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Learning to Read Crochet Charts

I may have taken on more than I originally anticipated this Christmas: I decided to make something for my dad which involves crochet charts, which I’ve never used before. There’s been a few tears in this learning process, though those were mostly from the realisation I needed to frog 30 rows to correct a mistake! Overall it’s not been as difficult as I thought it might be (though there’s no way it’s going to be finished in time for Christmas now, sorry dad!) It’s simply been a case of ensuring I check and understand what the chart shows before I stitch a row.

What are crochet charts?

When there’s a complex design, crochet charts are used to show the different stitches or colours you need to use at a particular point in the pattern. Sometimes the chart covers the entire item, other times it covers a small section – the charts I’m using cover a motif on the front of the item, so the beginning and end points of the chart are physically marked on the item with stitch markers.

Colour charts and stitch charts look slightly different – you’ll often be using the same stitch to complete a colour chart design, so the charts will mark the different colours you need at different points in the pattern and therefore they often look like a grid with different coloured boxes.

Stitch charts however look different depending upon the stitches and whoever is publishing the chart. Magazines will often have a standard way of publishing their charts, with a key both on the pattern and at the back of the magazine, while pattern designers may have their own way of making charts. Don’t let this put you off a design though; there’s always a key to the chart.

Charts aren’t exclusive to crochet either – they’re often used in knitting for the same purposes, so if you’re a crocheter learning to knit or a knitter learning to crochet, charts may look familiar to you.

The crochet charts key from Inside Crochet Magazine
The charts key from the back of Inside Crochet Magazine. These symbols are fairly standard for charts, though some designers use their own methods to create charts

How do you read a crochet chart?

As crochet is worked from right to left, most charts should be read this way too. If the design is mirrored on another part of the item (for example, matching sleeves or around a collar), the pattern will say to read it right to left for one side and left to right for the other. It can be a little counter intuitive at first, since in the western world we read words from left to right, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of. Take your time, check the chart regularly and you should be fine.

Don't be afraid to make and correct mistakes

It’s always worth putting in the time and effort to correct mistakes; you’ll learn far more if you take the time to understand how and why you made the mistake than if you either forge ahead or abandon the project. It’ll make you a better crocheter in the long run too, as you won’t make similar mistakes in the future.

If you’re using charts for the first time, or you’re finding the chart you’re reading to be a bit difficult to understand, then the key is to take your time. If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up over it – while frogging (unravelling) isn’t a fun task, it’s better to correct the mistake than to ignore it, especially if it’s a big mistake or has the potential to be.

My mistake stemmed from rushing and not reading the chart or my stitch marker positions correctly. If I’d spotted the mistake sooner, I would have had perhaps two or three rows to frog. However, because I was trying to get this finished in time for Christmas, I didn’t spot the mistake until it caused a big problem – the design had started to shift across the front quite badly. It was disappointing to have to frog so many rows as it felt like a huge setback, however as part of correcting this mistake I discovered that my stitch tension was smaller than it should be. If I’d carried on, the finished item would not have fit my dad and I would have been heartbroken, but by correcting the mistake I was able to account for my tension and adjust the pattern as needed.

Now that I’ve stopped rushing, I’ve learned the chart well enough that I don’t need to reference it as often (it’s a repeating pattern). I can therefore focus on getting my stitches right and the item made. I’ve effectively lost around three weeks of time in correcting the mistake, but I’ve ensured the finished item will be the right size – and I’d rather it be right!

The tension issue could have easily been avoided if I’d taken my time in the first place, made a swatch and measured the gauge. Being a relative newbie to crocheting, I didn’t realise that everyone has their own personal tension and that this might cause a problem, until I saw this post from Kettle Yarn Co.:

As a result, I won’t skip making a swatch in future – and I’ll always be aware of where my stitch markers are placed too! This project has been one big learning curve – which, to be fair, I expected it to be as it’s an intermediate level pattern – but I’m grateful to have learned so much from making one item. It’s safe to say there’s still more to learn from it too, as there’s parts of the pattern I’ve not reached yet that I’m sure will be interesting to attempt! All I have to hope now is that my dad loves it when it’s finished…