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!

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?

Pierrot Yarns review: Organic Cotton Fingering

This week I’m reviewing Pierrot Yarns Organic Cotton Fingering (store link || Ravelry link), one of three weights available in Pierrot Yarns’ organic cotton line. This is the fingering (UK 4-ply) weight:

swatch in snow

Organic Cotton Fingering

It comes in sport/DK, fingering (4-ply), and light fingering (3-ply), but I’m only going to talk about the fingering weight version today. All three weights are made of organic, undyed, unbleached cotton. Because they aren’t dyed or bleached, the yarn is a warm, creamy color.

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

  • 綿 100% [100% cotton]
    • Note: it doesn’t say organic cotton in the info section of the label, but it does elsewhere. Look for オーガニックコットン to verify that it’s organic cotton.
  • 約25g玉巻(約70m)[approx. 70m per 25g skein]
  • 棒針 3号〜4号 [recommended needle range: Japanese size 3-4 knitting needles (3.0-3.3mm)]
  • カギ針 3/0号〜4/0号 [recommended crochet hook range: Japanese size 3/0 – 4/0 (2.3-2.5mm)]
  • ゲージ 23目34段 [suggested gauge: 23st and 34 rows in 10cm (stockinette)]

Swatch (before washing/blocking):

Knit in stockinette on US 3 (3.25mm). My gauge before washing was 28 st and 36 rows in 10x10cm.

Organic Cotton Fingering unwashed swatch

This is nice, soft cotton. It doesn’t split while you’re working with it, which can be a problem with some cotton yarns. You can see a few flecks of brown in it – apparently little cotton seeds. Not unexpected for a yarn that’s advertised as relatively unprocessed (no bleaching or dyes, but obviously spinning/plying), but at least in the skeins I have, it’s hardly noticeable. From a distance, you don’t see the specks at all. Up close, you can see 4-5 specks. Nothing unsightly in my opinion, and definitely on par with other organic cotton yarns.

Swatch (after washing/blocking):

Knit in stockinette on US 3 (3.25mm). My gauge after washing was 25 st and 37 rows in 10x10cm. Luckily it snowed today, so I can offer this photo showing the natural cotton color against pure white snow:

Organic Cotton Fingering, washed swatch

It was washed in cold water with mild detergent, rolled in a towel to remove excess water, and then pinned out to dry on a flat surface. So it shrank a very small amount in width but got very slightly longer in rows. There’s no pilling or any other adverse effects from washing as far as I can tell.

My impressions:

  • Soft cotton yarn good for baby items, washcloths, or anything you want to wear close to the skin.
  • It’s nice that it’s organic (certified by whatever agency in Japan is in charge of organic certification).
  • It’s only available in one color: natural off-white cotton. Ideal for someone looking for natural items, but I imagine it would also be a great base for hand-dying any color you choose.

Japanese pattern reading: more advanced?

Lately I’ve been thinking it could be useful to blog about slightly more advanced Japanese knitting & crochet pattern reading. Tips for things not covered in most tips for Japanese knitting & crochet patterns, beyond the basics, etc. It could include reading from Japanese yarn labels, too. Would that be something people would find helpful?

There are some great resources for Japanese pattern basics. For example, most sites that offer tips on knitting or crocheting Japanese patterns provide hints for non-Japanese speakers to identify yarn, needle, and gauge information. But it’s not always as straightforward. In a pattern, you might painstakingly decipher the list of yarns and such, then get started and find out that your gauge is astronomically off target. One reason could be that the instructions for knitting with 2 or more strands are not often easy to find.

Do you see 2本どり floating somewhere off the side of a pattern schematic or stitch chart? If so, you’re supposed to be using 2 strands of yarn at the same time, which can obviously have drastic effects on gauge. (It could be 3本どり in rare cases using 3 strands at once.) Unfortunately, that won’t be listed in the yarn section (most of the time), so that means you’ll have to look around for it. If you don’t see it anywhere on the page, it’s safe to assume it’s just one strand.

Please leave a comment if you’d be interested in seeing something like this. Suggestions on what you’d find helpful are also very welcome.