Working a Chart with Multiple Colors

Working from a Chart with Multiple Colors
©2004, 2017 Sandra Petit,

Colors. What would crochet be without color? I have another page on this site which discusses how to use color in planning your work. This page is the mechanics of using color. In other words, how do I use many colors to work in a picture designed from a chart?

If you’re making a pillow or anything where the back doesn’t matter, you can carry your colors and pick up the one you need as you need it. This will cause strands of your yarn to show across where you carried it. Always keep your strands on the wrong side of your work.

Before I start here’s an important notation on reading graphs.

When you read a graph, remember that you are turning your work on each row.

If you are right-handed:
← ← ← You will read all odd rows (right side) from right to left. ← ← ←
→ → → You will read all even rows (wrong side) from left to right. → → →

If you are left-handed:
→ → → You will read all odd rows (right side) from left to right. → → →
← ← ← You will read all even rows (wrong side) from right to left. ← ← ←

Remembering this will save you lots of headaches! This is the same rule for working filet crochet, so if you get used to it for one, you’re halfway there for the other.

Sometimes the picture is symmetrical so if you lose your place it won’t be a big deal, but if your pic is not symmetrical, be very careful that you are reading from the correct end. I suggest using a highlighter to mark off the rows as you work them (don’t mark in a book – make a photocopy for your use only). You can always count your rows, of course, and then just look at the row number on the chart.

Most charts will have a legend that tells you what each symbol means. If it’s just two colors, like my project used for the tutorial, it might just use X for one color and an empty square for the other. Whatever the method it should let you know.

As an example here is a chart for a few rows of the square below.

colors chart 1

A legend (key) might note:

colors chart 2

Single crochet is especially good for chart work where there is a picture design, but you should use whatever your pattern says. If you don’t, you can’t expect your work to look as the designer intended. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like the way it turns out. That would be personal preference. For the sample below I used dc. In this case, it doesn’t matter what stitch you use.

A note on when to change colors. If you are working from a pattern, similar to a cross-stitch pattern, where there is a graph showing you when to change colors, you need to know at which point to make that change. Here’s how it works. You’re working your background color and you see that the next square has an “X” in it (or some symbol to tell you what color to use there), so you’re going to have to change color. You will begin the last stitch before this with your old color and complete it with your new color.

Say you have 6 squares of background and the 7th square is a color. You will complete the last part of stitch 6 with your new color so the 7th stitch will be that new color.

Here are the different methods you might use to work a multi-color project. Of course, you can always cut your strand when you are finished with each color, but in a piece with many color changes, this will result in a lot of tails to sew in afterward.

Strand crosses over in the back

Chain 23, dc in the fourth chain from hook, dc in next chain, in next chain work a double crochet until you have two loops on hook. In other words, you will yo, insert hook in stitch, yo, pull through, yo, pull through 2 loops (2 loops remaining). Drop Color A and let strand fall behind work. Use Color B to complete the stitch.

Work 2 dc in each of next two chains, then work the third dc to two loops remaining. At that point, you drop Color B to the back and pick up Color A again, using A to complete the stitch.

Continue in this manner across the row, keeping the unused color at the back of your work and picking it up when you need it. You will have four groups of one color and three of the other on this row.

To end the row you used Color A, so it’s time to switch to Color B. Work your last stitch of Row 1 to two loops on hook, and join Color B. Then with Color B, chain 3 to bring up to height. Work 3 double crochets with Color B, keeping the last two loops of the last dc on the hook.

Now you can’t drop Color B to the back of the work because then you will have your “mess” on the right side of your work. Keep the yarn you are not using at the front now. Use Color A to finish that last dc just as you’ve been doing. The unused strands cross over one another. I call this cross-over. You can call it whatever you want.

If you are using more than two colors, you will be changing colors more often. You may want to use yarn bobbins and let them dangle down to the back of your work. It will be easier to keep them untangled (right – they’ll get tangled. You’re just going to have to untangle them now and then.) Some people put separate balls of yarn in plastic bags. You can even put your yarn bobbins in a plastic bag if you want to.

Here’s what yarn bobbins look like filled with yarn. There are different types and sizes of bobbins, of course, depending on the manufacturer.


This pattern changes color every 3 stitches and gives a checkered look. If you have a different pattern and are carrying yarn more than a few stitches (let’s say 3) then you should catch the yarn up under your stitch just so you don’t have a really long strand hanging there that might get caught on something as you’re working.

Carry-over method

Here’s where you just carry your yarn behind you. There are two ways to do this. In one method, you just change color as you need to, not worrying about what’s happening in the back. You’ll have a huge mess of little strands, but if you’re making something like a pillow where only one side shows, that’s not a big problem. In the other method, you catch the yarn as you move up your piece. Each color will have its own yarn bobbin in both cases.

The method used to change colors is the same as those above. Work the stitch to the last step, then finish stitch with the new color.

Unused strand is worked over as you go – as in Tapestry Crochet

This time we will have a nice, finished look on the back of our piece. You will be working over the yarn you’re not using. This is the method generally used in Tapestry Crochet. In Tapestry Crochet, you would use a tight stitch as this method is used for creating pictures and designs for things like wall hangings, purses and such. The tight stitch hides the yarn you are working over as much as possible.

One note about Tapestry Crochet. It is helpful to keep track of your right and wrong side so anything unsightly will be on the same side. This also makes a difference when you turn and go to your next row. If you are on the right side, hold the yarn you are working over behind your work before crocheting over it. If you are on the back or wrong side, hold it in front.

For the sample piece, we are not worrying about the worked over strand being seen as much. To begin, make a foundation chain of 23 stitches in Color A. Double crochet in fourth chain from hook and in each of next two chains, leaving the last two loops on the hook on your last dc. Drop Color A and finish stitch with Color B. THEN lay Color A along the top of your row, and angled a bit to the front, and work a dc with Color B, working over the strand of Color A. If you are using single crochet, or working a tight pattern as in tapestry crochet, the color you have worked over may not show at all or may show only slightly. I use this method whenever I can as it means fewer tails to sew in!

Continue the pattern. Work 3 dc of each color, finishing the last dc with the new color and working over the strand of the old color. When you get to the end, it’s a little tricky. Chain 3 to bring up to height, then bring your old color up to your new row so you can catch it and crochet over it.

Work three dc in your new color, working over your old color. Finish the last dc with the old color. Switch back and forth like this across the row, always working over the previous color.