Unnecessary funkiness

By | February 4, 2011

Some of you may have noticed that, of late, the actual knitting content on this blog has been… well… sparse. Practically absent.

Partly it’s because my attention has been elsewhere, on a large cough book cough project. Partly it’s because my knitting mojo has been missing: I just haven’t felt like knitting, so I haven’t had much to show. (It happens, sometimes. Don’t worry; my mojo will find its way back eventually. It always does.)

Still, this is a knitting blog, and knitting content of some sort is in order. So lemme share a little pet peeve with you. It’s something I’ve kept under my hat for a long time, in the name of being polite and tolerant and all that piffle.

Chart symbols that aren’t as wide as the number of stitches they represent—like wonky center double increase for a centered double increase, or wonky kfb for knit into front and back of next stitch—irk the snot out of me.

Whew! It feels good to say that out in the open. 🙂

Here’s why: Most chart symbols are as wide as the number of stitches that end up on your right needle when you have completed whatever that symbol is telling you to do. purl, k2tog, and yo are all one square wide because working any of them—p1, k2tog, or yo—results in one stitch on your right needle, even though you need one stitch to p1, two to k2tog, and none to yo. Likewise, 2/2 RC is four squares wide because working a two-over-two cable cross results in four stitches. What matters is the number of stitches you end up with, not the number you start with. Nearly all chart symbols work this way.

(Side note: I know of only one book—that shall remain nameless; I don’t want to add to its notoriety—where all the symbols work the opposite way, each as wide as the number of stitches you need to work the symbol. K2tog are two squares wide; yo are dots between chart squares. Take my word for it—those charts are icky!)

Mixing standard, sensible, as-wide-as-the-stitches-they-produce symbols with symbols like wonky center double increase and wonky kfb leads to unnecessary funkiness in charts. Take a gander at this example:

wonky hearts

unnecessary funkiness, in the form of “no stitch” symbols

You have heart-shaped cables, stacked in a column. Each heart begins with some increases geared to make the heart’s pointy end appear suddenly in sharp relief against the reverse stockinette background. Matching decreases keep the stitch count constant. Yet because wonky center double increase isn’t as wide as it should be, placeholder “no stitch” symbols have to be thrown in to fill in the gaps.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of “no stitch” symbols when they’re used properly: to indicate changes in stitch count, or to allow elements of a stitch pattern to line up vertically in the chart as they will in the finished fabric.

But the “no stitch” symbols in the example above are completely unnecessary. And they’re confusing: glancing at the chart, you’d think the stitch count changes from row to row—but it doesn’t.

What’s the alternative? Consistently using symbols that are as wide as their resulting stitch count, such as center double increase for centered double increases and kfb for knit into front and back. Consider:


no more funkiness!

Voilà! With center double increase for centered double increases, the placeholder “no stitch” symbols can go away.

So? Have I convinced you to abandon wonky center double increase and wonky kfb in favor of center double increase and kfb? If not, I can rant further.


Karen on February 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm.


Cat Bordhi on February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm.

Thank you, JC. Exactly what I have been pondering. Now what do we do about the YO symbol, which requires a square to be charted but creates one that was not there before? For instance, at the start of a repeat, if you show a YO square, does this represent a YO, or a k1, YO? This makes me a little crazy. And it is why I include both written instructions and charts, so the knitter can check them against one another for clarity.

JC on February 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm.

Cat, a yo is a yo is a yo! If the knitter is supposed to yo at the start of a repeat, put a yo symbol at the start of the chart. It means yo, not k1 and yo. Remember: the symbols will match the stitches you have on your right needle after you’ve completed working that row.

Does that answer the question? If not, you’ll have to explain further why yo symbols make you a little crazy.

Lori Gayle on February 10, 2011 at 9:42 am.

Absolutely! For the last several projects I tech edited I have been sneakily substituting multi-stitch symbols that represent the final appearance of the stitches on the needle. Nobody has commented or complained, so I intend to keep doing it. Whatever is not expressly forbidden is permitted, right? 🙂

MaryjoO on February 10, 2011 at 11:22 am.

I don’t know where I’ve been that I’ve not heard of you LOL but am thrilled to find you now (thanks to Clara Parke’s review today of your book) and Cat Bordhi’s Amazon review of your new books

anyway, I can’t wait to print out and READ your post above. As I already mentioned in a note to you on Ravelry, I guess I’ve mostly been too lazy to figure out some of the “whys” of cable chart symbols but always kick myself that I can’t instantly recognize the main ones. And I hope you have firm things to say about uniform chart symbols in the industry: I had a pattern that I wanted to knit, but the designer totally “individualized” her symbols and I found it just wasn’t relaxing enough to have to learn a “new language” when in general, most of the main symbols are uniform. Congrats on your book!

JC on February 11, 2011 at 9:01 am.

Lori, more power to you! 🙂

MaryJo, I do have firm things to say about the uniformity of chart symbols: don’t expect it to happen. It won’t. But if you want, you can always redraw a chart to use symbols that you like. I do the same, on occasion.