Sunday, December 17, 2006

Japanese Knitting Symbols

Anyone who's ever had the chance to flip through Japanese knitting books and magazines immediately falls in love. Like many love affairs, though, communication can sometimes be a problem. On the plus side, Japanese patterns always chart the complete garment or accessory--there are rarely more than one or two paragraphs of verbiage. You don't need to understand the characters to figure out which part is the sleeve and which part is the sweater body. (Um, if you can't figure out those bits, you need more help than this entry provides.)

So, what is needed is simply a Rosetta stone for the knitting symbols, and that's actually pretty easy to acquire. There are quite a few of them and they can be bought from Yes Asia or Amazon Japan.

Knitting Signs and Make Patterns is the one I use most:

You can purchase it here. The ISBN is 4-529-02098-3 if you want to order it elsewhere. The book contains a complete set of symbols, generously illustrated, and bonus sample swatches as well.

I also use Clear and Simple Knitting Symbols a lot too:

The ASIN number (for Amazon Japan) is 452902413X and the ISBN is 4-529-02413-X. You can order it here.

I frankly haven't found any knitting language dictionaries that I would recommend. Word lists aren't terribly useful. However, The ABCs of Knitting site has some excellent information on interpreting Japanese charts and does have a small word list that might come in handy if you can't distinguish the front sweater chart from the back.

Clearwater Knits
offers a short set of tutorials for intepreting Japanese charts. They are actually for machine knitting, but handknitters will, ah, get the picture, too.

Jessica Tromp has some images from the books mentioned above on her site if you don't feel like ordering the books themselves. You'll have to scroll around to find the symbol you want, though, and the list is not complete.

I do suggest if you decide to embark on a Japanese pattern, that you resolve to remain flexible. You don't have to knit it exactly as the designer did. It's OK to change things around to make them easier to understand.

For example, a group of us are currently trying to work out the Mountain Ash shawl (see previous post). The original pattern begins with 27 miles of edging, from which you are supposed to pick up 40 million stitches and then work the shawl body somehow by shortrowing something or another. We all kinda decided that it was a great deal easier to knit the body first and the edging last. Who will know? Who cares?

And remember the great words quoted to me by a good Japanese friend when he was fumbling around with a notice that I asked him to interpret: Kanji is all about guessing.

It's true, too. Sometimes I point to a sign and ask for a translation. The person will stare at it for a minute or two and then render something that may or may not make sense. Not even the Japanese can decipher their own written material all the time. Consider this concept when you try to interpret a Japanese knitting pattern and start hitting the sake about two lines into the page. It's comforting to know that your are probably not the only one who's confused!


kbsalazar said...

Tata/Tatao's ABCs of Knitting website has a section on how to read Japanese patterns that includes some translation:

It's a great website even though it hasn't been updated in English in six years.

hakucho said...

Very interesting! Thanks for the info. I always have admired Japanese patterns especially the food and the dolls.
Happy knitting :)

fleegle said...

kbsalazar, that's the ABC's of Knitting link that I posted in the entry. I do wish they would revisit the site and add some things...

AnneV said...

Oh no! I made some modifications to my Mountainash - I guess that means picking up 42 million stitches. But who cares, it'll just take *a bit* longer than knitting the original.

Lisa said...

That is so true about Kanji. I am currently living in Hokkaido in Japan and I guess my way around town everyday!! Thanks for the great post. The info was very handy!!