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)

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.

Pierrot Yarns contest

I should’ve posted about this earlier, but I just wanted to remind folks that there’s still time to enter the Pierrot Yarns contest. The idea behind the yarn is to showcase the company’s yarns, so you can enter any item you’ve either knit, crocheted, or woven with one of their yarns.

There are some pretty nice prizes (gift certificates, books, etc.). Plus, everyone who enters something in the contest receives an entry prize, so there’s nothing to lose, right?

Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 4a crochet

For the final lesson, I’ll assume you’ve worked through the entire circular chart and are now ready to move on to the brim portion of the chart. The crucial part is knowing how the circular chart (the top of the hat) and the chart arranged in straight lines (the sides of the hat) are connected. It’s shown with dotted lines, which I’ve augmented here with orange lines:

how charts are aligned

The reason the pattern switches to showing symbols in rows rather than in a circle is that for several rows, you’re just going to work even (i.e., no increases), and then you’re going to decrease. It’s hard to chart both increases and decreases in a circular chart, hence the switch to lines. Anyway, just trust the chart! After slipping to join the last round of the circle chart, chain 3 as shown in the first round of the straight chart (labeled 9 over on the right side of the chart). Then dc in each of the next 4 stitches, work your bobble cluster thingy (yes, very technical, aren’t I?), and continue. You should see that the stitches align exactly with the pattern stitch you’ve already established for the top of the hat.

Decreases begin on round 14 and continue in round 15. After that, the chart lines have been renumbered, starting with round 1 and going up to round 5, presumably to show that this is a new section (the edging). Renumbering just seems to be up to the whim of the pattern designer – sometimes they’re renumbered when a new section starts, sometimes not. Anyway, the important thing here is that we have four rounds of single crochet (just the plain X on the chart), followed by one row of crab stitch.

This isn’t a terribly good photo, but this is how the edging works up:

side view of beret

When it’s finished, it should look something like this (although I didn’t have a kid’s head handy to model it, sorry):

finished beret

Up until I did the rounds of single crochet, this hat actually fit my huge head. I didn’t cast off, actually, because I’m planning to undo the single crochet and leave this as a beanie so that I can wear it myself.

The only thing left in the chart is the pompoms. I’m not planning on making the pompoms, because I prefer a plain beanie look, but this is what we’re shown about a) where to put the pompoms and b) how to make them. These aren’t the typical pompoms made by wrapping yarn around something a bazillion times, cinching the middle, and then cutting the edges. Instead, they’re crocheted spheres that are stuffed with fiber (or waste yarn). The first image is a simple diagram of the hat showing that you need two pompoms and where to place them. Underneath that is a simple crochet chart – again, with international crochet symbols – showing how the pompoms are made. (For crochet symbols, please see: Hass Design | Craft Yarn Council of America | Select Yarn | Tezukuri Town | Two Radiant Is.)

chart for pompoms

On the left is the chart, and on the right, they’re showing you to stuff the pompoms. The messy lines I’ve circled in pink represent the stuffing, with a helpful arrow showing where it goes (although I’m pretty sure we can all figure out where stuffing goes!). The blue line is showing that you’re supposed to use your working yarn to pull the sphere shut. No detailed information is given on how to attach the pompoms to the hat. The Japanese text in the diagram merely says “attach pompoms”, so the designer assumes you’ll choose an appropriate method. Personally, I would either sew it on or slip stitch the pompom to the hat before cinching it shut. It’s really up to you, though.

So that should be everything you need to know to work on this pattern or nearly any Japanese charted pattern. Please let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for tuning in.

Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 3a crochet

So, everyone have their yarn and hooks ready? First, let’s take a good hard look at the pattern and see what it is the pattern wants you to do. We have a diagram of a hat with two pompoms attached to it, and an arrow pointing down from the crown the head. Let’s assume that means that the hat is worked from the top down. Then we have a big circle full of crochet symbols, and above it we have some rows of crochet symbols.

If you’re not already familiar with symbol crochet, the important thing to know is that one symbol = one stitch. Starting with the big circular part of the pattern, we can see the symbols are arranged in rounds that grow increasingly larger (please excuse my terrible hand-drawn lines – my photo software doesn’t do circles).

beret chart with rounds indicated

The わ symbol (pronounced wa) in the middle means that you’re supposed to do a magic loop, but really any method you know for creating a round in crochet will work. Also note that you work the rounds counterclockwise. Even without knowing the crochet symbols yet, you know a lot about the construction of the hat: it’s made in rounds that grow successively larger. Makes sense, right?

Ok, one more thing before I get into the actual crochet symbols themselves: how to identify the stitch repeat. Not only is that useful for keeping track of where you are in the pattern (it is fore me at least – don’t know about you guys), if you know the stitch repeat, you can easily make the hat larger or smaller. The stitch repeat is marked on the diagram with a bracket in the top right corner (where it says 11目1模様 “11 st 1 pattern repeat”). But even if it weren’t labeled, it’s pretty easy to spot the repeat, don’t you think?

beret diagram with repeats indicated

If you want to make it larger or smaller, just add/remove one or more stitch repeats. If you remember from the first lesson, this beret has a head circumference of 45cm (17.7 inches). I’ll use myself as an example for how to increase. I have a huge 24-inch head – bigger than most men’s heads. Sigh. Anyway, if I wanted to resize this child’s hat for myself, I would want approx. 61cm instead of 45. As written, it has 9 pattern repeats, which we can see from just counting on the chart. So each pattern repeat accounts for about 5cm of the hat’s size. In my case, I need to add about 16cm, so I would pick the closest multiple of 5cm, which is 15cm. So if I add three more pattern repeats – working 12 repeats instead of 9 – then the hat should fit. I’ve done this with other Japanese hat patterns, both knit and crochet, and it’s really that simple. [ETA: You can change the size of hat another way, too. Instead of changing the stitch repeat, simply add more increase rows until it fits.]

OK, so let’s get down to nuts & bolts now: international crochet symbols. Japanese crochet (and knit) symbols are actually standardized by the Japanese government (JIS, section L textile engineering), so you’re not going to find that pattern authors use different symbols to mean the same thing. (The only exception is the single crochet symbol, which has two possible forms – more on that in a sec). In my experience, Japanese patterns tend to use a few really common symbols such as chain, single crochet, and double crochet. If they use any really unusual symbols, they usually have an explanation of the stitch somewhere in the pattern. Also, Japanese crochet symbols are the same as ones used in other countries, so they really are international. (I think Japanese symbols were the basis for international ones, but I don’t really know the history.)

Below are some sites that show what crochet symbols are (you’ll find most or all of these in the Pages tab of the Japanese knitting & crochet group on Ravelry). Some of the pages are Japanese, but they include illustrations, so you can see exactly how the stitch is worked.

Note that most of them use US terms, not British ones. The websites with illustrations are especially useful if you want to make sure you’re using the right stitch.

So which symbols do we have in our pattern? Well, all we have to do is look them up in one of the symbol charts I linked to above. As I mentioned earlier, there are two commonly used variants of the single crochet symbol: it can be either an X or a + (same shape, just rotated a bit). For convenience’s sake, these are the ones used in this pattern (hope I didn’t miss any!):

updated symbol crochet list

Note: there was a mistake in my table, but it’s corrected now. The sc symbol with a tilde over it is crab stitch, not sc through back loop only as I had accidentally written. The symbol for sc through back loop only is a sc symbol with a line above or below it, but a straight line.  Sorry about that! They look so similar. (Also, some of the British terms were left blank because I’m not certain what they are. Do you use shell and cluster to mean the same thing in British crochet terms? If you know, please enlighten me.)

It sounds overly simplistic, but to make the hat, you just work the symbols in the order they appear, starting at the center and working counterclockwise, like so:

  1. make magic loop, and work 2 chains from it. Now work 8 hdc into the magic loop, and cinch the loop shut. Slip stitch into the second starting chain to join the round.
  2. round 2: ch2, work 2-hdc shell into each st around, hdc into base of ch-2 that started the round, slip stitch into chain to join round.
  3. and so on…

Finally, a word about the little table full of text in the lower right corner of the pattern. Basically, you can ignore it. It’s just a chart telling you how many stitches you should have at the end of each round. On the left of the table, we have the round number. For example, 1段め is round #1. On the right side of the table, we see 9目, which is 9 stitches. That helps you keep track of where you are, but it’s not strictly speaking necessary. Use it if it helps you, ignore it if it doesn’t.

In the next lesson, we’ll cover how to go from the circular chart to the one above it, which is displayed in rows rather than rounds of symbols. The two dotted lines connecting the two show you where they should line up, and if you look closely, you’ll see that the top rows don’t have any increases. We’re still working in the round, but they’re arranged in rows because there are no increases. I forgot to take photos while it was still light outside today, so I can’t show you my progress right now. But I’ll get photos tomorrow if I can. Feel free to post your own progress photos in the Ravelry tutorial thread.

ETA: Here’s my progress up through round 11:

beret progress

Pierrot Yarns review: Soft Merino

This week I’m reviewing Pierrot Yarns Soft Merino (store link || Ravelry link). It’s also available in fingering (UK 4-ply) weight, but the one I’m reviewing here is sport to DK weight. (Note that the store website lists it as “chunky,” but that’s just a result of direct translation from Japanese. It gets 23 st per 10 cm, which is squarely in the sport weight category. Which reminds me that I should probably write up a post about Japanese yarn weights one of these days.) These are my two skeins of color #8, wine red:

Soft Merino DK

Here’s what you’ll find on the label [English translation in brackets]:

  • 毛 100%(メリノウール) [100% merino wool]
  • 約40g玉巻(約95m)[approx. 95m per 40g skein]
  • 棒針 6号〜8号 [recommended needle range: Japanese size 6-8 knitting needles (3.9-4.5mm)]
  • カギ針 5号〜6号 [recommended crochet hook range: Japanese size 5/0 – 6/0 (3.0-3.5mm)]
  • ゲージ 23目30段 [suggested gauge: 23st and 30 rows in 10cm (stockinette)]

Knit swatch (before washing/blocking):

Knit in stockinette on US 7 (4.5mm). My gauge before washing was 22.5 st and 30 rows in 10x10cm. Being such a tight knitter, I’m amazed I got so close to the suggested gauge – never happens!

Soft Merino unwashed swatch

No pilling as you knit it, and I didn’t experience any splitting. The yarn was nice to knit up – very soft! I wouldn’t hesitate to use this for baby items (keeping in mind that it’s not superwash wool).

Knit swatch (after washing/blocking):

Knit in stockinette on US 7 (4.5mm). My gauge after washing was 19 st and 31 rows in 10x10cm. So it grew just a bit, especially in width.

Soft Merino washed swatch

It was hand-washed in cold water with mild detergent, then rolled in a towel to remove excess water. I blocked it loosely with pins and left it to dry. The dried fabric is very soft but has no visible felting after one wash. It also didn’t bleed when washed, which surprised me with a red yarn (other colors may bleed when washed, of course, so always be careful when washing).

Crochet swatch (before washing/blocking):

Double crochet (US) with size D hook (3.25mm). My gauge before washing was 22 st and 6 rows in 10x10cm. I cheated a bit here and didn’t make a huge swatch, so I measured over 5cm and just multiplied everything by two.

Soft Merino crochet swatch

I found that the yarn split occasionally while I was crocheting it, but nothing too frustrating. With this hook size, I got a nice, soft fabric that holds its shape but isn’t so stiff it’s bulletproof.

My impressions:

  • The name Soft Merino is truth in advertising – this yarn is very soft. Very nice on the hands while knitting or crocheting, and the resulting fabric is smooth like butter.
  • Comes in a lot of colors, which is good for anyone wanting to do colorwork.
  • A bit splitty if you’re crocheting – not a problem when knitting.
  • Blooms nicely in the wash, but pay attention to difference in gauge after washing.

Overall, I would highly recommend this yarn. Now to decide what to make with my remaining skeins!

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!

Quick guide to Japanese fonts for fiber artists

A few people mentioned to me after lesson 1 of the Japanese pattern-reading tutorial that the Japanese characters that I had put in my post weren’t showing up properly. Obviously you don’t need to know Japanese to use the patterns, but it would help if you can see the characters I write to compare them to things in the pattern, right?

You should see that the two lines below look the same:

  • メリヤス編み
  • Japanese font test

That’s “stockinette stitch” in Japanese, by the way (pronounced meriyasu-ami). If the top line doesn’t match the image in the bottom line, you need to enable Japanese font support if you want it to show up right.

The good news is that this is easy to set up, it’s free, and you only have to do it once. (Don’t worry, it just helps your computer show Japanese fonts, but it won’t suddenly make everything on your whole computer appear in Japanese.) Ready? These links show you how:

Hope that helps!