting, so it is usually left out. This is why the Trellis Pattern only has odd-numbered, or right side rows charted. The backside is implied, since you’ll have to purl across to start the next row of the chart. See the example below, where the chart has been marked with black lines.
I like my charts to be as small as possible, so I usually blackout wrong side rows when I take patterns with me. Blacking out the wrong side rows also helps me visualize the pattern a little better, making it easier to spot errors.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CHARTS
If you’d like to experiment with charts on your own, you can gather the stitches and symbols you want to use and sketch them on a piece of graph paper. Using any pencil of your choice, draw out the stitches you need to complete your pattern.
Another way is to digitally make a chart in Excel or Google sheets. I’ve created a template for both programs that’s free- you can check it out here. Once you’ve opened the file, you can save your own copy by going to the top right hand corner, select File, then Make a Copy.
CHARTED VS. WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS
Intricate lace is easy to see with the eye, but writing it down in pattern form can get wordy. See the sample for the Trellis Shawl in it’s charted and pattern forms:
R1 (Right Side): K2, (ssk, yo, k1, yo, k4, sl1, k2tog, psso, k4, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, yo) x5, k2
R2 (Wrong Side): k2, purl to last 2sts, k2
R3: k2, (ssk, yo, K2, yo, k3, sl1, k2tog, psso, k3, yo, k2, yo, k2tog, yo) x5, k2
R4: k2, purl to last 2sts, k2
R5: k2, (ssk, yo, k3, yo, k2, sl1, k2tog, psso, k2, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, yo) x5, k2
R6: k2, purl to last 2sts, k2
R7: k2, (ssk, yo, k4, yo, k1, sl1, k2tog, psso, k3, yo, k2, yo, k2tog, yo) x5, k2
R8: k2, purl to last 2sts, k2
R9: k2, (ssk, yo, k5, yo, sl1, k2tog, psso, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, yo) x5, k2
R10: k2, purl to last 2sts, k2
See the difference? While it can be a matter of preference, written instructions for complicated lace patterns can turn a portable chart into a pages-long haul of marked-up repeats. Additionally, lace patterns can be harder to find completely written, so having a working knowledge of basic charts and their symbols can help you reverse engineer written instructions from a chart, if that’s what works best for you.
Patterns that offer multiple sizes or variations will usually offer more than one chart. In this case, you may have to put a few together in order to create the right pattern, but kind designers will usually do it for you. West Knits is a great example for easy-to-follow charts and patterns using multiple sizes.
Generally, patterns with multiple sections are separated by bolded lines. See the way the Trellis pattern looks with the border stitches included:
The bolded lines (and a well-placed stitch marker) are great ways to see where you’re at in the chart. Charts are still read right to left, even where there are multiple sections used. In the above example, you start at the right side of the chart at R1 and work the stitches across and up. The bottom of the chart represents the bottom of your knitting.
A good way to check your progress is to review your knitting by comparing it to the chart. Can you spot the repeat in this finished sample?
Now that I’ve shared the basics, let’s play a little bit. A knit stitch border is sturdy, but a predictable compliment to your hard-knit lace. If you want to add some visual interest, such as a moss stitch border, you can shake up the pattern by adding in your own construction.
The moss stitch pattern is as follows:
Rows 1 and 2: *Knit one, purl one. Repeat from * across.
Rows 3 and 4: *Purl one, knit one. Repeat from * across.
To add these to your chart, include the following symbols in the border section:
Bam. You’ll know exactly where you’re at with your border by adding it to your chart.
For complicated patterns or massive repeats (I’m looking at you, Nancy Marchant), it’s helpful to highlight where you’re at in your chart. If you’re using a tablet or computer to mark your progress, you can use the highlight function in Excel or Google sheets to track where you are. Alternatively, you can black out the rows you’ve completed, so your eyes don’t wander to the wrong space.
If you’ve printed out your pattern, you can cross off rows as you go. I would recommend using a pencil- if you have to back out your knitting, you can always erase. You can also use a sheet of paper to mark your progress.
Charts are the single most effective way to track projects that use stranded techniques such as Fair Isle, where multiple yarns are carried across a row. With all the color possibilities, mentally mapping a project can be a daunting task to keep up with. Most fair isle uses the humble knit stitch on the right side and purls on wrong side rows to focus on the colors included in the project. This means most Fair Isle or color scheme charts will not have stitch notations. One of my favorite examples is the Buffalo Check, which I’ll show you from start to finish.
If you want to follow along or just like the pattern, you can download the chart for free here.
Here’s a classic Buffalo Check:
It’s fine, but this color scheme is a little bright. I also didn’t have complimentary shades of red in my stash to make a sample swatch, so I went for a grayscale color scheme. By editing the background fill color (the paint bucket icon in most spreadsheet programs), I can tailor the pattern to use yarns I already have:
This chart is easily edited and made for a quick swatch. My swatch was knit up the following way:
Buffalo Check Swatch
Knit Picks’ Worsted Wool of the Andes in
Color A: Mineral Heather
Color B: Marble Heather, and
Color C: White
US size 7 DPNs
Cast on (CO) 28sts in Color A
In Color A:
R1 (RS): Knit
R2 (WS): Purl
Begin working chart in colors A, B, and C, as pictured in this stitch pattern. You can complete the chart and end at 16 rows, or end on a symmetric check and knit 20 rows. The motif repeats infinitely, so have fun with it! Cut all yarn but Color A and continue with next section.
Repeat the border pattern and bind off (BO). Weave in your ends (or don’t- you do you). My final product looks like this before blocking:
What’s blocking, you ask? I save that for the next time...
Have you created something awesome using Whiskey Knits’ charts or other foundation materials? I’d love to see them! Tag me on social media at #loveandwhiskey, or send an email of your creation to firstname.lastname@example.org
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