Q for You: Do you prefer your patterns written or charted?

Shorthand knitting pattern with chart

A funny thing happened recently. I was looking at a photo of a hat — a hat I really wanted to make — and when I found mention of the source, it was a free Tanis Gray pattern that I had already saved to Evernote some time ago. At the time I downloaded it, I was probably very pleased to see that the instructions were written rather than charted. And yet this time, when I opened up the PDF, I instantly thought “Why is there no chart for this?,” reached for the nearest notebook, and spent all of two minutes converting the pattern from its published state into a few lines of shorthand plus the brief chart, all of it committed to memory in the process.

Thinking about it, it’s odd that I ever preferred written patterns, since I’m an intensely visual person and have a somewhat photographic memory. Things make more sense to me in diagram than written form, always have. Maybe it’s simply natural for any new knitter to want the knits and purls spelled out for them? I know I was once intimidated by the idea of reading and working the wrong-side rows of a chart for a flat piece. But a dinky little chart for a hat in the round? At some unrecognized point, I guess it became hard for me to imagine not preferring that.

Within a week of the hat incident, I ran across the Fred Perry patterns mentioned in yesterday’s post. The first one I downloaded was the gold aran cardigan, and — just like I had been when I downloaded Stonecutter — I was really excited to see the charts. I laughed out loud when I saw that the whole fisherman-cable sweater was written out, row by row. What torture to try to knit from that! I knew immediately that if I were ever to knit it, I’d chart it first. (As well as making sure it would have arms. Hopefully everyone saw my update about the kerfuffle on yesterday’s post. I still find the whole thing puzzling.)

All of which has got me wondering whether this is a matter of personal preference or knitting confidence level or what, and which brings me to today’s Q for You: Do you prefer a pattern be written or charted, or does it vary with circumstances? And if the latter, when do you prefer which? (As always, there’s no wrong answer — I love hearing all the different perspectives.)

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On a related note, the book in that photo up there is of one of my trusty Doane Paper notebooks. Chad Doane is a newly met second cousin of mine, in my hometown of Kansas City, and I’m in love with these notebooks. Not just because of Chad and KC, but because he’s cleverly obviated that age-old debate between ruled or gridded pages. His grid+lines paper is the best of both worlds, and I’m really thrilled to now be carrying these great little notebooks at Fringe Supply Co., so you can get your very own!

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51 thoughts on “Q for You: Do you prefer your patterns written or charted?

  1. I much prefer the patterns to be written out, and I generally choose not to use patterns with charts. I would be able to work them out, but I prefer just having it all written down, without having to think about it. :)

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  2. I suggest you read KTe Davies blog post about the Fred Perry patterns. Might save you some heartAche to see the shortcomings she points out.

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    • Hi, Anne — I alluded to “the kerfuffle” above. Posted an update yesterday and there was some discussion of it on yesterday’s post. Like I said, I still find the whole thing puzzling.

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  3. This is a tough one! I first started thinking about this distinction when I knit the Hemlock Ring Blanket (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/hemlock-ring-blanket) for the first time, because Jared/the Rainey Sisters include both written (making the “flower”) and charted (the feather-and-fan portion) instructions in the pattern. I’d actually hold this pattern up as the perfect example of when each is appropriate, for me: I prefer written to charted for shorter rows, and charted to written for longer rows.

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  4. Charts for complicated stuff, written for simpler sequences. My first charts were for brioche, and I really liked how you could *see* the movement of the pattern in the chart. With a written pattern now, I feel like I’m knitting blind.

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  5. I like to have a chart for more complicated patterns and written instructions for simpler ones. It is nice to have both for really complicated bits. Sometimes a part that doesn’t make sense for me in one form does in the other.

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  6. I like to have both, so I can cross reference in the event of confusion. I’m generally a big-picture visual kind of gal, but I do love language and coding too. Don’t ask me to choose!

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  7. I think it’s very individual and partly cultural. I learned to knit using written patterns, which is predominant in North America. But my knitting really took off when I started using Japanese patterns, which are so well charted that you can complete them without knowing a word of Japanese. I do prefer charts, but I didn’t even know about them until I discovered Japanese patterns.

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  8. I definitely prefer charted patterns. I don’t think I have ever successfully knitted from a written pattern. I always have problems that way. Charts help me to see my knitted fabric as I go.

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  9. I think I like seeing charts but sometimes I like reading for lace. I guess I’ve never really thought about it! But I do like drawing out my own charts.

    Thanks for posting about the notebook! My first thought was OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT NOTEBOOK! I’m such a paper nerd!

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  10. Glad you brought this question up as I’ve been mulling over it of late. I’m “intensely visual” too but also like to read a pattern (like reading a recipe.) I suspect its just a matter of habit and that if I got started with charts I’d fall in love with them. It also would save me from whimpering about gorgeous hat patterns not written in English. If they’re charted, I could just run the basic info through a translator program and voila! I’d be good to go.
    And like Sarah said, OMG! THAT NOTEBOOK! Talk about a knitter’s dream!

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  11. I have always preferred having it written out – something about the repetition of reading the stitches just commits it more easily to memory, somehow. But recently I knit from a cable chart that wasn’t too complicated and I really enjoyed not having to move all over the pattern to find my place… So I’m in both camps for now. :)

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    • Wow, that’s incredible! Thanks for sharing. That takes away the primary confusion I have when reading charts which is not quite knowing if it’s turning out correctly in the first repeat. I usually use the written pattern if it is available for the first repeat because the charts don’t translate until I have a sense of shaping.

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  12. Awesome question!
    Both! written out instructions for simple patterns and charts for more complicated ones, such as lace shawls. When a pattern has both written instructions and charts, I feel like I scored! It’s a great tool to cross reference when you’re stuck.

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  13. Funny that you should ask this question. I used to prefer written, but found that I like to refer to a chart if the design is complicated or doesn’t make sense somehow. I am current test-knitting a shawl, and chose the charted instructions without even thinking about it.

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  14. My preferences have changed the longer I have been knitting. I much prefer charts now unless they have wierd symbols or are illogical. It is nice to cross reference with a written direction if something is not making sense. A chart and a clear picture of the finished object are usually enough to make me a happy little knitter.

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    • I so agree about a clear picture of the finished object! I hate it when a pattern lacks clear photos of the details. I can understand not putting those on the Ravelry page (or wherever) but in a pattern, I rely on those as much as the charts to make sure what I’m doing looks right.

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  15. In the best of both knitting worlds, I love a pattern that has both. I’m really comfortable knitting from a chart but every now and then, I just like to “read” the instructions in text form. Oh, and on a different note, I’m a huge notebook hoarder and your new addition is perfection!

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  16. I’m a chart knitter -even for simple/short repeats, I like to see how the row I’m knitting “fits” with the rows that came before it. When I started knitting back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I don’t remember having charts, except for fair isle/colorwork. I’m glad they’re so prevalent now!

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  17. I like it when patterns have both. Charts are good for the big picture, but I can’t memorize sequences of symbols as easily as text. Normally I rarely look at the instructions as I actually knit. I memorize each line and just check the pattern occasionally if I feel like I’ve forgotten something. It gives me a lot more freedom about when and where I can knit because I don’t have to have my pattern out in front of me all the time.

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  18. To tell you the truth, I wish I had a chart for poorly written patterns. It would negate the effort of trying to decipher the pattern itself and get on with the project. When I have the opportunity of a wonderful pattern and chart, I use the written pattern as notes in case there is a symbol I do not recognize. I still have to get used to knitting charts and even the written instructions are a bit confusing to me….it’ll come together in no time though.

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  19. I am definitely a chart person. I like being able to see at a glance what’s coming up, what the repeat is, etc. I find them especially helpful for complicated cable and lace patterns, since it helps me see what my fabric should look like. I find I’m less able to catch mistakes when working from written out pattern because I don’t see them happen.

    I honestly cannot imagine knitting something fair isle without a chart.

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  20. I prefer written charts because I’ve been doing it so long. I’m not clear about how to use the charts except that you alternate directions on reading the directions just like you knit. Other than that I have no clue!

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  21. When I first learned to knit, I preferred written patterns. But after I took a class in which I was taught how to read a chart, I was converted. Once I learned how to read a chart, knitting from a chart became very easy for me and charts are sure a lot less cumbersome if you ever need to take your project with you! Also, I missed the Q regarding advice for new knitters, and if you would indulge me, I’d like to add my 2 cents now: Just jump in and do it! Please don’t be afraid! There is no “right” way to knit!

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  22. At this time I prefer written patterns. However I would like to learn to read charts better. I always get confused as to which way to read them.

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  23. I used to hate charts when I first started knitting, but now I much prefer them to written patterns. It’s so much easier to glance at a chart than try and find you place in a written pattern.

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  24. More and more, I do prefer charts to written instructions, but it kind of depends on what sort of project is, how big the chart is, etc. Often, I use both as I work – it’s certainly nice to have the option!

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  25. I hate charts. If there’s only a chart, I always wish the instructions were also written out (so I don’t have to do it). The designers who provide both get my vote!!!

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  26. I prefer written out, but can and do read and knit from charted. I work at a yarn store and when we all decided to knit the same hat and found the pattern to be charted, it was up to me to write it out because no one knew how to read a chart. Granted I’m sure they could have but I didn’t mind the break to write it out!

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  27. Charts naturally, You can see the whole thing at once. Knitwear patterns should also include scaled line drawings of separate pattern pieces with measurements, so that the knitter can compare them to her/his own and make alterations if necessary.
    Japanese patterns are the best example of this genre.

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  28. I am a new knitter, I seem to be scared looking at chart out patterns and still prefer the written version. I hope someday I will go for the chart, I see a lot of beautiful patterns out there that are charted out instead of written. Nice visiting your lovely blog, it’s my first time here.

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  29. Pingback: Q for You: How do you weave in your ends? | Fringe Association

  30. For me it depends. I’m Norwegian and that usually mean charts. I prefer that for stranded work but learned to do cables via English patterns so there I like to mix the charts with the written, but I guess as my confidence grow I’ll go solidly over to charts – actually already I get annoyed when I download a pattern and it’s written only – love charts because then I can easily swatch and perhaps use it in something else too.

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