japan knitting

the thrill in teaching

Finally I’ve roped in one of my friends into knitting! My friend A really needed something to distract her from some stuff, and told me she was trying to knit. She actually tried a bit by herself, with 100-yen-shop needles (actually, they’re quite good quality), and 100-yen-shop yarn (meh, but it’s better than Red Heart Super Saver). It wasn’t going so well, since she’s knitting left-handed, so I tried to teach her.

I ended up teaching her all backwards, since I don’t knit left-handed myself (and it had been a while since I had knit English style to boot).

Anyway, I tried again, after watching some Youtube videos on how to knit left-handed (which I guess is not a bad technique to know in general). And I’d say she’s pretty much got it. The way I had taught her before resulted in her twisting stitches, and she’s got an tight gauge to begin with, so she was knitting acrylic scrubbies you could scratch car paint off with. I gave her some old bamboo straights I had that are size 7mm (not size 7s, but 7mm! When could my loosey-goosey ass ever knit with one of those?), made sure she knew what a twisted stitch and non-twisted stitch look like, and she’s been off at the races ever since.

She wanted to try a garment (so brave!) so she’s knitting a simple ribbed rectangle pattern that will be sewn up at the end like a shrug. It looks great and I’m honestly so proud of her. I didn’t feel brave enough to try something like that until like, two years of knitting. She even figured out a k2tog decrease by herself. I’m just so happy to find someone else that knits (there are a few of us foreign ladies in Iwate who do knit, but we all live pretty far from each other so can’t exactly meet often for stitch’n’bitch sessions).

japan knitting

knitting podcasts!

I always tend to watch Youtube or something else online when I knit, which works especially well since I can memorize a pattern and just watch the screen instead of my knitting. But with my Sari stole, I can’t really watch many tv shows or let’s plays because I can’t pay attention to anything else but the pattern. So I’ve been turning on podcasts instead, just to have some sort of interest for my brain. Lately, I’ve been watching knitting podcasts, which is a little bit funny for me. Thus far, I haven’t been interested. Most podcasts I’ve seen follow the same pattern: “Here’s what I’m knitting! Here’s the tea I’m sipping! Here’s my huge stash of ugly sock yarns! (lol)” I’m a judgemental bitch, I know!

Well, I’ve found some I like. They’re still pretty much the same format, but the hosts are all so delightful that it doesn’t matter! I actually like these ladies because they talk about their own lives as well, instead of only cooing over some godawful lime green-pink-lavender striping yarn.

Ruby Moss Cottage

It’s so relaxing to hear Joyce’s lovely voice as she talks about her latest knits. Honestly, I just really love her accent, and how positive she is about everything. Plus, it’s adorable how much she loves Stephen West.

The Grocery Girls

Oh, I know everyone else loves them too. But they’re just so funny together. Their podcasts are LONG but don’t feel that way because of their snappy banter. I want to be like Jodie when I grow up. (I agree with everyone else that their new Crafty show is not near as good as their podcast)

The Girls in the Yarn Cafe

This mother and daughter team sells their own dyed yarn and so they talk a lot about their dyeing process which is pretty interesting even though I wouldn’t use that yarn. (It’s just my own bias, I know) But also, I love how much they talk about their jobs (they’re both in the psychiatry field), and their philosphies about things. It’s pretty fascinating! I’d like to take Christy’s “I’m the CEO of my own life” for my own purposes, thanks 🙂


japan knitting

an inspired gift

inspiredMy husband and I share a birthday, and while I was wracking my brain to figure out what to get him, my perfect sweetie found an interesting gift that I never would have thought I even wanted. It’s a measuring tape, but it’s so beautifully designed, with a simple form and functionality. Drawing out the tape lets out a satisfying click-click-click, and the tape itself is pliable and easy to read. It’s divided into black and white after every 10 cm, which is great for measuring gauge. It’s perfect and simple – I love it.

japan knitting

warning: im a creeper

*** 常子の前では、 星野も素顔でいられます。 * #連続テレビ小説 #朝ドラ #とと姉ちゃん #坂口健太郎 #笑顔

NHK連続テレビ小説「とと姉ちゃん」さん(@nhk_totonechan)が投稿した写真 –

This tall glass of milk is Kentaro Sakaguchi, the actor playing the main love interest in Totone-chan, the morning drama I’ve been watching. Not only does he look lovely in handknit sweaters, he’s exactly my type: a sweet bespeckled man (my husband being the sweetest and most handsome bespeckled man of all). Well, I guess I don’t know what type of person Sakaguchi-san is, but I do know his character Hoshino is just so kind and gentle, and so beautifully matched with the strong main character.

Anyway, totally unrelated, I knit an ambitious cabled cardigan for my husband last year, using a pattern book full of men’s sweaters. (It’s, of course, on the big side, but I digress). The patterns are all simple and refined, with a boyish style that really fits my husband’s style, but I also bought it because the model was fiiiiine. Totally my type…….. and then it struck me a few days ago. I’ve been watching this dude everyday for like six months (that’s how long NHK’s morning dramas run…): it’s Kentaro Sakaguchi!!


This must have been a few years ago, before he got famous (I doubt a famous actor would appear in a knitting book). But still, it’s something so weird and nerdy and wonderful that I had to share.

(It’s okay, my husband and I have an agreement that it’s okay to crush on television actors.)

japan knitting

fall issue of keitodama

(c) Keito Dama

The latest issue of Keito Dama (Vogue Knitting in Japan) just came out! Unfortunately, none of the patterns catch my eye enough to buy the issue, but I did like the fact that they featured a bunch of “10-year sweaters”, or basically, garments you’ll want to keep wearing for your whole life. Styles that are flattering and timeless, with simplicity being key. I like these three examples, especially the rib panel on the grey sweater. It’s a very subtle effect. It might be interesting to implement that into the top-down improvised sweater knitalong by Fringe Association…that is, if I decide to join in. Like I said, I don’t have any designs that I’m absolutely dying to wear at this very second, and the knitalong starts next week. Hmm. I’ll give myself a few more days to think about it!

(in the meantime I have GOT to get some progress done on my cardigan – and my poor cowl!)

Getting back to the magazine, I like Keito Dama a bit better than the American knitting magazine designs – just something about its simpler aesthetic, I guess. The patterns use Japanese yarn which is very easy for me to purchase, of course. But the biggest thing is just the fact that the designs are a page or two pages long, at most. The PDFs for my cardigan and cowl are both like 7-8 pages long haha! Keito Dama isn’t the perfect magazine for me: there’s a ton of crochet vest patterns, and in general the past few issues have been sparse on sweaters that I’ve wanted to knit. But it’s alright. It’s not like I need to own more patterns! I already have so many!

(I literally have no space left in my teeny shelf reserved for knitting books, so)

(c) Keito Dama

But, I also must admit that I’m quite intrigued by this pattern. I wouldn’t knit it like this – it’s too loose and bulky, and I might choose another yarn. But the checkered pattern is interesting, and I think it could be quite beautiful if the fit was tightened up. The maroon and the grey? beige? together is a fetching combination. I really like the cowl neck. Maybe I can use this idea in the future.

japan knitting

knitting in japan: lys


This is one of my local yarn shops, where I go to browse sometimes on my lunch hour. I just found out today that this sheep illustration was drawn by the wife of the owner. She saw me taking pictures, and was shaking her head and laughing in the window. I asked her if it was alright that I took the shots, and she said, “It’s been around for so long (haven’t you seen it before?” To be honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to it! She said she had drawn it in the very beginning because they needed a logo. What a cute little drawing too. She gave me a pink paper bag with the illustration on it as well, for safe keeping.

Neither this shop or the other one I frequent have much in the way of yarn. They’re both more like craft shops, selling lots of fabrics and notions along with yarn. On display is a good amount of Hamanaka yarn, lots of acrylics, and a bunch of thin crochet yarn. Most of it isn’t my style, but I just love having shops around where I can feel the yarn in my two fingers. These are the places that knitters go to in Japan. Little shops in shopping districts aimed at older shoppers. I may be a rarity, but people always make me feel welcome.

Let’s face it, we can get any yarn we would ever desire through the internet. But I think it’s important to frequent these shops and buy from them when I can. Yarn’s not booming in Japan like it is abroad. I just hope that these shops stick around for a long, long time.



japan knitting

knitting in japan: needles

Juuuust noticed that I mixed up the #12s and the 7/0s lol
Juuuust noticed that I mixed up the #12s and the 7/0s lol

While it is possible to buy metal and plastic needles in Japan, without a doubt the most common needle is bamboo. In the two yarn shops I visit most often, they only sell Clover Takumi bamboo needles and crochet hooks, as straight needles, circular needles, and double-pointed in a number of different lengths. Any size you could ever want is right there at your finger tips; you just have to be happy with bamboo.

I personally love bamboo, but then again I haven’t had a ton of experience with metal until recently. It’s uncommon to find circular needles below size four, so I invested in some metal-plated circs for the smaller sizes. As we all know, I mostly have been knitting with the size 1s for the past few months, haha! I like the smoothness of the metal, but I find that my row count is a lot more scrunched up with metal. The stitch counts are usually the same as on the bamboo, it’s just that I get a shorter swatch when I knit with metal. Interesting, but it also makes it hard to make gauge.

In the top corner you’ll see my interchangeable set – yet again, Clover Takumi needles. I like this set a lot, though the screw at the join is very loose so I have to retighten the needles every round or so. It’s a bit annoying, but they were about half the price as Addi’s or other similar sets (though I think the Clover needles are more expensive outside of Japan). I love the red case that came with it – makes a very handsome traveling companion. Interchangeables aren’t booming like they do outside of Japan though. I think most knitters in the west aim to get a set as soon as they can, while many Japanese knitters don’t seem to be interested. My sister-in-law has been knitting for a few years and didn’t even know how to use them.

Most of the Japanese patterns I see are seamed, so there aren’t many reasons to need circular needles, except to, you know, get most of the weight of a knitted piece into your lap instead of wearing on your wrists. I almost never use straight needles anymore, except for the teeny size ones you see up there. I use them a lot for tubular cast ons for ribbing, because they’re long and sturdy enough to cast on! Tubular cast-ons, which I used for ribbed edges, are a LOT easier when you’re doing them on straight needles and not fidgety circular needles.

I actually have a bunch of metal needles my mom got me when I first started knitting, but I just don’t have an occasion to use them. They’re in some pretty colors, so it’s nice to have them on display, at least.

japan knitting

knitting during the war

I was inspired by some old illustrations of knitwear that I found

I looked online a bit for some information on knitting in 1930s-1950s Japan but there wasn’t much to be found. I’m not so knowledgeable about the period in general, except that I know the war caused suffering everywhere in the country (well, most everywhere in the world). People starved, toiled long hours, and knew that if they sent their fathers, brothers, and cousins off to war they would never see them again. And after the war the only thing to do was to rebuild the country. Similar to the States, it seems the only knitting done was knitting items for soldiers.

I found a blog entry on a small Japanese blog called “Knitting History Research Club (Amimono Rekishi Kenkyuubu) that I’ll translate some excerpts from. Please visit the blog here, as it has a lot of interesting pictures! Translations are by me, with some editing done for clarity.

So, I’d like you to imagine for just a bit:
Look at the marine style knit worn by Kuwano Michiko [a famous actress of the time] at the top of the article. That pattern was released in 1938.

The war with China was already  a quagmire. The National Mobilization Law had gone into effect, with restrictions on various goods starting to go into effect. But as long as there were magazines like this, times were still relatively good.

So pretend that an 18-year-old young woman had seen this picture.

18-year-olds of that time were perhaps more mature than the ones of today, but regardless she was still young. It was the second year of the Sino-Japanese War, so maybe her brothers had been sent off to war. But even so, she still could have admired this beautiful sweater. She was still able to contact the magazine to buy the yarn and knit the sweater. (You could do that at the time. You can still do that with Keito Dama [Vogue Knitting in Japan], but at the time the magazine companies and yarn companies were working together)

She still could have worn that sweater and walked confidently through town.

By the time that woman turned 25, the war had been lost. The only clothes she had were old work pants and a protective hood.

From 18 to 25. These are the years when most graduate high school, go off to college, and start their careers. The time when a young woman most wants to be fashionable. But for this woman, this was no time for being fashionable. This was like hurtling off a steep cliff. Fashionable? Her life had grown ever more dangerous…

And even if she wanted to knit sweaters, she would no longer be able to purchase wool by about 1941-42. Synthetic nylon yarn was available, but it was inflexible and broke easily. It was a yarn you almost couldn’t use. By the end of the war, even that yarn was unavailable.

The marine sweater that she knit would have been unraveled quite a while before that, to be used for other necessary goods (perhaps for socks for soldiers, or for children’s underwear). Or perhaps it would have been exchanged with farmers for rice or potatoes.

Pretty powerful stuff. These are things that we only rarely think about these days. For me, living in Japan, it’s been so interesting to learn about the war from a normal Japanese person’s perspective. In many respects, they were no different from the people at home in America. In some ways, they had it far worse.
japan knitting

Knitting on NHK

Some gorgeous handknits seen on NHK’s “Totonechan”. NHK (the public broadcast network of Japan) is famous for their 15 minute drama programs that run every Monday-Saturday for six months at a time, usually based around a young woman during a tumultous time period in Japan. Right now we have Totonechan (Big Sister Toto), and it’s set in the late 1930s during Japan’s military aggression into Asia. Resources are going to the warfront, so the people back home have to make do with less. Tsuneko, the main character, and her sisters live in a tiny room with their mother. Together they make about enough money to eat and send the younger two sisters to school.

Tsuneko’s younger sister loves to knit, and all of them have handknit sweaters that I’ve been admiring every morning. They don’t seem to be able to afford any else and so they wear them every day. But they are just beautiful, and you can see every stitch clearly. I’m glad NHK found someone to handknit them, and whoever they were knew to make them imperfect. The seams are a tiny bit sloppy, the gauge is uneven. I have a feeling the colors are a little brighter than yarn available at the time, but I’m curious now to research a bit more into knitting culture in Japan before and after the war.

in progress · japan knitting

Different ways of joining together

togetherI’ve done the three needle bind off at the shoulders, and joined in the round!! This top will now be on auto-pilot, pretty much, for the rest of its life. I just have to knit until about an inch before the length I want, and hope it grows! If it doesn’t, I can always block it – the yarn is pretty malleable, and even has some cotton in it.

It’s huge, by the way. I tried it over my shoulders and it just is way big. My plan was to do the embroidery in bits and pieces, when I felt like it, as I figured I could use periodic breaks from the miles of stockinette. But I do want to make sure it fits before committing to another month of straight knitting. I think I’ll stay with the linen yarn in blue, and make sure I’m pulling tightly during the embroidery to bring it all together.

Still, I absolutely love the sleeve treatment of the pattern. How cute is that garter stitch? Er, would you call it garter? It’s just the last few stitches in two rows knit, two rows purl. I knitted the edges in pattern, without any sort of selvedge treatment, because I figure that would go best. I like it so much I might incorporate it into my next Vasa.

hagiBy the way! Right here is a typical knitting instruction you’ll find at the end of knitting books in Japan. It’s three needle bind off, except using a crochet hook. Judging from the illustration, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, but it’s best if you know a few kanji in order to make sure. It says at the bottom, “A common way to connect at the shoulders. Face the two front sides together, and use a crochet hook to bring the yarn through one stitch at a time for bind-off.” In Japanese, this method is called hikinuki-hagi. You can also see at the bottom meriyasu-hagi, which is basically the mattress seam for horizontal seaming. I’m not sure if there’s a proper English term for it, in fact! It’s like grafting, except it’s two bound-off edges instead of two live stitch edges. By the by, meriyasu is the Japanese word for stockinette! You’ll see it everywhere.

It’s super common for Japanese knitting books to have two-three pages at the end detailing every technique you’ll need for the entire book. They’ll give one cast-on method (long-tail), one bind-off, a few seaming methods (as most Japanese patterns are seamed), and then instructions for the knit stitch, purl stitch, and things like k2tog, skp, etc, and other special stitches they may use. When you look at a knitting chart in a Japanese book, if there’s a symbol you don’t know, 9 times out of ten it will be listed in the back of the book. A new knitter will have trouble deciphering the graphics, but someone with experience should be able to tell what stitch is being described through the pictures.

I find that Japanese pattern books don’t often use very complicated stitches anyway. Cabling, knitting/purling through the back loop, and yarnovers are about as hard as it gets!