instagram pinterest twitter facebook rss

Jessica Joy

Knitwear designer and writer

How to read Colour Charts (inc. Decreases)

After releasing my polka dot hat pattern last week I thought it would be useful to post a tutorial on how to read colour charts, specifically when there are decreases involved. Polka Face is constructed (almost) entirely using charts, one for the body of the hat, and one for the spokes at the crown.

Knitting Tutorial: How to Read Colour Charts

Taking the time to demystify charts, beit for lace or colour work, can really improve and speed up your knitting. I’m a very visual person, so I would take a chart over written instructions any day!

We’ll take a look at reading a flat knitted colour chart first, so using straight needles and knitting back and forth. You’ll notice charts are always numbered along the bottom and sides. With a flat knitted colour chart the odd numbers (knit rows) are listed on the right side of the chart, and the even numbers (purl rows) are listed on the left side (right-hand image). The numbers along the bottom count individual stitches in the pattern repeat, which always begins in the bottom right-hand corner.

Knitting: How to Read Colour Charts

This (theoretical) example is made up of a 6 stitch pattern, so those 6 stitches are repeated from right to left until the end of the row. The stitch repeat will always be divisible by the number of stitches in the row. Once we reach the end we then need to move to row 2 just above and purl the stitch pattern back the way we came, from left to right. Continue this zig-zagging motion all the way to the top of the chart, or for as long as the pattern calls for.

The difference with knitting a colour chart in the round is that every row is a knit row, so the chart will be numbered on the right side only (left-hand image) and every row is read from right to left. Super easy!

Of course there will always come a time when we need to decrease stitches in colour work and often that can occur seamlessly through the pattern, but sometimes – as with Polka Face – it’s not possible, and we need a specific chart that will handle the pattern and decreases at once in a neat, continuous way.

How to read a decreasing colour chart, fair isle decreases

The result is this funny-looking chart, which is actually more practical than it may appear, as it only shows the stitches that will actually be knit. The first thing you’ll notice is that the beginning of the round is in the middle of the chart, denoted here by a solid line. The first stitch worked is directly to the left of that line, labelled 1. We then work from right to left as before, following the numbers and finishing to the right of the line. The clever part comes when a block of the chart disappears every other row; this is where we work the decrease.

In place of the missing square/stitch we slip 2 stitches knit-wise, knit one stitch from the vertical column at the right of the chart, and pass the 2 slipped stitches over. The decrease is only worked on the right hand side, but we lose two stitches , so this creates the triangle shape. Repeat this pattern until the end of the round line, and move up a row when you reach your marker. On a non-decrease row you must ensure you still knit the stitch from the vertical column. Here is the written version, so that you can see the mechanics of what I’ve just described.

Rnd 5: *K7, Sl 2, K1, PSSO, K8* repeat between ** to end of rnd.
Rnd 6: Knit all
Rnd 7: *K6, Sl 2, K1, PSSO, K7*
Rnd 8: Knit all

Polka Face Bobble Hat Knitting Pattern

The decrease stitches produce a neat, raised seam that shapes the crown of the hat and creates the spokes. If you’d like to have a go and practise these techniques, you can purchase Polka Face in my shop now for £3.50. I hope you find this useful and please ask below in the comments if you have any questions. I’d love to see your finished hats so, as always, don’t forget to link your projects to the pattern page on Ravelry.

Happy Knitting, folks!

  1. Kathy says: 11 May 20161:19 am

    Thank you so much for this really great tutorial! I have been looking for information on how to read a tam wheel chart for ages and ages!

  2. Kathy says: 27 January 20177:17 am

    Hi There. Thanks for the explanation on how to read these charts! Quick question here if you get some free time. When I follow your row by row directions, based on the number of stitches you say to knit, there are no “squares” on the chart available to slip. In general, do you slip the last 2 stitches on the left side of the chart on a decrease row, then knit 1 from the column, pass the 2 slipped stitches over, then continue until you finish that round? Thanks so much!

    • Jess says: 27 January 201710:44 am

      Hi Kathy, yes that’s right! Every time a square disappears, this is where you work the decrease. So, slip 2 stitches, knit 1 from the column, pass slipped stitches over. The squares in the chart are literally just the knit stitches. I hope that makes sense :) happy knitting!

  3. Frances thomas says: 16 July 20174:23 pm

    I am knitting my first fair isle pattern with circular yolk. On the patten it has given me a chart which I have to repeat 10 times around the yolk. The chart starts with 25 stitches going up in steps to 33 stitches. The lines are numbered line one on the right and line two on the left and so on up to the top. Having watched a video of knitting in the round it seems to me that this is a chart for flat knitting not circular knitting. Am I right as I am having great difficulty following it.

Submit comment