This tutorial is part of our Beyond Basics series of tutorials. These posts explore the more technical and challenging aspects of knitting, bridging the gap between beginner and intermediate skills. To broaden your knitting horizons, check out these other super helpful tutorials…

Reading A Chart | Purl Soho

Some people are more verbal and some are more visual, and in that respect, knitting has an answer for everyone! If you’re the kind of person who sees pages of instructions for lace, cable, or color work and thinks, “no way, not for me,” then charts may be your answer! Rather than presenting the pattern in written form, knitting charts offer the same instructions in a concise graphic form. Imagine several pages of instructions consolidated into a single grid; that is the beauty of a knitting chart!

Understanding The Squares

The first thing to know about reading a knitting chart is that each square in the chart represents a stitch. The color of each square or the symbol inside it indicates how to work that stitch, whether a particular increase or decrease, a yarn over, a cable stitch, or a color change. It’s helpful to note that the symbols themselves often look similar to the stitch you’re working (when viewed on the right side of the piece). For example, a right-leaning knit 2 together is depicted as a right-leaning slash inside the square.

While many chart symbols are standardized, they can and do vary depending on the designer, so it is best to consult the chart’s Key for a guide to the symbols used in that particular pattern. The Key explains what each symbol means on both right- and wrong-side rows. Below is an example of a chart Key with some frequently used symbols from our Daffodil Lace Wrap. In the next section, we’ll learn how to read its corresponding chart.

Reading A Chart | Purl Soho

Understanding The Rows

Reading A Chart | Purl Soho

Now that you have a grasp on the squares, you need to know that, in a chart, each row of squares represents a row or round of knitting.You nearly always start reading a chart in the bottom right corner and work your way, row by row, from the bottom of the chart to the top.

The numbers along the margins of a chart indicate the row or round number.

For pieces that are knit flat, you read right-side rows from right to left (just like you knit!) and wrong-side rows from left to right. Right-side row numbers are odd and run along the right margin of the chart. Wrong-side rows are even and are along the left margin. So, generally speaking, you will start at the number 1 in the bottom right corner of the chart, and read that row from right to leftand according to the “right side” instruction for each symbol. At the end of the row, you’ll turn the work as usual, then read the following wrong-side row, marked 2 in the left margin, from left to right and according to the “wrong side” instruction for each symbol.

In-the-round pieces are simpler. All the numbers are along the right margin, since all the rounds are right-side rounds, and you read every row from right to left for the same reason.

TIP: When in doubt, start reading each row where the number is!

Beyond The Basics

Reading A Chart | Purl Soho
Reading A Chart | Purl Soho

“No Stitch”

As knitting projects become more advanced, so do charts. One potentially confusing detail is when the Key tells you there are stitches that are “no stitch”, like in our Seashell Lace Wrap chart Key, above. Huh?

In reality, decreases turn two or more stitches into one, but decreases in a chart are depicted with a symbol in just one square. Because of this, some patterns may include a symbol for “no stitch” (usually a gray square) to account for the stitches that have been decreased. The chart above, for our Seashell Lace Wrap, includes gray squares that indicate stitches that have been decreased. Later in the pattern, increases fill these figurative “gaps” in the chart.

TIP: The main takeaway here is, don’t panic when you come across a “no stitch.” Just skip that square in the chart and continue on with the next symbol that is a stitch! It’ll all work out!


Many charts, like the patterns they represent, include stitch repeats. The section of stitches to repeat is boldly outlined (in red in the chart above) and indicates how many stitches make up the repeat. Just as in a written pattern, you’ll knit to the end of the stitch-repeat section, then, instead of continuing through to the end of the row or round, you’ll return to the beginning of the stitch repeat. You will continue to repeat that section until the number of stitches remaining on your needles (or until the end of the round) equals the number stitches depicted after the repeat section in the chart.


Reading A Chart | Purl Soho
Reading A Chart | Purl Soho

Cables in charts are not too tricky, but do deserve a little explanation. Instead of one square with a symbol inside, cable symbols are as many squares wide as they are stitches wide. For example, a cable like the one in our Estuary Wrap, above, is worked over 8 stitches, and so, its depiction in the chart is over 8 squares. In addition, right-leaning cables have right-leaning symbols, and the same for left-leaning cables. The explanation for working each cable can always be found in either the chart’s Key or the pattern’s Notes or Special Instructions.

If your head is spinning a little, there’s nothing like jumping in! Start with a very simple chart, like the one for our Piñon Cowl, and give it a whirl. You may find that, in the end, you’re more comfortable with written instructions, or you may discover that charts open up a whole new world for you and your kind of brain!