09 Nov 2017

★★★★★ Book Review: Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible


“Discover the Beautiful World of Japanese Knitting” is the tagline written across the top of the book Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible. I think I am going to steal that for the name of my workshops. I have been calling them “Explore Japanese Knitting” but exploring just doesn’t have the same appeal as discovering a beautiful world does.

My Naga Fuji shawl on Knitty with Japanese charts

My Naga Fuji shawl on Knitty with info on following patterns in Japanese knitting books

I’ve been teaching classes about how to understand and knit from  Japanese patterns for years. I don’t speak any Japanese and I can only read four words: needles, stitches, rows, and times). But because Japanese patterns are so visual and the symbols used are so consistent, advanced knitters who don’t understand even four words of Japanese can figure out, with some effort, how to follow the patterns.

Working with Japanese stitch libraries is even easier, and intermediate knitters can easily learn to understand the symbols in Japanese knitting charts. In the past, I’ve always suggested the book “Clear and Simple Knitting Symbols” as the stitch key for all Japanese knitting books. It’s still an excellent resource if you want to knit from Japanese patterns or stitch libraries, but now there’s a resource in English that is a “must have” for your knitting library.

Cover of Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible

Cover of Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible

Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible: 200 Exquisite Patterns by Hitomi Shida, translated with an introduction by Gayle Roehm is that book. Not only is this book a drop-dead gorgeous stitch library with over 100 pages of charted stitch patterns and edgings, but it also includes the following priceless information:

  • A basic overview of Japanese knitting and how to read the charts
  • An 11-page detailed symbol key that includes abbreviations plus instructions for making the stitches shown
  • Five patterns that include written text for the knitting steps, not usually included in Japanese patterns
  • An 8-page techniques glossary with photos and drawings showing how to work complex stitch combinations that may be unfamiliar to American and European knitters

Let’s talk a little more about each of these “extra” sections.

Overview of Japanese Knitting

My Spice Trail from the East on Knitty

My Spice Trail from the East on Knitty with info on reading charts in Japanese stitch libraries and pattern books

In this section of the book you’ll find basic information about Japanese knitting including an introduction to the author and chart-reading basics. It’s brief, but complete. Whether you’ve knitted from charts before or not, you’ll want to start here because some details of Japanese charts are different than the charts you’ll find in English-Language knitting books. If you skip this section, you’ll probably mess up trying to knit these stitches.

11-page Symbol Key

You heard that right! With this symbol key, you will be able to decipher the charts in almost every Japanese knitting book you see. The symbols in Japanese charts are consistent and if you have one key, you can generally use it in all patterns. I say “almost” and “generally” because I haven’t read every Japanese knitting book in print, and because sometimes designers come up with a new idea that can’t be represented with existing chart symbols. But this is a great start and because the definitions and abbreviations are given in English, you’ll be able to use this key with much less anxiety than trying to figure out the key in a Japanese book, even though they are always beautifully illustrated.

The only thing missing from this key, and it’s really beyond the scope of the book, is some description on how the chart symbols in Japanese books are always intended to look like the stitches you are making and to illustrated the steps you need to take to make the stitch. This is a topic that fascinates me, and one that deserves to be covered in a book someday.

Five Patterns

The book includes patterns for a lace scarf, a pair of socks, fingerless gloves, a cabled hat, and a lacy collar. These projects are shown at the beginning of the sections in the stitch library and it’s a nice touch to include the patterns in the book. This is a terrific way for you to learn what a Japanese pattern looks like and explore how the information is shown visually. These patterns include written steps for working the project as well, which will be appreciated by English-language knitters who are used to this kind of instruction.

Techniques Glossary

This section is a godsend for those new to Japanese knitting. There are some incredibly complex and unusual stitches that are used regularly by Japanese designers and you’ll appreciate the step-by-step instructions for completing these maneuvers. Each technique shows the chart symbol(s) used to represent the motif, a range of photos or diagrams illustrating the steps, and written text.

I love the detailed line drawings showing stitches in Japanese knitting books, so I’m not sure why this book uses those for only half of the tutorials and black-and-white photos for the remaining tutorials. The photos are quite small with less contrast than I would like, and I found them more difficult to see than the drawings. But this is something that a bright light or a seat by a window (and, perhaps, a magnifying glass for those of us who are a bit older) will easily solve.

Collage created using TurboCollage software from www.TurboCollage.com

All in all, I give this book 5 stars ★★★★★ for being stunning, useful, and inspiring. I hope you’ll agree.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. But I would have bought one if they had not offered to send me one. Because you all know how much I love Japanese knitting books!

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8 Responses to ★★★★★ Book Review: Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible
  1. I was giving 250 sts for Christmas before the English version came out. One of the libraries in my system has bought the English version, so I’m waiting for it to be my turn to read it on inter-library loan.

    So we’ll see if the English sections are enough to get me to buy another copy or not 😉

    • Cool. Maybe, maybe not. If your’e getting by with the Japanese one then you may not need to keep the English one. Reviewing it at the Library may be enough. The charts are the main part of the book. But if you’ve had trouble with the chart symbols and the techniques, then you may decide you need this one on your personal bookshelf too.

  2. I love this book, and the clear explanations are going to be ever so helpful with the other Japanese stitch dictionaries that I already own!

    Funny story: I recently bought a Japanese book about Shetland knitting (I know, right?) at Kinokuniya bookstore inside Uwajimaya. There was so much great info that I couldn’t read, although I could tell that it was important. So I googled, and lo and behold, the book was originally in English! I bought that too.


    • I have a Japanese book about Shetland knitting too. It’s so cool. I was disappointed that I couldn’t read it all too. But I’ve read several English-language books on the topic so it’s not THAT terrible. The photos are gorgeous tho.

      I love that the Japanese are into knitting traditions all around the world. And when they do their own designs inspired by these traditions, they’re just gorgeous.

  3. Thank you for the review, I’ve wondered if my kiddo would love it and I think she will! Thanks for doing all the hard work in reviewing !

  4. My cats gave me this book for Christmas (the only way I get cool stuff I want). I’ve had so much fun experimenting with different fibers and patterns! One snag, working #33 in the round. I may have to get the book spiral bound though. I can see it will get a lot of use.

  5. I don’t understand why the pattern symbol on the chart – a horizontal line is P on RS etc but there are no horizontal lines in any boxes of the pattern. Please explain. ‘The Knitting Bible’.

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