CHARTING 101

TexAnne eMailed a question that sends me off on a tangent. She’d like
to know more about how to take a set of prose directions from a source
like one of Barbara Walker’s stitch treasuries and turn them into a
chart. In specific, she’d like to know about how to handle things
like double yarn overs, and stitch counts that vary from row to
row. These are excellent questions. Since not everyone can
leap right in at the graphing lace level, I’ll start with simple
charting and work up to the harder bits later in the week.

To
start, transforming prose to charted directions is easier than some
people think. Tools include some sort of mechanism on which to do the
chart. I ping-pong back and forth between good old pencil and paper,
and Microsoft Visio. Visio is an expensive Windows drafting/drawing
program that I have on hand, mostly because I use it when I work as a
consultant. There are other solutions out there, ranging from forcing
spreadsheets to handle the function, to dedicated knitting programs.
But don’t despair if you have access to no computerized tool for
charting. Plain old 1/4 inch quadrille paper (the Junior High
School geometry teacher’s friend), a friendly pencil and forgiving
eraser work just fine. Principles of conversion remain the same
regardless of tool used.

Let’s start out with some basics.
Charts are read from the bottom up. In most cases (but by no means
always) there is a one to one correspondence between a stitch in the
work and a box on the graph.

Charts represent the work as seen
from the public or right side. As such, if you’re working flat, you
need to remember that the same symbol that represented a knit stitch on
your right side row will represent a purl stitch on your wrong side
row. (If you’re unsure of this basic binary truth, go grab something
with both knits and purls on the same row, like a swatch in ribbing,
and use a pin to poke through a single stitch, then identify it on both
sides of the work).

Two more basic truths of charts:

  1. Almost every author or chart source has a unique symbol set. Some are similar, but none are absolutely identical.
  2. Not everything can be completely charted

Oh, chart purists will argue about #2, but there ARE some patterns that just don’t lend themselves well to charted expression.

Let’s
start with an easy one. Here’s a recipe for a simple basket rib done in
all knits and purls. Stitch counts remain constant from row to
row. The source is Barbara Walker’s Treasury of Knitting Patterns, Scribners, 1968;? page 17 (see footnote below).

Multiple of 4 stitches + 1
Row 1: (right side) K1 , *p1, k1; rep from *
Row 2: K2, *p1, k3; rep from *, end p1, k2.
Row 3: P2, *k1, p3; rep from *, end k1, p2
Row 4: P1, *k1, p1: rep from *
Row 5: K1, *p3, k1; rep from *
Row 6: P1, *k3, p1; rep from *

Now
to chart this out, we examine the instructions. It’s pretty clear that
there will be an edge stitch. The “Multiple of 4 stitches + 1″ says so.
So let’s start with Row 1. The stitches will read exactly as written,
in the direction of the work. That means that the first stitch will be
at the right hand edge of our chart. Since the directions call for a
multiple of 4, +1, let’s start off with an auspicious 13 stitches -
that’s three repeats. plus that one spare:

All
well and good. In my twisted logic, a blank square is a knit, a square
with a dash in it is a purl. Not everyone uses this notation. Some
people use a square with a vertical line in it to represent a knit, and
a horizontal to show a purl. Some people use a dot to indicate a purl.
There’s never been any international standardization of knit symbols,
so use what’s comfortable to you.

If you follow the charts that I’ve put up here and on wiseNeedle,
you’ll notice that I like to keep tabs of how many stitches are across
my row by using a red rule every five stitches. When I chart out a big
pattern, I set up a large red grid first and then populate it, but here
I’ll add in the red lines and row numbers as I need them. Again, this
is a matter of personal preference. Set your rules 4, 5, or 10 stitches
apart, or don’t use any at all. It’s up to you.

Now to add Row
#2. The original prose instructions were written for someone knitting
in the flat. In general unless you have absolute evidence to the
contrary from any accompanying text, assume that prose instructions are
written in the flat. This means that WHEN SEEN FROM THE FRONT OF THE
WORK, the second row will commence at the left hand edge of the graph.
A clue on this pattern is the notation “(Right side)”. In a piece knit
in the round EVERY row is a right side row, so this piece must have a
wrong side row – hence it is knit in the flat. Yes I know this is
confusing, because you always work in the same direction, but remember
that if you were knitting in the flat, you’d have flipped the work over
to go back.

Aha!
A second complication! The prose instructions start off with K2, p1,
but the chart shows p2, k1! Don’t panic. Remember, we’re on the second
row – a wrong side (aka purl side or inside) row. The “2” is at the
left edge to remind us of that fact. Those first two wrong-side knit
stitches WHEN SEEN FROM THE FRONT are purls. That’s the way they are
graphed. If your head is starting to hurt, just contemplate that while
this is a mind-stretching exercise, mental gymnastics like this have
been shown to delay brain aging.

Adding Row #3 makes which stitches compose the 4-stitch repeat more clear:

In
adding Row #4, I’ve moved to a more conventional method of shading.
Most charts that show edge stitches do so by shading them. Here it’s
clear that there are three repeats, plus one column of edge stitches
(to be fair, I could designate either the first or last column as my
edge, as in this simple pattern with a one-stitch edge, it doesn’t
matter which column serves that purpose.)

In
prose it’s not immediately evident where the actual repeat falls, and
what parts of the directions cover the non-repeating edge stitches.
This is one reason why I prefer working from charts.

Since we’ve
covered the basics, I’ll quickly add the last two rows. Graphed out,
not only do we see where the repeats are, we also see that a
basketweave pattern is formed by a half-drop. Rows 1-3 and 4-6 contain
the same basic unit, but in rows 4-6 it’s advanced by two stitches. I’ve
marked the same basic unit in yellow on rows 1-3, and in orange on rows
4-6.

The
simple nature of this repeat and the symmetry that builds it into a
basket weave pattern are difficult to discern by just reading the prose
instructions, but in a chart, the logic stands out.

Now,
knitters working both in the round and in the flat can use this same
chart. People knitting in the flat would cast on a multiple of 4
stitches plus 1. Then they would start at the bottom right corner and
work across Row 1, then they’d flip the work over and start the next
row at the “2” – taking care to do the mental flip; and so on. People
knitting in the round would cast on an even multiple of 4 stitches, and
starting AFTER the blue edge stitch, would work across Row 1 as many
times as needed – skipping the blue stitches, eventually returning to
the point where their round commences. They’d then start to work Row 2,
again working from the chart’s right hand edge and skipping the blue
edge stitch whenever it was encountered.

So you see -
translating a pattern into a chart isn’t that tough. This particular
texture is an easy one. It’s all knits and purls, with no increases or
decreases. There are no variant stitch counts. Every row has the same
number of stitches. There are no slipped or dropped stitches, no wraps
or other bits of oddness.

In Charting 102, we’ll look at the
mystery that is The Stitch That Isn’t There. I’ll go over patterns with
increases and decreases, and what happens when the stitch count
changes. TexAnne, I hope this helps.

* My quotation of B. Walker’s directions, verbatim. Normally I
don’t do this. If I use a pattern that’s in a stitch treasury, I
try to alter it a bit. I start at a different place in the
repeat, center the repeat differently, chart it where it was in prose
before, or rechart it starting at a different point. I do this
because while no one person owns copyright on a knitting texture
pattern, they do own copyright on the way they have expressed that
pattern. This is analogous to recipes. No one owns the
concept of “apple pie,” but thousands of authors each own their
individual description of what goes into one, and how to make
it.

In this case however, quoting Walker verbatim falls within the bounds
of fair use. I’ve given the citation, crediting the original
author. The quotation is there because the premise of this piece
is how to take a standard set of well-known prose instructions and turn
it into a chart.

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