Knitting from a chart as opposed to written instructions is much easier than what you might be thinking. When I first started knitting I never thought I would be able to knit from a chart and I was afraid to try. Then a charted pattern caught my eye and I figured that I would give it a go. I found it to be not only easier, but much faster too.
This is a quick tutorial to get you started knitting from charts. We will start out with an example chart that will be knitted flat (back and forth in rows).
The first thing to look at before you start knitting from a chart is the key. This will tell you what each symbol in the chart means. It is important to look at the key each time you start a new pattern as not all designers use the same symbols.
The next thing that I notice about this particular chart is that it is surrounded by a red line. Many designers, myself included, will often use a red outline on a chart to indicate that a portion of the chart or the whole chart is repeated. On this chart we would work the 15 stitches that are shown and then repeat them as many times as the pattern indicates.
We have our chart and have looked at the symbols to know what stitches they represent. We also know that the red line means we will be repeating the fifteen stitches X number of times per row. For simplicity's sake we will skip the cast on and assume that we have 60 stitches on our needles. Our pattern says work rows 1 - 10 of the Example Chart once. This means that we would work the 15 stitches of the chart 4 times for each row.
Notice that there are row numbers on both sides of the chart. It is important to look to see where the number is and begin working the chart at that point. Row 1 begins on the RS and starts on the right hand side of the chart and is worked across towards the left. Opposite of how we normally read things! Row 2 is worked from left to right, and so on. Note that charts written for knitting in the round differ in that they are read from right to left on every round.
Row 1 would look like this if it were written out:
1. P2, YO, SSK, K7, YO, P2, P2, YO, SSK, K7, YO, P2, P2, YO, SSK, K7, YO, P2, P2, YO, SSK, K7, YO, P2
2. K2, P11, K2, K2, P11, K2, K2, P11, K2, K2, P11, K2
Remember that our knit and purl symbols mean the opposite on the wrong side of our knitting for this chart which is why row 2 starts with a knit stitch.
If you tend to loose track of where you are in the chart when you are knitting try using a post it note or ruler to keep your place. I strive to have the charts in my patterns in a larger size so that they are easier to read. If you find that you are using a chart that is small and hard to read you can enlarge it and print it out separately by using the snapshot tool. A tutorial for that can be found here: Snapshot
I hope that this brief tutorial inspires you to try your hand at chart knitting. Once you get the hang of it, it's so much easier than knitting from a written pattern!