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.

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 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 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.

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

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!