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.

What’s on the needles

The other day I cast on for this Pierrot Yarns sweater vest (click here for Ravelry link) that’s been in my knitting/crochet queue for a long time. There’s a knit-a-long on Ravelry if you’d like to join in. I’m using some mill end tweed I got from WEBS. It’s a bit rough on the hands while knitting, but it really softens up after washing. Yet another reason to wash gauge swatches – if I didn’t know it got softer, there’s no way I would’ve chosen this yarn.

I had to resize the vest to make the bust slightly larger, but other than that, it’s pretty smooth going. I also decided to work it in the round. For me, knitting is much faster than purling, so doing it in the round speeds things up.

progress of sweater vest

It’s a lot more yellow and less orange than the photo shows. I’m pretty pleased with it so far.

I’m also doing some knitted sampler squares when I need some portable knitting. (The sweater vest isn’t very portable because the cone of yarn I’m using weighs a ton. Don’t feel like lugging it around.) I’m using up worsted weight remnants to make squares that I’ll eventually seam together into a blanket. Nothing original about it, but it’s a nice way for me to use up scraps and try out new stitch patterns.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, I picked up a copy of the new summer Keito Dama last week. Lots of cute summery crochet outfits in this issue.

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 5b knitting

Without further ado, I want to finish up the pattern-reading tutorial for the kid’s sweater. (Sorry that it took me so long to do the final lesson – real life interfered for a while.)

OK, so what’s left is the front neckline and the finishing. Here’s what the schematic for the entire front looks like:

front schematic

Up until the collar, it’s identical to the back piece. (Note that there’s probably a typo on the front schematic. It says that the top section should be 40cm and 78 sts, while the back piece says 44cm and 78 sts. Since the stitch pattern (k2p2 ribbing) and needle size are identical, I can only assume the front should be 44cm as well.)

So let’s zoom in on the collar and see what’s going on there:

collar detail

It’s pretty busy, but I’ve marked the important parts (i.e., the parts different from the back). The blue at the sides is garter stitch, just like for the back piece. The blue in the center is for the collar. Basically, after 14 rows (marked in orange), you begin working the front sides separately, with garter stitch on each edge of the collar. The text above the collar tells us that these garter stitch edges on the collar should be 3 sts (on each side). The collar is worked for 28 rows (marked in orange), while continuing the k2p2 ribbing for the rest of the front. Marked in red at the top is instructions to bind off. So bind off all the stitches between the two black marks. (I accidentally cut off the measurement marks at the top, but if you look at the schematic of the entire front, you can tell it’s 18 sts between the black BO mark and the collar, so you bind off 36 sts in total – 18 sts on each side of the collar.)

Now for finishing. We know that we have to bind off stitches for the collar, as shown in the schematic. That implies that the rest of the stitches are not bound off. Those who can read Japanese know that the tips section at the top suggests kabuse-hagi as the join method for the shoulders. I’m familiar with this technique from machine knitting, but as far as I know, it has no English name in hand-knitting terms. But let’s assume you can’t read the Japanese bind-off suggestion. What to do? Well, choose a bind-off that makes sense for your particular pattern. Since the shoulders have been worked in k2p2 ribbing, Kitchener stitch might be a nice method. Others might choose a 3-needle bind-off – really, any join method you prefer will work. Likewise, the instructions say to join the sides with mattress stitch. However, if you didn’t know that, you’d just choose whatever method you find most appropriate.

The only part left after that is the tassels on the collar, as seen in the photo of the finished pattern.

fringe diagram

Basically, we’re shown that there are two tassels, each one attached to one lapel. The text in the middle informs us where they’re located relative to the center of the collar. The text at the side tells us how to make the tassels. Remember how in the first lesson I mentioned that if you see 2本どり it means to use 2 strands of yarn? Well here in the tassel instructions we see 5本どり which shows us that the tassels are each made with 5 strands of yarn. It also says 14cm, so the tassels are made with 5 strands of yarn, each 14cm long. No specific instructions are given for attaching them to the sweater, so use whatever method you want.

So that takes us to the end of this sweater tutorial. Any questions about this particular pattern, or using Japanese knitting/crochet patterns in general? Just leave a comment and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

p.s. Don’t forget about the Pierrot Yarns knitting and crochet contest! The deadline is May 31, and there are some really great prizes. I can’t enter myself (it wouldn’t be fair, since I’m employed as their translator), but I’m eager to see what other people enter. I’m sure there will be some really beautiful items.

Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 4b knitting

Welcome back, everyone. Hope your sweaters are going well. I just finished the back of mine, so soon I’ll cast on for the front.

First, I’d like to go over something I forgot last time and only realized when a helpful soul on Ravelry reminded me. At the bottom of the schematic (circled in pink), you’ll find a number plus 目 indicated how many to cast on. Here it’s 62目, so 62 stitches. You’ll also see 36c (62目), also circled in pink. That c is just centimeters, and in some patterns you’ll see it abbreviated as cm instead. It just reminds you that not only are you supposed to have 62 st, the piece should be 36 centimeters wide.

bottom of schematic

I’ve also marked the line at the bottom in blue. What’s that for? Here it serves two functions: it tells us that we cast on 62 st along the edge, but it also tells us that we’re working the piece flat. If it were an oval instead of a line with two endpoints, it would mean that we should work the item in the round. This is especially important in some patterns where the front and back are the same, because the pattern may only show you one of them. You need to check that line at the bottom to see if you’re supposed to knit two identical flat pieces or one circular piece.

OK, so back to where we left off with the kid’s sweater pattern. We’ve just finished the stockinette portion of the body, and now we’re moving to k2p2 ribbing. Here’s a quick rundown of what we see in the schematic:

  • red: cast on 8 stitches (4cm) – note that this is repeated on each side
  • green: shows where the newly cast-on 8 st should be
  • purple: tells us that the edges are knit in garter stitch
  • orange: shows us that the garter stitch strip should be 4 st wide (look up ガーター編み in the ABCs of Knitting glossary)
  • gray: shows us that the middle is worked in k2p2 ribbing (again, check the ABCs of Knitting site)
  • blue: uses international knitting symbols to show us which stitches our k2p2 ribbing should end with at each edge (more on this below)

pick up stitches for arms

That’s pretty straightforward, right? It may seem like a lot of info all at once, but it’s nothing we can’t handle, right?

So about those international knitting symbols… here we have the two most basic ones: a straight vertical line for knit, and a straight horizontal line for purl. You can see this and other common knitting symbols here at the ABCs of Knitting. Removing all the other info from the schematic, we have this:

||–||–  (big white space here) –||–||

We all know that k2p2 ribbing is k2, p2. But what this is telling us is that when we get to the end of the row, we should end with k2. That’s it, and it’s just because 70 st isn’t a multiple of four, so they’re telling you what to do with those leftover 2 stitches. (The sweater is 78 st wide after casting on additional stitches for the arms, but remember that 4 on each edge are in garter stitch. That leaves us with a k2p2 center panel of 70 st.) In a written pattern, this would be written out as something such as *k2, p2*, rep from * to * until 2 st remain, k2.

Finally, we need to know how to finish off the back piece. Circled in blue below, we have 伏せ止め “cast off”, but it doesn’t tell us how many stitches. In my experience, it will usually say a number first, then 伏せ止め “cast off”, but here it doesn’t. We can still tell how many stitches to bind off, though, because the stitches are all listed in the line above the back schematic. I’ve drawn red lines down connecting them to make it really clear. That middle section to bind off is 36 stitches (21 centimeters) wide.
bind off info

There are no instructions about what to do with the remaining stitches. Sometimes there will be, but only if the designer really wants you to use a certain technique. Otherwise, Japanese patterns assume that you know an appropriate method and will use it. So here, for example, you might bind off the shoulder stitches in pattern, or use 3-needle bind-off to join the back and front shoulder stitches. Since it doesn’t explicitly tell us to bind off the shoulder stitches, I assume working a 3-needle bind-off from live stitches is the best alternative here, so that’s what I’m choosing.

The only part left now is to figure out the neckline for the front. I’ll leave that for the next lesson, because this is already really long. (I wrote the shaping instructions below first, so I’ll just leave them here for now.) If you have questions about the neckline before next week, please feel free to post in the tutorial thread on Ravelry.


Shaping in Japanese charted patterns: This particular sweater doesn’t have any shaping, so we haven’t yet covered how increases and decreases are depicted in Japanese charted knitting patterns. (For crochet patterns, there’s usually a complete chart of the armhole and neckline decreases.) So I’ll show you how the shaping works using this pattern, French-sleeve Ensemble Sweater (Pierrot | Ravelry), which flexibleknits recently asked me about.

For a very thorough explanation of shaping, please see Clearwaterknits website. It’s intended for machine knitters, but the shaping rules work the same for hand knitting. In a nutshell, it works like this: patterns use a sequence of three numbers to indicate how many stitches to increase/decrease, on which rows, and how many times. So in a pattern schematic, you’ll see a list of numbers next to the usual suspects (armholes and necklines). In the French-sleeve Ensemble Sweater, it looks like this [click on picture to open larger version if desired]:

shaping diagram

The ones circled in pink are for the arms. Since there’s no corresponding list of numbers on the front diagram, it means the shaping is the same for the front and back (i.e., use the back armhole shaping for the front as well). Circled in blue on the back piece is the neckline shaping (see that tiny line pointing to the neckline?). Circled in blue on the front piece is the neckline shaping for the front piece, also with a line pointing to the neckline. So here’s an example where the shaping for the front and back are different. Circled in green is shaping for the shoulders, which you’ll only find in some patterns. Finally, the parts underlined in orange tell you how many stitches to bind off at the neckline.

Here’s how to interpret it: #-#-# stands for rows-stitches-times. If there’s a row at the top marked 段平, it means “knit even”, i.e., no increases or decreases. You don’t even have to remember 段平, actually: just remember that if you see one single number instead of #-#-#, it’s knit even. Increases and decreases are listed in the same #-#-# way. The only way to tell whether you’re supposed to decrease or increase is from the shape of the schematic. In the French-sleeve Ensemble Sweater, the sleeve are written like this:

  • 14段平
  • 14-1-2
  • 15-1-2

First, remember that you’re working from the top of the pattern up to the neck, so read the list of shaping instructions from the bottom up. That means the one with 15 is first. So following the rows-stitches-times formula, we get:

  • work 14 rows even
  • every 14 rows, increase 1 stitch, twice
  • every 15 rows, increase 1 stitch, twice

If you look next to the list (also circled in pink), you’ll see +4目. I mentioned previously that 目 means “stitch”, but even without it, that +4 reminds us that the increase result in 4 extra stitches. Keep in mind that these are the instructions for one armhole only. They assume you’ll be working both armholes the same, so it’s really this:

  • work 14 rows even
  • every 14 rows, increase 1 stitch on each side, twice
  • every 15 rows, increase 1 stitch on each side, twice

The result is that you’ve increased by 4 st on each side, 8 st in total. Easy, isn’t it?

Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 3b knitting

Ready for the knitting pattern tutorial? I’m afraid this one isn’t as in-depth as Monday’s crochet tutorial, but that’s mainly because the sweater pattern is so simple that there isn’t really much to talk about. I’ve already started on mine, and it’s mainly a lot of stockinette:

child's sweater progress

I’m using the suggested yarn, Pierrot Yarns Junmo Namibuto2, in a nice egg-yolk yellow color, and US 8 knitting needles.

The first step in working the pattern is obviously seeing what exactly it is that you’re supposed to do. If you look at the pattern, you’ll see a schematic of the back piece on the left and the front piece on the right. This pattern is very simple – no shaping, no sleeves, etc. – so the front and back are nearly the same. The only difference in the schematics is that the front shows the neck opening. Then at the bottom, there’s a diagram showing how to attach the fringe to the neckline (as seen in the photo).

Now, normally a Japanese knitting pattern will also have stitch charts at the bottom. This pattern doesn’t have any fancy stitch patterns, so there are no charts. Instead, the names of the stitches used are written onto the schematics. That’s where the photo and a Japanese knitting glossary come in handy. From looking at the photo alone, it seems we have a garter stitch hem, a long stretch of stockinette stitch, and then ribbing up top. We can confirm that by looking up the terms written on the schematic in a Japanese knitting glossary such as this one.

From the photo, it looks like the hem is garter stitch, so what does the schematic say in the hem area? ガーター編み. So look up ガーター編み in the Japanese knitting glossary, which confirms that it’s garter stitch. The schematic then changes to a big section labeled メリヤス編み, which we already suspect is stockinette from the photo. Once again, it’s right there in the Japanese knitting glossary. Then at the top, we have a section labeled 2目ゴム編み flanked with two strips of garter stitch (ガーター編み). Since we know from the photo that it’s some kind of ribbing and the gauge information told us gauge for k2p2 ribbing, let’s assume it’s k2p2 ribbing. Once again, the handy Japanese knitting glossary confirms this. In summary, we have:

  • ガーター編み (gaataa ami), garter stitch – borrowed from English
  • メリヤス編み (meriyasu ami) stockinette stitch – borrowed from Portuguese
  • 2目ゴム編み (futame gomu ami) – literally “two stitch rubber knitting” – the rubber obviously comes from the fact that ribbing stretches like, well, rubber.

UPDATE: I knew I was forgetting something! I didn’t mention how to tell how many stitches to cast on. D’oh! Sorry about that. Most of you have probably figured it out already, because it’s pretty clear, but here’s how to go about it: look for a number followed by 目 at the hem. That number is the number you need to cast on. So, for example, in this pattern, it’s 62目 = cast on 62 stitches.

cast on edge

Also note that there’s an arrow pointing upward from the hem, which quite simply means that we’re knitting from the bottom up. Some patterns have an arrow going down, meaning that the edge is worked downwards after the body of the sweater is finished. Finally, inside the hem portion of the diagram, and again in the body portion, the needle size is written. Here it’s a bit redundant, since we were told up top to use Japanese size 8 needles (4.5mm). That means the hem and body are both done with the same size needle, but that won’t always be the case. So look for a number followed by 号針 to confirm the needle size. In this pattern, we have 8号針 in the hem area, 8号針 in the body, and 8号針 in the shoulders/neckline area. So we need to use that (Japanese) size 8 for the whole sweater.

Now, this pattern doesn’t have anything beyond basic stitches that people already know – garter, stockinette, and ribbing – so there are no knitting symbols in the pattern.* But if you want to know the Japanese knitting symbols, check out the basics on these sites:

In a later lesson, I’ll show you a pattern with stitch symbols and go over how to interpret it. I think it’s best not to mix more than one pattern per lesson, though. Later I’ll also go over how shaping is indicated in Japanese knitting patterns, since this pattern doesn’t have any shaping to speak of.

Anyway, I’ve told you enough to get you up until where the ribbing starts at in the chest portion of the sweater. Next time I’ll show you what the symbols at the top of the sweater mean, including casting on some additional stitches. Then we’ll go over what the pattern’s telling us about finishing, particularly the tassels on the neckline. That should about wrap it up, because I think two lessons may be enough for this simple sweater. Later lessons can be about other patterns if people are interested in continuing.

* OK, I lied: there are some knitting symbols, but only two: knit and purl. They’re in the schematic where the body of the sweater changes from stockinette to ribbing, and they’re there to tell you how the ribbing should be aligned (k2, p2 at the right edge, ending with k2 on the left edge). More on this next time.

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!