On Reading Charts and Other Scary Things

I am in the home stretch on the Icarus shawl that I’ve been working on. This project has been a real stretch for me. It was my first project with laceweight yarn (which is very thin and worked on small needles), and it’s also a pretty large shawl. There are thousands of stitches. At this point, about 20 rows from the end, the rows are 400 stitches long and each row takes a half hour to knit.

It’s also my first experience reading charts. Charts look very complicated and in some ways, they are, especially if you start out with a project as complicated as this one was. It’s not only complicated because there are a lot of stitches, but when you get to the edge of the shawl, it has this intricate leaf pattern which means that every row is different and you have to read the chart very carefully.

Add to that the fact that while I had read up on how to use charts, I had missed the critical fact that on wrong-side rows, you read backwards. So, right side rows are read right to left and wrong-side rows are read left to right. And the whole chart is read bottom-up, which is not very intuitive for the Western reader. For the majority of the shawl, reading left-to-right or right-to-left didn’t make a difference because the pattern was symmetrical, but once I got into the edging it made a big difference. Such a big difference, in fact, that the night I discovered this fact, I ended up un-knitting probably 1600 stitches. Many bad words were said that night. Luckily there were no small children around.

Since then, I only work on this shawl at home when there are no distractions. Even a minor miss can mean a lot of un-knitting which is not any fun. But, after probably a year and a half of working on it off and on, I am getting close to the end of this project and I think I may actually miss working on it when it’s done. It’s been one of the hardest knitting projects I’ve ever undertaken but I think it will be beautiful and definitely worth the effort.

It’s been an interesting project and in many ways a great experience for me. It’s also been one of the most painful knitting projects I’ve undertaken, but it has stretched my skills and challenged me to try things I probably would never have attempted. And yes, it’s spent its share of time in my ‘punishment pile’ (which is reserved for projects where we both need a bit of a ‘time out’ before we start again). But, it’s taught me to be a bit more fearless and try new things too. In knitting as in life, sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and see what happens. At least in knitting, you can always rip it back and try again. I love a good do-over.

So, if you’d like to stretch your skills and try the Icarus (or you just want to see what it looks like), you can check it out here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/icarus-shawl

My challenge for you today is this: Put yourself out there, stretch your skills, and see what happens. You might just find that it’s a thing of beauty. And if it isn’t, you can always ask for a do-over. Few things in life are permanent; sometimes in the heat of the moment, we lose sight of that.

Happy knitting my friends!

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6 thoughts on “On Reading Charts and Other Scary Things

  1. Heidi says:

    I have recently decided to conquer charts and have some YouTube video tutorials in my queue to watch. So I can relate! That shawl is beeeeautiful! What a skill-expanding project! 😉

    • mardeeknits says:

      Thanks! Good luck with learning to read charts – they’re actually not that hard once you get used to them but make sure you read the wrong side rows in the other direction! 😉

  2. Dana says:

    Charts are one of my “to learn” things this summer. Thanks for the great article…love reading your blog.

  3. Concetta says:

    I think I’ve been through the ringer this past week with the charts, but like you, its amazing what positive skills come out of learning to read one.

    I think it also teaches one patience – just when I think I’ve got it, charts remind me that I need to slow down, enjoy my project, and then I won’t make any more mistakes. Read every symbol, every line, and it all works. Eventually. Usually with wine. 😉

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