Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Japanese Knitting Symbol Primer

Note: all left/rights are now correct.

I have had lots of mail about Japanese knitting symbols, and believe me, I wish there were a magic translation wand to wave over those-Oh-So-Beautiful-But-Incomprehensible pages in the Japanese knitting magazines. I am going to show you the most common symbols and instructions, but you, dear reader, are going to have to do a bit of study, too.

Unfortunately, Blogger creates blurry thumbnails of all my pretty pictures. I have to cut, paste, and annotate each one, which takes a lot of time (especially considering how feeble my Japanese is).

You can download a nice PDF copy of all these pictures here. You will have to join the Mountain Ash Yahoo group to download it.

For now, let's begin with the basics: Stitch, Knit, and Purl. As you can see from the image below, a Knit stitch is called a Front stitch in Japanese. And it should come as no surprise that a Purl stitch is called a Back stitch. Knit stitches are indicated in two ways: a vertical line in a box and an empty box.

The Purl stitch is a horizontal line, and this line carries over to other symbols as we shall see in a second. In general, if you see a horizontal line under a symbol, it means "Do Something Purlwise."

Let's proceed to decreases. Notice that the Purl 2 together--left slant symbol has a line under it.

And, of course, the right-slanting single decreases look similar.

Here are the triple decrease symbols--and they should be no surprise at this point. One more kanji for you here: Center or Middle. It's actually quite logical-looking and you will see it on patterns to indicate a central pivot stitch, as well.

And some miscellaneous stitch symbols:

Here is a small, annotated lace pattern. It's a composite, so don't bother knitting it. I am just showing you the kanji translation.

And finally, because my brain has now turned into a salted pretzel, I present a loose translation of the verbiage stuff that you will see at the beginning of a pattern.

Bear in mind that there are zillions more symbols--twist stitches, cables, fancy binding stitches. But this post covers all the stitches you will need to do Mondnacht, Mountain Ash, and most other Japanese lace patterns.

Do let me know if this information is clear and useful. If there are other symbols you want explained, let me know that also. Thanks!


2trees said...

Do you have any clever ways of making a p3tog with no slant?

Operakatz said...

Whee! Excellent work, Fleegle...thanks so much!

fleegle said...

2Trees, let me think about it.

alice said...

This is so fabulous!!! Thank you for taking the time to do this--I'm so excited to go dig out that Mondnacht pattern now... :)

Jane said...

Dear Fleegle,

Thank you for the wonderful information. I'm very tempted to get that book now for those patterns. I'll have to think hard about it while I go bang my head into a wall for awhile :-)

Batty said...

Thank you so much, I've been ogling Japanese knitting books for a while. Now I need to stick my head in a bucket of ice water, though. I'm sure that'll make it stop smoking!

Anonymous said...

hey there
just so you know, the kanji you have listed for right and left are reversed- the kanji with the "box" shape beside the "slanted t" shape is RIGHT or 'migi" and the "capital I" shape beside the slanted "t" is left, or hidari.
thanks for all the info.

fleegle said...

You are correct, the left and rights are reversed. However, that's exactly what's in the Japanese book. I think it's less confusing to leave it this way, unless you can think of another way of presenting the translation.

Kate said...

A great big light-bulb has just come on. I've been studying your excellent primer and felt I was making some progress. However, I was very confused by the slanted decreases. For example, K2tog(right slant) shows the kanji for "right" and "on top" - but if you put the right stitch on top you actually get a left slanting decrease. When I saw the comment about the kanji being reversed all became clear.

I'm just about to start the shawl in "Elegance Knits", progress, if any, will be on my blog.

bunchkin said...

In the sweater I am making from Elagance Knit, a blank box can also mean a purl stitch when it's behind a cable.

Batty said...

I just bookmarked this. Thank you so much, this is amazingly helpful

Anonymous said...

I would have liked to download the Primer, but after spending a considerable amount of time trying (unsuccessfully)to sign up to the Mountain Ash group......... I finally gave up -- is there another way to get it.

fleegle said...

Dear Anaonymous--

If you will email me with a real email address, I will send you the pdf file.

Anonymous said...

My name is Fran Tanner, email is Stockus@aol.com -- Thank you for sharing.

Barbara said...

Thank you for all your wonderful posts. I've been enjoying reading your entries, looking at your pictures and drinking in all the information you're sharing. I've looked at the Japanese knitting books, but were always intimidated by them. (I can actually get them locally.) Maybe I'll give them a try now. Thanks again.

delorestan@hotmail.com said...

Thank you so much for the info!! Very useful! But I have a question I wonder if know the answer of: I have a horizontal line ABOVE the symbol rathern than below. Is that still "purlwise" ???? Hope you can help me!!!!

Rhonda said...

THank you Fleegle! I've posted a link to your blog at Tawashi Town on Ravelry - I hope this is ok.....your instructions are excellent and I think your pictures are great! ;o)
Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for sharing... before i had no clue what these symboles meant, but know i can understand my japanese patterns.

Woolcrafter said...

Wonderful explanations - thank you!

Do you happen to know where I might acquire a set of these standardized Japanese knit symbols and crochet symbols for designing purposes?

I'd be most grateful if you could point me in the right direction.

Thanks so much.

Livvy said...

I am wondering if you what a darkened box, one stitch worth taking two rows, means? I thought it meant "nothing" here, but I haven't figured how to do that in pattern number 72 of Book 250. Thanks in advance :)

paula said...

what a wonderful information! did you know that this is very useful and unique? thank you so much im a beginner but ill send you my scarf when i finish it. hope to keep on reading!

joannamauselina said...

This is fabulous. Thanks so much. I am starting my second Japanese thing, but it is much harder than the first thing was. This will be a great help.

Aeshna said...

Hello there:) It is very helpfull, what you described here, since I love Japanese patterns but no speaking these language:)Could you, however, refer to symbols from the page 49 of these book: http://books.google.pl/books?id=_8zw_pAglIIC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=knit+slants&source=bl&ots=4CnVUi5e0M&sig=oxjt1Ohl5NV4PCJYHCClwNHT9ts&hl=pl&ei=0qi8Su7HBtPJ_gbs552pDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3#v=onepage&q=knit%20slants&f=false


I especially mean knitting and purling slants. I know it is no Japanese book, but I am a bit confused:) Thanks in advance!

a said...


I´m Portuguese and interested in the "PDF copy of all these pictures" , but as some body said, also "I would have liked to download the Primer, but after spending a considerable amount of time trying (unsuccessfully) to sign up to the Mountain Ash group........." they did not accept me.

Can you send me the PDF file "Japanese Knitting Symbols Primer",please.

My name is oelc and e-mail is:

Thank you very much (and sorry if there is english mistakes)


craftbygrace said...

thanks for posting this! Can you please explain to me what 4 - 1 - 1 means? is the back side counts as 1 row? means I have to decrease on the back side first, or is it the fourth front rows? I'm just so... confused >.<

pls help me..

thank you very much

Sharon V said...

Thank you! Thank you! I was about to do a lot of knitting and guess work which would have resulted in a lot of ripping back. I can't thank you enough.

gwriter said...

thank you so much, if only I found your site earlier then I would not put down my knitting for so long. Now I will gladly rip it to fix what I have done wrong. LOL