We’ve all been there. Searching for that one project that would be perfect for you. You find it after days of searching and discarding other patterns. Yay! however, it’s written in a language you can’t make head or tail of. Bummer!
In instances like this I’m very happy that a lot of patterns are accompanied by a drawn pattern. They’re really not that hard! It’s just like learning how to read. You need to learn the letters first, in order to understand the words. As a crocheter you already know the words. They’re just written in a symbol language you don’t fully understand yet. And after you understand the words, it’s just a matter of time before you can read the whole text!
So there are a lot of stitches, which means that there are a lot of symbols as well. I’m first going to show you a couple of basic stitches ( I use US terminology for the stitches):
As you can see, an open oval is a chain, while a closed oval is a slip stitch. A cross is a single crochet, while a large “T” is a half double crochet, and the T with another crossbeam is a double crochet. Easy thusfar! The ‘crossbeam’ actually represents the number of yarnovers you do before inserting your hook through the stitch. So you might want to take a guess which stitch is meant by a T with two crossbeams? Yes, a treble!
So you’ll probably have to increase or decrease somewhere in a pattern. These are denoted with the following stitches. Do you see a pattern emerge? You’re looking for the point where the symbols collide, if that’s in the bottom it’s an increase, if that’s in the top, it’s usally a decrease! If you need to increase more than 2 stitches, it will be depicted as an emergence/divergence of three or more stitches. It all adds up like math!
There are a couple of special stitches as well. I’m taking about the puff stitches, front-post crochet stitches etc. You can find these stitches in different forms. For example, a popcorn stitch with 5 double crochets can be depiced as the puff stitch symbol with 5 lines. Or 10, depending on the type of stitch. Or it can be depicted with two crossbeams, meaning that you will make a 3 trebles instead of 3 double crochets. It’s all just a variation on one of these symbols! Sometimes, when it’s a really obscure stitch, there’s an extra 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.
So now you know the individual letters to form the scentence. Don’t worry if you don’t know them by heart: Sometimes I also need to google and check which symbol equals which stitch.
How are charts build up?
The next part will focus on how you read a pattern. A drawn pattern can be pretty overwhelming, a big mumbojumbo of symbols and dots and numbers. But when you use a system to “analyze” the pattern (look at me making ‘crochet’ all techy!) it’s all pretty straightforward.
I’ve just plucked a free chart from the internet. This is an example of a pattern that is worked in the round. As you probably know, you start crocheting from the middle. So that’s where you start to read your pattern.
You see a circle in the middle. This means that you have to work with 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.
You make your magic loop, then start with the part in the pink circle. How do I know this? Wel, usually you need to make one or mor chains to start making stitches in your magic loop. That part is your ch3. Next, you work round your circle. Easy thus far! When you reach your ch3, you slipstitch it to the top of the ch3 (depiced by that little black dot in between the last dc and the ch3).
Then you proceed with round 2. I put some numbers in the graph which makes it easier to see which round you’re working in. You make a new ch3 on top of your previous ch3, and then make your round, which consists of making a dc in a dc of the previous round (the symbol is on top of the dc-symbol of the previous round) and a chain in between. Easy peasy! Well this is an easy pattern, and you can probably figure out how you need to keep going.
Sometimes you only find partial patterns. Or so you think. Like this one, a modified version of the above picture:
It looks like someone got tired of charting the whole pattern and gave up halfway. But believe me, it’s just as complete as the previous one! When you have larger graphs, it’s easier to just show the part you need to repeat many times instead of charting everything and making the chart very large. From this chart you know how much DC’s you’re starting with, and you know what you need to do in each dc, and you just repeat this until you reach the first st of the round, in which you make a slip stitch. I could have even left another dc wedge out and you still would have known what to do!
Let’s try another pattern that looks a little bit more difficult:
Here you also start in the middle. This time, with a circle of chains (8 to be precise, with 1 slip stitch to join the first and last ch). Next you need to do a round of sc’s. You make a chain (the open oval you see between the chain round and the sc round) and then sc in every chain. Join with slip stitch. They call the chains + scC’s round 1, but that’s just a matter of opinion (sometimes starting chains are countes as a row, sometimes they are not).
Getting the hang of it? You’re going to chain 4 (as a substitute for your first treble), then 2 more, and then you’re going to do a treble in the next SC. Can you see the pattern now? You just follow the lines, it’s really just one big continuous line you need to follow to get you to the end!
A little sidenote here, as you can see, the sc’s are depicted as a ‘plus’ instead of a ‘square cross’. Sometimes you find patterns that use this symbol, but it still means you got to use the same ol’ sc. Also, in the corner stitches you see an elongated cross. That’s still 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 to fit in the pattern better.
Superduper! I think you’re now ready to play in the major league, and I know this doily looks like a giant, complex chart. But just take it one step at the time. Start in the middle, and work your way out. The sweet people who made this chart also labeled the rows for your convenience.
I’ve colored the first couple of rounds, just to give you an idea of how you should tackle this type of chart. Start with the making a chain (yellow). Next, crochet trebles (see, two crosbeams, orange). Then start making loops. These loops consist of a sc, then 3 chains, and a sc in the next treble (green). Just take it row by row. Continue in the next round with these loops, 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).
Seriously, if you understand this pattern, you can pretty much make anything by chart!
Some finishing tips
- If possible, print out the pattern and trace the lines with a (coloured) pencil.
- Again, if possible, look up the end result. It will help you visualize how the pattern will look like. Unfortunately, not all patterns can be found with a picture.
- If there are two DC’s on top of a chain (like for example in row 7-12), you usually don’t need to make them IN the chain, but in the chain space. You find this tip convenient when the chain has 4 chains and you don’t have a middle stitch. You might think it will slip and bend out of shape but that doesn’t happen due to all the pulling forces that are excerted by other stitches. It will really end up fine!
- Don’t be discouraged if a project doesn’t look at at like the picture, but more like a weird shaped dishcloth while you’re working on it. It’s recommended (by me, but also by the whole of the internet) to block your work after you’re done. It really makes a huge difference! Just look at this picture from my Primrose project and you’ll see. Even ruffling and concaving doilies are made pretty by blocking. You could also use some starch spray to help stiffen them up.
- If you’re looking for a challenge, Look up some Japanese patterns.
Good luck! Feel free to ask any questions!