Charts. Some knitters will tell you they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. Others will start hyperventilating and ask you to change the subject.
Charts are a graphic representation of a knitted pattern. They're usually presented in a graph format where each square represents a stitch. The mark in that square (or lack thereof) tells you exactly what you're supposed to do with that stitch. And when you look at the chart—at least in theory—you should be able to get a sense of what you'll be knitting.
Not So Fast
When they work well, charts are a speedy and graceful shorthand that helps you confidently knit complex designs without ever reading a single word. When they don't work well, either because of a charting or user error, charts leave us lost and confused within a sea of squares filled with squiggly dots and lines that make absolutely no sense.
Until recently, scant attention has been paid to the teaching of reading charts. We've been left to our own devices with nothing more than a small box marked "key" to guide our way—which may likely be the reason why many people are so afraid of charts.
Making matters worse, not all charts are created alike. Different designers and publishers use different styles and symbols for their charts, rendering everything from cables to the humble knit stitch with different marks.
The truth is that an unexpectedly vast and intriguing world of creative freedom exists within that realm of squiggly dots and lines. Embrace it and you'll emerge with a whole new shorthand for your stitches—the knitter's version of learning to read and write music after years of only being able to repeat what you hear.
Let me emphasize the word "write" in that last sentence. The more comfortable you are with the inner mechanics of charts, the more fluently you'll be able to write out your own knitting ideas in chart form. Imagine quickly jotting down a new lace motif based on something you see in a picture or a store.
The bigger reason to take the time to learn more about charts is that they are not going away. More than ever, designers are including charts in their patterns. When space is tight, which it always seems to be on the printed page, publishers will skip the word-by-word instructions and simply give you a chart to follow. The longer we resist charts, the smaller our world becomes.
JC Briar's new book Charts Made Simple to the rescue. In it, she shows you how to befriend, tame, and master your charts.
How the Book Works
JC begins with a gentle overview of the chart world, highlighting all the clever ways a well-constructed chart can make your life easier. Then she slips in an invaluable chapter on how to read your knitting and find your place in a chart. That section alone is worth the entire book, especially for beginners.
Next, she zooms in on cables, which are frequently represented in charts. She walks you through the most common types of cable symbols, showing how they translate into actual knitted stitches—the graphics are the best I've ever seen on this topic. JC also explores how some charts reveal the shape and patterning of a piece of fabric, giving helpful tips for minding gaps and safeguarding your sanity.
If you've ever fretted over a faulty chart, you'll especially appreciate the next section, which focuses on counting stitches and, in some cases, figuring out whether you've made a mistake or the chart is to blame. Finally, JC gives invaluable tips for navigating charts that include sections of repeated motifs—naturally more challenging since they tend not to show as easily what your final fabric looks like.
Behind the Briar
Who is JC Briar, and why should you let her teach you about charts? That's an easy one. For many years, JC Briar has had a successful career behind the scenes as a technical editor, and on stage as a teacher at knitting conferences. I'd go so far as to compare JC to David Chang, the operator of several renowned Momofuku restaurants in New York. His cuisine is legendary...if you can snag a table, which is nearly impossible. The same is true of JC's technical editing skills and impenetrable schedule.
She finally had to break many designers' hearts and cease technical editing altogether so that she could focus on and complete this book. It's not a glossy coffee-table book with pictures of wispy models staring out to sea, but it doesn't need to be. It is like everything JC does: concise, efficient, flawless, and infinitely helpful. If charts really aren't going away—which they aren't—then this book is the best $17.95 you'll ever spend.