Crocheting, Free Patterns, Story, Tutorials

How to read (and enjoy) crochet charts

When I first came to the crochet circle in our school, it blew my mind that all the girls worked with charted patterns. Symbol charts looked like an alien alphabet, with all those sticks and dots and crosses. But that was only in the beginning. Our teacher showed me that, at a closer look, crochet chart symbols were very intuitive and mostly resembled the look of real crochet stitches. And indeed, it took just a little bit of practicing to see that the look and shape of basic crochet stitches are similar to their chart symbols.

As a curious beginner, I passionately gobbled up every crochet pattern I could get my hands on. In my early school years, there was no Internet available with millions of guides and patterns. We preyed on printed magazines, mostly foreign, and every booklet we could borrow or afford to buy. If the coveted pattern was in a foreign language that I didn’t know, I could only hope there was a charted instruction.

Some pattern authors (including myself) find it hard to put instructions down in intelligible text. Some are too wordy explaining elaborate parts with long sequences of stitches; others overindulge on abbreviations (often inconsistently used).

But even in my mother tongue, even if an instruction is written in a human language, with consistent use of acronyms or full spelling of terms, it’s supposed to be read and followed. Even most concise and neat abbreviated texts look like machine programming code difficult to concentrate on. All those letters and digits jump and dance in front of my eyes as I look away at my hook to work a stitch and then back into the instruction. I often get lost and have to read those scribbles again from the beginning, checking each abbreviation against its corresponding stitch in my work before I find where I stopped. No coffee break, no phone call, no loving fiancé entering with my favorite fruits is allowed in the middle of a row or round.

Charts are visual, and visual content reaches the human brain much faster than textual information. Scrolling through our news feed on Facebook, we tend to skip texts and focus on pictures. Reading takes time and effort: even in the most interesting book we sometimes read the same paragraph over and over again when we lose concentration. But at a quick glance on the chart, we get a basic clue about the result we’ll eventually get: e.g. it’s a round motif, a flower, has 8 petals. Looking at a block of abbreviated text, we need to parse it before we get what we end up with.

And now imagine all traffic signs along the road written in text only…

The essence

To understand crochet charts we only need two things:

1 – what kind of stitch
2 – where to (except for chain stitches).

A crochet chart is a quick visual way to let us know both: 1 – each symbol represents a specific type of stitch to be worked; and 2 – each stitch symbol shows us where it should be worked into: by standing on top of the stitch or space we are supposed to work it into.

The only exception for 2 is chain stitches: to work a chain stitch, we don’t pick yarn through any spot in our work but draw loops and let them hang in the air. Therefore, in some languages (like Russian or French) the chain stitch is called “a stitch in the air”. 🙂

Thank you for reading! I hope it was boring enough to show that a picture is worth a million words 😄

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