Knitspeak guide

IntroductionCasting onBinding offRow numbersInstructionsHorizontal repeatsVertical repeatsShort rowsFlexibility and limitationsSummary

Introduction

When contributing a stitch pattern to the Stitch-Maps.com collection, you’ll enter written instructions in the form of “knitspeak.” You’re probably already familiar with knitspeak – it’s the language that’s typically used to describe stitch patterns. For example, here’s the knitspeak for Vine lace:

  • Rows 1 and 3 (WS): Purl.
  • Row 2: K1, *k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *.
  • Row 4: *K2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from * to last st, k1.
Vine Lace stitch map

The knitspeak used here at Stitch-Maps.com is rather specific – a specialized dialect, if you will, of the larger knitspeak language used in the knitting world. This dialect’s “grammar rules” determine the phrasing that you can and cannot use at Stitch-Maps.com. Let’s go over these rules with a series of examples.

Casting on

First, let’s look again at that Vine lace example:

  • Rows 1 and 3 (WS): Purl.
  • Row 2: K1, *k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *.
  • Row 4: *K2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from * to last st, k1.

Notice anything missing? Yup, that’s right: the cast-on count. When you’re entering knitspeak at Stitch-Maps.com, you don’t need to start with “Cast on 15 sts” or “CO multiple of 9 + 1” or anything like that. When we’re drawing stitch maps, we’ll figure out the cast-on count automatically, saving you the trouble.

  • CO multiple of 9 + 1 not necessary!
  • Rows 1 and 3 (WS): Purl.
  • Row 2: K1, *k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *.
  • Row 4: *K2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from * to last st, k1.

That said, you can use CO to add a bunch of stitches to a row – for example, as part of a buttonhole:

  • Rows 1 and 5 (RS): Knit.
  • Rows 2 and 6: Knit.
  • Row 3: K5, BO 3 sts, k4.
  • Row 4: K5, CO 3 sts, k5. adds three stitches mid-row
buttonhole stitch map

Essentially, the CO CO symbol is just another sort of increase, like yo yo or M1L M1L.

Binding off

Just as you don’t need to start a stitch pattern’s knitspeak with a cast-on, you don’t need to end with a bind-off. Rather, BO BO is a sort of decrease. It’s most useful in sawtooth edgings such as Nasturtium Edging:

  • Row 1 (RS): Sl1 wyif, k1, yo, k2tog, yo, k1.
  • Row 2: K1, 1-to-5 inc, k1, yo, k2tog, k1.
  • Rows 3, 5, and 7: Sl1 wyif, k1, yo, k2tog, k6.
  • Rows 4 and 6: K7, yo, k2tog, k1.
  • Row 8: BO 5 sts, k1, yo, k2tog, k1.
Nasturtium Edging stitch map

Note that binding off, say, 5 stitches actually uses up 6 stitches off your left needle. That extra stitch – the one remaining on your right needle at the completion of a bind off – is indicated in stitch maps with a post-BO st symbol. It’s why the instructions for row 8 of the Nasturtium Edging end with k1, yo, k2tog, k1 rather than k2, yo, k2tog, k1.

Row numbers

Each set of instructions begins by listing one or more row numbers. Here’s a simple example:

  • Row 1: ...
  • Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8: ...
  • Rows 3 and 7: ...
  • Row 5: ...

Overall, the stitch pattern has 8 rows. Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 are the same, so they’re listed together; ditto rows 3 and 7. You can list your rows separately, if you prefer, but listing them together saves on typing.

What’s important is ending each list of row numbers with a colon, :. That’s what separates the list of row numbers from the instructions for those rows:

  • Row 1: instructions go here, after the colon

Sorry, a dash or period just won’t cut it. In our knitspeak dialect, it has to be a colon.

  • Row 1 nope, not this
  • Rows 2, 3, and 4. not this either

If you start each set of instructions with Row or Rows, we’ll assume you’re knitting flat. We’ll also assume that row 1 is a right-side row, and that the rows alternate between right- and wrong-side. So, in our current example:

  • Row 1: right-side row
  • Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8: wrong-side rows
  • Rows 3 and 7: right-side rows
  • Row 5: right-side row

If these assumptions don’t suit your needs, you can mark specific rows with (RS) or (WS). Here’s an example of a stitch pattern that begins with a wrong-side row:

  • Rows 1, 3, 5, and 7 (WS): wrong-side rows
  • Rows 2 and 4: right-side rows
  • Rows 6 and 8: right-side rows

What if your stitch pattern is worked in the round? No problem: just begin each line of instructions with Round, Rounds, Rnd, or Rnds. Then we’ll assume each round is essentially a right-side row, worked from right to left with the right side facing. For example:

  • Round 1: ...
  • Rounds 2 and 4: ...
  • Round 3: ...

Remember to start each set of instructions with Row, Round, or one of the other options shown above. Simply starting with a list of row numbers isn’t going to work.

  • 1, 3, and 7: no can do!

Instructions

Now for the good stuff! Enter instructions as a series of abbreviations. Use the abbreviations described on this page, or – better yet! – the convenience buttons on the Contribute page.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from Edging:

  • Row 1 (RS): K3, yo, ssk, k1, k2tog, k2, [yo, k2tog] twice, k1.
  • Row 2: K2, p7, k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
  • Row 3: K3, yo, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, ssk, yo, k2.
  • ...

Not surprisingly, a single k2tog, ssk, or yo abbreviation will get you a single k2tog, ssk, or yo symbol in your stitch map. Most abbreviations work this way. But knits, purls, and bind-offs work a little differently: to get a single knit or purl or BO symbol, you must say k1, p1, or BO 1 st. You can’t just say k, p, or BO – we’ll get to why in a minute.

What if you want more than one symbol of a given type? Phrasing like the following will do the trick:

  • p5 will give you purlpurlpurlpurlpurl
  • yo twice will give you yoyo
  • k2tog 3 times will give you k2togk2togk2tog

Brackets [ ] let you repeat a series of instructions a set number of times. (Parens ( ) and braces { } work too.) Consider Row 1 from Edging, shown above: [yo, k2tog] twice results in k2togyok2togyo.

Or in Feather and Fan:

  • Row 1 (RS): Knit.
  • Row 2: Purl.
  • Row 3: K3, *[k2tog] 3 times, [yo, k1] 5 times, yo, [k2tog] 3 times, repeat from * to last 3 sts, k3.
  • Row 4: Knit.

[yo, k1] 5 times works out to kyokyokyokyokyo.

Horizontal repeats

If you visit the detail pages for Edging and Feather and Fan, you’ll notice a difference between them.

horizontal repeats disabled

Below the Edging stitch map, “Horizontal repeats” is grayed out.

horizontal repeats enabled

Below the Feather and Fan stitch map, you can choose to view up to five horizontal repeats.

Edging doesn’t repeat horizontally. Feather and Fan does. Stitch-Maps.com figures this out by looking at the knitspeak you enter.

Consider Edging. Each row results in a set number of stitches:

  • Row 1 (RS): K3, yo, ssk, k1, k2tog, k2, [yo, k2tog] twice, k1. 14 stitches
  • Row 2: K2, p7, k2, yo, k2tog, k1. 14 stitches
  • Row 3: K3, yo, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, ssk, yo, k2. 15 stitches
  • ...

In comparison, the number of stitches in each row of Feather and Fan depends on the number of repeats being worked:

  • ...
  • Row 3: K3, *[k2tog] 3 times, [yo, k1] 5 times, yo, [k2tog] 3 times, repeat from * to last 3 sts, k3. 17 stitches for each repeat, plus 3 stitches at each edge
  • ...

If you want to enter a repeated pattern – if you want to ensure that “Horizontal repeats” is enabled and you can choose the number of repeats on display – the key is letting Stitch-Maps.com know which portion of each row to repeat. One way to do this is with phrasing like *do this, do that, repeat from *:

  • ...
  • Row 3: K3, *[k2tog] 3 times, [yo, k1] 5 times, yo, [k2tog] 3 times, repeat from * to last 3 sts, k3.
  • ...

You can say rep from * rather than repeat from * if you like. And you can omit the to last 3 sts part, because Stitch-Maps.com will figure it out for you. But you do need to use asterisks *. (Other symbols, such as a plus sign +, won’t work.) It’s like the “lengthen/shorten here” marks on a sewing pattern: to Stitch-Maps.com, the asterisks mean “widen/narrow here.”

Another way to let Stitch-Maps.com know where to widen or narrow a stitch map is by using knit or k to mean “knit as many stitches as you can.” Likewise, purl and p mean “purl as many stitches as you can,” and BO means “bind off as many stitches as you can.” For example, knit, yo, ssk, k1 means “knit to the last three stitches of the row however many stitches that might be, then yo, ssk, k1.” This “as many stitches as you can” behavior is why you have to say k1, p1, or BO 1 st when you only want one knit, purl, or bind-off.

So, for Feather and Fan:

  • Row 1 (RS): Knit.
  • Row 2: Purl.
  • Row 3: K3, *[k2tog] 3 times, [yo, k1] 5 times, yo, [k2tog] 3 times, repeat from * to last 3 sts, k3.
  • Row 4: Knit.

Stitch-Maps.com knows that Feather and Fan can be repeated horizontally because rows 1 and 4 contain any number of knits, row 2 contains any number of purls, and row 3 contains a [k2tog] 3 times, [yo, k1] 5 times, yo, [k2tog] 3 times sequence that can be worked any number of times. Because each row offers the flexibility of a “widen/narrow here” section, Stitch-Maps.com can enable “Horizontal repeats” and let you specify the width of the stitch map on display.

Note that you can have only one repeated section on each row. Consider the last row of Vine lace. If the final k1 is changed to k, Stitch-Maps.com will get confused:

  • ...
  • Row 4: *K2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *, k. oops! which section should be repeated?

Stitch-Maps.com won’t know whether it should widen/narrow row 4 by tweaking the number of repeats of k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, or by tweaking the number of knits at the end of the row. Specifically, it’ll give the following error message:

Whoops! We can't make sense of those instructions. Here’s the problem:
“*k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *, knit” contains too many sections of adjustable width. On each row, use just one section of adjustable width (“knit,” “purl,” “BO,” or “*..., repeat from *”). To knit, purl, or bind off a single stitch, use “k1,” “p1,” or “BO 1 st.”

Bottom line: for repeated patterns, include *do this, do that, repeat from * or knit or purl or BOprecisely once per row.

Vertical repeats

By default, Stitch-Maps.com tries to repeat all the rows of a stitch pattern. For example, after drawing rows 1 through 4 of Vine lace, it goes ahead and starts over with row 1.

Vine lace

You can change this behavior by telling Stitch-Maps.com which rows ought to be repeated. For example, only rows 1 and 2 of Point Edging ought to be repeated; row 3 should only be worked once, at the very end. Here’s what Point Edging looks like with rows 1 and 2 worked four times:

Point Edging

It’s the little Repeat rows 1-2 note at the bottom of the knitspeak that does the trick.

  • Row 1 (RS): *Yo, k3, sl1-k2tog-psso, k3, yo, k1, repeat from * to last 9 sts, yo, k3, sl1-k2tog-psso, k3, yo.
  • Row 2: Purl.
  • Row 3: *Yo, k9, yo, k1, repeat from * to last 9 sts, yo, k9, yo.
  • Repeat rows 1-2.

As with Point Edging, you can repeat the first few rows of a pattern and work the last rows only once. Or you can repeat the middle rows, working the first few rows and the last few rows only once. More commonly, though, you may want to work the first few rows once as “set-up rows,” then repeat the remaining rows. That’s the approach taken by Butterfly Lace:

  • Rows 1, 3, 5, 13, 15, and 17 (RS): K1, *k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k3, repeat from * to last 6 sts, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1.
  • Rows 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18: Purl.
  • Rows 7, 9, and 11: K5, *k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k3, repeat from * to last 2 sts, k2.
  • Repeat rows 7-18.

Short rows

Most of the time, the stitches of each row have to “use up” all the stitches of the previous row. For example, if row 4 results in 12 stitches, then row 5 has to use all 12 stitches. If row 5 doesn’t – say, it only uses 10 of the 12 stitches – then Stitch-Maps.com will issue an error message like this one:

Whoops! We can't make sense of those instructions. Here's the problem:
It's not possible to work "[k1, p1] 5 times" (10 stitches) over 12 stitches.

This “must use up all the stitches” requirement is waived for short rows. Instead of marching across all the stitches on your needles, a short row only goes partway before doing an about-face, leaving some stitches unworked. Short rows thus add height to select portions of your knitting, and are often used in garment shaping: shoulder shaping, bust darts, and sock heels are prime examples. Short rows are sometimes used in patterns for shawls, wraps, and doilies as well.

At Stitch-Maps.com, the knitspeak for a short row ends in turn or w&t (aka wrap and turn). These are the instructions that tell Stitch-Maps.com where to perform an about-face. The difference between turn and w&t is easy to see in these examples:

simple turns

With Row 2: P3, turn, simple turn symbols sit between columns of stitches.

w&t

With Row 2: P3, w&t, each w&t symbol stands for a wrapped stitch, and is part of a stitch column.

Note that short rows are numbered just like other rows – that is, each row gets its own row number, even if it’s a partial row that doesn’t extend all the way across your knitting.

  • Row 1 (RS): K6.
  • Row 2: P3, turn. Only 3 stitches long, yet this row gets its own row number.
  • Row 3: K3. Ditto.
  • Row 4: P6.

That said, rows that begin mid-piece go unnumbered in stitch maps, to minimize visual clutter. That’s why row 3 isn’t numbered in the examples shown above.

Two more short-row caveats remain. First, short rows have to be of set length. They can’t contain “widen/narrow here” sections like those described in the Horizontal repeats section above. (That makes sense, right? When faced with instructions like *yo, k2tog, repeat from *, turn, how would Stitch-Maps.com know where to turn? After how many repeats of yo, k2tog?)

Second, the initial row of a stitch pattern can’t be a short row. That’s because Stitch-Maps.com needs some way of figuring out the total number of stitches on the needles. And if row 1 of your stitch pattern does end with turn or w&t? Not to worry: all you need is a set-up row like Row 0: CO 50 sts or Row 0: K50, and a vertical repeat like Repeat rows 1-48. That’s the approach taken by Diamond Doily:

  • Row 0 (WS): CO 50 sts. A set-up row establishes the stitch count.
  • Row 1: K6, yo, k2tog, k3, yo, sl2-k1-p2sso, yo, k3, k2tog, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k3, yo, sl2-k1-p2sso, yo, k16, turn. The first actual pattern row ends in turn.
  • ...
  • Repeat rows 1-48. The set-up row isn’t repeated.

In summary, here are the knitspeak rules regarding short rows:

  • Short rows end with turn or w&t.
  • Short rows are numbered sequentially, just like other rows.
  • Short rows may not contain “widen/narrow here” sections.
  • A short row may not be the initial row of a stitch pattern.

Flexibility and limitations

Stitch-Maps.com is pretty flexible. It doesn’t pay any attention to whether you use lowercase or uppercase. It skips over excess whitespace. It doesn’t care if you separate abbreviations with commas, or if you end each line of instructions with a period. But it does have some limitations.

To begin with, you’re stuck with a limited set of abbreviations, for a limited set of symbols. Stated another way: you can only use the abbreviations for the symbols defined in the key. That makes sense, right – if you were to enter some other sort of abbreviation, what would Stitch-Maps.com draw? (That said, you can create a lot of stitch patterns from just knits, purls, increases, and decreases!)

Another limitation is a little more subtle. Though it’s pretty common to see instructions like Row 2 and all other WS rows, that sort of verbiage will throw Stitch-Maps.com into a tizzy. Unlike a human, it can’t infer which rows are being described. It needs to have all the row numbers spelled out – for example, Rows 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 (WS). Yes, typing all those row numbers is a bit tedious, but you can handle it, can’t you?

Summary

  • Let Stitch-Maps.com figure out your stitch pattern’s cast-on count for you.
  • Start each set of instructions with Row or Round, a list of row numbers, and a colon.
  • Use these abbreviations.
  • Use brackets to repeat a sequence a set number of times – for example, [yo, k1] 5 times.
  • Use asterisks to repeat a sequence any number of times – for example, *k2tog, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, ssk, repeat from *.
  • Use k1, p1, or BO 1 st for one knit, one purl, or one bind-off, and knit, purl, or BO for any number of knits, purls, or bind-offs.
  • Let Stitch-Maps.com know how to repeat a pattern horizontally by having just one “widen/narrow here” section on each row.

A fresh take on charts

Stitch maps are a new form of knitting chart that use traditional symbols in a novel way: without a grid.

The symbols within a stitch map clearly show what stitches to work. And – not being confined within grid squares – they also show which stitches of the previous row should be worked.

The end result? Charts with unparalleled fluidity, authenticity, and beauty.