There Otta Be a Law: My Stitch Dictionary Rant

The weather finally turned yesterday. We’d been having unseasonable highs, with temperatures breaking records that date all the way back to the 19th Century in some cases. Some people are glad for a spate of eighty-degree days in mid-November. I’m not. I’m not always that big on summer even when it should be summer. I certainly don’t want more summer when we should be getting autumn.

On Sunday afternoons, there’s a knitter’s gathering at The Golden Fleece, my LYS. Attendance varies a bit, but usually eight or twelve of us show up, and we spend a delightful two hours together, knitting and visiting and tempting each other into taking on new projects and new yarns.

However, when the temperature moves above 80, I don’t want to be around other people, not even knitters. So last Sunday, instead of going to the knitting group, I stayed home, sitting on the bed and leafing through stitch dictionaries.

I pretty much love all stitch dictionaries. Even if they don’t have any “new” stitches in them, they’ll show a stitch in a different yarn or gauge, so I can see it in a new way. But here’s my big gripe: stitch dictionaries without charts. As an (aspiring) designer, I need charts to see how stitches will flow into one another. Written instructions that tell me a pattern requires a cast on of seven, plus three (say) aren’t enough. One seven-plus-three stitch may or may not work with another. And what if I’m hoping to work in a bigger stitch as well, say a fourteen-plus-five? 

The only way to picture how these stitches will work together and to get them correctly placed in relation to one another is to play with charts. Place two charts one above the other and you can see right away which pairings will and won’t work. You can also play with ideas for transition rows. Place written instructions side-by-side and you won’t be able to figure out much at all without committing a great deal of time to swatching.

In a cruel sort of paradox, the need for charts becomes even greater when you’re working with stitches that vary in count from row to row, yet these are exactly the stitches that are almost impossible to find in chart form. (And don’t even get me started on the New Harmony Guides and how, not only are they not new at all, they don’t have charts for 99% of the stitches they include, so they’re pretty to look at , but a pain to use for designing.)


So, Sunday. Hot. Crabby. Smart enough not to sit in a room full of people. Instead sitting in a darkened room alone with stitch dictionaries and graph paper. I passed the most lovely couple of hours just writing up my own charts for uncharted stitches. I’d sketch out a few repeats, then cut out the chart, so that I could line it up with others. I looked for stitches with strong lines that contrasted with each other. An undulating stitch with a rigid, linear stitch. Something wide with something narrow.

Granted, the whole process could have gone faster if the stitches had been charted already, but playing with pencil and paper in the half-light was just what I needed on that miserable afternoon. I can’t show you what I came up with because I’m turning it into a new shawl pattern and hoping to find a home for that pattern in an on-line or print magazine (fingers crossed!). But I can promise you I had fun.

If you like thinking about how knitting works and haven’t done much charting, give it a go. You’ll learn wonderful things about how individual stitches work together to make pattern stitches—and with luck, the fun of doing it will take your mind off any less-than-pleasant surroundings.

2 Replies to “There Otta Be a Law: My Stitch Dictionary Rant”

  1. I give thanks to the talented Canadian knitter from whom I learned not to fear charts. Her week-long class in 2005 started with the students having to match up charts to a dozen large knitted squares with cables, lacy patterns and so forth. has some excellent graph paper, heavy enough to survive many erasures.

    Looking forward to the next shawl!

  2. I know what you mean.
    I used to fear charts. Then I learned that they were essential. Thanks to my daughter for showing me the way. I have been knitting for decades, but she showed me the error of my ways. Now charts are my friends.
    Actually essential.
    I recently purchased the Harmony guide to Lace and Eyelets. It was from Interweave.
    Horrors!!! NO CHARTS!!!!!
    How can you do lace without charts!!!!
    I even wrote to them about it and they offered me a refund. That was NOT the point.

    Now I will NOT do a lace pattern without charts. Even if it means I have to chart it myself!

    Also , like CatbookMom whom I have seen on ravelry, looking forward to your next design.

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