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“Going Both Ways” – guest post by Kate Atherley

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“As a designer, you likely have a strong personal preference as to whether you work from charts or written instructions in a pattern. (And since you’re here, I think I know what the answer is!)

Knitters have equally strong feelings, too – and their opinion doesn’t always match yours. Whether a knitter prefers charts or written instructions is often a question of experience and familiarity, it’s true. A knitter who has never worked from a chart, if presented with both options, will naturally gravitate towards the method that looks the most familiar.

But even a knitter who has experience working with charts, and fully understands what they mean and how they work, may still prefer written instructions. It’s not about skill or experience or even – as was suggested to me once! – intelligence. It’s really a factor of a knitter’s learning/information processing style. That is, it’s about how you like to think. Some knitters just do better with charts; others, with written instructions.

So no matter what your personal feelings, where it makes sense it’s best to include both types of instructions for pattern stitches like lace and cables in your instructions.

One of the reasons I adore Stitchmastery is that given a chart, it will generate tidy written instructions for you. As a designer, this feature is hugely important to me – and it saves time on technical editing, too, as you can trust the instructions that are generated, and they don’t need to be checked line by line.

And have you tried using it the other way around? You can enter written instructions and have a chart returned. It’s brilliant, and it’s one of the reasons I recommend the tool to designers who aren’t comfortable working with charts themselves.  As a technical editor, again, it reassures me that the two absolutely match, without me having to do a detailed review.

“Where it makes sense” is the key phrase, of course.  I really do think that for ease of use, colourwork patterns are best shown with charts, and even the non-chart reader can usually cope with them as a visual reference without much stress.

For lace, cables and texture stitches, charts provide definite benefits.

The only time I think twice about including both in a pattern is if the charts are very large, as the written instructions can be unwieldy. If you’ve got a chart for an all-over cabled knee sock, with no repeats, and different cables all around the leg, it could be well over a hundred rounds, on 80 or more stitches. In that case, I think you’ve got a good argument for providing charts only – at least in the main pattern. If you’ve got a website, or use Ravelry or LoveKnitting, you could consider making this information into a separate download, for knitters who really want it.

If you are including larger charts – whether in the main pattern or as a secondary download – you need to make sure that knitters are able to easily use them.

Some knitters prefer working from paper patterns, others work from a tablet or other digital device – another difference with strong preferences on either side!

When you are creating larger charts, make sure they’re usable in both situations.

A knitter working from a printed pattern will need the chart broken up in some way so that it’s still legible after printing. (You can imagine how tiny things will be if you’re trying to fit 100 rows and 80 stitches onto a single sheet of A4!)

As to what qualifies as a too-big chart: it depends on the size of font you’re using, and the complexity of the chart. A combination of knit and purl stitches – just squares and dots – is much easier to read at a smaller size than a chart that has a lot of cables. If I’m not sure, I use a simple test: I print out the chart, and ask my non-knitter partner if he can identify symbols. If he can make them out, then it’s probably clear enough! Ask someone older than you, whose eyesight is not so keen (my partner qualifies quite handily on the second point).

To accommodate those who like to print, cut the chart up into subsections: Halves, for a particularly wide or tall chart, or even quarters for a wide and tall one. The key is to make it clear how the chart pieces connect.

For a chart with very long rows divided into two parts, change the stitch/column numbers, so that it’s clear which is the first part of the row and which is the second. And for a chart divided vertically, change the row numbers.  And use the titles as a guide, too, for example: “Chart A, Stitches 1 to 50”, “Chart A, Stitches 51 to 100”. Make sure that the chart direction is set properly – that is, is worked flat or in the round – so that the row/round numbers are positioned to aid reading across.

It can be helpful, too, to provide a bit of overlap: for example, have two or three of the columns (or rows) appear on both sides of the division. This helps the knitter ensure that they are lined up properly. On one of the two sides, however, mark the repeated stitches in some way so that the knitter isn’t tempted to try to work them twice: if it’s not a colourwork chart, consider marking them with a colour; consider a heavy border if it’s a colourwork chart.

There may not always be a tidy division point: If there are all-over cable crosses or larger lace motifs, a vertical line may cut through a multi-stitch pattern or motif. Just make the line wiggle at that point: keep the entire cable, or the stitches of the lace motif, all grouped together on one side or the other, and ‘indent’ on the other side, where you have borrowed stitches. Better to have extra stitches on one side of the chart than have a multi-stitch manoeuvre or motif cut in such a way that might be confusing.

A knitter working from a tablet will likely prefer to see and work from the full chart in one piece, as they will be able to zoom in on key portions and still see the big picture all at once.

Again, if you’re already providing a download with supplemental information for these larger charts, then consider making the all-in-one format available for the digital-enabled, and keep the divided charts in the printed version of pattern.

And either way, as soon as the charts gets over about 40 stitches/rows, make use of the grid highlighting feature to add lines to assist with counting. Adding a heavy border every 10 stitches makes it easier to count and keep track of your position, and it’s a one-click operation, found in the “Edit Diagram Properties” menu.

After all, your objective with your pattern is to make it as accessible as possible to as many knitters as possible, and smart charts are an important part of that!”

Thank you to Kate for this post – we hope many of you will have found that helpful. Read more from Kate at  We’re looking forward to bringing you guest posts from Kate, Joeli and some other knitterly folk, so if you have any topics you’d like to see covered please do let us know.

1 thought on ““Going Both Ways” – guest post by Kate Atherley”

  1. Hello!

    I’m so glad to see people covering this topic. It’s important, but so often overlooked.

    For me, it’s superbly important that all of my charts have written instruction equivalents somewhere, since there are knitters who -cannot- use knitting charts (the most obvious example being knitters who are visually impaired). While charts are great for conserving pattern space, and providing a visual guide to how the finished knitting will look, they cannot be used by everyone. That said, written instruction can’t be used by everyone either. Some people cannot function with the 100 round, 80 stitch written instructions — it’s too easy to loose track of where they are, and the pattern isn’t nearly as obvious at first glance. I really think that most patterns need both charts and written instruction in some form, even if one is presented as a secondary download.

    And this love of dual instruction is actually one of the biggest reasons I love Stitchmastery — It creates the written instruction for me, no matter how big or how complicated the piece. All I have to do is drop it into the appropriate PDF, and I’ve managed to create a pattern which is far more accessible to knitters of all abilities! Before, I was charting in Excel and hand-drafting my written instructions. Now that I’ve got Stitchmastery, I’m not going back to that!

    Again, thanks for writing about this issue. I do find it super important in creating knitting patterns that everyone can use.

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