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 off, the only thing you can remotely understand is a crochet chart. Bummer!
When this happens I’m usually really happy that somebody took the time to make a crochet chart. And learning how to read these charts is 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. And lucky you, as a crocheter you already know the words! They’re just written in a symbol language you don’t fully understand yet. After you understand the words, it’s just a matter of time before you can read the whole text. Read on, and let me explain to you how you can read these awfully handy diagrams too.
The crochet symbols
Basic crochet stitches
I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of crochet stitches. So of course, there are a lot of symbols to represent these stitches as well. First, I’m going to show you a couple of basic stitches ( I use US terminology for the stitches):
As you can see, an open oval represents a chain, while a closed oval represents 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 ‘crossbeams’ actually stand for the number of yarnovers you make before inserting your hook through the stitch. So you might want to take a guess which stitch is represented by a T with two crossbeams? Yes, a treble crochet!
Increasing and decreasing
Chances are that you 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, the simple kind. Sometimes these symbols have minor variations on the ones shown below. But they always look something like this:
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 depicted as the puff stitch symbol below, only with 5 lines. Or it can be depicted with two crossbeams through each line, meaning that you will make trebles instead of double crochets. It’s all just a variation on the basic 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 crochet charts build up?
The next part will focus on how you read a pattern. A crochet chart can be very overwhelming and look like a maze of symbols, dots and numbers. If you feel overwhelmed it’s important to just remember this one golden rule:
Find the beginning of the crochet chart.
Find the very first stitch, and just focus on that. The chart below is an example of a pattern that is worked in the round. As you probably know from when you crochet a circle, you start working from the middle. So that’s exactly where you start to read your pattern.
You see a solid 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 more chains to start making stitches in your magic loop. That part is your ‘ch3’. Next, you work round your circle with double crochets. Count them (17), and then crochet them. 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).
Next you proceed with round 2. I put 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! You make a new ch3 on top of your previous ch3, and then work 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! Just keep going like that, round by round.
Partial crochet diagrams
Sometimes you only find partial crochet diagrams. 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 crochet chart! 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 and very unreadable. 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 stitch 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.
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 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, because they’re neatly aligned above the chains. 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).
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 crochet a treble in the next sc. Can you see the pattern? You just follow the line. 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 ‘cross’. Sometimes you find patterns that use this symbol, both represent sc’s. Also, 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 to fit in the pattern better.
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 incredible, and incredibly difficult. But 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, 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 round by round. Continue 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).
Trust me: if you understand this chart, you can pretty much make anything you want.
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 come with pictures
- 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’ll 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! I’ve got a complete blocking tutorial for you if you need one.
- If you’re looking for a challenge, Look up some Japanese patterns.
Good luck! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!