Tutorial: How to Read Crochet Charts

Sometimes when I share a project that I've completed, several people will comment that even though they love the design, they are unable to read crochet charts, so they will never be able to work the pattern. I want to remedy that. Crochet charts can seem like an insurmountable wall, a stumbling block to your progress in crochet--but it's really not. The wall is much smaller than you might think, a short climb perhaps. And what lies beyond that tiny hill is a vast ocean of beautiful work you can then get your hands upon. 

This tutorial I am sharing with you is aimed to get you this much closer to that goal. It's not like learning a whole new language. There are only a few dozen symbols you have to memorize. Even as chart symbols vary from language-to-language, you will be able to recognize the similarities pretty quickly as you understand how symbols are laid out in a diagram, how they work with other symbols, and you will begin to see charts for what they really are: a wonderful aid to help you visualize where your stitches should go.

So let's jump right in. Instead of defining every symbol for you, we will begin with a lesson. Before I began crocheting in 2012, I was a high school teacher. Every lesson begins with a plan. Today's is to take a simple coaster diagram from it's start and work to the end until we recognize the pattern within the seeming chaos of symbol upon symbol. 


Something to note about crochet charts. If you do a simple online search for them, I would venture to guess about 95% of them are illegally shared copies of copyrighted patterns. Yes, you can easily access them, but they are not 'free.' It is best to find out what book or magazine the chart was published in, and attempt to get your hands on it secondhand either online or through interlibrary loan.

In that regard, the pattern we will be dissecting today is completely free--freely available but also free to access without infringement. 


Although there are charts for other types of patterns, we are solely going to focus on patterns in the round, such as doilies or coasters or circular blankets. When you begin reading a chart for one of these, you start in the center. For some diagrams, especially large ones, it is unnecessary to include the entire chart for the reader. Instead, a chart will include the first few rounds completely, but then as it works out, it will only include a few repeats within the round--because you get the gist by that. And it saves on space when fitting the diagram onto paper.

Please open this link in another browser. This is the pattern we will be learning from. 

So for our lesson, step one: find the center. 

As shown above, denoted with a large red arrow, the center of the pattern is in the center of the diagram. If you are looking top-down on a doily, the center is where you begin; the same is true for the diagram. In the picture above, you can see the center of this pattern is a circle with the letter 'm' in it. This is not always the case. But in this instance, the center is telling you that you need to begin with a magic circle. Alternately, instead of a true circle, in the middle will be a ring of small ovals. These ovals, in crochet charts, always mean 'chain' stitch, and when represented in a circular fashion, they mean to chain X amount and then join to form a circle. The amount of chain stitches in the circle is noted by how many ovals are in the circle. 


Now that we have our circle to begin. What is the next step? Round 1! To begin a new round, usually we have to start with some chains depending on which stitch our first round begins with. If it's a SC, we always start with a ch 1; DC starts with a ch 2 or 3 depending on the pattern. In this pattern, look at the first round outside the beginning circle. Do you see a line of chain stitches (ovals)?

Above, you should see four chain stitches in a line. Three of those chains go straight up and then one is going off toward the left of it. Do you see that? Also, helpfully, you should see the #1 also in a circle. That is telling you this is round 1 to help you keep your place. When you crochet right-handed, you are working toward the left. The same is true about the chart, because it is supposed to parallel your work. So the four chains here show three going up and one going to the left. Let's look to the left of it and see what happens there. 

Here we can see a stitch symbol that looks like a T with a line through it. In this diagram, and for most diagrams, this represents a 'double crochet' (DC). The single line through it tells you to 'yarn over' once, which is how you begin a DC stitch. There is also a chain to the left of it. 

Now we can look back at how this round started and know that it began with a 'DC, CH 1' which was represented by 'CH 4' because it's at the beginning of the round. As you go around in round 1, the 'DC, CH 1' repeats itself. This is our pattern repeat. How many times does the repeat occur in round 1? If you remember to include the chain 4 in the beginning, it occurs 12 times. That means we have 'DC, CH 1' into the circle twelve times for round 1.

After you work your twelve repeats and get back to the beginning, how do you join? 

Above, you should see a dot (small, filled-in circle). This denotes a 'slip stitch' (SLST) in crochet. You will SLST into the 3rd chain you began with, because that would be the top of your first DC stitch in round 1. The 4th chain created your first CH 1 space. 


Do you know how to begin round 2? Looking at the chart, and remembering where you are in the pattern, what is coming out of the SLST you just made? 

We begin in a similar way to how we began round 1. There are three chain stitches coming out of the SLST we ended with round 1. But immediately following the CH 3 is another DC symbol. This DC is coming out of the chain stitch that created our first chain space in round 1. So after you begin round 2 with a CH 3, you will DC into the first space. 

After the DC is a chain stitch, so make sure you CH 1. Have you figured out what the repeat for this round is? There are 2 DC symbols coming out of the next chain space, and then a chain stitch after. You can see that this repeats around. You began with "CH 3, DC in space, CH 1" and then your next set was "2 DC in space, CH 1" so you can surmise that this is your repeat. Especially because there are twelve of them, just like the last round. 

When you come back around, find your join. The chart uses the same method as you go around (a dot to represent a SLST) showing you where to join. Looks like we will join in the exact same way we did in the last round: a SLST into the 3rd chain as we began the round.


Are you getting the hang of this yet? Well, this is the perfect pattern to practice until you do! Let's look at round 3. Where does it begin? Look closely, because this one can be tricky!

Do you see that sneaky SLST? That is telling you that you need to SLST into the next stitch before you even begin the round! Why? Well it looks like they want you to stay next to your first chain space as you work each round, so you will be SLST-ing into each stitch until you are next to your first space in every round from here on out. Take a look at the diagram to see what I mean. Each round begins with a few SLSTs to get you to the right place, so pay attention.

So what stitch do we begin with after we are in the right place for this round?

This round begins with a chain 3 just like round 2 did. This beginning chain 3 is followed by 2 DC stitches, shown in the pattern, worked into that first space, then a chain 1. As we continue to the left, there are 3 DC stitches into the next space, then a chain 1. This is our repeat. You will continue this around until the end and then join in the same manner as you did round 2 and 1. 


This next round begins just like the previous, except instead of one SLST, there are two.

You SLST until you are in the last stitch before your first space. 

And just like before, your first stitch is a CH 3 to indicate a DC. In the following space, you should see a DC stitch, a chain, 2 DC stitches, another chain. These are all performed into the first space of the round. Following that, in the next space, is our repeat for the round: 2 DC, chain, 2 DC, chain -- all in the same space (the second space). This is what we will repeat as we go around. When we reach the beginning of the round, it shows we join as normal to the 3rd chain of our beginning stitch.

Rounds 5-12 are continued in the same manner. Begin as shown, finish the first repeat, determine what the repeat will be for the rest of the round, and then join as normal when you reach the beginning. The next round (13) is where it begins to change in order to form the border.


How does round 13 begin?

Oddly enough, it wants you to begin this round by SLST backwards into the space you just finished in round 12. My arrow is kind-of covering that space up, but you can see what it is showing for the most part. It wants you to begin in that space. What do we do next?

Chain 5. This round is pretty simple. After you chain 5, you should see that this chain angles up and then down and then there is a SLST into the first space (shown by a filled dot). We have just completed our first repeat of the round. As you continue, you will chain 5, then SLST into the next space. However, be careful! Look how the round ends:

The last chain 5 is not actually a chain 5. Instead, it tells you to chain 2 and then DC into the first SLST of the round. The reason for this is simple and very common in lace crochet: By completing your last chain space in this manner, you are getting your hook in the exact space to start the next round before you even begin it. When you finish that last DC, your hook is ready to begin the next round, by being in the middle of the space--exactly where it wants you to be.


Can you eyeball this round before you begin and figure out the repeat? You should notice that the repeat consists of TWO chain spaces. The first space consists of 8 DC stitches and the second space is simply a SLST. However, how do you begin the first repeat if you are already in the middle of a space? 

Since you are halfway through the space, you only do about half of the repeat. You will complete 5 DC into the second half of the space (around the DC stitch you finished the last round with), and then SLST into the next space. Your repeat tells you to DC 8 times in the next space and then SLST into the space after that, continuing on until you return to the first space of the round. This is where you will complete the first repeat. We already did 5 DC stitches in this space, so we will crochet 3 more, and then we will join as normal.

And you are finished! Fasten off, cut your thread, weave in your ends, and block the work if it's needed. 

This pattern was a simple one to learn from. What is your next step? Take on a more challenging pattern. Don't be confused if you see unfamiliar symbols--just search for a simple crochet symbol definition chart, and embark on a new adventure!