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The Marvel of Japanese Knitting

August 7, 2018

This is a wonderful, fascinating book.

The patterns are extraordinary and require lots of gazing upon and wondering at.

But this is the bit that truly amazes me. Have a look at these knitting symbols.

Now consider these words from the introduction.

Unlike other stitch pattern charts you may have seen, Japanese charts do not provide a key for how to work the symbols. The symbols are standardized, and every Japanese publisher uses the same symbol set. A Japanese knitter is expected to know them.

Crikey bananas! Japanese knitters must the Übermensch of the knitting world, or more appropriately the Überstrickennen. The level of knitting expertise and knowledge that is assumed in Japan is awe inspiring. Fortunately for those of us who are not Überstrickennen, Hitomi Shida’s Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible (2015) explains every symbol. Phew!

There are even wonderful explorations of how patterns might be rearranged or altered. It is a rare insight into an designer’s mind space. Even if you never knitted from this book, it would still change your knitting life.

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  1. I have been wondering whether to buy this book too the intricacy and beauty of the stitch patterns is quite unbelievable. What is even more unbelievable is that we may be able to recreate them ourselves……although the key to the symbols looks so rather extreme brain straining. I would imagine that once a few patterns have been tested the knitter would get acclimatised to the graphs???

    1. I think it’s a bit like starting any kind of knitting chart…at the start it look really daunting and then you get the measure of the pattern and before you know it you can read what to do next from the knitting itself. I am saying this after starting on what looked like the easiest stitch pattern there!

  2. I mentioned to my brother’s girlfriend, who is Japanese, that Japanese knitting books are amazing and are popular in the US, and next thing I knew, she had mailed me a copy of this wonderful book from Kumamoto. 🙂 The original, Japanese-langauage version, so I bought the English translation to help me. It’s really terrific. 🙂

    1. Wow, what a great contact to have in your own family! It is a super book. How cool to own it in the original Japanese.

  3. I remember gasping at the cover illustration, and I bought the book the moment it became available. It is absolutely inspirational! Not that I’ve knitted anything from it yet, mind…. still at the gazing in awe stage. Such architectural beauty, and I love the combination of lace and cables. I saw an interview focusing on Japanese knitting, I think on the Fruity Knitting podcast, and that was also inspirational.

      1. Thank you Andrew, lovely to see you on these pages. I just watched Episode 25 and fell down several rabbit holes in the process. You and Andrea do such a wonderful job. You are creating an archive of contemporary knitting culture.

    1. Yes, you are right Kate, it is an absolutely inspirational book. The lace and cables are done so well, sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. And yes, you did see the translator on Fruity Knitty, Andrew kindly pointed us in the right direction…it was Episode 25. I just watched it!

  4. Have you seen Japanese Stitches Unraveled : 160+ Stitch Patterns to Knit Top Down, Bottom Up, Back and Forth, and In the Round / by Wendy Bernard. (N.Y. : Abrams, 2018)?
    The awesomeness is in the title. It has more insights into getting stitch designs & textures you want regardless of your preferred working method. Empowering for the neophyte designer as well as knitters who want to play around with existing patterns!

    1. Wow that sounds amazing Helen, I have not seen that book yet but I am looking out now! I do love knitting books that explore technique over patterns, I like knowing the how of things.

  5. I did look at a Japanese pattern once and was simply horrified! It wasn’t just the lack of a legend for the symbols but the symbols themselves just danced in front of my eyes! They must start them young in Japan ? although you realise that you have kinda thrown down the gauntlet ?

    1. I do agree Jane, there is a gauntlet just laying around now! I did see that in some of the charts, there were vast numbers of different symbols before one even got close to the pattern repeat. Still…the sense of achievement that comes from working through such complexity…it would be like reading Chaucer.

  6. I received this book as a Christmas present last year. I have used components of several of the patterns (I modified one to incorporate decreases for a watch cap; another I’m using at the hem of a lightweight tunic top.)

    I agree with you about the prowess of Japanese knitters- they must be amazing!

    1. What a lovely gift Sophy! Yes, I think that is one of the strengths of the book that it enables us to incorporate patterns into our projects without having to follow an entire design. I do love a good stitch dictionary for they make us a little more autonomous, a little more creative just on our own, quietly.

  7. Überstrickennen is correct! Someone just gave me this book!!! It is truly mind bending :0 So glad you got this, do you suppose it will keep us from getting Alzheimer’s or push us closer to it haha

    1. Thanks for checking the German Susan, I was rather winging it there. It is right up your alley and I am convinced it will fend off all brain degeneration if I can just wrap my head around in now!

  8. I recently purchased this book, though I haven’t spent much time with it. I’m thinking I might start playing around with some swatches, just to see if I can do it.

    1. I think having a play around is a great way of approaching this book Shari. These patterns are a meditation.

  9. The stitch patterns are beautiful, and the text is very helpful. And the coolest thing? I can use that standardized key to figure out what is going on in my four other Japanese stitch dictionaries!

    1. Well, michele, it sounds like this book is your very own Rosetta Stone, the key to unlocking all the secrets. I reckon you will be having a very fine time.

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