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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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 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!

Japanese pattern-reading tutorial: Lesson 1

Welcome to my first attempt at a Japanese pattern-reading tutorial! This is meant to be a KAL/CAL type tutorial, so grab those hooks and needles and join in.

First things first: the patterns we’ll be starting with are one small crochet project and one small knitting project. These were chosen to help people get a feel for charted pattern reading without having to invest in a long-term project. Feel free to do just one or both. Our crochet pattern will be 29-210-28 Pop Merino Beret (Ravelry link) and our knitting pattern will be 26-27-20 Child’s Sweater (Ravelry link). Thanks are due to Pierrot Yarns for allowing me to use their patterns for this tutorial.

So, let’s get started. What do you need to know to start a charted Japanese pattern? Well, chances are, identifying the suggested yarn, hook/needle, and gauge is a good place to start. For Japanese patterns that are on Ravelry, of course, you can often find this information on the pattern’s Ravelry page in English. But you probably want to know how to figure it out from the pattern itself, right?

Step 1: Don’t panic! It’s just a pattern.

Step 2: Know where to look. In Japanese patterns, 99% of the time, you’ll find all the information about yarn, hook or needle, gauge, and finished measurements up at the top of the pattern. Got your crochet beret pattern handy? Let’s see what we’ve got:

top of beret pattern

The part circled in blue is where all the important information is. The part crossed out in red may look important, but it very rarely is. It’s just a short description of how the pattern is worked. For example, in a sweater pattern, it may say something as earth-shattering as “make back, make front, make two sleeves, sew together” – not so important, right? You can already get all that information from the charts and diagrams.

I can already hear someone saying, well, when should you pay attention to the Japanese blurb? My own opinion is that pretty much the only time the blurb is useful is when it instructs you to use more than one strand of yarn at the same time. Luckily, this is pretty easy to figure out. Check the blurb for 2本どり. Do you see it? If so, you’re supposed to be using 2 strands of yarn at the same time. (It could be 3本どり in rare cases using 3 strands at once.) If not, it’s just 1 strand of yarn. There’s no 2本どり in the beret pattern, and if you check the sweater pattern, you won’t find it either. So now we know that we’re making both of these patterns with one strand each.

Step 3: Know what to look for. It’s not fancy, but I’ve marked the important parts of the materials list. Here’s the beret:

beret materials list

And here’s the sweater:

sweater materials list

Already this post is getting too long, so I’ll just make it short and tell you the crucial info. I’ll go into more detail about this stuff later – so that you can figure it out for yourself – but for now, I just wanted to help people figure out what materials they’ll need for the tutorial.

This is what you should know for the beret:

  • 85g Pop Merino
  • (Japanese) size 7/0 crochet hook (check out snuffykins’ helpful chart and you’ll see that this is a 4.0mm hook, which is a US size G.)
  • size: head circumference 45cm (that’s 17.7 inches)
  • gauge: 15 st and 8.5 rows in pattern stitch
    • gauge measurements unless otherwise noted are for a 10cm by 10cm swatch – you can see that it says 10cm平方, which confirms the 10cm size here)

For the sweater, the crucial info is:

  • 200g Junmo Namibuto2
  • (Japanese) size 8 knitting needles (for knitting needles, get metric sizes from the ABCs of Knitting website – these are size 4.5mm, which is US 7)
  • gauge: two are listed
    • stockinette: 17 st and 28 rows (again, in a 10cm by 10cm swatch)
    • pattern stitch: 17.5 st and 28 rows
  • size: chest 64cm (25.2 inches)

Step 4: If all else fails, remember that Ravelry is a great resource. There’s no shame in asking if someone else can identify the yarn for you. The Japanese knitting and crochet group is an excellent place to ask.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll do the next lesson later in the week, but it’ll be about resources that help with charted patterns. We’ll start the actual knitting & crocheting next week, which should give everyone time to gather the materials they need. I’m thinking of doing tutorials for the crochet pattern on Mondays and for the knitting pattern on Thursdays. Does that work for everyone?

Update

Just realized it’s been forever since I posted here. I’ve just been so busy for the past year that I post projects only on Ravelry and don’t mention them here.

Here are some things I keep meaning to post about:

  • I bought a Studio SK360 for $7.50 at a thrift shop a few months ago. So far, haven’t had time to test it out. At that price, though, you can’t just walk by and leave the machine sitting there.
  • I’ve been knitting and crocheting almost entirely for stash for 2 years now. I don’t buy new yarn unless I don’t have anything suitable and it’s something that I need (such as for a gift). If it’s not needed, I just change my plans to use a yarn that I do have.
  • I got married (!) a month ago, and my new husband and I just moved to Paris. Unfortunately, we couldn’t bring knitting machines with us, so they’re in storage at my parents’ house. This means I won’t be doing any machine knitting for a while.

Here’s one of the projects I made last semester on my Passap Duomatic 80. I’ve also done quite a few small hand-knitting and crochet projects, but this one I really liked. It’s pattern #2053 from Passap Babybook.

checkered baby blanket

checkered baby blanket

Lap blanket attempt

About two weeks ago, I started a lap blanket using a double-bed tuck pattern on my Passap Duomatic 80. Things were going along fairly well, and I love the texture created by the tuck pattern. This is what it looked like about halfway through (assuming a 36″ long lap blanket):

Nice, huh? It doesn’t curl, either, so it’s perfect for quick projects.

Anyway, it was going well until pushers moved and I didn’t notice it. On the right side of the front bed, pushers moved out of working position a few at a time, gradually forming a big messed up spot on the edge of the blanket. Curses!

Not sure if you can see it in the photo (sorry, my camera’s in its death throes), but there’s no saving it. I’m going to frog it and try again, this time watching the pushers after every row to make sure they don’t make a run for it.