Crochet diagrams are a game changer. They show you exactly what stitch you're using and where it goes at a glance. You'll never look at written directions again! (Just kidding, you may still need them...)
Simply put, a diagram is a chart or schematic of a pattern made up of symbols that represent stitches. Once you know which stitch the symbol represents, there's no stopping you.
Even better: diagrams are created using internationally recognized symbols that corresponded to each stitch and instruction. In other words, they enable you to crochet in any language. (No more worries about British crochet terms! )
Generally, diagrams are used for edging, borders and for repeating stitch patterns. They're also handy for illustrating what different stitch combinations look like.
The graphic above shows the symbols for some of the most basic stitches. The diagram you're working from should provide a key, but if it doesn't, don't sweat it — the symbols are universal.
What this key tells us is that every symbol represents a stitch. And if you really dig in, the symbols make sense: the dc symbol has one horizontal bar to show one yarn over, and the tr has two bars for two yarn overs.
The symbols are also roughly to scale: a single crochet is smaller than a double treble crochet. This means your diagram is a pretty accurate picture of what your crochet piece will look like when you're finished.
Each symbol stands for a stitch — got it. But where do you actually start with a diagram? Well, that depends on the type of diagram.
Working in Rows
First things first: Diagrams are worked from the bottom up and are designed for right-handed crocheters unless otherwise noted.
Let's look at the stitch diagram for Granny Stitch Rows above.
- Start at the bottom left, working your foundation chain. Then, you'll work row 1, reading the pattern from right to left. Then, turn your work, and stitch across row 2, reading from left to right.
- The stitches stack on top of each other so you can see what stitch to work into as you go up the pattern.
- A bracket on the right side of the diagram indicates the number rows in the pattern repeat.
Pattern repeats (as opposed to row repeats) can also be shown in a diagram. You'll see those either highlighted (as in the Fantail Diagram above) or with a bracket under the starting chain indicating the number of stitches.
Understanding the stitch repeat is key to determining how long to make a starting chain. Don’t forget to add the number of turning (or raising) stitches to your total. If written instructions are included, stitch repeat info is shown at the beginning of the pattern as: Multiples of “x” plus “y”. (Just in case you're wondering what that's all about!)
A chain stitch that “hangs off” the end of the row is not counted. It simply raises the work to the next row (that's also called a turning chain.)
If a chain stitch is directly over a stitch at the end of the row, it does count as a stitch.
Working in the Round
Motifs of different shapes (circles, octagons, flowers, hearts and even squares) are worked in the round. They still get diagrams, but you read them a little bit differently.
You still need to identify your starting point (generally the center), but instead of working back and forth in rows, you'll follow the diagram working counter clockwise. When you get to the end of a round, don't turn your work, unless the pattern tells you to.
You may see the different rounds called out with numbers, but some designers use alternate the colors used for the symbols each round to help you keep track of things.
As great as diagrams are, they do fall short when it comes to working into a chain stitch vs. a chain space. In the granny square diagram above, it looks like you're working double crochets into the chain, but you're actually putting them in the chain space. This is where written instructions can clear things up for you. Otherwise, just go with your gut!
The Complete Package
Learning to decode crochet diagrams takes practice, but it's totally worth it. If you're a visual learner, you can't beat the clarity of a chart. And when you use a chart and written directions together, magic happens: it's like you're inside the designer's brain. Try it and see for yourself!
Learn More Now
Get must-know tutorials for basic stitches, recommended materials and other resources for stitching newbies in our free Beginner's Guide to Crochet.