Hi all! Most knitters out there probably don’t know I speak Japanese, and admittedly it's waned a wee bit since moving from Nagoya. Language is one of those fickle things which can fade over time, and quite unfortunately for me, there are scant number of native Japanese speakers living in Maine. Use it or lose it I can hear every language professor whispering into my ears. I’m sure to the chagrin of many of those professors, the only thing I do use it for anymore, is knitting patterns.
There are so many fantastic Japanese designers out in the world, and most western knitters are likely familiar with some of their work. (Michiyo and Yoko Hatta are two designers who immediately come to mind.) I know there are likely countless other Japanese designers who do incredible work, and offer their patterns in both English and Japanese.
Ah, but there are so many other fantastic patterns, offered only in Japanese.
I've been thinking about Japanese knitting quite a bit lately, and language difference shouldn't get in the way of a good sweater. This isn't going to be a word-for-word translation, and unfortunately it's unrealistic to go from no Japanese experience to understanding absolutely everything in a Japanese pattern. There might be some things left unknown, so think of this more as a rough field guide.
This fishermans rib sweater is called 215w-02 V Gazette Knit (rolls off the tongue, no?) and I think it's a challenging, approachable introduction to working off Japanese patterns. I was originally going to do one post on this subject, but because there are a few differences in the way these patterns are written, I'm going to break it into a couple of days so this doesn't seem like information overkill.
I'm hoping these series of posts will help anyone who has a pattern sitting in their Ravelry favorites, collecting metaphorical dust because of a language barrier.
OVERVIEW + SOME VOCAB
There’s absolutely no way around this, but almost all Japanese patterns are written in charts. Once you get used to them, the charts are pretty handy and make Japanese knitting more approachable and easier to visualize if you don't speak the language. I'll go more into how to knit from charts in a separate post, but here’s what the pattern looks like (this is a free pattern from Perriot yarns, viewable here and on Ravelry).
I know this looks intense, but let’s break it down into bite sized chunks.
Almost all Japanese patterns have the materials, gauge and needle size listed right under the pattern heading. Think of this pattern as a weird puzzle you only need to solve half to get the full picture, and it might be helpful to only pay attention to the numbers. Here is a list of some of the helpful kanji (what Japanese characters are called) and words you may need to reference. Some of these words can mean a few different things, but these definitions are only in relation to knitting. Focus on only these words, and the header above is a lot easier to digest and understand.
号：Number size (of knitting needles)
２本：2 straight needles ( a long circular could be substituted for working flat)
４本：4 double pointed needles
模様：stitch pattern, in this case meaning a fishermans rib.
平方：square, as in a 10cm knitting swatch square
段 : rows
Zooming in further, here's the first subhead. There's a lot of nonessential info there -- no need to worry about anything other than the amount and type of yarn needed. I think the basic key to figuring out Japanese patterns is to fixate on the numbers, not the Japanese. From the Ravelry page, this sweater uses a sport weight yarn called Momo-Little. Momo Little comes in 118 yard balls weighing 30 grams a piece. And hey, what do you know, there’s a 30 g in the Japanese above. Safe bet the forward slash after the 30 g is the weight of yarn you’ll need for the sweater -- a bit of calculator magic clocks this sweater in at just shy of 10 balls of Momo Little, or 1180 yards of sport weight yarn. Onto the next.
Looking at the definitions I gave above, this bullet point is talking about knitting needles. Same basic principal as above, only look at the numbers and essential words, and forget the rest. This pattern calls for a set of straight needle JPN 3 and 5s, and a set of 3s on DPNs. Because nothing can be easy, (thanks customary units) Japanese needles are sized differently, take a look at this conversion chart to figure out the US equivalent. In US needles, this pattern calls for a set of US 2.5s + 4s, as well as a DPN set with 2.5 needles.
Gauge! Yes, Japanese patterns have them too, sorry folks. Many western patterns call for a 4 inch square gauge swatch, and Japanese patterns usually call for a 10 cm swatch. In the fishermans rib pattern, (as a refresher, 模様 means stitch pattern) 22 stitches and 39 rows = 10 cm.
I hope this has been a helpful overview of Japanese pattern, on Friday I'll get into the best stuff: the charts!