Saturday, October 27, 2007

How to read knitting shorthand and decode knitting charts

Knitting, like every other human endeavor, has its own language, its own jargon. Some parts of the knitter's language are funny: UnFinished Objects become UFO's. A frog in a pond says "rip-it, rip-it" and so "frogging" has come to mean ripping back -- unraveling -- knitting. You can put a UFO into the frog pond, and most US knitters will know that you have unraveled a partially knitted project, although to a non-knitter this means, well, something different.

Not all of the knitter's language is a joke--lots of it is a shorthand. Here's how the shorthand developed:

Suppose you saw knitting directions written like this:
knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1, then purl 1, then knit 1.

You COULD plow through all that. It is written in plain English, and the earliest knitting patterns did, actually look like this. However, having to count up the exact number of knits and purl gets kind of wearisome and confusing. Perhaps we should write these instructions like this:
  • Knit 1, then purl 1, then repeat these two stitches 28 times more. End up by knitting 1 stitch, and then you are at the end of the row.
Even shorter is:
  • *k1, p1* 29 times, end with k1.
In this version, stars * * are used as the signal to enclose the action to be repeated. In other words, the stars surround the action to be performed --k1, p1--and you do that action 29 times altogether. One stitch will be left, and you knit that last stitch.

Another version of this same sentence is

  • * k1, p1, repeat from * 28 times more, end with a k1.  

Now, suppose that you see this:
  • p1  ( *k1, p1* 2 times, *p2, k2* 2 times , p2, *p1, k1* 2 times) 2 times, p1
What in the world does THAT mean? Well, the same principles apply. The first thing to do is to p1. Next comes a set of instructions encased in parentheses ( ). The notation "2 times" after the close of the parentheses  indicates that you are to do everything within the parentheses 2 times altogether. Within the parentheses are THREE sets of instructions, each of which is encased in stars: the first is k1,p1, which you are to do 2 times; the second is p2, k2, which you are to do 2 times, then you are to do a single p2. Finally, you are to end each section with two repetitions of p1, k1. The point of the ( ) symbols is that you are to repeat everything inside the parentheses 2 times altogether.  After the two repetitions, the row ends with a single p1.

Knitters accustomed to these sorts of instruction can see this row clearly laid out in their mind's eye. This is a row of ribbing knit flat (back and forth). The row starts and ends with a p1. The rest of the row is divided into 2 sections. Within each section there is a center section of 2x2 ribbing (the middle set of stars), and this center section is flanked by 2 outer sections of 1x1 ribbing (the 2 outer sets of stars).  Further, the 1x1 ribbing backs up to the 2x2 ribbing in such a way as to create 3 p's in a row.

These sorts of instructions are perhaps not very user-friendly when you first see them. To add to the confusion, knitting is created from right to left, and from bottom to top, whereas English is written from left to right, and top to bottom. So, seeing this sentence fragment as a knitted row in the mind's eye requires not only decoding the abbreviations and symbols, but is also transposing left with right and up with down.

If you plug away at this, you will get it. But in the meantime, if you'd like a more graphic representation, perhaps you will consider charts.

Below is the same stitch pattern as above, laid out in both writing and in chart form.

(click on the chart to enlarge.)

As shown by the arrows, knitting charts are meant to be read in the same direction as knitting is created: from right to left. Many knitters find such charts easier to read because the pattern is laid out graphically.  For example, the alternating sets of ribs are now plainly displayed.

In this chart, knit and purl are shown by different colors, but other symbols also appear : a blank white square for knit and a bar - for purl is common; as is K for knit and a P for purl.  Nearly all charted patterns have a key to make all clear.

For more information on reading charts and shorthand, click here.

(You have been reading TECHknitting on "reading knitting shorthand and decoding knitting charts")


Blogger Elizabeth said...

"and so "fogging" has come to mean ripping back". Now that's a new term! :)

October 27, 2007 at 11:12 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

Thank you for detailed information on charts. I just began my first sweater with cables and charts-only and the chart only had the odd numbered rows. I puzzled through it, did some research, and then did my own excel speadsheet so I could visualize it all. I may not have to do that in the future but I just didn't "get" what stitch to make on the even row after I crossed a cable. I'm sure it was a no-brainer for an experienced knitter, but there I was. :-) I've "got" it now and once I get gauge (!) I'll be on my way.

October 28, 2007 at 11:43 AM  
Anonymous mwknitter said...

I too always end up with typos which are actual word - thereby fooling the spell checker! I was a paralegal who wrote decisions for ALJ's in disability cases & one of my most frequent typos was sever for severe - not usually a good thing when writing about disability! I have never seen the # used as you describe it (not to say it isn't - just that I have never seen it). In my experience, the parenthesis is used more commonly, like this: p1 (*k1, p1* 2 times, *p2, k2* 2 times , p2, *p1, k1* 2 times) 2 times, p1. Just thought a little addition wouldn't hurt. Love your blog; hope lots of newbies read it; they'd find it invaluable.

October 28, 2007 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

When I started knitting and reading patterns, I actually had to un-abbreviate everything by typing it out (to make use of that handy copy & paste feature). Thankfully those days passed quickly.

October 28, 2007 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typo alert...'so "fogging" has come' should probably be 'so "frogging" has come'


October 28, 2007 at 8:21 PM  
Anonymous kittenchasesyarn said...

Oh how I wish this had been explained to me when I was first learning to knit...instead I created some very odd looking objects until I finally understood what was being described. I shall be bookmarking this page and those following in the series for reference for new knitters in the future.

October 29, 2007 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I learned a LOT from this post, being a fairly new knitter. I haven't followed a chart yet, but after this tutorial, I won't be afraid to try. Thanks!

October 31, 2007 at 9:19 PM  
Anonymous hrynkiw on Ravelry said...


I think I see a small typo in the shorthand chart (SHORTHANDchart.jpg)

It's in the lower schematic view, and has to do with the placement of the solitary p2 (with the *p2,k2*) between the thick black vertical lines.

According to the written instructions, the solitary p2 should come after the *p2,k2* set, not before -- as shown in the schematic. The grey and white boxes are fine, it's the curly brackets and text below that need to be swapped around.

The typo makes no difference at all to the sequence in which the stitches are worked, but might confuse a novice knitter.

January 26, 2008 at 11:57 AM  
Anonymous rightOn said...

I don't see the chart typo that was mentioned... am I missing it?
either way, great instructions! Thanks a ton! very helpful.

January 29, 2008 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I have a new pattern from Plymouth that only shows the odd rows. Do I assume that the even row is a repeat (in reverse) of the row before it? This thought makes some sense because even tho' the pattern only shows the odd rows, they have a clear legend to "knit on the right side" and "purl on the wrong side" and they only show the right side (odd numbered rows) on the chart. Thanks.

August 21, 2008 at 9:43 AM  

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