Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 2

Welcome to the next part of the Japanese pattern-reading tutorial. If you’re just joining us, please have a look at lesson 1. As a reminder, we’re using one crochet pattern, 29-210-28 Pop Merino Beret (Ravelry link), and one knitting pattern, 26-27-20 Child’s Sweater (Ravelry link).

OK, so last time I showed you where to look for crucial info like needle size and gauge, but not how to interpret what you see there. Luckily Japanese patterns – whether for crochet, hand knitting, or machine knitting – are very standardized, so once you learn a few tricks, you can get the info you need from essentially any Japanese pattern. Here we go!

Step 1: See if the pattern is already on Ravelry. Seriously. I know, I know, this may sound like cheating, but my motto is “Work smart, not hard.” If the pattern’s already been listed on Ravelry, chances are the yarn info, needle/hook size, gauge, etc. is conveniently listed there for you. Use the tools you have, right? If you don’t speak Japanese, the hardest part of a Japanese pattern will be this list of materials, precisely because it’s not charted like the pattern itself.

So you see that the pattern you want isn’t on Ravelry, or the necessary info’s missing, or you just want to double-check it for yourself… this is how I suggest going about it: use what you already know about knitting and crochet to interpret the materials list.

Step 2: Find out which yarn you need. So, for example, in the crochet beret pattern, we see 85g. Common sense tells us it’s the amount of yarn we need. We also see 200g in the knitting pattern. For the crochet pattern, the yarn conveniently has an English name, Pop Merino. Lucky us! But what about the knitting pattern, where it doesn’t?

beret materials list

sweater materials list

Well, one way is just to ask in the Japanese knitting & crochet group on Ravelry. Seriously, there are lots of helpful folks there who won’t mind telling you the yarn name. But there are other ways, too. One way is to search for yarns made by the yarn manufacturer. Obviously for Pierrot Yarns patterns, we know that the yarn used is one of their own brand. So you can look up the manufacturer in the yarn section of Ravelry and find the yarn that matches the Japanese name. This works for most patterns by other companies, too.

For example, if you buy yourself a copy of Keito Dama magazine, you’ll notice that at the bottom of every pattern photo, there’s a yarn company logo, such as RichMore, Hamanaka, or Puppy. [Patterns are not normally on the same page as their photos in Japanese books and magazines. The big photos will be up front, and the patterns are in the back pages.] You may not be able to read their names in the pattern notes, but the logos on the photo pages are dead giveaways. Why? Because they’re usually in Latin script. (Go look up RichMore, Hamanaka, Clover, etc. on Ravelry if you want to see this for yourself.) Then just scan through the list of yarns made by that company and see if you can match the name on the pattern.

A final resort, if you can’t ask about the yarn on Ravelry for some reason, is to just pick a yarn that gets you the required gauge. After all, who cares what yarn the pattern recommends as long as you get the right gauge?

Step 3: Find out which size knitting needles and/or crochet hooks you need. For this, nothing beats using one of the many available charts on the Internet. First you just need to know some conventions used for Japanese hooks and needles. One: if it looks like “#/0″, it’s a crochet hook. For example, 5/0 is a commonly used hook size. If it doesn’t have that /0 part, it’s a knitting needle. Two: once you know which one it is, just look up the number on a chart. I personally use this one for knitting needles and this one for crochet hooks.

You may or may not see 号 after the hook or needle size (it just means “number”). One thing that might interest you is that there are three different numbering systems for Japanese crochet hooks. They go like this (using 4 as an example):

  • 4/0号 = number 4/0 = 2.5mm
    • used for aluminum hooks
  • 4号 = number 4 = 3.3mm
    • used for bamboo hooks
  • レース4号 = lace number 4 = 1.25mm
    • used for steel lace hooks

The use of the bamboo hook standard seems to be waning, so you won’t see it very often. Don’t panic about needing to memorize the Japanese for “lace”, either, so that you can tell regular hooks from lace hooks: just keep calm and remember that you’ll be able to tell from the gauge and yarn size whether or not it’s a lace hook. Does the pattern have a gauge of 5 st per 10cm? Then chances are, it’s not a lace hook. Oh, and finally, really huge hooks and needles will be listed in patterns as metric sizes, such as 8mm.

So, back to our patterns. In our crochet pattern, we see 7/0, so we know the hook is a size 7/0. Looking at the handy chart linked above, we know that’s a 4.0mm hook. In our knitting pattern, it’s 8号, so looking up size 8 on the knitting needle chart should give us 4.5mm.

But you know what, even if you can’t figure out the hook or needle size, it’s not the end of the world. Why? Because like most knitters and crocheters, I’m sure you have some idea of what size you need to get a certain gauge. You can always pick a likely size, swatch it, and move on from there.

Step 4: Find out about gauge. First, think about what you already know about how gauge is presented. Usually it’s the number of stitches, then the number of rows. That’s what you should look for in a Japanese pattern, too. Using the crochet pattern as an example, we have 15 followed by a Japanese character, then 8.5 followed by another one: 15目 x 8.5段. Even without knowing the characters, this is a strong clue that it’s the gauge. 15 somethings by 8.5 somethings. Since we know stitches are always noted first, then row [yes, this is always true of Japanese patterns, just like English-language ones], then it must be 15 st and 8.5 rows. For those who are curious about the characters, 目 (me) is a counting word used with things like stitches, hence 15 stitches. 段 (dan) means ‘row’, so 8.5 rows.

Most patterns will also tell you what stitch pattern is used for the swatch (I hate it when patterns neglect to do that!). Now how about the sweater pattern? Ah ha, TWO different gauges! So this time we’ll need to know what the stitch patterns are. For that, I suggest looking them up in this short glossary from the ABCs of Knitting. They list common stitch types. In our pattern, we have:

  • メリヤス編み 17目28段
  • 2目ゴム編み 17.5目28段

Well, we can already tell that one of them is 17 st and 28 rows per 10cm, and the other is 17.5st and 28 rows. If we look them up in the ABCs of Knitting glossary, we see that メリヤス is stockinette. 2目ゴム is k2p2 ribbing. (OK, that one’s a bit tricky: on the ABCs of Knitting site, it says 二目ゴム, not 2目ゴム. They’ve used the Japanese character ニ for “two” instead of the Arabic numeral 2.)

Going back to the crochet pattern, most patterns will either give the gauge in stockinette or in the pattern stitch. So you may encounter something like 模様A or 模様B – these are simply “pattern A” and “pattern B.” So 模様 is a helpful term to remember. In our crochet pattern, we see 模様 before the stitches and rows, so we know it’s telling us that the gauge is given in pattern stitch.

Clear as mud? Please let me know if anything isn’t clear, or if I left something out. The good news is that this was the hard part – once you know the yarn, needle/hook, and gauge information, the rest is just following a picture.

So, now we know what we need to know to start. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get started swatching for the sweater. Starting next week, I’ll go by the following schedule: crochet tutorial on Mondays, knitting tutorial on Thursdays. See you Monday!

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3 thoughts on “Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 2

  1. Thanks for this great tutorial! I’m learning so much so far. So, to be clear, for the knitting pattern, we need to swatch for 17 stitches per 4 inches (10 cm) and 28 rows per 4 inches (10 cm)? Would you say a worsted weight yarn like Cascade 220 would be a good subsitute? On Ravelry it says it is 18 stitches per 4 inches.

  2. Hi! I really find your tutorial very helpful. In crochet sweater chart, there is a slip stitch symbol followed by arrow, does it mean end off and carry yarn over followed by another slip stitch? When I join sleeves to body, should I hide the carry over yarn or leave it at the back when I am using either slip stitch, back stitch or chain stitch seaming? Please help me. Thanks a lot.

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