Decisions, Decisions: Knitting Flat vs. Knitting in the Round

Alan Dart’s Green Man pattern is designed to be knitted flat, but I made him anyway.

One of the first decisions to make when designing a knitted toy is whether it will be knitted as flat pieces that will be seamed together at the end, or whether it will be knitted in the round, usually with as few seams as possible. I fall into the knitted in the round camp. I will go to great lengths to avoid seaming, weaving in yarn ends and most other forms of finishing.

Most of my dinosaurs are designed as a combination of in the round and flat knitting because I wanted their underbellies to be in a contrasting color. The upper body starts out in the round for the tail, switches to flat knitting for the body itself, then goes back to in the round for the neck and head. And I figured out a way to knit the underbellies on to the upper bodies as I went so I would have less sewing at the end of the pattern. Two colors, almost no seaming.

If I do knit a pattern designed to be made flat, I am likely to tweak as many pieces as I can in order to knit them in the round. For Alan Dart’s Green Man pattern, I converted the body of the robe from flat to in the round by first skipping the first and last stitch from each row since those are the stitches designated for the inside of the seam. All of the decrease shaping was already done on knit rows, so the purl rows of the flat knitting could simply be done as knit rounds.

The robe base, which has decrease shaping on both knit and purl rows, was a little trickier. I again removed the first and last stitches, but the purl decrease rows needed to be flipped front to back in order to become knit decrease rows. Here’s an example:

Say the pattern calls for a purl decrease row of p4, (p2tog, p6) 5 times, p2tog, p2.

First we remove the first and last stitch since they are the inside seam. We now have p3, (p2tog, p6) 5 times, p2tog, p1.

We can’t simply change this from purl to knit stitches since the decreases are not symmetrical across the row and the shaping would be off. We need to knit it starting at the end and going to the beginning, which makes it K1, (k2tog, k6) 5 times, k2tog, k3.

Here it is with all the repeats written out if you are having trouble visualizing it:

If we were knitting the piece flat, we would be purling across the wrong side as:

p3, p2tog, p6, p2tog, p6, p2tog, p6, p2tog, p6, p2tog, p6, p2tog, p1

We just purled 40 stitches, with a p2tog decrease on stitches 4, 11, 18, 25, 32 and 39.

When we turn to the right side of the piece and view it, the decrease stitches are numbers 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and 37 of the knit row. So that’s where we have to place them when we are knitting this piece in the round. The knit round becomes:

k1, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k3

If the decrease stitches are at or near the beginning or end of a row, you also have to make sure that you end up with both the correct number of stitches and the correct number of decreases in the row, which may involve a minor change to the row. Here’s an example:

The pattern calls for a decrease row of (k1, k2tog) 12 times, taking it from 36 stitches to 24 stitches. Removing the first and last stitch, we are now going from 34 stitches to 22 stitches, but we still need to decrease by 12 stitches across the row.

If we simply removed the first and last stitches and did (K2tog, k1) 11 times, we would be down to the required 22 stitches, but we would have only used 33 of the 34 stitches in the row. To take care of that 34th stitch and still end up with 22 in the new row we need to knit (k2tog, k1) 10 times, then k2tog twice. The 10 repeats of (k2tog, k1) turn 30 stitches into 20, and the final two k2tog turn the 31st through 34th stitches into stitches 21 and 22 in the new row.

The moral of the story? It is possible to turn a pattern written to be knitted flat into one knitted in the round, but you want to write it out carefully and check your math twice before you cast on with the good yarn. And some pattern pieces are just better left unchanged. The only pieces I knit in the round on the Green Man were his robe body, robe base, neck and head, ankles and skull cap (which isn’t visible in the picture). I didn’t mess with trying to make his shoes or his arms and hands in the round. I pick my battles and know when to just bite the bullet and mattress stitch.

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