Skip to content Skip to navigation menu

Guide to Reading Knitting Stitch Charts

by Laura Bain

Stitch charts can seem intimidating to new knitters, but once you get the hang of them, the projects are a breeze! Stitch charts are a visual representation of the words written in a pattern. If you can read a pattern that has been written out, you can learn to work from a stitch chart.

Here are a few free patterns from that use a stitch chart. More stitch chart patterns are at the end of the page, under the instructions.

Christmas Cowl
Knit in Holiday
Christmas Cowl Free Knitting Pattern LW4847
Precious Baby Blanket
Knit in Soft Baby Steps
Precious Baby Blanket free Knitting Pattern LW2907
Ring Bearer's Pillow
Knit in Aunt Lydia's Classic 10
Ring Bearer's Pillow Free Knitting Pattern LC3540

Reading a Chart

Lace and cable patterns are often accompanied by a chart. On the chart, each square is one stitch. In order to know which stitch to work, you will refer to the "Special Abbreviations" listed at the top of the pattern and the chart key. Each stitch will be illustrated to show which stitch you should work at that point in your project. You may find it helpful to write in the numbers for any rows that are not labeled and the columns in the repeat.


To the left is a cable chart from the Knit Your Cables Afghan for square E.

Note: Odd row numbers are listed on the right and even are listed on the left. The number is at the start of the row in the direction that you are working it. You will read the first row of the chart from right to left, the second row from left to right, and so on, to show turning your work and working in rows. If you were working in rounds the numbers would all be on the right-hand side since you do not need to turn your work.

Hint: Use a sticky note to cover up the rows you’ve already worked to keep track of your place in the pattern.


After looking at the chart, you will find the chart key (here on left), to determine what stitches you will work to create the necessary pattern. There are many knitting symbols that you may encounter as you work through charted patterns.  You can find a complete list of these knitting symbols here.  The most basic symbols are the knit stitch, which is a blank square, and the purl symbol, which has a small dot in the center of it.

These symbols are meant to show what will the stitch on the right side of the work should look like. If you are working in the round, a purl is always a purl and a knit is always a knit. If you are working flat, you will need to purl stitches when you work on the wrong side in order to create Stockinette stitch.

As you can see from the chart, most of this pattern is a field of Stockinette stitch. Stockinette stitch, when worked flat, means that the right side of the work is knitted and the "wrong" or back side of the object is purled. The special stitches for this chart are listed as 2/2 RC and 2/2 LC. The red lines indicate the actual repeated stitches within the work and a note tells us that this is an 8 stitch repeated pattern but each row begins and ends with one stitch that is not a part of that repeat.

At this point you should refer to the "Special Abbreviations" listed at the top of the pattern. When you refer to the Knit Your Cables Afghan Special Abbreviations you will see:

2/2 LC (2 over 2 Left Cross): Slip next 2 sts to cable needle and hold in front, k2, k2 from cable needle.
2/2 RC (2 over 2 Right Cross): Slip next 2 sts to cable needle and hold in back, k2, k2 from cable needle.

Below is the written out text of the pattern for square E. We've put the image next to it again so you can follow along.


Cable cast on 50 sts.
Rows 1 and 5 (right side): Knit.
Row 2 and all wrong side rows: Purl.
Row 3: K1, *2/2 RC, k4; repeat from * to last st, k1.
Row 7: K1, *k4, 2/2 LC; repeat from * to last st, k1.
Row 8: Purl.
Repeat Rows 1-8 six more times. Bind off in pattern on right side.

Love This Lacy Cowl Free Knitting Pattern LW4681

Let's practice reading a lace stitch chart from Love This Lacy Knit Cowl.


Above is the key. The key tells us that the only stitches we will need to know to complete this project are the knit, purl, yarn over, k2tog and ssk. If you are comfortable with all of those techniques, you can complete this lacy cowl.

Next  you will want to look at the chart to see how the stitches are arranged to create the lace pattern.


You can do the quick math of 21 stitches x 11 repeats to see how many stitches you can cast on to work this cowl in the round OR you can refer to the written pattern, which will tell you to cast on 231 stitches and join to work in the round. As you can see from the key and chart, the first round is all purled. The 2nd round is knit and the 3rd round is purl. Now you will begin to work the irst Zigzag Eyelet Tresllis Pattern. The first row of this pattern is k1, yarn over, knit 2 together. You will repeat these stitches across the rest of the round.  Round 2 is knit. You will repeat these 2 rows, 2 more times. On round 7, instead of the k2tog, you will ssk. As you complete this pattern, make sure to pay close attention to the stitches in the Gulf Wings portion of your chart.

Here are a few more simple patterns with charts that you can use to practice this new skill!

Red Heart Cares Knit Cowl Free Knitting Pattern LW5247

Red Heart Cares Knit Cowl

Butterfly Cabled Blanket Free Knitting Pattern LW3884

Butterfly Cabled Blanket

Big Cables Pillow Free Knitting Pattern LW4527

Big Cables Pillow

Delicate Diamonds Throw Free Knitting Pattern LW3740

Delicate Diamonds Throw

Guide to Reading Knitting Stitch Charts