We've all been there. You are searching for that one project that would be perfect for you. You find it after days of searching and discarding other patterns. However, it's written in a language you can't make head or tails of. It does have a crochet chart, though. What to do next!?

When this happens, I'm mostly grateful that somebody took the time to create a crochet chart. Learning how to read these charts is a skill anybody can learn. And just like any other skill, it takes practice to get better. I compare it with learning how to read. You need to learn the letters first to understand the words. Luckily, as a crocheter, you already know the words (stitches)! They're just written in a symbol language you don't fully understand yet. After you know the words, it's just a matter of time before you can read the whole text and see 'the bigger picture'. Read on, and let me explain to you how you can read these handy crochet diagrams too.

The crochet symbols

Basic crochet stitches

For every stitch that exists, there's a matching crochet symbol. It's hard to find a guide of all stitches, as some ar every obscure, and people being people made countless variations. However, I can walk you through the basic and more advanced stitches that you most likely will see in crochet charts. Note: I use US terminology throughout this article.

When we're talking about the basic stitches, I mean the stitches you probably learned first such as a chain, slip stitch and single crochet. As you can see, an open oval represents a chain, while a filled out dot represents a slip stitch. A single crochet can be depicted as a cross or plus sign, depending on the chart. Everything upward from a single crochet is funny: those symbols look like a T with none, one or more crossbeams.

Tip: Find that the symbols for double crochets and trebles look alike? Look at the number of crossbeams: every crossbeam represents an initial yarn over when you're working the stitch!

Increasing and decreasing

You most likely have to increase or decrease at some point in your pattern. When you look at the symbols below, do you see a pattern emerge? You're looking for the point where the symbols collide. If that's on the bottom it's an increase, and if that's on the top, it's usually a decrease! If you need to increase more than two stitches, it will be depicted as a combination of three or more stitches. It all adds up like math, but the simple kind.

Special Crochet stitches

There are also 'special' stitches that are often a combination of one (or more types) of basic stitches. I'm talking about puff stitches, front post stitches, and popcorns for example. How these stitches are depicted precisely can vary from chart to chart. However, they're quite often recognized as one of the stitches below, and are always a combination of one (or more) basic symbols! Sometimes, when it's an obscure stitch, there's a further explanation in the chart. Unfortunately, if that's in Russian (darn, a language that I just haven't learned yet), it won't help you very much. Just look closely at the stitches then and try to replicate it as best as possible, continuously referring to the basic stitches.

Now you know the individual letters to form the sentence. Don't worry if you don't know them by heart: you will learn over time.

How do you read a crochet chart?

The next part will focus on how you read a crochet chart. A crochet chart can be very overwhelming and look like a maze of symbols, dots and numbers. If you feel overwhelmed, it's essential to remember this one golden rule:

Find the beginning of the chart.

Find the very first stitch, and focus on that. Once you've found the first stitch, trace the next stitches until you've finished your round or row. Let me give you an example of how to find that first stitch.

The chart below is a motif that is worked in the round. As you probably know, you start a circle working from the middle. So that's precisely where we're going to check for our first stitch.

You see a solid circle in the middle. This means that you'll make a magic loop. If you need to work from a chain space (for example just like you could do with granny squares), then there would be a circle of chain symbols.

To start this circle, you create your magic loop, then start with the part in the pink circle. How do I know this? Well, usually you need to make one or more chains to start making stitches in your magic loop. That part is your 'ch3' with which a pattern often begins. Next, you work around your circle with double crochets. Count them (it's 17), and then crochet them. When you reach your ch3, you slipstitch it to the top of the ch3 (depicted by that little black dot in between the last dc and the ch3).

Next, we're crocheting Round 2. I placed some numbers in the graph, which makes it easier to see which round you're working in. If the chart doesn't have that, print it and write them down yourself!

As a general rule of thumb, when a stitch is positioned on top of a stitch in the previous round/row, you will work that stitch IN the stitch of the previous round/row. This pattern tells you to ch3 after you joined the last stitches of Round 1, ch1, and then work 1dc into the next dc. Repeat this around and close the round again with a slip stitch. Keep tracing the rounds stitch by stitch, and the chart tells you what to do!

Partial crochet diagrams

If a motif is large, a complete chart takes up lots of space. So that's why you'll often find partial charts, like the one below. The one below is a modified version of the motif chart above.

While it might not look like it, it gives you the same amount of information as the chart above. You only need to look for it. For example, it shows you how to start (with a magic loop), and how many stitches to crochet in the first round (ch3 and 17 dc, 18 stitches in total). It shows you what to do next (ch3 in Round 2), and how to work that round (ch1, 1dc in each stitch). It also shows you how to close Round 2 to 6. So all the information is there, just more condensed.

Advanced crochet diagrams

Let's try a chart that's more difficult.

I found this chart online, without a source. It looks like a square motif that's worked in the round and has more stitch variation than the previous chart. But nothing you can't handle!

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Remember the golden rule: Find the beginning of the crochet chart.

In this chart, you also start in the middle. This time it's with a circle of chains (8 to be precise, with one slip stitch to join the first and last ch). Next, you work a round of sc. You make a chain (the open oval you see between the chain round and the sc round) and then work 1sc in every chain. Close your round with a slip stitch. This pattern calls the chains + sc's Round 1, but that's just a matter of opinion (sometimes starting chains are counted as a round, sometimes they are not).

Are you getting the hang of it? You're going to chain 4 (as a substitute for your first treble crochet), then two more, and then you're going to crochet a treble in the next sc. Follow the flow of the stitches. It's just one long continuous line you need to trace to get you to the end.

A little side note here, In the corner stitches you see an elongated cross. That's also a sc (as the crossbeam is crossing the other beam instead of laying on top of it as is the symbol for hdc's), just a little bit stretched out so you can see where to crochet them.

Expert level crochet charts

You're now ready to play in the major league, and I have just the right pattern for you. I know this doily looks both incredible and incredibly difficult. Remember the golden rule: Find the beginning of the crochet chart. Start in the middle, and work your way outwards. Just take it one round, section or stitch at a time.

I've coloured in the first couple of rounds, to give you an idea of how you should tackle this type of chart. Start with making a chain (yellow). Next, crochet trebles (see, two crossbeams, orange). Then start making loops. These loops consist of a sc, then 3 chains, and a sc in the next treble (green). Take it round by round. Continue making these loops in the next round, this time with a little picot in between (light blue). Then you're going to move to a new row of sc's, with chains and picots. (dark blue).

Trust me: if you understand this chart, you can pretty much make anything you want.

Finishing tips

  • If possible, print out the pattern and trace the lines with a (coloured) pencil.
  • If possible, look up a photo of the result. It will help you visualize how the pattern will look like. Unfortunately, not all patterns come with pictures.
  • If you see dc's on top of a chain (like for example in rows 7-12), you don't necessarily need to crochet them IN the chain, but rather in the chain space. You'll find this tip convenient when the chain has four chains, and you don't have a middle stitch to work in. You might think it will slip and bend out of shape, but that doesn't happen due to all forces that are exerted by other stitches. It will end up fine and in the middle.
  • Don't be discouraged if a project doesn't look like the picture, but more like a weirdly shaped dishcloth while you're working on it. I recommend blocking your work after you're done. It really makes a huge difference! I've got a complete blocking tutorial for you if you need one.
  • If you're in for a challenge, look for Japanese patterns. They're beautiful and often come with crochet charts.

Good luck! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

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Replies

Mona Cothran
Thank you for this. Is there somewhere I can find this in a PDF so I can save it to refer back to? January 12, 2016 16:27 - Reply
Kirsten
Hi Mona,

I do not have a PDF on the ready but the website printfriendly.com has the option to turn the page (without sidebar) into a pdf version for easy reference :) January 12, 2016 16:34 - Reply
Sadiqa
THANKYOU for all yr wonderful hard work From my heart GOD BLESS U AND YR FAMILIES September 18, 2016 10:36 - Reply
debra
How can I learn how to convert written patterns to graphs? July 29, 2017 21:20 - Reply
debra
please respond to my email....thanks
Debra July 29, 2017 21:21 - Reply
Kirsten
Hi Debra,
that's something that I haven't covered up until now in any tutorial. I would suggest drawing out the pattern row for row. It's hard though, and I'd say you need to be an experienced crocheter to do so (at least for more intricate patterns) as you have to visualise your stitches. Good luck! August 01, 2017 12:41 - Reply
Peachy
Hi! I have a question. How do we construct, for example, a top from charts like these? Usually, you will find in the net no written patterns but only charts for some wearables like crochet tops, even cardigans. It is so hard to construct a top using charts alone if you are used to written patterns. Thanks! February 23, 2018 22:03 - Reply
Kirsten
Hi Peachy,

thank you for your message! That really depends on the pattern, I'm afraid. Usually charts for garments are meant to be used in conjunction with written text, because they usually don't show seams or anything like that, just the 'main' features. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule.

If there's written text with the chart, I always use google translate to see if it helps me on the way. If not, I'll just try and wing it ;). Hope this helps! March 05, 2018 16:30 - Reply
Patti
Quick question: The diagram shows 8 chains in the beginning joined with a slip stitch. Then you mention that we would chain 1 then Sc around each chain. How can it show 12 Sc when there are only 8 beginning chain stitches? Wouldn't it be 8 Sc? I'm not following.
Thank you! August 06, 2018 03:47 - Reply
KERRY F ZEBOLD
I also was confused as to where to add in the extra 4 single crochets. Do I just do 2 sc in every other chain to add stitches? Thank you. March 14, 2020 17:36 - Reply
Beckie
Hi :)

I'd really like to learn to read charts, your information makes it seem a lot more straightforward!! I do have one quick question.

I've made projects where I needed to crochet into the chain spaces of the previous row or round, but I've also made things where I've had to crochet into the actual chain stitches of the previous row or round. Are these two ways indicated differently on a chart or do you just assume with charts that you'll always work into the chain space rather than the stitch (obviously not including the foundation row)?

Very grateful for any advice.

Many thanks April 18, 2019 16:24 - Reply
Kirsten
Hi Becky,

I’m so happy you find the post useful! To answer your question, as far as I know that’s not indicated in different ways. For some patterns the acts of working in the chain vs. working in the actual space are interchangeable, but usually it’s more of an aesthetic matter (working in the actual space gives your stitches a bit more space like in a shell. Working in the actual chain gives the appearance of a regular stitch and I prefer this method when working just one stitch into the indicated ch-sp to prevent it from shifting to one or the other side of your space).

Hope this helps :) ! April 18, 2019 16:38 - Reply
Joyce Burns
I have a pattern with eh half double crochet but there is a star next to one and a heart next to another. Any ideas? Your descriptions are wonderful. February 22, 2020 03:00 - Reply
Renae
I see in the comments you start with chain 8. I can't make out where they get that info, it's too tiny and blurry for me. How did they figure it out? Your directions are great! April 02, 2020 08:49 - Reply
Caldut
I've searched to find clarity -- thank you for this, it's totally great. April 15, 2020 16:00 - Reply
Kirsten
Thank you for the kind words, you are very welcome :) April 15, 2020 16:12 - Reply
Cheryl millyard
Kirsten this is absolutely brilliant. Just what I needed to give me confidence to try from first mandala from a chart. Thank you May 12, 2020 08:01 - Reply
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