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The International Language of Knits

Jun 8, 2009

Note from Sandi: Ever wonder what goes into translating a knitting book from another language? Interweave book editor Anne Merrow has recently finished working on the English version of Feminine Knits, so I asked her to tell us a bit about the process. Here's Anne!

A year and a half ago (which seems like just yesterday on the long-lead schedule of a book editor) I spotted a message in my inbox from Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review. I always love to hear from Clara, and this was no exception; she’d heard from Lene Holme Samsøe, a Danish knitwear designer and author who was interested in finding an American publisher for her latest book. Thinking that I’d enjoy the book, Clara sent me the title—Feminin Strik—and I went off to investigate. Although the book was available only in Danish and Norwegian at the time, a few intrepid English-speaking knitters had worked through a pattern or two with the help of international friends and on-line dictionaries.

When Lene sent me a copy of the book, I looked through it like any reader would—what do I want to make? It was clear that Lene had created something special: fresh, clever knitting patterns that so many women would love to knit. I could immediately picture myself in the Frost Flowers Jacket, editorial director Tricia Waddell in the Lace Tiered Skirt, and Sandi in the Bolero. I was smitten.

But as an editor deciding to acquire a book, especially for translation, I consider other factors beyond wanting a copy for my own bookshelf: Can we make the directions accessible to our readers? Can our technical editors verify the directions? Will the knitters be able to buy yarns to make the patterns?

Fortunately, Interweave has published several books by Vivian Høxbro and Marianne Isager, so we have experience in translating Danish knitwear patterns. Translator Carol Huebscher Rhoades is accustomed to deciphering Scandinavian knitting directions for us.

With Carol’s translation and Lene’s garments in hand, we set about making the directions accessible to our audience. Knitters may form one community around the world, but there are regional differences to keep in mind. It seems that many Scandinavian knitters grew up with needles in hand and tend to be comfortable discerning the spirit of a pattern and adapting it to fit their needs, while many American knitters prefer their patterns unambiguous and explicit. Danish knitters also tend to be more familiar with crochet, while here the crafts are more distinct. Making sure we’d translated the right words was just the beginning; explaining the patterns clearly was more challenging, and it kept Lene, the technical editors, and me busy in a three-way e-mail conversation.

But what about the yarns? We have wonderful yarns available in North America, as do European knitters… but not necessarily the same wonderful yarns. Even if we could get Danish yarns easily, some of the original yarns have been discontinued. To find suitable yarn options, Lene and I scrutinized yarn databases, shade cards, and the expertise of yarns store owners on both sides of the Atlantic. (All Interweave knitting books include information about the suggested yarn’s weight, fiber composition, and necessary yardage so that knitters can make informed substitutions, but for the knitter looking for just the right yarn, it can be helpful to know whether to go for the tightly-spun multi-ply Merino yarn or the looser Lopi-style yarn when both list the same gauge on the ball band.)

A few months ago, my journey to bring Feminine Knits to Interweave’s readers ended when the book went off to the printer—but the book’s journey has just begun. It's available now, in yarn shops and the Interweave Store, where you can discover the book for yourself. I hope you fall in love with it, too.

-- Anne Merrow



Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Finally! A decision has been made in the what-to-knit-for-Baby-Delaney. I've got the yarn on order for the sweetest baby blanket made of lace stars: Star Light, Star Bright, part of our new free Baby Knits ebook!

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LisaG@3 wrote
on Jun 19, 2009 7:53 AM

I just started knitting the bolero and am having a terrible time with it! We debated at my knitting group last night if the issue is that we're not understanding "the spirit of  the pattern" and reading it far too literally.  The example we're looking at is the 1st increase row on the back -- K1, Kf&b, work in pattern to last stitch Kf&b.  I did this as written and the lace pattern was very off...the whole thing looked funny.  

Others suggested that I should knit into the f&b of the 1st stitch and continue the lace from there omitting the K1 at the beginning of the lace repeat...more suggestions abound.  I'm about to start completely improvising or throwing the thing across the room.  Any suggestions would be appreciated - I've written customer service as well.

I still love you all : )

NoraL wrote
on Jun 16, 2009 7:00 AM
Sandi, I had no idea that many translators of these books are not also knitters - that must make things quite complicated! I'm actually starting to do some translating of Italian literature/poetry into English - but for some reason had never thought to look into translating knitting patterns! If you ever need a knitter/translator to work on an Italian pattern book I would love nothing better!! feel free to contact me. eluongo at gmail dot com
NicoleZ wrote
on Jun 12, 2009 7:15 PM
I just bought this book and I have to say that it has some really beautiful patterns in it. I am so glad that the publishers decided to do an English version. I cannot wait to cast on for several of the projects. So much knitting, so little time...sigh... Cheers, Nicole
allou wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 2:36 PM
As a British/American knitter living in Denmark for over 30 years I have a couple of comments. Perhaps one important thing to remeber is that since almost all Scandinavians knit the "European way", meaning the yarn is held over the left index finger and the right hand needle is poked under the yarn to pull it through British and US knitters may find that the number of stitches per centimeter/inch differs. The tension is slightly different, so it is very important to always knit a swatch. One funny story -I speak fluent Danish and many years ago when I used to knit on the train ride to work, a woman approached me speaking an incpomprehensible language and looked very surprised when I didn't answer. Turned out she thought I was a fellow Faroe Islander, because of the way I knit. On the Faroe Islands the orginal knitting technique is apparently derived from the British way, which is also, I believe the most common method in the US/Canada/Australia/NZ.
JenniferP@3 wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 12:36 PM
Interesting story! Thanks, Jenni
AmandaK wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 11:39 AM
What a coincidence: I had ordered this book from Amazon & it just arrived yesterday. I'll have to report back on whether the translated patterns are followable. As for Scandinavian knitters being more adaptable to vague instructions: they are taught knitting in elementary school, both boys & girls. It is required as a basic skill, like reading & writing -- imagine that! I'd love to have learned at that age!
EllenF wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 9:46 AM
I just acquired a new and profound appreciation for those who bring international knitting patterns to our American doors. All I can say is "you have to love a good mystery!" I can't get my head around all the research involved. Bravo!! I also have a question. My son brought home to me a magazine from Italy with wonderful knitting patterns. But I do not read/speak a word of Italian? How could I have the pattern translated?
JoyG wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 9:15 AM
re: The International Language of Knits. I have a series of patterns that were given to me when I purchased yarn in Beijing. I have postponed translating it until I run out of lprojects. Which doens't seem to be happening. Before I finish one projects I add at least two more to my list of "must knits." While in China, we stayed in a residential area with our son who lives there. I was knitting a baby blanket for the acquaintance of my son. Women would stop and point with a questioning look on their faces. I would place my arms like I was holding a baby and rocking it. They would smile and give me signs of approval. My husband was envious. Through knitting I was able to connect with these women even though we didn't speak each others languages, he had no way to connect in that way with the men. Joyfull
JanetM@5 wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 8:03 AM
The knits look gorgeous, but I don't know if the patterns include my size. I'd hate to be taunted by so many projects I'd love to have on my needles but never be able to wear! Could you give a general size range — yes or no on plus sizes — along with your book information?
ConnieR wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 7:06 AM
I am disappointed that one of the patterns from the origional book is not in the english version. Any chance it will be given as a free pattern?
Lee@2 wrote
on Jun 8, 2009 6:44 AM
Any chance that Feminine knits will ever be in a down loadable version. I love this website & your magazine. Thank you for all your time and consideration. Lee