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I see a lot of knitters on Instagram enjoying their Field Guide No. 23: Glow projects—all those glorious colorwork designs!

To those of who haven’t yet cast on, does working from a chart hold you back? Colorwork knitting patterns most often use charts for the patterning. They’re a visual way to communicate a very visual thing: color placement. Colorwork charts are a very handy support for the knitter—after all, they’re a quick and easy way to make sure that what you’re doing looks right—but it can be hard to keep track when you’re doing the knitting.

I’ve got a few tips and tricks to make it easier to work from charts.

Mark it Up!

A few annotations really help. If you’re working from a digital pattern, use the editing and annotation tools in your viewing software, or print the charts to mark them up. If you’re working from a booklet or paper pattern, photocopy it, enlarging it so you can read it better.

Match Your Colors

Whenever I decide to use different colors from those in the chart, I print or copy the charts in grayscale, so that I can color the chart to match what I’m working with. If the chart shows the stitches in red and yellow, but you’re working in green and orange, it can get confusing and complicated very quickly!

Add Gridlines to Help with Counting

For larger charts, I’ll add lines every 5 or 10 stitches, and every 5 or 10 rows, to help me with counting. And if you’re working multiple repeats of a pattern, use markers in your knitting to divide up the repeats.

Which Way?

If I’m working back and forth in rows, I will add arrows to indicate which direction I’m to read which row.

Not These

If the chart has stitches you don’t need for your size—for example the color patterning for the sleeves and body of the Valdres Pullover—block those off entirely. I like to use sticky notes at the sides.

Keep It Clean

If you are working from a printed chart, keep it in a sheet protector or a conference badge holder, so it’s protected from coffee spills, and it doesn’t get crumpled or torn.

Keep Track

As you’re knitting, use a guide to keep track of what row you’re on.

When working with a printed chart, I use a sticky note. I always place it on the chart above the row I’m working on. That way, I always know exactly where I am, as I need to move it up every row. (If you put it below, you can sometimes forget to move it, and then get mixed up about where you are. Ask me how I know.) Using a guide above the row I’m on also helps me make sure my stitches are lined up, as I can see what should be below the current row and how the pattern builds.

Magnet boards are great, too. They provide protection for your chart and a stand for easy reading, as well as a way to keep track.

Some knitters like using highlighter tape—it’s transparent, removable colored tape that works like the sticky part of a sticky note. The challenge is that highlighter tape doesn’t always work with colorwork charts, as it can obscure the colors of the stitches, so you need to make sure that it’s a color that works for your project.

Not Just Colorwork

These tips apply to all types of knitting charts, by the way—if you’re in the mood for some lace or cables, perhaps?

What are your favorite tips for using charts?

This could come in handy. Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • What a great bunch of tips! My husband recently started knitting, and is working on a Sedestal hat – I’m going to share this article with him!

  • Great tips!
    I’d like to add-
    If printing a chart make sure the printer is set properly.
    I once spent far too long reknitting ( and reknitting…) a section that should have been printed in landscape. I printed it in portrait and cut off part of the design.

  • All great tips. I use Knit Companion on my iPad to do the same things, color, crop, mark up, and keep track of rows. I wouldn’t knit anything without it.

    • Another vote for Kni Companion. One of the features if you have the pay version is that you can trim the chart, so you cannot see those columns of stitches that don’t apply to you.

    • Agreed — could not imagine knitting ANYTHING without Knit Companion! It does all of the tips above (changing colors, tracking rows, showing stitch counts) so easily. And there are no sticky notes or tape or bars to slip or fall off!

    • I’m a knitCompanion devotee as well! I was thinking the same thing. Just set up a page for the chart and use the magic marker to try out different colors.

      • I have not heard of Knit Companion but use the app UPAD on my iPad, downloading the pattern and then using the highlighter to mark where I am.

    • Knit Companion for the win! It’s so much easier to keep track of rows and colors. And we’re saving trees.

    • Me too! I cannot imagine knitting without out it.

      Before I had Knit Companion, the removable tape was a revelation, it worked so much better than stands with magnets or post it notes, all of which can (and did) fall off. I still print things out sometimes to mark them up, then I scan them and add the PDFs to the patterns in Knit Companion. It can be faster if I have a lot of marking up to do and I have the best of both worlds.

  • I’m a big fan of the magnet board for all projects using charts. For some projects where I’ve spreadsheeted out the increases and stitches (like a raglan sweater), I’ll use the magnet board to go from row to row on my spreadsheet because it’s much faster for me to find my place. I bought color pencils just so I could use them on colorwork charts. Sometimes when I’m working on a project with a lot of colors, I’ll go through the chart and write the names of the colors being used next to each round as an extra way to check that I’m working with the correct colors.

  • Great tips, thank you!

  • If there is a longer stretch of one color I count before I start knitting and use pencil to enter that amount in one square of the stretch. More than one row of such spaces, do not stack the pencil notations up, scatter them in the stretch.

  • I use all of these tips. Most recently I’ve started enlarging charts since of them are so small, especially those from a magazine or book.

  • Stitch markers, stitch markers, stitch markers are the thing for repeats for me, in any knitting project. In a world of interruptions, they eliminate so many potential mistakes and frustration and make it go much more quickly.

    • I’ve been using a strand of mercantile cotton placed vertically to mark stitches in color work and cables. Just flip it front to back or back to front every five or eight rows.

      • If I have multiple patterns in one row, I assign each pattern a color of stitch marker. I make my own stitch markers from embroidery floss or use the tiny rubber bands designed for orthodontic braces.

  • Great tips! Chart knitting has always intimidated me, mainly because I had no idea how it worked. This is my year to get over that.

  • Love all of these suggestions! I already use some of these ideas but changing the direction of the sticky note to cover rows to come? Brilliant! Thanks!

  • I use the Knit Companion app. It does most of these things for you. I haven’t tried changing the colors though.

    • You can use the ‘Magic Marker’ tool to recolor squares for an entire chart.

  • Such great tips. One I’ve also employed when copying and enlarging written instructions, make sure all the instructions are on the same line. For instance, I’m working on shawl with a six row repeat. Each line of instructions fits on a single line, except for one, where the final kfb is on a second line. Can’t tell you how many times I missed that damm kfb until I scribbled it off the 2nd line and wrote it in at the end of the first line.

  • I used to think that about highlighter tape until I started using it as you use the post-it, now I’m a complete convert. I think Kay tried to explain this in a post years ago, but I misunderstood how to use the tape.

    • I like post it tape, too, but there are two important things. One, if you have an inkjet printer, the tape will lift off the ink. I don’t know of a way to solve that unless you change to a laser printer. If you are using the tape,fold under a little bit at either end, so that it’s easy to pull it off the chart and reposition it.

  • All true! And for cables too!

  • Nice to know I already use some of the tips from The Great Kate. I also prefer the marker ABOVE the line – in lace, or in color work, you can see if your stitches align correctly.
    For small charts – magnetic bookmarks can work as well!

    Store suggestion – Clover sells magnetic rulers that hug your paper – 8.5 or 11.75” – they are great sometimes.

    • My husband works for 3M (yes, they of the trademarked iconic Post-it note) and he somehow only noticed a couple of days ago that I was using them for a colorwork chart. Colorwork, cables… I’ve been knitting with them for almost 20 years! And we have been married the whole time.

      Husbands! LOL.

      Also, I must give a shout-out to designers who provide two charts, with black and white reversed, so you can use the one that matches your yarn choices. Joan Forgione did that with the Whirl pullover pattern, and I found it really helpful.

  • I’m a huge fan of highlighter tape – I use it below (like an underline) the row I’m knitting, so it doesn’t mess with the color at all. And one roll lasts forever, because I keep moving that same piece of tape. The logic for using it (or a post-it) above is sound, but I won’t be switching that horse in midstream (or midproject). That’s a recipe for confusion.

    I AM going to try copying the color chart in grayscale next time.

    And for anything I knit, I always copy or print a copy to be marked up as I knit. When I finish, I add notes (if I haven’t already) about which needles and yarn were used, and keep the pattern as a record.

  • I like to print the charts and use a highlighter to mark each row I have completed. If the chat is used multiple times in the pattern, i.e. cables, I will copy the chart(s) into a word doc and copy it multiple times on the page. I also use multiple colors of highlighters so I can use the chart multiple times or if I make a mistake.

  • Great tips! I like to use highlighter tape or stickers below the row I’m knitting.

    • I recently made Pouzle slippers from Kate Davies Allover Club.First project with changes in background and pattern color (5 colors used). I learned the importance of noting which color I want to dominate in each section – I should’ve noted it on my pattern so the slippers would look the same (I put one color on my left finger and the other on my right, the left finger color will dominate.)
      I know about KnitCompanion and other apps but spend too much time on screens – I print out paper patterns but only the pages I need. Shout out to designers who offer their patterns for concise printing.

  • Saved! On my MDK account, AND on Pinterest, because I’ve been known to forget stuff

  • I like the greyscale idea.

    I once gave up on a hat (two colours only) because the it had a black and white chart. Trouble was I chose a light colour for what was charted in black and a dark colour for the white charting. My brain kept getting confused…….

    • I’ve had the same problem and in the end I just wrote next to each row the counts in the repeat I needed for the reversed colors, so 3 white sts followed by 2 black sts in the chart became 3 D[ark] 2 L[ight] in my notes. It was elementary and tedious but it saved much frogging and tinking!

  • I also use Knit Companion. One of my setup routines involves the use the hi-lighter tool found in the edit mode to mark up the written instructions. I turn the color of the marker to white and block out all the variable repeat and stitch counts EXCEPT for the number that corresponds with the pattern size I am knitting. One less thing to have to think about (screw up) while knitting.

  • So Helpful!! Thank you!!

  • When I’m doing “travel knitting” I take a picture of the chart with my phone rather than throwing the pattern in my bag. I can then enlarge the picture as much as necessary to see the portion where I’m working.

    • That’s a great idea, and a tip I haven’t seen anywhere else, thanks!

  • I like to color code cables in charts. One color for left twists, another for right twists. For aran cablework, one color for 4 stitch cables, another for 6 stitch and so on.
    Thanks for the great tips in your article!

  • One more tip: I designate foreground color vs background color with a small dot inside each square that is meant to be foreground. In complicated fairisle patterning, where foreground and background can change often, this saves a lot of frustration if you figure this out and mark your charts before you start knitting. For my own two-handed knitting, I can easlly remember the foreground color comes from my left hand (and travels UNDER the right hand yarn).

  • I often make an enlarged photocopy and use a highlighter to fill in a 5×5 checkerboard on it. This helps me count without having to actually count because my eye can recognize 5 (and fewer).
    If I want to totally nerd out, I copy the pattern stitch by stitch into a google sheet, entering “A” for all the first color, “B” for the second and so on. I use conditional formatting to fill the cells with color.

  • Does anyone use Knit Companion on their phone? I don’t have an iPad and though the app technically works on a phone, seems like it would be too small and hard to use for this. Thoughts?

    • I’m a fan of having a paper pattern. However, I think the size of screen would be personal choice. Are YOU okay looking at the size of your phone screen for pattern information? You’d likely need to zoom and scroll around on the image a lot compared to an iPad. But if you were comfortable with that, then I’d say go for it!

  • Thank you thank you thank you! It’s funny how these tips seem SO obvious, except they AREN’T when you first start knitting from a chart. I love how generous the Fiber Tribe is with sharing their tips, especially those learned from making the mistakes first (so I don’t have to). Generous AND humble, this family of fiber fans! I am a forever grateful member of the Tribe.

  • Another vote for knit companion. The software is amazing. Really well thought out!

  • Thank you, those are great tips!!! I’ve wanted to start charted designs for a long time but some seemed very intimidating . Your tips will really help over come the fear of Charts.

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