The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

As promised, today I have a discussion with our Cowichan-style knitalong panelist Andrea Rangel about what a Cowichan sweater is and is not, pop-culture and mass-market appropriation of the style, and whether there’s anything wrong with knitting a sweater in the Cowichan style. There’s been a lot of discussion around all of this since the knitalong kicked off and I’m happy to see so much interest. Andrea is not Coast Salish herself, but has lived in the Cowichan Valley and spent time studying the Salish people and their sweaters, with their influence having made its way into her design work. Her most recent pattern happens to be a Cowichan-inspired pullover vest, Tokul, and she’s also the first panelist to have completed her knitalong vest — so I’ll have her FO interview and pics soon!

In addition to the links previously provided, Andrea has posted some videos on her Instagram feed showing how she traps floats, which she says is not 100% the Salish way, as they would typically hold both yarns in the right hand. But whether you’ve watched the videos mentioned in the links roundup post, take a minute to watch Andrea’s as well. And one more link to mention, shared by Eliana in the comments:, with contact info for Cowichan craftspeople. For those who’ve wondered how to buy an authentic sweater directly, that might be another path!

I also want to say a big thank-you to fellow panelist Kathy Cadigan for the photos included in this post, which she shot three years ago when touring Cowichan Valley with Andrea (which you can read more about on Tolt’s blog). The photos were taken variously at the Duncan farmer’s market, Leola Witt’s weaving studio, and Hill’s trading post. Note that the photo up top is not of authentic Cowichans, but of a Sylvia Olsen vest design, samples knitted by Andrea (left) and Sylvia (right), which I thought you might like to see. (Sylvia considers her own design style to be a fusion of influences from her own Scottish/English ancestry and Coast Salish ancestry of her former husband.) The sweater Andrea is modeling above is a vintage Cowichan, likely from the ’50s, and belongs to Witt. Hopefully all of this will add to your understanding and appreciation of the Cowichan tradition!

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

What’s the most basic, one-sentence answer to the question “What is a Cowichan sweater”?

A Cowichan sweater is a sweater knit by a person with Coast Salish heritage that is generally made with undyed superbulky-weight yarn and often features some color patterning. Coast Salish people are a group of indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast, including Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, who are ethnically and linguistically related to one another.

What are some of the key characteristics that make a Cowichan sweater a Cowichan sweater?

Like most knitting traditions, Cowichan sweaters are a fluid form, so there are many exceptions, but some general characteristics are:

– undyed, often hand-spun superbulky yarn
– geometric or animal-motif color patterns
– often featuring three sections of colorwork — narrow bands at the hips and shoulders and a wider band across the chest.
– drop-shoulder or modified drop-shoulder construction (raglan and set-in sleeves are rare among Cowichan sweaters)
– usually seamless
– 3-needle-bind-off shoulder joins, often showing as a design feature on the public side of the work
– color patterns that often include sections with long floats — i.e, large pattern motifs
– a characteristic collar worked in three sections. After both front sections are worked, stitches are picked up along the back neckline. At the end of every row of the back collar section, a live front collar stitch is knit together with the last back collar stitch. When all the front collar stitches on both sides are gone, the collar is complete and can be bound off.

Also, in order to avoid long strands at the back of the work as well as to manage tension, floats are caught every other stitch. This is apparent on the inside of the sweater, and you can often see it a bit on the public side too — the contrast color will often peek through a bit. A blend of intarsia and this catching-every-other-stitch method is also frequently incorporated if there’s just one big motif – like an eagle on the back.

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

The sweater pattern we’re knitting for the knitalong is a “Cowichan-style sweater” because it doesn’t have the right ethnic or geographic origins to be called a Cowichan sweater, but what other ways does it deviate from the true Cowichans?

– using red as one of the colors
– being worked in pieces and seamed
– having a collar that’s seamed rather than progressively knit together as described above
– having shoulders that are seamed rather than joined using 3-needle-bind-off

Cowichans are a little like the lopapeysa in Iceland (aka lopi sweaters), where you have local guilds knitting these indigenous sweaters to be sold largely to tourists. Right? The lopi apparently only dates back to the mid-20th century. How old is the Cowichan sweater tradition, and also: Tell us how it is that you come to know so much about all this.

I’m not quite as familiar with the history of Icelandic knitting, so aside from the sweaters being knit for tourists, I don’t know how similar the traditions are. Historically Cowichan sweaters were sold directly from knitters’ homes (often hung in the yard so that passersby could see them), but I haven’t heard of that happening recently. It’s possible to get a genuine Cowichan sweater from Hill’s Native Art in Duncan, BC. These include a Cowichan tag and often the name of the knitter. During summer months you can also find knitters knitting on the waterfront with sweaters and accessories to sell, so in that case you’re buying directly from the knitter. There are a couple other shops in downtown Victoria that sell native art including Cowichan sweaters, but I don’t know how much of the profit goes to the artists and knitters or how authentic the products are.

Coast Salish people had a long tradition of weaving, but started knitting around the time that British Columbia was colonized, in the mid- to late-1800s. The current idea of the Cowichan sweater has been developing and evolving since then.

I’ve learned about this tradition mostly because I moved to the Cowichan Valley a few years ago and was very curious. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Sylvia Olsen, the author of Working with Wool and Knitting Stories, who also lives in this region. She has a fascinating personal history with this tradition and has researched and written about it in a wonderfully poetic and scholarly way. Working with Wool should be the primer for anyone interested in learning about Cowichan knitting.

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

So what we’ve got here in our knitalong sweater is a Japanese take on the Cowichan sweater. It’s become a fairly common style to appropriate, but the Japanese seem particularly taken with it. I’m asking you to generalize here, granted, but how do the Coast Salish people feel about their knitting tradition being co-opted by other cultures?

I can’t speak for Coast Salish people, but as far as I know, they object strongly to anything being called a Cowichan sweater that isn’t one.

One thing that’s been mentioned a few times since we kicked off this knitalong is the collaboration between two Canadian companies — Roots and Mary Maxim, both of which are new to me — to produce “Cowichan” sweaters. (Mary Maxim was apparently founded in the ’50s on patterns for sports-themed faux Cowichans.) Whether or not either company actually calls them Cowichans, the sweaters are clearly indebted to the native knitters, who in no way benefit from this mega-brand collaboration. What’s your feeling about appropriation of knitting traditions, especially with regard to Cowichan? And is there anything wrong with non-Salish knitters knitting themselves a sweater that’s Cowichan-inspired?

I’m glad you raise this question. I think it’s an important topic and I think you could get a lot of different opinions. I wish we had a Coast Salish knitter here to speak about this because I’m not sure how she or he would answer.

Labeling a sweater as “Cowichan” or even “Indian” (a term that was historically used before Cowichan to describe the sweaters) when it isn’t is a violation of the creative and intellectual property of the Coast Salish. And we have to acknowledge the historical and current cultural oppression and racism that continue to have a negative impact on the Coast Salish community. That history and current reality have to inform our thinking about this topic, and I think it’s vital that we take special care not to exacerbate the disenfranchisement of that community by claiming their cultural property as our own.

But I also think that fashion is always in flux. We are all constantly inspired and influenced by what we see around us. In the United States, you can’t copyright a clothing design and I actually think that’s sensible – there are so many elements to a piece of clothing that it seems nearly impossible to boil down its essence and say that someone owns that. (Is it the pattern of the fabric? the fiber content? the cut? the techniques used to create it? the placement and number of pockets?) To say that any item of art or culture is 100% original or pure is nonsensical to me – all of our creations are iterations of something else. I find power and beauty in that connection back to our mothers and grandmothers and back and back. We are all interrelated and the huge variety and mixing of knitting traditions are a wonderful visual and tactile representation of that.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knitting a Cowichan-inspired sweater. I’d love if there were patterns available from Coast Salish knitters so we could also be supporting that community, but I have yet to find any. And I think there would most definitely be something wrong with a non-Salish knitter claiming that their sweater was a Cowichan, particularly if they used that label as a sales tactic.

One of the most famous Cowichan-style sweaters in pop culture (along with Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe) is the one worn by Jeff Bridges — aka “the Dude” — in The Big Lebowski. It’s not the most flattering portrait of a garment, and yet that sweater became iconic. (And you actually published a knitting pattern several years ago for the Dude’s sweater.) Do you think the fame or infamy of that sweater did anything as far as raising awareness of the Coast Salish people and their traditions, knitted or otherwise? Or do you think people even thought to wonder about it — it was just a cool sweater.

That is a great sweater and it was definitely heavily influenced by the Cowichan sweater tradition. I think it’s a great example of how fashion works — we’re influenced by what we see and like and then alter it to suit our own market, aesthetic, or to achieve other goals. Because it was called a Cowichan sweater (though there are so many ways in which it is not), I think it has generated interest in the Cowichan knitting tradition among knitters and people interested in the history of fashion. Most folks, though, probably just think it’s a cool sweater.


Photos © Kathy Cadigan

Best new hat patterns — Fall ’15

Best new hat patterns — Fall ’15

Fantastic new hat patterns have been publishing at a furious pace lately (and I know a lot of you are formulating your holiday hat-knitting lists), so I thought it was time to round up some of the most enticing ones—

1. Karusellen by Erica Smith — very likely my next colorwork project

2. City by Mari-Lynn Patrick —simple chic

3. Weston Beanie by Mary Jane Mucklestone — lovely, delicate colorwork

4. Fair Winds Beanie by Churchmouse Yarns (free pattern) — classic cables

5. Manx by Andrea Rangel — captivating criss-crossing cables

6. Spire by Shellie Anderson — architectural allover texture

7. Ponderosa by Melody Hoffman — sweet mix of textures

8. Kringla Hat by Jennifer Hagan — lighthearted mix of cables and bobbles and fluff

Of course, if you’re looking for hats to knit, I highly recommend the Fringe Hatalong patterns: Audrey, L’Arbre, Hermaness Worsted and Laurus (so far). And for more hat ideas and inspiration, scroll through the whole hats tag.

New Favorites: from Farm to Needle

New Favorites: from Farm to Needle

First, can I just tell you: I am blown away by the response to the Slow Fashion October kickoff. I’ve been reading all of the comments and blog posts (linked from the comments) and Instagram posts and their comments and ensuing discussions and … wow! I’m a little fearful of my ability to keep up with it all! But so thrilled to see that this has struck a chord and that so many people are into it. I’m more excited than ever to see what everyone has to say and share this month.

Second: This post is weird. But New Favorites is all about patterns I’m dying to knit, right? And right now at the top of that list is my own pattern. Weird, weird, weird. A lot of you had asked me to write out my version of the vintage men’s waistcoat I knitted earlier this year, but I really wanted to rework it from the ground up — different weight, stitch pattern, shoulder shaping, the whole nine yards. So when Anna officially asked me if I’d like to design something for her book — now known as Farm to Needle — given that Anna is a vest fiend like me, I suggested doing just that. And the Anna Vest pattern was born. The thing is: I didn’t knit it, and it’s not my sweater. I wrote the pattern and enlisted my amazingly talented friend and master sample knitter Jo Strong to do the principal knitting for me. I did the finishing and sent the vest off to be photographed, and am left wanting one of my own. So there it is: on my New Favorites list, with all the usual longing. (I also want the model’s braids.)

There isn’t a single thing in the whole collection that I wouldn’t love to make and have, but to my great surprise, the one other pattern I can’t get out of my head is Dianna Walla’s Aspen legwarmers (and socks), which must surely be the most fabulous legwarmers in history. Yes, I did just profess my love for a pair of legwarmers.

Weird, weird, weird.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Dress-down sweaters

Slow Fashion October, Week 1: You (me, all of us)

Slow Fashion October, Week 1: YOU (me, all of us)

Happy first day of Slow Fashion October! If you haven’t seen the introduction (with the weekly themes/prompts), take a minute to read that over. The theme for this partial first week is YOU. As in you, me, all of us who are participating in any form. This is your chance to introduce yourself. Who are you — are you a knitter/sewer/mender/thrifter/weaver/small-batch-fashion designer? How did you come to be interested in the slow fashion movement, and what are you hoping to get out of this month? And do you have a special project in mind? This is also a time to think about how you want to participate — whether it’s daily, weekly or one contribution for the month; in the form of a comment here on the blog or in posts to your own blog and/or social media feeds. Whatever you’re comfortable with, that’s what you should do! If you do publish something on your blog, leave a link here for people to see, and be sure to use hashtag #slowfashionoctober on social media so everyone can follow along.

Each week, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite contributions here on the blog, and will also feature people in various ways on the @slowfashionoctober feed on Instagram.

For my part — for anyone who might be new here — I’m Karen Templer and this is my blog. Last year I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Nashville, where I live with my husband and run Fringe Supply Co. I’ve known how to sew pretty much my whole life but have done it very sporadically. Learning to knit four years ago reminded me how incredible it is to wear something you made with your own two hands, bringing me back to sewing. And tapping into the incredible community of makers online really raised my level of awareness of some of the more political issues around disposable fashion and the human and environmental costs thereof. I’ve written an essay for the current issue of Amirisu about much of my motivation for building a handmade and/or known-origins wardrobe, and talked quite a bit about it in my Woolful podcast interview last winter. I also did an interview for Curious Handmade recently, wherein she asked a lot of really great questions around these subjects. So if you want to know more about me and where all of this is coming from, I’d recommend reading that interview! I also did a blog post last year about my Handmade wardrobe role models, and hope you’ll take a look at that if you missed it.

I’ll be posting here on the blog and on my @karentempler Instagram feed throughout the month, following the weekly themes. And my special project for the month will be to sew a garment from fabric my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of Shutters and Shuttles is weaving for me. So expect periodic check-ins on that project, as well. (And wish me luck! So scary.) To learn more about Allison, listen to her on last week’s episode of Woolful.

p.s. SPEAKING OF AMIRISU, a little bit of shop news: Yesterday we got another short stack of the fall issue of Amirisu (the one with my Slotober essay), and also have some amazing new additions to the vintage fiber mill spindles for you. Check it out!


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Get ready!

Knit the Look: Rachael Wang’s silvery cables

Knit the Look: Rachael Wang's silvery cables

You know my current obsession is slouchy dress-down sweaters over simple dresses, and I like ’em cropped, but I’m loving this long, all-platinum version photographed on Rachael Wang. To approximate her fisherman-cable sweater, all you need is Paton’s free pattern, the Honeycomb Aran pullover, knitted it in something luxe and silvery, such as Woolfolk’s Far in Color 03 or The Fibre Company’s Knightsbridge in Barley. Make it a size too big, and add a repeat or two above the hem.

If you’ve got the chops for sewing silk, you could easily make the dress to go under it. See April Rhodes’ Slip Dress pattern, which comes included with the Date Night Dress. Just cut it straighter and longer.

See Vanessa’s post for another look at Rachael’s outfit, head to toe.


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Alex Yuryeva’s plaid pullover


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

Cowichan vest errata — and how to work those edgings!

Cowichan vest errata — and how to work those edgings!

This weekend, I sat down with my trusty Knitters Graph Paper Journal to rechart the Cowichan-style knitalong vest to my revised row count, try out some shaping tweaks, and see how it looks with the motifs boiled down the way I’m planning. (Will I really like it with just the main flower/snowflake motif and the two checkerboard stripes, or will it look too much like a wallpaper border? Still undecided!) In the process, I realized there’s a problem with the charts. Not necessarily an error, but a detail or discrepancy that requires a heads up—


The image above is of the left front and the back, with their selvages lined up, as if you’re about to seam them together for the left side seam. When you work standard mattress stitch, you lose one full stitch at each edge. The side seam should look just like the center of the back — with a vertical column of MC stitches and just those two little contrast stitches connecting the big flower shapes in the middle. If you mattress stitch these two edges together, the flower “petals” and the horizontal bars will meet. The fact that the needed joining row is depicted at both edges suggests to me that the Japanese would seam this differently — working through the center of each stitch instead of on either side of it, so you wind up with the left leg of the edge stitch from the left front panel meeting up with the right leg of the edge stitch from the back panel. If you knit it as pictured, that’s how you’ll have to seam it. Otherwise, you’ll need to add one stitch either at each edge of the back, or at the side edges of each front. (Augment either the front panels or the back panel — not both.) And if you do that, you’ll also need to invert the checkerboard stripes on one or the other so they match up correctly as well. The easiest/safest thing would be to seam through the centers of the stitches as they appear to expect you to do.


It’s also been pointed out (thanks, Francis) that in the page 2 diagram of the front panels, for the garter stitch button band, it says “4 rows” where it should say “4 sts.” That’s 4 stitches wide.


As noted on Instagram over the weekend, after watching the float-trapping videos Kathy shared for Friday’s links post, I decided to try it. I’ve been attempting to get used to a different way of holding my yarn anyway, and weaving floats like this meant learning multiple new tricks as well as purling continental, which I’ve never managed to do. I’m doing it! All of it. And having a blast. But like I said on IG, it felt like learning to knit all over again. It also totally looks like beginner knitting (more than my beginner knitting ever did) — it is a lumpy mess on the front, while being amazingly gorgeous on the back. But I’m fine with it. It’s fun to be a beginner, and blocking will no doubt help.

BUT, I have a different problem, which Meri also asked me about, which is how to work the solid-color edgings — the garter-stitch armholes and button bands — without the edging looking ratty. I polled the great knitters of Instagram and the consensus was that the best way to do it (other than skipping it and working the edgings separately!) was to do an intarsia-style twist when switching from the colorwork section to the solid edgings. You can see all of the input here, and I found this SweetKM intarsia twist video to be super helpful.


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern (full series here)

Cowichan via Japan: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern

Cowichan via Japan: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern

One of the funnest aspects of this year’s Fringe and Friends Knitalong is the fact that it’s a Japanese pattern. It’s my favorite kind of pattern — simply a chart with some notes. But the fact that it’s a garment (one size), and that the Japanese do things a bit differently, makes it just challenging enough to be interesting. Panelist Meri Tanaka and I had an enlightening conversation about why Japanese patterns are the way they are, what that has meant for knitting in Japan, and how to interpret the assorted unfamiliar markings on this one. I learned a lot and am sure you will, too!

By the way, there are already quite a few sweaters appearing on the #fringeandfriendskal2015 hashtag on Instagram. Take a look — and keep ’em coming!

. . .

Karen: First, can I ask you: The Japanese seem especially smitten with Cowichan-style sweaters, which hail from Canada — specifically the Vancouver area. Is it similar or related to the fascination with American sportswear (which I think you do better than we do), or is there something in particular that makes the Cowichan style so appealing in Japan?

Meri: Actually, Aran, Fair Isle and fisherman sweaters are equally popular in Japan. Many trading companies import sweaters from the UK and Europe for various fashion brands. For people who like more outdoor/camping-type clothes, it seems Cowichan style is more popular. Japanese men love “authentic” fashion items from around the world, learn about their histories, and love to wear them.

At the same time, many people seem to think that because Cowichan sweaters use very thick yarn, they are easier to knit (which is, as most knitters know already, not always true).

So this pattern is nothing but a collection of schematics along with a big chart of each of the three vest pieces, with annotations indicating assorted details the knitter might need to know. I have a couple of Japanese knitting books and they’re all like this — at most you get a detailed diagram with measurements and counts all over it, along with a chart for any necessary colorwork or pattern stitches that might factor in. Often the entire garment is charted like this one — stitch by stitch. Is this the standard/traditional form that Japanese knitting patterns take? Or is that a more modern approach?

What you described is a standard form of Japanese patterns, more or less. I am not sure if I can call it traditional, though. What I have learned is that during the post-war period, a few dressmaking schools created their own standards in terms of pattern writing, needle sizes and yarn thickness. As you can guess, it was based on sewing patterns. I am guessing that in those days most women went to sewing schools to learn how to draw patterns to fit their body, so that they knew how to adjust knitting patterns as well. That was regarded as part of their preparation to get married, because store-bought clothes were still very expensive, and it was one of the housewives’ responsibilities to make clothes for the family.

That knowledge is not common anymore, because very few people go to dressmaking or knitting schools these days.

Because it’s charted and not written out, it’s only one size. I know, on the whole, Japanese people tend to be comparatively petite (pardon the generalization!), but it’s not like you’re all exactly the same size. Are Japanese knitters simply more fluent or intrepid at resizing things? Or what’s the attitude and approach toward the sizing?

Most Japanese women are within the range of 4″ height difference, but body types are definitely diverse. I usually have a hard time finding clothes at stores because I am about 3″ shorter than the average, but my body is slightly thicker.

As I described earlier, when the system of knitting patterns was established in Japan, most people knew how to grade patterns to their own needs. It’s not the case anymore, which results in the majority of knitting patterns in books and magazines being loose and bulky, so that one size fits all.

With Amirisu, you take a more Western approach to the patterns, with graded sizes and written instructions. Would you do it that way if you were only publishing in Japan?

We feel that part of our mission is to make knitting more approachable to the younger generation. Having one size with minimal explanation in a pattern makes it extremely difficult to pick up knitting. Because the standards are different in Japan, the hurdle for non-Japanese products and patterns to enter the market has been extremely high — so people had access to very limited resources. (Still so, although the trend is changing.) The majority of knitters are not used to knitting from written patterns, and until we started our knitting workshops in Japan, and my partner published a book, there weren’t many places or resources to learn how to read them. We want to show people that there is a whole wide knitting world out there, with millions of choices and possibilities. In other words, we would like to continue publishing patterns as we do now, even only in Japanese.

How to read a Japanese knitting patternThe Japanese charts work just like English-language charts, because it’s how knitting works — you start at the lower right corner with the first stitch, building stitches from right to left, then (if working flat) you read the next row from left to right and invert the stitches (a knit on the right side is a purl on the wrong side, etc) as you’re now working from the wrong side of the fabric and back across the row. A translated pattern like the one we’re knitting from — Pierrot’s Cowichan-style Geometric Vest  — will have a legend showing what the various symbols mean — and the stitch symbols tend to be the same as ours. A blank box is a knit, a dash/dot is a purl (cables are the same, in cable patterns).

However, there are markings on this pattern that are not familiar and not translated, per se. (I want to emphasize to everyone that it’s important to read the Knitting Tips box on the first page of the pattern, which does explain several things.) Can you help us understand the unfamiliar marks? Let’s start with the diagrams on page 2, looking at the schematic for the back panel. There are marks above the “CO 49 sts” and below the actual diagram that look like |—|—, mirrored at the other end and below the fronts. What does that mark mean?

Those indicate ribbing patterns. For the back panel, cast on is 49 stitches, and the ribbing goes like (K1, P1) x 24, K1. | is a knit stitch, — is a purl stitch. This is important when you cast on for the front panels; the right front ribbing ends with ||, or two knits. The first row of the right front is a WS row, so the ||— would be read P2, K1 from the wrong side. Does that make sense?

Oh, interesting! Not only did I not get that those indicated ribbing (which is clearly depicted on the chart, so not a problem), I completely missed that the chart includes the cast-on as row 1 — that’s definitely different from Western charts, where row 1 is the first knitted row.

If studied, the page 2 diagrams tell us pretty much everything we need to know about stitches and rows and COs and BOs and needle sizes and so on — right down to how far apart to work the buttonholes. Then the charts on the following two pages show us the actual stitches — the placement of ribbing and garter stitch and colorwork. On the diagrams of the fronts, it’s noted that you decrease 1 stitch after the waist ribbing. On the chart of the front, where some people have thought the waist ribbing was knitted separately, that’s really just pulled apart to show you which two stitches to work together to get that -1 decrease. Right?

Yes, and this is very kind and easy to understand diagram compared to other ones I’ve seen in Japanese knitting patterns!

How to read a Japanese knitting patternAs we work our way up the diagram of the fronts, in the upper right of page 2, there’s a set of annotations that looks like this:

1 RE

This was totally cryptic to me my first time knitting the pattern. In the Knitting Tips box on page 1 it says “#-#-# = rows-stitches-times.” I get that this is tied to the increases for the collar flap shaping, but either I’m really not understanding what that means or the numbers are wrong — I couldn’t get it to add up to the same number of increases depicted in the chart. (So I ignored it and just knitted what’s pictured in the chart — increasing on any row where the chart got wider.) Do you have a better way of translating that, or helping us understand it?

Sure! This is one of the critical points to understand Japanese patterns. Please note that there are a few variations based on which (Japanese) standard the designer is using, but the basic idea is the same. This array of numbers should be read from the direction of your knitting. In this case, it’s bottom up, so the first set of numbers is 1-1-1.

The numbers read like this: Every # row(s), increase (or decrease) # stitch(es), # time(s).

In terms of the first increase, it’s really not “every 1 row”, but it simply means you increase one stitch, once.Whether to increase or decrease is often omitted from the diagram, and knitters need to figure it out themselves. (99% of the times it’s pretty obvious.)

As for the last one, “1RE”, this is something that the translator of this particular pattern came up with on his/her own. Usually it’s written as “1段平” in Japanese, meaning “1 row even”. When using Japanese knitting books, please do not expect to see “RE” here.

If you understand the above, I think the row counts add up to 18. What do you think?

Aha! “Every” is the keyword. Based on “rows-stitches-times” I was reading 2-1-2 as “On the next two rows, increase 1 stitch 2 times.” Which makes no sense to begin with (2 times on a row?), and explains why the numbers weren’t adding up. It’s really “every 2nd row, increase 1 stitch — and do that twice.” Every 2nd row being every other row. So that’s two increases over the next four rows. The “4-1-1” would be increase one stitch on the next 4th row. Got it! I hope that makes sense to our readers, too. Thank you.

I think there’s been confusion for a few people about the large black/white dot depicted on the collar diagrams. There’s nothing for us to do there, knitting-wise — it’s just saying match up the center of the left edge of the back collar to the center of the corresponding front flap and seam them together, and vice versa. It reminds me of the kind of mark you’d see on a sewing pattern. Is that a typical mark in Japanese patterns?

I can’t say these marks are typical. It seems the designer of this pattern is very kind to show which pieces to sew together.

Last but not least, I had someone ask about the V along the edges of the front charts, at the bottom of the last page. That one says only “slip stitch” and I’m assuming you work it just like I describe in this post. Is that correct, or do you do that any differently than I do?

The placement of the V is a little confusing, but it’s the same “slip stitch” as you describe in your blog post. (I love that turtleneck vest so much, by the way!)

Thank you! What’s the main thing you think people should know about trying to knit from Japanese patterns, especially those that haven’t had the annotations translated like this one has? What’s the best way to learn?

If you can overcome the fact that most patterns have one size only, usually the only difficult part is increase and decrease. Please keep in mind that cast-on/bind-off and increase/decrease methods, as well as a lot of details, are often not described in the patterns; it’s totally up to you. There are not many techniques used in Japanese knitting — for example, most cast-ons are done in either long-tail method or with crochet cast-on with waste yarn.

We’ve been publishing a series of articles on Japanese knitting patterns in Amirisu magazine, and they are available for free (online versions). Hope that will help a lot of adventurous knitters!


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Elsewhere: Cowichan links (full series here)


Pattern © Pierrot Yarns; pattern images/details used with permission