Chart Reading 101.

Part 1PDF

Written by TuesdayFortnite

I’ve been asked to put together a ‘step-by-step’ taking the fear out of crochet charts, so here’s installment part 1 and I hope you’ll join me in this journey of discovery.

Reading crochet charts can be intimidating if you haven’t yet been inducted into the secret language, but really, honestly, genuinely it’s not difficult.  Being an English speaker, I’m now going to make a broad sweeping statement (sorry) and group people into two camps – those who see charts a little like something written in French or Spanish – sort of familiar but you don’t know what it means (the letters are recognisable, the words are not) and those who see charts as being written in Japanese, Cyrillic or hieroglyphs – something completely alien.

Much like learning to read in English, reading a chart is simply a matter of learning a bit of vocab and a couple of reading ‘rules’.

During these sessions we’ll be building two small samplers (one square and one circular) so you get the ideas being shown.  You need to be able to chain and do a Double Crochet (DC) and I’ll be using US terminology throughout (despite being English!) So grab some scrap yarn and a hook and settle down class, we’re ready to start!

Vocabulary

First up we need our vocabulary.  The vast majority of charts come with a key or legend that lets you know what symbol is being used to represent what stitch.

An example of a legend or key is to the right.

diagram of commonly used symbols - example of a legend key

example of a legend key

This one is particularly well written.

There are international standards of symbols that most people use now.  You can find a good list of them, including a video showing how to do that stitch on the Hass Design pages

Handily the symbol represents a type of stitch regardless of what is called, so the double crochet symbol:   Double Crochet   is also the same symbol for the UK treble crochet symbol.  Before you panic though, an easy way to think about these icons is the little bar through the T shape is the number of times you wrap the yarn before you start your stitch.  When reading charts I rarely think about what the stitch is called – just that it’s asking me to wrap ‘once’ or more.  I think a lot less using charts than I do with written patterns as I’m always having to remember if it’s a US or UK pattern and what they mean by a ‘double crochet’!

When you see a chart symbol it is the same stitch regardless of what it is called either side of the pond.    A T with a bar through Double Crochet *always* (and by always I mean 98% of the time, there’s always one isn’t there ;-)) … always means that you:

  • wrap the yarn then go through the work,
  • yarn over and back through the work,
  • yarn over and off two loops,
  • yarn over and off the remaining two loops.

That’s a DC in the US, and a treble in the UK, but it’s the same stitch (and diagram) in the drawings.  The only time it gets confusing is single crochet, which doesn’t exist in UK terminology.

These symbols are our vocab – our alphabet if you like and our short hand way of showing a particular stitch.  The most obvious of these is our starting point!

Chainis a single chain.  If you do a few chain and have a look at the front you’ll see it’s like a little tear drop shape or an oval.  This symbol is a drawing of that shape.  It’s a bit literal and pretty obvious.  So if we see a line of these things on a chart, we know it’s a number of chain.  The Russians and Japanese are pretty good about putting a number next to a group of chains to let you know how many are in that chain – but older patterns, UK and US patterns are not so good!

Here’s an example of a foundation chain row with the stitch pattern repeat marked (we’re only looking at the very bottom row)…

foundation chain with repeat count
row 1 showing stitch repeat count

Handily, the designer of this pattern has included a bracket telling us how many chain there are to a pattern repeat if we wanted to make it wider – often that piece of information is missing!  What this means is that if we wanted to make the piece wider we’d add 12 chains for every repeat of the pattern we wanted to add.

Ok, so what are we looking at?  We are looking at a row of chain, we know that – but what do we do with it?  If we count across that row we find there are 25 individual chains.  So we know our first action is to chain 25 stitches.  Done that?  Good.

Often a pattern will tell you the number of starting chain, but if not, it’s an easy job (if a bit tedious) to count across.  If a document is for a stitch pattern rather than a finished object pattern, there will never be a stitch count – but there maybe something that tells you the number of stitches to a repeat – such as above, or some words saying something like ‘Chain a number divisible by 14 + 5’  This means there is a 14 stitch repeat pattern.

What about the +5?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  The +5 refers to any stitches needed to get your first stitch (we can’t do a treble straight from a Chain, we need a few to ‘bend around the corner’ first – in a treble crochet case we need 4) plus any stitches allowed for in the pattern – there might be a 1 chain gap before you start for example or there might be shaping involved.

Let’s have a look at our sample square again, and study Row 1.

Row 1 of a pattern showing stitch repeat count

row 1 showing stitch repeat count

First up crochet charts ‘read’ in a slightly strange way.  Most charts are written by right handed people, for right handed crocheters.  The charts ‘read’ the way you are working, assuming the right side is facing you.  The first row will go from RIGHT to LEFT, the second row from LEFT to RIGHT and so on.  We also read from the bottom UP, like this….

directions for which way chart rows are read
reading a chart – directions

By the way, I’m left handed and don’t have a problem reading charts at all – it’s just a practice thing, and I know I’m working the ‘wrong’ way when I check against my charts (for my right side facing, I WORK row 1 left to right and row 2 right to left, but I READ as the chart is written).

So, going back to our ‘Row 1’.  We can see that there is 3 turning chain included in the base chain – so we need to add those on.  Giving us a chain of 28  (25 +3).  These 3 turning chain allow the row to bend enough so that it is the same height as the double crochet we are going to work next.

demonstrating where the turning chain are

turning chain

So we have our 28 chain, and we are reading the chart in the correct direction.  Now our symbol changes!  But it’s OK, we know from our legend (and common practice if you don’t have a legend) that means double crochet.  We can also see on our drawing that the bottom of that DC sits on top of a chain.

Counting chains

Counting chains back from the hook

It’s the 5th chain counting back from the hook, so we work a DC into the 5th chain.

That’s the first DC of the diagram taken care of.  (note: the first 3 Chain here are pretending to be a DC)

We should now be able to see that there’s:

step-by-step diagram for following Row 1

step-by-step diagram for following Row 1

another DC into the next chain, and then 3 chain.

We skip 3 chain and do a DC into the FOURTH chain along,

We do it again – Chain 3 and skip 3 foundation chain to put a DC into the 4th chain along, but now it changes

we do another 4 DC (each into it’s own little chain) to have a little group of 5 DC.

3 Chain and skip 3 to put a single DC into the 4th chain,

Chain 3 and skip 3

and finish with 3 DC into the last 3 chain.

You’ve now got a symmetrical piece of work with 3 DC at either end (ok, one end is 2DC and 3chain pretending it’s a DC), then a standalone DC in a gap, and a block of 5DC in the middle.  In other words it looks like the drawing!

Row 1 of chart
Row 1 of a pattern showing stitch repeat count

Row 1 of chart

Let me know what you think, and I’ll starting working on Row 2!

41 thoughts on “Chart Reading 101.

  1. Thanks for putting in so much effort. Amazing clarity in your wirting. I have so many chart patterns with me which I keep postponing. I feel I am ready to give it a shot. 🙂

  2. I’ve NEVER understood the charts… but I’ve crocheted a TON of things using all the abbreviations in the written patterns! You’ve explained this so well that I NOW need to try it out… it actually looks pretty easy to read – now. thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  3. I have been wanting to learn this. So many beautiful patterns only have charts. Thank you so much for opening up so many more possibilities when choosing another project to do.

    This is so very informative and you are so very kind to do this for us.

  4. This is wonderful!!! I have tried to follow other tutorials on YouTube, but I was still lost. Your tutorial was so easy to understand and will take some practice on my part to totally get, but you have given me an excellent start!! Thank you so very much!

  5. Pingback: Tuesday Fortnite

    • Unfortunately not – I was discussing this recently with Mr TuesdayFortnite who is an IT geek, and there is a surprising number of variables involved. In knitting the stitches have to ‘stack’ on top on each other – in crochet they can go all over the show!
      It’s actually a very difficult computing problem!

  6. Thank you for this tutorial, you help make it easy. I hope to see more so that I can learn to read these charts. I am having trouble with the V and upside down V. I cannot figure that one out. Ty.

  7. Love that you added a picture at the end with the pattern. I’m a visual learner so just reading doesn’t help. The pattern with the picture is so helpful. I hope you continue with that.

  8. Thank you so much! I love crocheting with thread. I taught myself since the early 70’s, using those lengthy, written doily patterns. I was intimidated by charts since I was too familiar with the written abbreviations.

    But now, after reading your instruction, I am learning a new crochet “language.” Those charts do not seem so daunting anymore. I am ready to start a new adventure in crochet and hope you will be there along the rest of my journey with further direction.

  9. Your directions are excellent! I’m self taught, and still learning, but at this stage I can only read charts. The stitches themselves are easy, but the confusion comes in when trying to read a chart and then comparing it to a diagram with measurements, and they don’t match up. Which do you follow, the number of stitches, or the measurements? So confused!!

    • You raise a valid point. What is happening is your tension is different to the designers – this is why it’s important to swatch! for things where it doesn’t matter so much (such as shawl or scarf where you can simply do more repeats) then go with the stitch count.
      another option is to try larger hooks and thicker yarn to go ‘bigger’ and thinner yarn and smaller hooks to go ‘smaller’.
      The final option involves maths – and more space than I have here – to recalculate all the stitch counts based on your swatch. A blog post at some point!

  10. I don’ understand why people think the charts are so great, written instructions are much easier! Charts are only good for people who can’t read the original language. In charts you have to actually count all the little
    bubbles to know that you need to “ch 12.” Seriously???

  11. Muy buena la explicación paso a paso, con el gráfico y con la muestra tejida. Voy a esperar la segunda parte. Muchas gracias. Por mientras voy tejiendo

  12. Brilliant. Very clear instructions and explanations, I have tried many times but it’s been hopeless, thank you. Old habits die hard when for years I have followed written patterns, these instruction make them as clear as written. Diagram of different stitches is a great at the beginning, thank you.

  13. someone gave me a book of crochet doily patterns written in chart form! I can’t wait till you get to the circular chart reading lessons! I love to make doilies.

  14. Great! Many thanks! I don’t know how I stumbled on your site. Now saved on my Pinterest pages. At last it makes sense. I’m well retired and have only been used to written patterns – now keen to try the diagram patterns. Thanks again.

  15. Thank you for clearing up a few things for me. I have been crocheting for 45 years & still learning some tricks of the trade (craft). You explain things very clearly which I appreciate because at my age sometimes things just don’t click. Thank you again

  16. Love these tutorials! So easy to understand. I have been crocheting for 30 plus years and had never learned to read crocheting charts. Thank you for opening up a new “world” for me. Now I just need to find some charts to practice on.

    • There are lots of free charts out there on the net – even just putting ‘Crochet Chart’ into Google images will give you more than you can handle!
      Glad you enjoyed the tutorials and thanks for taking time time to post!

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