Read & Convert

Fair Isle Knitting Charts

If you're new to reading knitting charts, then this is the page for you!

I'll show you how to read Fair Isle knitting charts, and also how to convert flat knitting charts to circular knitting charts, and vice versa.

If you'd like to dive straight into the lesson, please find the video below. If you would like to read a written version of the tutorial instead, please scroll down :)

If you don't know the difference between circular and flat knitting, I'll just give a little overview first - but I'll also be doing a more in-depth lesson soon.

Flat knitting is no doubt the type of knitting you have been doing so far, as that is what people use when learning to knit. It simply means that you are knitting back-and-forth by turning your work over, and switching the needles between your hands, at the end of every row. The result of this is that you are knitting both the front (right) and back (wrong) sides of your knitted item.

With circular knitting, you would need to use circular or double-pointed needles, rather than straight needles, and you would not swap the needles between your hands; instead, you would be knitting 'in the round'. What this means is that you don't knit back and forth, but instead you only ever knit one side; the front (right) side of your knitting. You never knit the back (wrong) side of your knitting.

Hence why you don't use purl-row decreases or increases, such as the pfb, p2tog or ssp, when circular knitting. When knitting in the round, the purl side is never facing you.

So what does this mean when it comes to reading knitting charts?

Well, it means that on a flat knitting chart, there will be a pattern for both the 'right' and 'wrong' sides of the item you are knitting, whereas on a circular knitting chart, the pattern is only shown for the 'right' side of your knitting.

That's why you have to convert knitting charts; flat knitting & circular knitting charts are not laid out in the same way. Conversion is quite simple though, as I show below.

Photo of flat knitting by The Bees & a photo of circular knitting by Christina.

Even though circular knitting needles are used in both of these examples, only the knitting on the right is circular knitting, whilst the knitting on the left is flat knitting. You can tell because the circular knitting always forms a circle or tube, so there is no separation between the ends of the rows.

Examples of a flat knitting chart (on the left) and a circular knitting chart (on the right):

In this example, no conversion would be necessary because the pattern is symmetrical; symmetrical patterns are the same in both flat and circular knitting patterns.

If we take a look at the flat knitting pattern on the left hand side first:

The arrows represent how you read the chart. You start at the number 1 which is at the bottom-right of the chart.

You always read a line horizontally from the number.

We are going to assume that these patterns are for stockinette stitch.

So you read the first row of the pattern from 1 across, and it tells you to knit the whole row in red stitches. Because this is stockinette stitch (i.e. knit stitch row, then purl stitch row, then knit stitch row etc.), and each square represents 1 stitch, then row 1 is 5 red knit stitches.

Row 2 is 5 white purl stitches.

For row 3, you would do 1 red knit, 1 white knit, 1 red knit, 1 white knit and 1 red knit.

For row 4, you would do 1 white purl, 1 red purl, 1 white purl, 1 red purl and 1 white purl.

For row 5, you would knit 5 white stitches.

And so on...

The circular knitting chart is read in the same way, by reading horizontally from each number. However, in order to do stockinette stitch when circular knitting, you never purl; you only do knit stitches on every 'round'.

Therefore, for row 1, you would knit 5 red stitches, for row 2 you would knit 5 white stitches, for row 3 you would knit 1 red, 1 white, 1 red, 1 white and then 1 red stitch....and so on.

The reason that the numbers are on both sides of a flat knitting chart is that when you knit flat, you are knitting back and forth, working both the front and back of the knitting (hence why you change hands between rows).

You work one row on the front of your knitting, then a row on the back of your knitting, and so on, and the numbers represent this action. Odd-numbered rows usually represent the front of the knitting, and even-numbered rows usually represent the back of the knitting.

Whereas with circular knitting, you only knit the front of the knitting, not back and forth, hence why the numbers are all on one side.

And now we-re going to a simple conversion from flat knitting chart to circular knitting chart:

This pair of charts would result in the same knitted pattern if the left chart was used for flat knitting, and the right chart was used for circular knitting.

So how did I go about converting the chart on the left to produce the one on the right?

Well, firstly, any symmetrical pattern rows are the same in both types of chart so they don't need converting, and every knit row on the flat knitting chart also doesn't need converting (due to knit rows still being made the same in circular knitting).

So that means we only need to convert even-numbered (purl/wrong side) rows that are asymmetrical. So the rows to concentrate on are rows 4 and 6.

Row 4: You will see that the number 4 is on the left of the flat knitting chart, so when moving this row to the circular knitting chart, the pattern must be reversed (since the '4' is on the right of the circular knitting chart.)

The numbers change sides because these purl rows in flat knitting don't exist when circular knitting stockinette stitch; there are only knit rows in the circular knitting chart.

Purl stitches are essentially the reverse of knit stitches, and vice versa.

So it's as easy as that; row 4 is reversed to convert it from flat knitting to circular knitting.

Row 6: We do exactly the same as we did on row 4, i.e. the pattern on this row is reversed as it is converted from a purl row to a knit row.

And it's as simple as that!

Check out the video above if you want to see a step-by-step walkthrough of this process.

Thanks for reading :)

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