Getting Past A Fear of Charts


This week in my stitch clinics I’m starting a short series on using charts in knitting. As a knit and crochet instructor, resistance to charts is something I see over and over. Some knitters won’t even try a pattern because the instructions are only in chart form. I hate seeing that. For each knitter who won’t or can’t use a chart, there are dozens of beautiful patterns, very doable patterns, that have been found and immediately rejected. You know what else I see? Embarrassment because these knitters think something is wrong with them. I hate that too.

A chart for beginners
A chart for beginners

If you have trouble with charts there is nothing wrong with you. Nothing. Give me a chance and I’ll convince you.

Why do designers use charts?

Well, it’s not because they want you to feel stupid. It’s not because their pattern is just harder than the others. It’s certainly not because they want their pattern to be rejected out of hand. They are just saving space.

That’s all it is.

A designer can squeeze pages and pages of instructions into a half-page chart. Think about how much that must save in printing costs, in the tech editing, and in the proof-reading. Publishers use charts to cut down on space in their book or magazine. Independent designers use charts to save themselves the effort of typing out all those instructions.

Designers, especially the independent publishing ones, really should provide both written and charted instructions. Sadly they often don’t. I think designers that are comfortable with charts tend to forget that not all knitters are comfortable with them too.

Why are some people better with charts (and graphs and maps and tables) than others?

There are different cognitive styles and you can’t be awesome at all of them. You just can’t. A cognitive style is how you think. It’s how your brain learns new things and not all brains are the same. I’m not talking about how much stuff you know but about how you come to know stuff. Howard Gardner called these differences, these styles, Multiple Intelligences. He had seven categories.

  • Linguistic   ⇒   words and language
  • Logical-Mathematical  ⇒  logic and numbers
  • Auditory-Musical  ⇒  music, sound, rhythm
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic   ⇒  body movement control
  • Spatial-Visual  ⇒  images and space
  • Interpersonal  ⇒  other people’s feelings
  • Intrapersonal  ⇒  self-awareness

Using knitting charts is a Spatial-Visual intelligence. Me personally, I’m strong in spatial awareness and visualization. I love maps, I’ve drawn my own blue prints, and graph paper is one of my favorite things to get at Christmas.

However, I suck at Bodily- Kinesthetics. You don’t want me for your volley ball team because I have mastered the face plant and not the serve. I couldn’t win at charades if my life depended on it. I’ve been told that when I dance, it looks like I might be having a seizure.

I’m even worse at Auditory-Musical intelligence. It goes beyond not playing an instrument, or reading music, or carrying a tune. I’m weak in all things that require me to hear and understand sounds. If you read a newspaper article aloud to me, I’ve forgotten the first paragraph by the time you’ve started on the third. I can’t sound out new words at all.

Well, I may spell at a 5th grade level (good thing spell checker was invented or I would never be a blogger) but I’m not stupid. I’m good at Spatial-Visualization, good with Linguistics and I’m strongest in Logical-Mathematical. You know what else I’m good at? Cheating! Err, I mean adapting. I’ve learned how to adapt.

 Bridge the gap

If it doesn’t come naturally, learning how to read a chart will require you to translate the information, at least in the beginning. Think of it like learning a second language. English comes naturally to you (I use English as the example here because you are reading this post…) and that’s because you use it all the time. If you wanted to learn Japanese, you’ll have to do a lot of in-the-mind translating before it will come naturally too. Reading charts will be a little like that. You’ll translate the graphical information from the chart into something your brain is comfortable with. Here are a few examples:

After decoding the first row of stitches in the chart, say to yourself (out loud or in your head) “So its purl two, knit three, purl two, knit three….”. That’s a translation into auditory.

Scribble somewhere in the margins “The first four stitches are always knit. ALWAYS!” That’s a linguistic translation.

For each knit stitch tap your right foot and for purl stitches tap your left foot. Yarn overs get a head bob. Then act out the sequence shown in the chart. That’s’ a kinesthetic translation.

There is nothing wrong with you. Did I convince you? I sure hope so. Want to give charts another try? I hope that too. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post my class work sheets. Follow along with us and post your questions, comments, concerns, success stories here.

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"There is no failure. Only feedback." - Robert Allen

4 Comments on "Getting Past A Fear of Charts"

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Very good comments about the fear of charts and how to overcome them



Cindy Farahani

I am totally chartphobic. I can and have used charts, but I am far more comfortable with written instructions (frequently writing line by line instructions from charts). Maybe you can convince me…..


I hope I can! I’ll have the next post up in a few days and it will include a small chart/knit exercise. Working with charts (comfortable) gives you more options, more patterns to put in your que. And that’s what we all need right? more things to knit.