TRANSLATING BETWEEN KNITTING IN THE ROUND AND KNITTING FLAT – Part III

[Repost of materail originally appearing on 12 June 2006]

We’ve looked at taking a pattern that’s been written for circular knitting and parsing it out for knitting in the flat. That’s pretty easy, as most items knit in the round are not drafted with much complex shaping. Texture designs and colorwork do impose limitations, as does some shaping. In most cases it’s a matter of identifying seamlines, then doing the math to apportion the existing stitches into pieces defined by those seams.

Going the other way is harder, mostly because of the range of complexity of shape that can be accommodated by knitting in the flat. In general, the simpler the shape, the easier a piece is to translate. Drop shoulder sweaters with backs and fronts that are nearly identical are a cinch. Stuff with waist shaping, darts, “>princess style seaming, or other tailoring presents special challenges. But in spite of shaping most things can be knit either whole or in part using circular technique.

Starting with something simple, the Spring ’06 edition of Knitty contains Jamesey, a pattern by Mary Neal Meador. It’s a nicely patterned simple men’s pullover, worked flat in knit/purl combos. There’s minimal shaping, and the texture pattern with no row count abberations or increases and decreases is easy to translate for in the round knitting. There’s one tiny bit in her Sideways Stitch description that bears paying special attention.

To work Jamesey in the round, I’d add the total stitches front and back. I would NOT modify the pattern to substitue a full pattern repeat for theextra non-pattern-repeat stitches at the leftmost and rightmost sides of the front and back unless I were very ambitious. Doing so is a refinement to be sure, but one that’s totally optional. Unless the piece was intended to be very fitted or the gauge was large, I wouldn’t eliminate any stitches on the sides that in a sewn piece would be eaten up by seam allowance. BUT if I felt that four extra stitches of width at my gauge WOULD make a noticeable difference in fit, I’d take the time to refigure the stitch counts without them (remember that this would have to be done all the way around the piece, on the body and sleeves both).

In general, first I’d begin reading the pattern and noodling out how to deal with it’s tougher parts. This sounds like a dumb thing to say, but I know lots of people who knit with the “headfirst off the pier” approach. They grab needles and yarn and start in without taking the time to work through the piece mentally and to make sure they understand it. While this step can be less intensive if you’re knitting something verbatim as written, if you’re translating between flat and circular knitting not taking the time to really understand the original can be fatal to your project. I’d also point out that if you are knitter who rarely reads ahead, you are far more trusting than I. I’ve found lots of patterns that were poorly written or confusing. At the very least, knowing ahead of time that rocks are in the stream makes the the rapids less of a surprise.

In this case I’d begin by casting on the stitches for the front, placing a marker, casting on the stitches for the back and working the pattern as written up to the tricky Sideways Stitch rows. I’d work the front to the marker, then the back to the second marker. Every row will be a right-side row, so the texture pattern – conveniently graphed out – would be very simple to follow. The piece would grow as a single tube until the Sideways Stitch rows.

Those rows are written up for back and forth knitting, and need a bit of examination to translate them. Round 1 is pretty easy – it amounts to working the pattern as described, but laying the stitches so that their front legs are in the back of the needle. This twists them. (If you’re unfamiliar with stitch mounting, you can pop over here.) The second row requires the knitter to work backwards the way he or she has come. In the case of knitting in the round, it would be simplest to turn the tube inside out and accomplish the directions as written, knitting counterclockwise around the piece until the starting marker was reached. BUT just before I’d do so, I’d wrap what would have been the next stitch if I were to have continued around normally. Wrapping this stitch, then when it is encountered later, working it along with its wrap will help prevent a little hole from forming. Once I’d done the second round of the sideways stitch, I’d flip my tube back out so that the public side was on the outside of the thing, then continue with the third row of the Sideways Stitch pattern.

Having accomplished the tricky bit, I’d return to plain old knitting in the round until I had gotten to the point where the sleeve would eventually be set. That point isn’t marked on the schematics, but it’s pretty simple to figure out in a drop shoulder piece. I’d take the measurement across the top of th the pattern’s flat-knit sleeve and divide it in half. Then I’d subtract that from the height of the body. When I’d reached the point where the bottom of the sleeve was to be sewn on, I’d have a choice. The easiest way to finish off would be to split the piece front and back, and finish each piece knit flat on the circ, using a separate ball of yarn for each one. However this is a return to knitting in the flat. For some people it might smack of defeat. Others have very different gauges when they knit in the flat – enough to make a visible horizon across the sweater.

The alternative is to steek. Remember the markers indicating the “seam lines” dividing the front and back stitches? I’d work up to one, cast on three or four stitches, then continue around to the other and repeat the procedure. This will add a couple of stitches left and right to the sleeve area. The body will be just a bit wider at this point, with the extra width being clear to spot. I’d work the extra in plain stockinette. I’d continue to finish out the body, perhaps following the simple neckline shaping directions verbatim (with the introduction of that second ball again); or perhaps knitting straight across that area in anticipation of forming the shape by machine stitching and cutting later. (We’ll get back to steeking in a bit).

Sleeves are easy in this piece. There’s simple shaping – increases at the left and right of the pieces at regular intervals, making them into simple elongated trapezoids. Again I’d cast on and join in the round – probably starting out on DPNs. I’d introduce a stitch marker to indicate the beginning of the round, and assort my stitches so that it wasn’t apt to fall off the end of a DPN. Then I’d work in the round, introducing my increases as paired increases on either side of the marker.

Once I had the sleeves and body done, if I had chosen to steek, I’d stabilize the extra stitches I introduced to the body tube. Some people do this with a line of slip stitch crochet or hand-embroidered chain stitch. I prefer to whip out my ancient Elna and run a couple lines of machine stretch stitch on either side of my intended cut line. I’d then cut carefully between the machine stitched lines to make my opening. If I were doing the stitch and cut method of making the neckline, I’d draft out the curve I wanted onto a paper template, pin it to my piece and machine stitch along its edge.

Although this sounds hard, mostly it’s figuring out how wide and how deep the neck area should be, then taking a piece of paper and folding it in half – marking the width and depth on it and cutting a symmetrical curve by hand to match. Paper is cheap so if it takes several tries it’s o.k. The alternative of course is to whip out the French curve or drafting program and produce a proper drafted piece. Either part of the paper can be used, although I do find using the smaller inner curve piece to be easier to pin out flat onto my knitting.

At this point finishing whether you’ve worked flat for the upper body or in the round for the whole thing is pretty much the same – sewing the shoulder seams and setting in the sleeves.

Now. What about pieces with complex shaping – waist nips or princess line seams?

Those features work more or less like the sleeves. I introduce a marker at the point where the seam line should be, then work the increases or decreases as directed, on either side of the marker in accordance with pattern directions. Areas where you are told to cast off can be harder. For example in the princess style schematic, at the head of the front body side panel in there’s a “blind end” where the body side panels terminate short of the sleeve. I suspect I’d have to noodle on that one quite a while, and the solution would require short row shaping. Not easy. But for the determined willing to experiment and rip back – not totally impossible, either.

I can’t cover every eventuality of shaping and its implications for translation from flat to round knitting, but I hope I’ve given you an idea of the general process.

Yesterday’s Post

I wasn’t claiming that the Knitters pattern was ripped off from mine. First of all, it’s not my pattern. All I did was slap a couple of ornamental stitches onto a well known published piece. I own nothing here. Plus traffic on this site is so low that it’s highly unlikely that anyone who saw something on String two years ago consciously repeated it. My post was instead more of a “neeener neener neener” piece, accompanied by gloating rather than accusational finger pointing.


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One response

  1. Thanks for posting this useful info, and thanks for updating it on your new site.

    One thing: the sentence, "If you’re unfamiliar with stitch mounting, you can pop over here" seems like it ought to be a link. Maybe the link got lost moving to the new site?

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