Do your palms start to sweat when you catch a glimpse of an elaborate lace chart? Do you want to make that beautiful scarf but are scared away by the endless hieroglyphics in the pattern? You are not alone in these knitting trepidations, but you do not need to be afraid of lace charts. Once the mystery of lace charts is unraveled, you might just fall in love with those yarn over, k2tog combinations. I will admit, however, any project is much easier when you are able to read the instructions- so that's where we will start.
Sometimes a pattern that involves lace will provide both a chart and written instructions. Often, though, this is not the case. Many books and magazines are tight on space and therefore use only the chart to illustrate what stitches are needed in a lace pattern. All charts have keys, and that is a good place to look first. You will notice there are knitting symbols that seem to be universal, but it is still important to study the key carefully. There are some symbols that mean one thing on the right side of your knitting that mean something totally different on the wrong side. (For example, an empty square in a chart might mean knit on the right side but purl on the wrong side.) There may even be special symbols present that represent a unique, uncommon stitch. Below is a key taken from the Craft Yarn Council website that shows many of the common symbols. This chart is by no means exhaustive, nor is it the end all be all list for how things can be written, but it is a good list.
Once you have looked at the key and taken note of any stitches you may need to find a YouTube video to figure out, you can turn your attention to the actual chart. Now, here is where things can get really murky. Traditionally, lace charts are read from the right to the left for right side rows and from the left to the right for wrong side rows. In the made up chart below, the right side rows start with the number 1. You know this because the 1 is on the right-hand side. The next row of the chart is a wrong side row and the number 2 is therefore on the left-hand side.
However, perhaps even more common, is the lace chart that only shows the right side rows. If you look at the numbering on a chart that only shows right side rows, you will see that the numbers are listed on the right-hand side and skip count, including only odd numbers. You would read this chart from right to left, following the pattern. However, when you turn your work to complete a wrong side row, you purl a row. This wrong-side row of purl stitches is implied by the absence of even numbered rows in the chart. Sometimes the pattern will remind you of this fact, often times it will not. Excluding every other row in the chart saves space and makes the structure you are knitting more obvious in the chart. Also, it feels redundant in a chart to have every other row full of blank squares, don't you think?
Shown below are two iterations of the same lace pattern. One includes the wrong-side purl rows and the other does not. Something to note, which I included on purpose, I promise- lace charts typically start on right side rows. In the chart on the left, however, the chart actually starts on a wrong side row. This does happen and you know that it is a wrong side row because the number of the row is on the left-hand side. This means you would read the chart from the left to the right. In the chart on the right, the lace pattern is the same, but the chart starts on a right side row because ONLY right side rows are shown. You know this because the number for the row is on the right-hand side.
The next thing to talk about are repeats within a chart. Repeats are illustrated by a box of a contrasting color or perhaps just a bold line outlining only a portion of a chart. This is used to denote the section of a lace pattern that should be repeated. For example, if you are making a triangular lace shawl, the area of lace gets larger from the point to the base of the triangle. This means that as you knit, you will be adding repeats of the lace pattern to fill the space. It is often the case that an entire row should not be repeated, only a small section of it. It would not be practical for a designer to chart out every repeat of the lace motif as the shawl grew...and it is likely your paper wold not be big enough. Another example of in-chart repeats would be if you are making a scarf that has three repeats of the same lace motif. Instead of making a super large chart to include the same lace pattern repeated three times across the scarf, in addition to whatever border the scarf has, the designer might opt to chart out only the border and one iteration of the lace motif, instructing the knitter to repeat the lace motif three times. An example of an in-chart repeat is shown below in a made up lace chart. The area outlined in bold black would be the "repeat" section of the chart.
Also, if you are exploring lace charts as a designer, a lace pattern will tell you how many stitches you will need to complete the motif. This could look something like "8 sts +5 sts". This would translate to mean you need a multiple of 8 stitches, for each lace motif will be 8 stitches, and you will need to add five to this multiple of 8 for the finishing edge stitches. This sounds confusing, so let's use real numbers. I want to make a scarf with a lace motif I like. I want the scarf to have the motif repeated 4 times. Using the information that I need "8 sts + 5 sts," I would multiply 8 times 4 (because that would give me enough stitches for the 4 motif repeats that I want). Eight times four is 32. I now need to add five stitches to 32 to have the appropriate number of stitches for my final count, giving me the final stitch count of 37. To make the scarf with the four repeats of the lace pattern, I would need to cast on 37 stitches.
Finally, some charts are meant to be repeated in their entirety a certain number of times. This is usually denoted in the written instructions as something like "Repeat Chart A 6x." This means you would repeat Chart A six times. It is often the case with lace shawls that there is more than one lace motif, meaning there is more than one chart. It is important to read through an entire pattern before you start so you have a clear idea of what charts need to be used when.
As always, read an entire pattern before you begin. This includes charts. Look up any symbols you don't know before you pick up your needles. I hope this was a helpful launching point for reading lace charts, please share your experiences if you feel so inclined. Also, explore other types of charts, too! There are colorwork charts and cabling charts...knitting is amazing.
There is, as is often the case, more than one way to tackle this knitting project. The yarn pompom finds its way on top of hats, dangling on accessories, and part of little pompom snowmen the world over. In stores, they sell plastic pompom makers, which work well and make quick word of pompoms. However, if you're like me, you may not want to make a trip out to the store to buy an obscure crafting device. You've finished your winter hat and you want to make a pompom NOW! I'm here to help. This is a step-by-step tutorial to help you create a marvelous pompom using things you likely have laying around your house. It is quick and easy, start to finish taking less than an hour, and the results look as good as any pompom created on a store-bought apparatus.
Circular object or Compass
1. The first step is to find some nice, pliable cardboard. I used an empty cereal box. I would stay away from corrugated cardboard as it might be more difficult to work with, but if it is all you have, it will work just fine.
2. Once you have tracked down your piece of cardboard, find a circular object that you can trace that is roughly the circumference of the pompom you would like to create. I found a mug in my cabinet that was the size I wanted. This is a great time to say- the pompom apparatus you create does not need to be perfect. This project is so low stress, nothing has to be worked in exactness. However, I do know some people find it less stressful to work things in exactness, so I will try to be inclusive of everyone. If you would like to make a measured size pompom, you can use a compass for this step, or even a pin and a measured piece of string to make your arc. In my efforts to demonstrate to you, gentle reader, that a lovely pompom can be created with a less than perfect pompom maker, these photographs show the less exact approach.
Using a marker, trace around half of your circular object, making an arc on your cardboard.
3. This next step can be worked freehand. (If you are the compass wielding sort, you can use your compass for this step as well.) Using your marker, you will want to give your arc some width. Draw a second arc at least a thumb width away from your first arc, but make sure you leave space between the ends of your arch. Then, draw tabs at the base of the arch you have created. These tabs will be rectangles that are slightly wider than the arch itself. There should be at least a finger width of space in the inside edge of these tabs, as well. If this is confusing, please refer to the photograph below. Your end result should look something like a rainbow sitting on bricks. As you can clearly see in the photograph, nothing in this step needs to be perfect.
4. You can cut out this arch and use it as a template, tracing three more of the shape on your cardboard. (Or you can repeat Step 3 three more times. Whichever is easier for you.) Cut out all of your shapes. You should have four funny little rainbows. Fold the tabs outward so that they are perpendicular to your arch. After all of your tabs are folded, take two of your pieces and put them together with the arches lined up and the tabs, still perpendicular, pointing away from each other. Using a small piece of tape, you can secure the ends as shown in the picture. Repeat this for the remaining two arches. You should be left with two freestanding arches.
5. Take one of your new arches in hand along with your yarn. Starting on the left side, begin winding your yarn around the arch. Work from the left to the right side of the arch, and then work back to where you started. Repeat this back and forth winding until your inner arch nearly disappears. I wanted a two-colored freckled pompom for my project, so I held two contrasting strands of yarn together as I wound my pompom. As you see how the mechanics of this pompom maker works, you can have a lot of fun with colors and make some awesome, customized pompoms that meet your specific needs.
6. Once you have completed one arch, move on to the second arch. You should now have two arches wound with your yarn.
7. Put the tabs of your two wound arches together so that your half circles come together to make a full circle. Using small pieces of tape, fasten the outer left and right edges of your tabs together, as shown in the photograph below.
8. Orient your circle of yarn so you are looking down its spine. With the opening that is created between your two arches, slide your scissors in and begin cutting around the spine. Your scissors will be cutting between the arches you secured in Step 4. You will need to snip through the tape that held these arches together-that's okay. Also, you may end up cutting some of the cardboard as you wiggle and cut your way around the circle. That's fine, too.
9. As you cut all the way around the spine of your circle, you will be able to see your pompom take life.
10. Orient your pompom so that the arches are pointing side-to-side and the diamond shaped opening is facing you. With a scrap piece of yarn, approximately a foot long, secure your pompom. You will accomplish this by sliding this yarn around the "waist" of your pompom, sliding it between your arches and all the way around your creation. You can double wrap around the pompom to make it more secure. You will feel the pompom become more structurally sound as your tighten this yarn. Secure the yarn with a double knot.
11. It is now safe to remove the cardboard! Clip any lingering pieces of tape that might still be holding things together. Now the pieces of cardboard should slide right out of your pompom. If your cardboard is in good shape, you can save them and use them for a future pompom. However, the beauty of this project is that if you snipped or bent your cardboard in the creation of your pompom, you can just throw them away and not be sad about it.
12. Once all of the cardboard is removed, you have a perfect pompom. At least it is almost perfect. Your pompom should be spherical in shape, but it might look a little wonky. You will need to give your pompom a haircut, trimming around the pompom to tidy up the shape. Like those shrubs in your front yard, your pompom will look wonderful after a good trim. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a custom and utterly awesome pompom!