Shaping notation in Japanese patterns

OK, so I’ve neglected this blog for a while, but I haven’t completely forgotten about it. I’d like to revive it by posting a draft of a shaping tutorial I recently made. One of the most common gripes I hear about Japanese patterns – even the ones that have been translated into English – are that the shaping instructions are confusing, vague, incomplete, baffling… well, you understand the idea.

Have you ever looked at a Japanese charted pattern and been confused by what all the numbers on the side mean? For example, you might see numbers like this floating above the armscye on the schematic:

10 RE (that’s rows even)
2-4-1
2-2-1
1-4-3

They’re almost always three numbers, such as 2-1-5. (If there are four numbers, it’s because the item is worked in the round and/or has evenly spaced shaping worked in more than two locations, not just at the right and left edges of the work.) This kind of notation is used almost exclusively in knitting patterns, but I have seen it pop up in crochet patterns once in a blue moon.

The good news is that these instructions are, contrary to complaints, not the least bit vague. They’re very precise and tell you exactly when to increase or decrease (or work short rows).

You can download the tutorial right here: Japanese shaping notation (second draft 7/28/2011). You’re welcome to link to this page if you find the tutorial helpful, but please do NOT repost this tutorial anywhere online (that includes your website, blog, Facebook, Ravelry, etc.). Many thanks to Pierrot Yarns for allowing me to use one of their schematics in my tutorial.

Questions? Comments? Feedback is most definitely welcome! I consider this a draft, so I’m happy to revise it if anything is confusing. I have proofread it several times, but if you do happen to spot a typo, please let me know so I can fix it ASAP.

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11 thoughts on “Shaping notation in Japanese patterns

  1. Hi Dancing Barefoot! Glad to see you’re still posting. I have usually managed to work my way through Japanese patterns (of which I am an avid fan) because, as you say, they are really very detailed once you work out which bracketed number is which. But your tutorial is most welcome.

    Do you still have that excellent Corona Jumbo by the way? I have one too, and am thinking of hauling it out into the light of day to do some useful work.

    Good wishes from West Cork on a typical August morning (light rain, dewdrops, everything in bloom, temperature around 60deg by midday maybe).

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I am nearing finishing my first Japanese pattern and I have SO appreciated how concisely it is laid out. When I finally got out of my own way, it was clear as day what to do at each step (one thing being, don’t try to work selvage stitches into a 1×1 twisted rib–DUH!). One thing I may have overlooked in the pattern is the “work over #stitches.” I may have read that as “work over #rows” each time. Ooops! I’ll go back and review tonight, but I think it may be OK anyway (I sure do hope so). For some reason, in all the instructions I’ve read, I have missed how to recognize this distinction. So, thanks very much!

  3. Thank You so much for this translation/explanation of Japanese shaping notation. It makes so much sense. My brother asked me to make him Pierrot’s 27-28-15 Cabled Pullover, a beautiful sweater, but the notation was a mystery until I found this. I will keep reading in the original Ravelry KAL to make certain I haven’t missed anything important.
    Again, thank you, gloriaca (on Rav)

  4. Thanks for a very good explanation! May I ask you a question about Japanese crochet shaping notation? I came across some Pierrot crochet charts that have, for example, next to a certain row of the pattern, -> 4 6 .Sometimes there is just one number, and then I can guess what that means: work in the direction of the arrow the stated number of rows. But what would two numbers mean? I tried to look it up using Google and came with nothing. Can you help?

  5. Thank you. Great diagram and nicely comprehensive. I still am a bit confused about the short row notation. In your example, it shows 4 st even to indicate how many stitches you have remaining. All that makes sense, but I’m wondering how they would indicate picking up the wraps. If the diagram were instead, say, doing two short rows on the back of a sweater, you might have 2-145-1, 2-143-1 or such, I assume.. then to get back to the full width of your back..would they mark “145 stitches even, 147 st even” as the next symbols to indicate knit back and pick up the wraps?

  6. Oh my goodness, please help me. I simply can not understand the way the cables are done on this sweater. I’ve tried knitting a swatch, but it looks terrible. I found one of these sweaters done on Ravelry, but again can’t understand it. I love the sweater and want very much to knit it for my son-in-law. PLEASE EXPLAIN AND THANKS.

  7. Due to your generosity I’m now able to shape the armholes on my husband’s Aspen Vest! It makes so much sense now; how could it have seemed so hard to understand at first? Many thanks.

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