Friday Gauge Check: Reading Lace Charts

Bobbin after TDF W1

Happy Friday!  Are you participating in the Tour de Fleece?  I most certainly am, and though my goal is fairly simple and attainable – spinning 15 minutes a day – I’ve been very consistent about hitting it each day.  This is what I’m spinning, a gorgeous silk and merino blend that’s an absolute pleasure.  I’m playing with drafting techniques, including a little bit of spinning over the fold.  Having the wheel in my living room, set up and ready, makes it easy to sit down and do a short burst of spinning as the mood takes me, rather than having to drag myself and my fiber up to my LYS and feeling like I should devote hours to it.

In knitting – I almost didn’t knit yesterday!  Don’t worry, I made myself sit down and do a row.  I’m not inclined to break my streak.  But here’s what happened.


Well, what really happened is that I finished the Nutkin socks!  I don’t have any pictures of them just yet, because I handed them to Jack to try on and I haven’t managed to get them back yet.  Maybe over the weekend.  I have a distinct lack of finished pictures of my socks on my Ravelry page for this very reason; I should steal all his socks, wash them, and get some pictures.

Then there’s the Emily Shawlette.  I got through all three repeats of Chart B, went to start Chart C, and… realized I had a problem.

Okay, I have kind of a complaint.  There’s not nearly enough good information about the mechanics of reading lace charts out there.  I mean, there’s great information about what a chart looks like, and what the symbols mean, but there are apparently established ways to read lace charts, which many lace charts have in common, that are distinct from reading cable charts.  So I picked up this chart, went, “Oh, I love charts!” and sailed into it.

I figured out, by looking back and forth between the chart and the written instructions, that the chart only refers to half the row – so you knit the chart, knit the center stitch (mark the center stitch, guys, even if the chart doesn’t tell you to.  It’ll save you so much headache.), and then knit the chart again.  Everybody still with me?  Okay.

Then, you have multiple charts. For the Emily Shawlette, you knit Chart A, then Chart B 3 times, then Chart B again through row 20, and finish with Chart C.  Now, obviously, when you start Chart A, and the first time through Chart B, you have the same number of stitches on the chart as you do on the shawl, but obviously, when you’re done with Chart B, you have a lot more stitches on the needles than you do on the chart.

Here’s where my error, a combination of ignorance and technology fail, comes in.  It would appear that Chart B has an intro series of stitches, a “core” set, and then an end series.  The core set is set apart from the others on my pattern, which (as a test pattern) is an Excel file, with a pair of red bars.  Now, while I was working on Emily at home, doing the first chart repeat, I didn’t notice the red bars.  When I got to work, I ended up opening the pattern in Google Docs – which didn’t display the bars.  Since I hadn’t noticed the bars before, I didn’t realize they were gone.

The first time through the chart, I ended up adding two stitches per side every four rows, and they created a triangular stockinette section in between the static rectangular lace panels, so (without those red bars) I assumed that this pattern was just meant to continue on through the chart repeats.  The resulting shawl is quite lovely.  The problem is, that’s not what’s actually supposed to happen.

What you’re supposed to do is knit the intro stitches, repeat the core stitches until you’re almost done with the section, then knit the exit stitches.  Slip marker, knit center stitch, slip marker, repeat.  So since I didn’t do this right, I have the wrong number of stitches to knit Chart C.

You guys, I spent about twenty minutes trying to come up with a solution that didn’t involve ripping back half my shawl.  More than half, because guess who didn’t put in any lifelines?  Yeah, this girl.  The odds were pretty good that I’d have to start over at the beginning, because how likely was it that I’d be able to figure out where I was when I stopped ripping?  Not very.

I’m having this conversation, a little despairingly, with Jack.  “Can’t you fudge it?” he asked.  I looked at the chart, and I looked at the shawl.  I was some twenty stitches off.  Maybe I could fudge it.  (No.  Not really at all.)  The other problem was that this was a test knit, which meant I was supposed to replicate the pattern, based on the instructions.  The fact that I couldn’t read the chart correctly wasn’t an issue with the pattern.  I couldn’t very well just… adapt the pattern.

I was on the verge of pulling out my ball winder, when Jack suggested, if I liked what I had, and I was going to start over anyway, that I knit it with something else.  When I was done correctly replicating the pattern, and sending the pictures off to the designer, I could sit down with Chart C (or a stitch dictionary, because I don’t believe in doing things halfway) and figure out a new edging for the shawl.

Knit Happens had a sale a few weeks ago, and I picked up an absolutely gorgeous skein of Malabrigo Sock.  I looked at the shawl, and the skein, and… went to hunt out my ball winder.

I cast on, knit about half of Chart A, frowned at my results, knit a few more rows.  It wasn’t improving.  I remembered my own advice – you know, if you don’t like it now, you’re not going to like it later?  The yarn was far too vibrant for the pattern.  So I ripped it back, tucked the ball away to wait for the perfect project, and went and picked up a couple of skeins of Premier Serenity Sock in a different colorway, since I knew I liked the way that was knitting up.  This version will be blue, and I’ve gotten through Chart A, the first repeat of Chart B, and now I’m working on the second.  It’s going to be a home-only pattern, because I don’t want any more mistakes.

Toe of Mystery Sock

But between finishing the Nutkin sock and banishing the Emily shawlette to my living room, I didn’t have any actual purse knitting.  I had a skein of navy  Ironstone Warehouse Flake Cotton, a different colorway of the yarn I made the Hiss socks out of, and my favorite sock needles tucked in my purse, but I hadn’t figured out exactly what I was going to do with it. (Despite the picture, I promise that the yarn is navy, not black.)

After some thought, and poking around, and wandering through Ravelry, I’ve decided to go ahead and do another Personal Footprint sock from Cat Bordhi’s book, this time the Scottish Boxes pattern.  Jack raves about the fit of the other one, so I’m thinking about going back and forth between more traditional sock patterns and the Personal Footprint pattern.  This way I can continue to turn heels and do the occasional cuff-down pattern, like Nutkin (and everything Cookie A’s ever designed).

I cast it on today, and am making good progress.  I really like toe-up socks, because there’s a lot that’s going on when you’re first starting out.  The long tedious part (i.e., the leg) is saved for the end, when you get the excitement of almost being done to balance out the period of knitting in circles.

That’s most of my life, really.  I’m still very ready to move, and Jack and I are doing the initial stages of purging stuff we don’t need/want.  Next week, I need to finish the blue Emily shawlette, keep spinning for TDF, go through my knitting books, and seriously take a look at my yarn and fabric stash.

How’s your week been?


~ by Amber on July 8, 2011.

6 Responses to “Friday Gauge Check: Reading Lace Charts”

  1. You chart issue sounds like my chart issue! I finally finished my first-ever charted project, which was a shawl for my friend for her wedding. I learned my lifeline lesson 73 rows in, when I (stupidly. Seriously UGH) tried to work on it when I was having nerve issues and couldn’t feel my fingers. Dropped three stitches that I could NOT pick up, and consequently cried as I ripped it all out. I put in lifelines every 5-10 rows after that. Good thing, too- this shawl has three different sections over seven charts. Each new chart, I found myself having to do the first couple rows at least twice.



    • Yes! I find it frustrating that it seems to be one area where there’s just not a lot of information out there explaining how it works. Even the lace chapter in [i]Stitch N Bitch: Superstar Knitting[/i] doesn’t actually talk about how to read charts beyond “each symbol is a stitch,” and “read the chart right to left on right-side rows only.” Which is fine, but it’s easy enough to figure out if you’ve read cable charts.

      • This chart actually had the WS rows (not that anything but purling happened on them, anyway, but it gave my eyes something to separate the RS rows with). I’ve never read anything on how to read a chart, I just kind of dove in, flailed around a bit, and climbed out before I got bit by something to ask what the big red vertical lines meant.

        So, I managed, and I feel kind of dumb for avoiding charts in the past. They aren’t (generally, I hear) that difficult. But lifelines are my new best friends, even if they do take forever to sew in when you get towards the bottom fo your shawl.

      • …I would also like to add that I *just* received an e-mail from Knitting Daily titled, “Lace Knitting: How Do I Read A Chart?”

        …Figures. 😀

  2. I just stumbled on your blog as i was searching for how to read lace charts. I wanted to ask you a question. ..i have a pattern that had charts A, B, and C. I have no idea how to knit it. Do i just start with A and keep going to B and then to C? I’m confused. … I’ve done simple repeat lace patterns but nothing with multiple charts.

    Thanks for your help

    • The short answer is, read your pattern. There should be instructions. It could be as simple as “knit chart A, then B, then C.” But it could be more complicated than that. I have knit lace socks where you repeated chart A for the length of the foot, B for the gusset, and C for the leg, and shawls where you knit A, B, A, C or repeated A 3 times, B twice, and C was the edging. But your pattern should have the instructions.

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