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October 8, 2011 / Gillian

Don’t Be Afraid of the Charts

After watching the first episode of American Horror Story, a catchy article name popped inot my head.  Maybe it’s not catchy so much as cheesy, but my hope is that the title jump starts the rest of it.  Will tackling the topic of charts be as scary as learning charts?  We shall see.

I remember looking at my first chart pattern; it was a pair of Cookie A. socks.  Actually, it was a fingerless glove pattern adapted from a pair of Cookie A. socks.  I had been eyeing these gloves for quite awhile.  It was one of the first patterns that I came across that I just knew that I had to make.  That pattern actually ended up teaching me a lot.  We’ll get into that another day.  In any case, the chart wasn’t that complex, but at the time it was terrifying.  Learning how to knit means learning a different language and if that’s the case then charts are a language within a language.

What I remember about that first chart is looking back and forth from the chart to the symbol definitions constantly.  Looking back it seems silly to have been so intimidated by it.  Every line was excruciating though, and I swore there would be no more charts for me.  Each dash, slash and circle was a translation on top of a translation.  It all seemed so horribly tedious.  Each tiny stitch was an eternity.  That was the problem though, really.  Each tiny stitch.  I was looking at the whole thing the wrong way, and after that pattern I gave up charts for months.

For awhile I was, as I tend to be, ceaselessly stubborn about the whole thing.  I was bound and determined that I would never use a chart again and not only that, but I insisted that they were idiotic and pointless anyway.  Why couldn’t things just be written out line by line?  Isn’t that easier?  I will admit right now that I have strong opinions and it takes nuclear level motivation for me to change my mind about anything.  I am the very definition of Taurus the Bull.  Several charted patterns were so delicious that I went so far as to translate the chart into line-by-line directions.

In retrospect, I think the first pattern to pull me out of this funk was the Juno stole by Miriam L. Felton.  It was so complex there was no way I could have gotten through it with spelled out directions.  At least, I didn’t have the patience to type them out.  If there’s one thing than can out-weigh my complete bull-headedness it’s my impatience and weird backwards laziness.  I call it backwards laziness because I hate adding extra steps to a process.  I’d rather do something that seems more difficult on its surface just because there are less steps to the process.  So I said fine, I’ll do the charts.  This stole was so magically delicious that I had to make it.  By the way, I’m glad I did because when I downloaded the pattern it was free, but I saw now that you have to purchase it, so score one for me.

Once I’d gotten through that stole I’d pretty much gotten the hang of what symbols usually mean and there wasn’t so much looking back and forth.  Still, I hadn’t quite gotten down with the real awesomeness of charts.  I was comfortable, but not thrilled.  What really converted me to the Church of Charts was cables.  Even looking back through my project history I can’t pinpoint where the epiphany happened, but I remember distinctly that it was something with cables.  There I was staring at a chart full of cables when suddenly my brain superimposed the idea of the finished piece on top of the chart.

“You idiot!”  I yelled at myself.

It was a classic ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’ moment.  All this time I’d been looking at the stitches on the charts without really looking at the chart.  What is a chart if not a picture of your project, or a picture of a piece of your project.  It is a different language, but I was trying to learn the language the way you learn it in high school.  Chat means cat.  Livre means book.  Silly girl.  What I needed was…

Livre =

I was hobbling myself with extra words.  (In case you were wondering by the way, I took French in high school.)  The reason language programs like Rosetta Stone are so good is that when you learn a different language, your native language doesn’t enter into it.  The key to really learning a language fluently is not by learning what French word is the equivalent what what English word (or…you know insert whatever languages you want there), it’s associating a word with a picture in your mind.

Once I could see the chart as a picture of a project then I began to be able to stop looking at the definitions.  Cables make for fairly straight forward pictures, which is probably why it was a cable project that solidified it for me.  From there I was off to the races.  No chart couldn’t be conquered.  Since then, I’m a big fan of charts.  Line by line directions are still good for some things, and some times it’s great to have a chart with a line by line companion.  There are certain directions that you just need more than a symbol to communicate.  Still, for those of us who are even mildly dyslexic, a picture can be infinitely preferable to a thousand words.

You’d think that this process would have taught me something about being open to new ideas and maybe it would curb my stubborn streak.  Ask my husband, it hasn’t.  Part of my fundamental nature is making snap decisions that I refuse to back away from until I have that light bulb over the head moment.  Nevertheless, when I do convert, I’m a zealot and charts are no exception.  They may be confusing at first.  They may seem like crazy knitting hieroglyphics, indecipherable to the modern eye, but they are not.  Charts make complicated lace a breeze.  They make the most twisted cables a walk in the park…for your brain.  Your fingers is a whole other thing.  But don’t worry, once your brain levels up to charts, your fingers won’t be far behind.  So learn charts!  If a stubborn ass like me can do it, anyone can.



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