The other day my wife and I were talking and the subject of knitting charts came up. Now this is a bit of a touchy subject for us – we’re polar opposites when it comes to how we prefer our knitting patterns. We both agree that the best thing for a knitwear designer to do is to include both a knitting chart and a written pattern whenever possible. However, there are many patterns out there that only include one or the other. Me, personally, if I have to choose, I prefer to work with a chart over a written pattern. I can work from a written pattern, but I vastly prefer a knitting chart. My wife’s just the opposite. While she can work from a knitting chart, she finds a project a lot easier to knit when it’s been written out. In her words, she has to translate the chart as she reads it; it doesn’t come naturally to her.
My wife isn’t a visual learner, you see. She understands that a lot of people are. She accepts that there are many visual learners out there. She’s just not one of them. No, she does far better if instructions are written out, especially when it comes to knitting. She does better, still, if someone can explain certain instructions in a different way, as I talk about in my blog on why I became a designer, but only if it isn’t through a youtube video. Ravelry and live people will both suffice, however. Still, when it comes down to it she prefers written instructions over knitting charts.
It occured to me while we were talking about this subject that, though she could read a chart if she really needed to, she had to first translate it into knitting English (that’s the English pronunciation of knitting terms for those who were curious, not made up at all *wink*). It didn’t come naturally to her and consequently slowed her down.
Me, on the other hand, I can look at a chart and not only visually see the stitches and what the pattern will look like, I can also translate it immediately. Except it isn’t really translating it. No, it’s more like I read it and it’s another language, or a logographic alphabet I suppose (by which I mean each symbol represents a word or phrase, which really translates into an action one is supposed to take). This brought me to the idea that reading a knitting chart is a lot like reading music.
I’m a musician, you see, or rather I’ve played several instruments in the past and some for many years at a time. One requirement of these musical activities is that I had to read music. Notes on a sheet with lines and bars, pictoral representations of musical meaning, when I read music I have to interpret how the notes correspond to a sound and a rhythm simply by looking at their position in space and their icon. I do this now very naturally, but it wasn’t always like that.
I had to learn how to read music, but I did that when I was very young so I don’t actually remember what it was like before, just like I don’t remember what it was like before I could read at all. I did get an idea of the process, however, when I learned to play piano. I wasn’t familiar with the bass cleff, which is different from the trebel cleff in that the position of the notes is different. A note in one position in a trebel cleff might mean one thing, like “C-sharp”, but will mean something completely different in a bass cleff. So, I had to relearn everything until I could finally look at it and understand what it meant without having to think about it, without having to “translate” it.
Reading knitting charts for me is very similar. I look at the symbols on a chart, and I know what they mean. I don’t have to translate them; I can read them like I’m reading music. Just like reading music, reading a knitting chart requires you to look at a symbol and both see how it fits into the piece as a whole, as well as do multiple actions from a single symbol (cable 4 forward for instance, which is a whole bunch of actions). Of course, reading knitting abbreviations requires a similar thing, but charts are much more visual, just like music notes.
So there you have it: reading knitting charts is like reading music. That’s my opinion, at least. What do you think? Is reading knitting charts like reading music, or is it like something else entirely?