Japanese Knitting Technique

By Sarah Johnson

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Knitting itself is a pretty universal thing. In any corner of the world, you can find people using two needles and yarn to make things. Most techniques are generally the same, though with minor differences. Japanese knitting is recognized as a unique style of knitting, both for its patterns and its short row technique.

japanese knitting technique

If you go to your local yarn store or library and look at Japanese knitting books, you'll recognize that you're looking at a knitting book, but it might take you awhile to figure out you're looking at patterns. While we tend to prefer written instructions with charts as back-up, Japanese knitting patterns are almost entirely charts. Some Japanese pattern books don't even include patterns for entire projects.

Instead, a Japanese knitting pattern will often be little more than a chart explaining a design element. Japanese knitting employs a lot of repeating elements, like cables or other design details, throughout the entire project. The pattern book will show a picture of one section of the design element and then a chart of the stitches involved in that element. One of the books I looked at had 80 pages of nothing but pictures of cables or leaf patterns and the corresponding charts. Japanese knitting patterns that do cover an entire project still have very few written instructions. The shaping and design elements are all represented in a chart.

It is hard to find a Japanese knitting pattern or information about Japanese knitting that is written in English. Most often, you will have to figure out the chart without the benefit of a legend or any explanation. Fortunately, it turns out knitting charts are fairly universal. A diagonal slash looks like an increase or decrease in any language. A column of horizontal dashes next to a column of vertical lines is understood as a rib pattern. With a little patience and some trial and error, you can follow a Japanese knitting pattern without any written instructions at all.

One Japanese knitting technique has made it through the language barrier to become used by many knitters worldwide. Japanese knitters have a technique for turning short rows that is slightly different from the wrap and turn technique. The concept of short row shaping is the same, the difference comes in the technique the Japanese style uses to close the gap created by the turn. In Japanese knitting, after you've turned your work, you slip the first stitch purlwise. Then clip a locking style stitch marker not to any of your stitches, but to the working yarn right behind the stitch you've just slipped. Then when you turn back around and come back to the gap (after you have worked the slipped stitch that started your short row), pull that marked yarn up onto your left hand needle and knit it with the next stitch. It's the same concept as a wrap, just executed in a different way.

When it comes down to it, Japanese knitting techniques aren't all that mysterious and different. We're all working with the same materials. Like me, Japanese knitters prefer bamboo needles. They, too, use wool yarn. They use short rows for shaping and understand the need to close the gap. What makes Japanese knitting feel so different from our own is the nearly wordless way they present their patterns combined with the fact that very little is written about Japanese knitting techniques in English. But when you explore Japanese knitting techniques and patterns, you'll find that we're really not so different.

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