Deciphering Lace Charts


After our extensive section on cable knitting, I thought about what other projects knitters worry about tackling. Lace, of course, was first and foremost in my mind. Delicate shawls, scarves, and even sweaters can become a dizzying prospect when you open the pattern to discover that it’s full of charts, abbreviations, symbols, tables, and more!

Many knitters throw up their hands and search out what is familiar and comfortable—written instructions. But working your way through repeats that read like gibberish is hardly the path to easy lace knitting. While some of you are sure to groan when I say it, a chart is always the answer.

Charts are essentially maps for your knitting. There are some simple rules for reading charts, and none of them are going to make your head spin, I promise!

Read the Legend

The legend, or key, of your chart behaves just like a map’s legend or key. Each symbol appearing on the chart represents a single action that may or may not include multiple stitches. Unlike cable charts (where the action shows how many stitches it occupies), a lace chart often combines several stitches into one square or symbol. A good example of this is the sk2p stitch: slip one, knit 2, pass the slipped stitch over. This combination uses three stitches, but is often represented by this single symbol on the chart. I like to make notes next to complicated stitches so I know what they mean without having to flip back and forth to the abbreviations in the notes (which are often on a different page of the pattern).

lace chart use courtesy of Through the Loops

lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

Read as you Knit

In the US, we read our books left to right, but we knit right to left. Cable charts are read the way you knit—right to left—so don’t get confused by using them the other way around. Because they are a visual map of your stitches, this also makes it easier to see where mistakes are in your work (and move back to correct them).

Stuck on Repeats

Many charts feature a repeat inside of the chart, often designated by a colored outline, area, or box. Stitches that fall outside of this area aren’t repeated. It’s a good idea to always print your charts in color so that you can keep track of the differences, but if you have to print in black and white, use a highlighter to outline the repeated interval.


lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

lace chart courtesy of Through the Loops

Counting Rows

Keeping track of which row you’re on is important for maintaining a great lace project. Use highlighter tape, magnetic row counters, or a Post-it underneath the row you are working on to keep track.

Of course, there are so many other tips for lace, too. Just like with cables, lifelines, yarn choices, and pattern nuances contribute to your outcome. With lace, there’s also another important element—blocking! Stay tuned for a blog post coming up later in the month talking about why swatching (and blocking those swatches) helps determine the outcome of your projects.

January 13, 2015 by Hannah Thiessen
Tags: Stitch Lab
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