The Difference Between Knitting Flat and In The Round

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Whether you are a beginner or experienced knitter, you will probably have seen knitting patterns described as ‘knit flat’ or ‘knit in the round’ and wondered what the difference is.

There is actually a massive difference between knitting flat and in the round.  It has an impact on the type of knitting needles that you use as well as how you work stitch patterns.  When you finish your knitting pattern, how much sewing up you have to do will depend largely on whether or not you have knit flat or in the round.

Read on to find out the difference between knitting flat and in the round.  This will extremely useful for beginner knitters as you will be able to use this information to decide which knitting technique will work best for you.

This article will also give experienced knitters a clear view of both techniques and may pursuade you to try something new for your next knitting project.

Knitting Flat

Knitting flat is where you knit with two straight knitting needles.

You cast on, work your row and then turn over the needle and start again.

You will see the right side of the work on one side, and the wrong side on the other.

At the end of your piece of knitting you will cast off and then sew up the necessary seams to complete your garment.

Flat knitting is the technique that is most widely used in the UK.

Knitting In The Round 

Knitting in the round is worked either on circular knitting needles (this kit is a great way to start off with knitting in the round) or with double pointed needles.  You will cast on and then join your work to knit in the round.  If you use double pointed needles (DPNs) your stitches will be divided between three or four needles and worked with another double pointed needle (see photo below).

If you are knitting in the round with circular needles you will join the stitches on that needle.  

Whichever needles you choose for knitting in the round, you will work exactly as you would imagine – in the round – in circles.  You go round and round, forming a tube shape.

This technique is brilliant for garments such as hats, cowls and socks.  It gives a smooth fabric with no bump for a seam.  It also saves you time as you don’t have to sew up any seams at the end of the project.

Knitters in the USA use knitting in the round rather than flat as their main technique.

Knitting Flat With Circular Needles

Circular knitting needles are extremely versatile because you can use them for both knitting techniques.  

To use circular needles to knit flat, simply hold both ends as you would straight needles and work backwards and forwards.  Do not join to knit in the round.  One way to knit this way is to imagine the plastic wire between the two needle tips as being solid, like a wooden knitting needle, for example.

Circular knitting needles can be used to either knit flat or in the round. This photo shows the latter. A cowl is on the needles.

Knitting flat on circular needles is quite a useful technique to master.  It is a great way to carry your knitting around without fear of the stitches sliding off.  Circular needles also take up less space than straight needles.

Some knitting patterns for larger items, for example blankets, call for knitting flat on circular needles so that you can cast on a much higher number of stitches than you would be able to with straight needles.

Then you simply work the knitting pattern backwards and forwards as described above.

Knitting Tip for Flat Knitters

If you usually knit flat and would like to try knitting in the round, it can be helpful to work the first few rows backwards and forwards before joining to knit in the round.

This is because it can be quite easy to twist the work if you are not careful or inexperienced, and this ruins the whole project to the point that you have to undo it all and start again.

When knitting a hat for example you can work the rib part flat, backwards and forwards, and then join in the round to work the main part of the hat. It is then extremely easy to see whether or not there are any twists in your work before you join.

At the end you will only have to sew up the ribbed seam.  The main part of the hat will be seamless and not need to be sewn up as you have knit it round and round.

When To Use Double Pointed Needles

Basically, double pointed needles will enable you to knit smaller projects in the round that is possible with circular needles.  Socks are a great example of this.  

With a smaller amount of cast on stitches, circular knitting needles would not be able to bend enough for you to get the end of the right hand needle into the next stitch.

When you knit something like a hat, it is best to use 40cm long circular needles.  As you reach the top of the project and the decreasing part of the pattern starts you may need to switch to DPN needles in order to complete the work.

The main disadvantage with knitting flat over knitting in the round is the extra sewing up at the end of project, as shown here.

So Which Technique Is Best?

If you are a beginner knitter, it is advisable to try both flat and in the round knitting.  Find some easy beginner level knitting patterns for both styles of knitting and see what sort of knitting suits you best.

Sometimes only work style will work.  If for example you want to try your hand at some intarsia knitting you will have to knit flat.  Intarsia and knitting in the round doesn’t work.

In the same way, Fair Isle knitting is arguably better suited to knitting in the round than it is to working flat on two straight needles.  That is because the yarn is carried along the row and of you are knitting in the round you can just seamlessly carry on and on.

We hope you enjoyed this article about the differences between knitting flat and in the round.

Which technique do you like best and why?

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