When I sat down to create my first crochet chart, I searched my Friendly Worldwide Internets for a primer of some kind, and I couldn’t find one. (That’s not to say there isn’t one, but if there is, Google buried it and threw away the map on the day I went looking.) At any rate, in the hope of helping others avoid some of the mistakes I have made, here are some helpful hints for designing charts.
1. You don’t need special $20 software. A basic spreadsheet program will work just great. (In a pinch, graph paper will also work, but you should stockpile erasers like you’re preparing for the hand-drawn zombie apocalypse.)
2. I have seen charts that plug letters into each box (e.g. R for red, B for blue), and I have designed charts that way myself. Honestly, though, I find it 560,000 times easier to design in colors, like this:
Colors give me the best idea of what my final product is going to look like. Compare that chart to this potholder:
Does designing in colors use a little extra printer ink? Yup. Does it also save a giant headache and two hours of re-design? You bet. I think it’s worth it – whether you’re creating an image or making letters.
3. Charts are read, as you know, from the bottom up. The chain doesn’t count as a row, so Row 1 will be the first row of your chart. It will be read from RIGHT to LEFT, as will all odd rows.
4. In the beginning, for your own sake, create one or two designs that are (largely) symmetrical – that is, that are the roughly the same on either side of the midpoint. A perfectly symmetrical row might have four black, 13 red, and four black. With a symmetrical chart, you will never have a moment’s panic when you’re testing your design about whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side, because both sides are the same. The same will be true for everyone who makes your pattern.
5. In the beginning, for your own sake, stick to two colors, or at most, three. The more colors you add, the slower you’ll go when you’re testing – and the more complex your chart will be for new crocheters.
6. Throw your people a bone and get them started with one line of instruction, namely “Chain 31,” or “Chain 42,” or “Chain 12.” The number of chains is your Row 1 stitch count + one, and though most people will know that, it will comfort those who are unsure if you spell it out for them.
7. Be prepared to revise your first draft – even before you pick up your hook to start testing it.
To understand why, let’s use this example, which will be the foundation for a sugar skull bag I plan to design for my shop (and carry around town!):
It looks pretty good, right? There are some problems, however, that are going to frustrate me when I test this.
Yup, that chin is a problem. Why? Because I’m introducing a large block of a new color on an even row, which means it will look like a series of Vs:
I’d much rather it look tidy and squared off across the bottom, like this:
To fix that, I simply need to introduce that large block of new color on an ODD row instead of an even one.
A detail done with a single stitch is risky, which is to say, it can easily be swallowed up by color changes. It’s better – when possible – to do details with a minimum of two stitches. In my case, to preserve symmetry, I need three white stitches.
To accommodate for that change, meanwhile, I need to alter Row 14 so that I get a good overall shape.
You’ll see I haven’t touched the single stitch at the top of the nose, and that’s because the top of the nasal cavity has a triangular point. Although that one lone stitch will be largely swallowed up, it will still create the look of a point, which is what I need. In that instance, a single stitch is not only necessary, but desirable.
I talked about introducing a large block of a new color on an odd row. What happens when a new section involves small blocks of color – say, two or three stitches? Well, wouldn’t you know, smaller blocks tend to look better on even rows.
Here, for example, is my nose, following the chart above (i.e. starting on Row 13, which is an odd row):
Look how much better it appears when I start on an even row:
So much cleaner! The same holds true for the eyes.
Each one is introduced (and concluded) with small blocks. If I start those small blocks on an odd row, they look spotty and untidy.
If I start them on an even row, the small details fare better:
Now we have addressed most of the “preventable” issues with the sugar skull chart.
8. The last thing we need to do to the chart before testing is to add BOLD LINES every five or ten squares. (I find five easiest.) With the lines in place, the people who make your pattern will know at a glance when they need to change colors.
9. Now . . . TEST THE CHART. Seriously. Don’t post it and say, “I didn’t have time to test this.” Test the chart so you can see how the chart translates in yarn.
Has this helped you? Do you have other good tips? Leave me a comment and let me know!