How to read a Knitting Chart (Colorwork and Texture)
There are many knitters who are frightened of knitting charts, which is surprising -- they're not that hard, and learning to read charts can make your knitting much more enjoyable.
A magnetic board (or post-it note, in a pinch) helps make it easier to keep track of which line you're on; it also helps break the chart down into a more manageable form. You just follow the line you're on, knitting each stitch as you come to it.
Charts for colorwork or for cables have every row shown, since you need to see what color goes where.
Intarsia Hints by Lucy Neatby
Learn Intarsia Knitting at Sweaterscapes.com
Fair Isle Knitting at She Ewe Knits
Intarsia vs. Fair Isle at Maggie's Rags
Intarsia is used for flat pattern pieces, and is worked back and forth (from right to left on the right side, then from left to right when knitting the wrong side rows).
An intarsia chart might look like this, with several bobbins needed to work the pattern. You knit the stitches as they present themselves, twisting the yarn together on the wrong side where one color meets another, but you drop the unused color after twisting and do not carry it behind the active color:
Fair Isle knitting is usually done in the round, so you always read the chart from right to left. You carry the inactive yarn behind the active yarn, twisting the yarns together if the floats (the lengths of inactive yarn behind the knitted fabric) become longer than five stitches long.
Charts for cables and other texture-type patterns will have symbols to indicate where stitches are to be knitted, purled, cabled, etc., and should have a key to indicate what the symbols stand for. They can be worked either in the round (if you're knitting a sweater or hat, for instance) or flat. If you're knitting in the round, read the chart from the bottom to the top, and from right to left.
Here is a cable stitch sample (which could be knitted as a scarf), along with its chart:
Go to Lace Knitting Charts