Q for You: Flat or in-the-round?

Q for You: Flat or in-the-round?

What with all the activity and discussion stemming from the Top-Down Knitalong and Slow Fashion October, it’s been awhile since we had a proper Q for You! The other night, I cast on a slipper sock for the sake of a photo shoot next week, found myself dreading the in-the-round parts, didn’t want to get up to find my DPNs … and just thought, whatever, I’ll knit it flat and seam it. After which I marveled at this complete reversal in my preferences over the past couple of years. When I was first knitting, not only was small-circumference-in-the-round my favorite kind of knitting (specifically fingerless mitts, on DPNs), I only wanted to knit circularly. I’d see patterns for things knitted flat and seamed — like a hat or a raglan sweater — and wonder why on earth anyone would ever do that! And now, somehow, I’m that person.

Clearly there are teams in the knitting world: team flat and team circular. So that’s my Q for You today: Would you rather knit flat or in the round? And do you go so far as to convert patterns one direction or the other?


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68 thoughts on “Q for You: Flat or in-the-round?

  1. Once I tried knitting in the round I decided I loved it, especially for stockinette stitch, which comes our much cleaner. And there are no side seems to fuss about. I’m not sure about sleeves, though.

  2. Definitely flat! Possibly because I have been knitting since I was 6 (now in my 40s) and that’s how I learned, although I think it’s a fair preference related to outcome as well. I do knit circularly sometimes as it makes sense for some things some of the time (socks included). I also sew so the structure of sewn garments appeals to me. Many circular garments just look like tubes to me. I like carrying smaller pieces around, and that way I also get to knit with my grandmother’s straight needles. Finally, the finishing process is one of my favourite parts and a meditation on what I’ve done.

      • Came back to say that I wasn’t insulting anyone’s garments with my comment about circular garments and tubes! I was thinking about my own knitting. I am wearing a yoked sweater I bought in Iceland last year at the moment that is of course seamless. I think others said it better than I did in that I find that in the round sweaters can sometimes not retain a shape as well as flat, seamed ones and a more tailored look probably suits me better. I like my Icelandic sweater for the beautiful effect of the pattern on the yoke and at the bottom, but am pretty meh about the shape and the yoke on my shoulders.

        I am actually surprised to see how many people commenting prefer flat knitting. I thought I was a bit of an old fogey on this one, as I think many people who have started knitting more recently (in the last 5-10 years) would likely have learned through in-the-round knitting as that has been the clear trend for a while. All techniques have their uses and I think it’s a good thing to be open-minded about this. Reminder to self!

  3. I much prefer knitting in the round. And yes, I will convert directions for flat pieces so that I can knit in the round. This preference includes sleeves. You can shape the body of a sweater and sleeves while knitting in the round, and it’s much nicer not to have seams. I also see, but I don’t necessarily want knitted garments constructed the same way as sewn garments.

  4. I actually prefer to knit flat; however, I have a terrible time “rowing out” when I do stockinette, which knitting in the round avoids. I do a lot of textured “flat” knitting.

  5. I hate to Purl! Portugese is ok. Therefore I avoid garter stitch in the round. I also like at least a 4″needle tip so I use magic loop a lot. Lately, I do like straight also. So…trying my hand at the 12-14″ double points with a knitting belt, Shetland style. Think I like it.

  6. If it is miles of stockinette in the round and I’ll steek if I have to, otherwise I am flexible and don’t really care :)

  7. I loved knitting in the round…or I still do, but after your talking about the importance of seams I now second guess it. I made the Amanda sweater and did it flat and then the yoke I did the seaming after like you said. I see the importance of seams. Once on a bus trip to Rhinebeck a lady next to me made a comment that knit in the round sweaters had no shape. I was appalled that she though that. NOW I GET IT….thank you Karen.💟💟💟

  8. I prefer knitting in the flat. I think it’s because I too have been knitting since I was six and like the rhythm of the back and forth. I like the turning….frequent rewards. I put a lot of care into my edge stitch. If anything goes wrong (a dropped or twisted stitch) I feel I can easily get back to it. I like the seams as a structural element. I use different ways of piecing depending the weight etc. of the yarn and stretchiness of the pieces. Like Stephanie, I carry small pieces around and have some of my grandmother’s needles. This may sound odd but when knitting in the round I don’t enjoy the constant pushing forward in one direction. Oh – and for stocking stitch I really do like knitting and purling.

  9. Since I don’t want to invest in a collection of DPNs. I do my sleeves and such on 2 circulars. And I’ve decided I hate that. Too fiddly. I usually do sweater bodies in the round, then do the sleeves flat. I’d rather seam than do all that sliding.

    • Try the 9″ circs. I never loved magic loop or dpn, and found myself dreading/ avoiding any small-circumference projects. I know people who (really) don’t like short circs either, but they’ve been knitting-life-changing for me! I adore them! Round and round and round I go!

  10. Now that you ask I’m not sure that I have a preference! I do like knitting in the round and I love my DPNs (cannot get on board with magic loop, no matter how I’ve tried), but I also love knitting flat–particularly now that I have enough experience that I can get a pretty consistent stockinette gauge flat and have figured out how to keep the correct tension on the edge stitches! I think that for beginner knitters, seaming can be a bit intimidating–I was always afraid that the pieces wouldn’t match up as they were supposed to, and struggled to get the selvedges not floppy and messy.

  11. I am very much in the round, but then I do knit a lot of socks and I would certainly not want an avoidable seam for my in shoe socks. I also tend to knit my sweaters in the round. If I want to sew, I do patchwork (smile).

  12. This question is à propos for me as it has been on my mind.

    I always knit flat and then I discovered contemporary knitting and its emphasis on knitting in the round, so I made a series of projects in the round. I’ve been feeling frustrated with knitting lately and I realized I’m craving a project knit flat.

    There’s a rhythm to knitting flat that I enjoy. Another reason that I like it, in addition to various other reasons already discussed in other comments, is that knitting on both sides helps me understand how a stitch pattern works. I find this to be true for knit/purl combinations, lace, and cables. I feel like I’m learning more about the structure of knitting when I’m knitting flat.

    All of this is not to rule out knitting in the round, but I now understand that I need to seek out flat knitting as well.

  13. I prefer flat knitting. I like my sweaters to have the structure and support provided by seams. That said, the variety provided by knitting socks and hats in the round is enjoyable. I am considering modifying in the round sleeves pattern to flat knitting, for the first time, after reading about it in this column. Great idea.

  14. I much prefer in the round! I have a much easier time visualizing the finished piece that way and it makes me more excited to knit when I can see what I’m working towards!

    For smaller items, though, I’ve switched to almost exclusively doing magic loop method. I learned on DPNs but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back! Unless I have to :)

  15. I go with however it is written usually. However I prefer certain items to be seamless such as hats, socks, and mittens. I’ll convert a pattern to get things, like a hat, in the round.

  16. For small projects (socks, mittens), I prefer knitting in the round because it is faster and I can see quickly how it “grows”. For some reasons, I found out I prefer flat knitting when I knit a sweater. It gives me somehow a sense of the work I’m doing instead of just endlessly knitting. Like if the act of turning the needles gave me a rhythm much needed for big projects.

  17. ROUND! But no DPNs for me, too many ends. I use tiny circulars, or magic loop, or two circulars to avoid all straight needles. I also use circulars when I am knitting flat. And yes, I will alter a pattern to be round as opposed to flat. Only thing I can’t figure out quite how to do that with is shawls, so they get knit flat. Still haven’t steeked, it seems scary. :-)

  18. hmm maybe because I am not as experienced as the above knitters but I think I prefer knitting in the round. I’m knitting flat sleeves for my fafkal and WOW is it taking a long time. (It’s also a cardigan so the body is knit flat too) Conversely, I’m also doing sleeves in the round for the lopapeysa and I am just flying through the increases, probably because I don’t need to flip my work around every row I can just push through. I’m probably also feeling this way because I have 1 1/3 sleeves done of the 4 I need for both sweaters lol!!!

    I have a q for you!!! since the next sweater I’m planning is going to be seamed and everyone seems to prefer seams, what IS the best way to treat the edge stitches, knowing that they will be seamed together later? can I do this technique?

    • one more thing: I like to have two projects – one that is big and has to stay at home and one that is small or can be broken up into small pieces so I can take it to go. I didn’t alter the lopapyesa pattern to be knit in the round and I knew from the beginning I wanted to knit flat sleeves on my cardi. Still, maybe I just don’t like knitting small circumferences. I don’t think I would alter a pattern one way or the other.

    • I would not do a slip-stitch selvage if you’re seaming. I like stockinette stitch selvage, just because it’s what I’m most comfortable working seams on, but some people prefer garter stitch selvage or twisted-stitch selvage. Maybe try a few different ways on a couple of swatches and seam them together to see what you like.

      • I have a difficult time remembering to do something special at the edge. Maybe if I did it enough and in a quiet place, it would get to be something that I did regularly.

  19. For sweaters, I like both methods. I do appreciate the security and structure of a seam and will gladly knit pieces flat. But I also read while knitting, and for that I love having an endless round of stockinette to keep my hands busy. Unfortunately I have come to HATE small-circumference knitting and alter all sleeve instructions to knit them flat. This aversion to DPNs and magic loop is really crushing my plans to knit a pair of socks from a beautiful skein of Hedgehog sock yarn this year. I got one started, but got so irritated halfway down the cuff (on Size 1 dpns…!) that they’ve sat in my bag for weeks. Any thoughts on how to learn to love small rounds? And/or, Karen — I would love to hear more about these slipper socks. Where do you put the seam to avoid discomfort while wearing? Thanks!

    • They’ll be seamed at the back of the heel (as written, and normal) and up the front/top of the foot. Since I’m not putting it inside a shoe, it won’t cause any discomfort at all. And I feel better about seaming up to that point at the front of the foot than I would about joining flat work into the round at that same point.

    • There is a third method for knitting small circumferences, one that I use every time. This is to use two circular needles. Cat Bordhi is the queen of this method – see her book ‘Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles’ and various tutorials on Youtube by Cat and others. I always have a feeling of ‘I could have been a contender’ when mentioning Cat Bordhi as I discovered this method for myself 40 years ago when knitting sleeves for toddler garments, then many years later, after seeing her book, realised I could have written a pioneering book myself! I’ve since learned magic loop, but having got so used to the two circulars method, that I always stick with it.

    • I said it already for someone else, but have you tried 9″ circs? I know some people don’t like them, but I LOVE them. I dislike the stop-readjust-start that invariably comes with magic loop and dpns, and the 9″ circs avoid that.

  20. I learned to knit in the round using magic loop early on in my knitting life and since then I’ve used it for nearly everything… socks, sweaters and sleeves. I like the way it enables me to try on as I go. I also think I have an irrational aversion to repetition i.e. knitting the front of a sweater then having to start the whole process over for the back with the same stitch patterns etc. I have adapted patterns to in-the-round before to avoid this.

    However, I’m currently knitting the geometric vest from last year’s knitalong and am enjoying the way that finishing each part is like a mini victory! And I’m really excited to eventually seam it together and see how it turns out! Maybe I will become a convert :-)

  21. Flat, flat, flat!!! I intensely dislike knitting a whole sweater on one piece, for almost every reason anyone has ever given for disliking sweaters in the round. I am perfectly happy knitting socks and hats in the round, and I will do little baby sweaters that way, but I strongly believe that I can make a better fitting sweater when it is knit in pieces, and I can shape each piece using all the fit knowledge I gained from years of sewing. I enjoy the seaming process, and I know that this is a better way for me.

    • Knitting twin – this is me exactly! Small fine in the round, but sweaters I prefer to knit flat and seamed.

      I participated in the KAL and while I enjoyed the satisfaction of making it up as I went and think I’d find that much harder with seaming calculations, I really hate the endless knitting of a body in the round and tend to finish it sooner than I should even though the whole point is perfect fit. Also so much flapping around of material.

      I actually like to have two flat things on the go at once, and then alternate a piece from each. Takes longer to finish but keeps things fresh.

  22. I knit all round items with the magic loup. In order to avoid having to slid stitches over a long distance, I attach a cable to the needles that matches what I am doing. In other words, I don’t use a 40″ cable for socks, but one that is shorter. Of course, this has to be with detachable needle sets.

  23. I have not use single needles to knit for over a year. I use circulars for both flat and in the round. DPN’s are a bit awkward but sort of satisfying with small items. But there is some sort of “trick” in my mind that knitting pieces of a sweater flat feel faster than tediously knitting 160+ stitches over and over.

  24. It depends on the project–flat needs seams, which can add structure to a finished piece. If I’m really trying to avoid sagging or the like, I go with flat for the seams. If it doesn’t matter, I go circular because it’s no-brainer knitting.

    All my knitting recently is circular because I only knit to fill up empty time at kids’ practices, waiting to pick them up from school, etc. Goodness, I haven’t done any hardcore knitting in years. Hmmm…

  25. I love both methods! Definitely in the round for socks (Magic Loop is just that…magic!) and hats and mitts, and I’m a recent convert for knitting sweaters flat, in pieces, and seaming. Talk about magic…mattress stitch is AMAZING! I love the structure and finished look of seaming.

  26. I don’t mind either method. What makes knitting smooth and relaxing (or not) has more to do with what kind of knitting it is in terms of pattern. Stranding is not fluid for me, and although I don’t mind short rows, they are not smooth either. But I can get into the groove of long stretches of garter or St st, and it doesn’t matter if they’re flat or circular. :)

  27. I really prefer to knit flat – just finished a couple of toddler hats which I then seamed using mattress stitch = invisible! and so much easier for me than to contort around using dons or even magic loop. I have done sweaters etc in the round but much like the easier dealing with smaller pieces and I’m definitely in the sleeves flat camp. Seaming and purling are no big deal :)

  28. Flat…mostly. I don’t like the seaming process so much, but everything else about it I like better. I like having smaller pieces to work with (HATE having a whole body of a sweater in my lap, having to sling it around as I knit). I like the stability the seams give the garment (which I guess you can manage somehow on a in the round sweater, but I don’t know how and I’m too lazy to look it up.) Also, blocking is easier in pieces.

  29. In the round generally but not yet confident enough to convert patterns. I love to do magic loop toe-up socks and top down hats. I do wish my knitting tension was consistent enough and my flat pieces neat enough to do proper seaming though.

  30. For hats, socks, and anything involving colorwork, in the round, for sure. But otherwise, I do like seams in sweaters for stability. I think anything involving stranded colorwork that’s worked flat, I will find a way to do it in the round or not at all, but otherwise I tend to take patterns as I come.

  31. Maybe even 6 months ago I would have unequivocally said in the round, but that has changed as my flat stockinette has evened out. I do still love a good stockinette in the round that I can just plow through when I’m stressed, I love stranded colorwork in the round, and I enjoy sculpting a shaped garment. So I’m still probably 60/40, but I don’t dread knitting flat any longer.

  32. They key to success with magic loop is to use circulars with smooth, highly flexible cable. Otherwise it’s just annoying.

  33. I like it all! I prefer dpns to small circumference circulars any day though. I only like a circular needle for a larger flat or round project. I too like the uncomplicated endless rounds of stockinette or back and forth rows to fill up kid-errands and time spent waiting for them. It must be a stage of life or something! I also tend to have a small project on the go as well if my big one is a knit in the round sweater or something large, I cannot shlep around a large bottom up sweater at the yoke stage while chasing my twin five year olds…

  34. It depends. Usually I favor in-the-round, but not always. Right now I am knitting a top-down sweater flat (one reason being I can adjust the width after-the-fact). I have plans for knitting a sweater flat from back hem to front hem. That said, I really do hate seaming, so have converted some flat patterns to in-the-round, especially if it helps me avoid purling.

  35. Both! I much prefer hats and socks in the round because I want to avoid a seam. And, bottom line, I enjoy knitting in the round. But I also love to vary what I’m doing so I’ll switch to flat stitching – scarves, for instance. Its very soothing. When I knit my first vest or sweater, it will definitely be in sections and I have no problem with the idea of seaming them together. After reading the sweater posts, I can see that seaming creates strength and keeps a garment from twisting.

  36. In the round for sure. And yes, I convert to in the round if things are written for flat. I really appreciate your faux seam for this reason.

  37. In the round . . . I did knit the Chicane cardi flat to challenge my own bias, but in the end I still prefer in the round because I think it’s faster. Seaming takes time, but the worst thing is the time, effort and strained back of precisely blocking all those separate pieces and making sure they line up perfectly so that seams can be perfect. Blocking is my least favorite knitting related task of all time, hands down.

  38. I notice that people who have much experience sewing enjoy knitting flat. I don’t sew, so finishing is very stressful for me. Most of the sweaters I knit are baggy, sweatshirt styles or draped cardigans, all knit top down, so fitted shaping isn’t really important to me. Also, if I’m knitting a top down sweater (or even bottom up) I don’t often need a pattern. However, I have no problem with flat knitting itself. I only knit socks with dpns, being something of a Luddite. If I possibly can, I much prefer to cast all stitches onto a straight needle.
    What really interests me about knitting is designing elements of garments and working in a knitterly way rather than having to sew. I have read that Catherine Lowe has a non-sewing way of joining pieces, but I haven’t been able to either get her book or take a class. I would like to learn what she does.

  39. I like to knit both and have been known to convert flat to in the round as well as in the round converted to flat! It depends on what I feel like doing, at the time. I haven’t tried magic loop yet. I’m curious but don’t know if it’s worth the bother, as I really like dpn’s for socks and mitts, etc. I love your blog, BTW.

  40. I started knitting in my teens in the 60s when most patterns were written for flat knitting. Yes, I even knitted plenty of hats and mittens flat, having no exposure to DPs. In my 20s I knit “Icelandic” pullovers for my dad and brother from Lopi brand wool. That was my introduction to knitting in the round and to color work. have never been a sock knitter–not interested–so have never really become skilled with DPs. Now I mostly knit shawls and sweaters. For the latter, my flat or round decision depends on the appeal of the pattern and the designer. There are several skilled in-the round designers I feel drawn to repeatedly–Carrie Hoge, Isabel Kraemer, Heidi Kirrmaier, for example. But there are also very talented folks like Julie Hoover who write patterns in both formats. To me, a well written in-the round pattern feels more like a puzzle to be solved which makes the process more appealing. Sleeves–always knit them flat, no matter what!

  41. I actually enjoy seaming, especially mattress stitch, and like trying to make it look as professional and tidy as possible (though trying to seam two ribbed pieces to each other once was a little mindbending). But I still prefer knitting in the round, because my favorite thing to knit is sweaters, and I’m a product knitter, so sweaters that start to look like sweaters *as I’m knitting them* are much more fun to me than sweaters made out of different pieces that get all assembled together at the end (and maybe they don’t end up looking how you envisioned). I love interesting constructions and seeing the 3-D shape materialize from my needles; the more it starts to look like a sweater the more eager I am to finish. When I knit flat, I have…a flat piece of fabric. And then I have to make more flat pieces of fabric, often duplicates (sleeves or cardigan fronts), and I suffer from the sweater version of second-sock syndrome. Plus, knitting in the round usually lets me tell sooner whether the choice of pattern was a good one for me/the yarn, rather than waiting till the end and only then realizing the yarn doesn’t work or the shape is terrible. Or even if I don’t figure that out sooner, it’s easier to remedy – I am ruthless about ripping out projects that don’t work, but unseaming to frog a bunch of individual pieces is way more annoying than ripping back a sweater knit in the round.

    I do see the value in seams (the seaming of two ribbed pieces referenced above came from a very conscious decision that the yarn I was using, a really soft, drapy silk/camel mix, was so soft and floppy that it absolutely had to be made into something with seams; it really needed structure than the yarn itself completely lacked, gorgeous as it was), and I’ve frogged an entire boxy fingering-weight sweater when, after a couple of wears, I decided that the yarn drooped and sagged too much without seams. And I have a plan for a classic set-in sleeves v-neck cardigan super basic sweater which I will probably knit in pieces. But that’s because I really want that particular item, and sweaters in the round usually don’t quite fit that mold. Otherwise I’m always drawn to in-the-round stuff.

    • Meant to add: I rarely get to knit outside my house, so there’s no issue with portability and wanting smaller pieces to carry around; and I tend to be good with variations on the tube – I don’t like fitted sweaters at all. So that plays a part, too.

  42. I’ve only ever knit 1 flat sweater, a cabled aran in 6 year old size for my son. Well, I guess 2 if I count EZ’s baby surprise jacket. I liked it – I would do it again. I LOVE knitting in the round though. I love the mindless, continual knitting of the body of a sweater in the round, knowing I won’t have to concentrate much at all. With flat knitting, the flow is interrupted when I have to turn to purl. With circular knitting, I think it’s incredible to have the ability to knit an entire sweater as one piece of fabric. I am simultaneously creating the fabric and sculpting it into the shape I want and it’s one cohesive piece of fabric that’s also a sweater.

  43. I knit almost everything in the round and will convert patterns to do so. I knit a lot of textured and cabled patterns and find knitting in the round much easier visually. Also, being a Continental knitter, my knitted fabric, especially stockinette, is much more consistent as I am only knitting and rarely purling.

  44. Beginning knitter so I have no right to an opinion, but I can’t see how you would get as good a fit knitting in the round. Plus once it is finished a seam allows further modifications. Ripping is probably your only resort if it’s knit round.

  45. In the round 100%.

    I won’t even start a project if I can’t convert it to knitting in the round. But I acknowledge that I’ve been knitting less than two years and shy away from seaming anything.

  46. I’m historically an “in the round” knitter, mostly because I knit continental and my tension differs from knit to purl, so when I knit stockinette flat, I get those furrows in my knitting. I just bought a knitting belt from PoK, though, so I’m hoping to change that, since I like the structure of the seams in sweaters. I’ve adopted the seamed seamless sweater for the time being, though. I don’t think I’ll change my mind for hats, mitts, mittens, or socks, though. I don’t think they need seams, and I absolutely loath finishing. :P

  47. Flat or in the round I would say both. But if you asked seamless or seamed I will say seamless. I am knitting a round yoke stranded cardigan for my daughter back and forth right now. But I have also knitted two central park hoodies for myself without the side seams (faux seam at the collar that has replaced the hood). I think I like the drape of seamless more. The fluidity. And the fact that since I almost always rewrite the pattern to suit my gauge and measurements, it allowes me to try on as I go. That said, I don’t mind seaming. I do mind magic loop and knitting on two circulars though, I have tried to like them but I just don’t. Bamboo dpn’s all the way :) Right now I am knitting Estonian lace shawl on 9″ straight bamboo needles, I tried nickel plated and circular and it just did not work out, the stitch definition suffered, so since I don’t have traditional wooden 2.25mm needles I use bamboo.

    The reality of seams or not is, I wear my cardigans all the time. The life span of a single knitted garment that is worn all the time does not exceed 3-4 years (I have three hand knit cardigans at a time usually, I make a new one about every year and a few months on average). It is not the seams that keep it going. It is the fact that the elbows wear through, the cuffs fray and the small of the back where my bag hits wears thin. And despite mending and remending, after about 3.5 years of very frequent wear the fabric becomes limp and lifeless. The yarn loses the last of the luster. The garment becomes stretched out (worse so when it is seamed, then it sags in some places and is tight in others). I wear a handknit cardigan every day ten months of a year, have for the past 12-13 years. And no matter how much finishing I put into it, I just wear through them (oh, and I do hand wash and use nice wool wash, mostly eucalan). So I don’t make my decisions based on longevity.

  48. Because I detest seaming (though I can do it quite nicely) and flat objects will lie around for a very long time unfinished, I not only knit in the round – using 2 circulars if it is a small circumference – and convert flat objects to circular, I will spend hours knitting something together rather than seaming something I could complete in a few minutes. I have been knitting over 50 years and feel like I have given seaming a fair shot! Of course there are things such as shawls, scarves, afghans etc. which call for flat knitting. As I implied at the outset, it isn’t flat knitting, it is seaming that I am trying to avoid. I am willing to change my mind given the right project however. How nice that we can pursue our preferences as we enjoy knitting no matter how we finish it. Happy knitting to all and go vote if you are in the US!

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  50. i am an in the round knitter all the way. though i love to sew when i knit, i want to knit; not sew. i WILL and have and often do convert patterns to make them in the round. :)

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