A step-by-step tutorial showing you how to convert knitting in the round to straight needles and everything you need to pay attention to
So, your pattern is for knitting with circular or double-pointed needles but you don’t know how to do that (yet) or you simply don’t like it? And now you are wondering if you could convert a pattern in the round to flat knitting with straight needles? Of course, you can and this tutorial is all about it!
All you need is a piece of paper and a little bit of patience. Later, you can easily seam your flat piece together with the super simple and invisible mattress stitch.
Let’s dive right into it, eh?
Step 1: Convert all stitches
Knit and purl stitches are mirror images. Any purl stitch will look exactly as a knit stitch when seen from the other side of your fabric and vice versa. That’s why you have to knit across all stitches when you want to produce stockinette stitch in the round but you need to alternate between knit and purl rows when you are knitting the same pattern flat.
In essence, a purl stitch is nothing but knitting a knit stitch from the wrong side (and that also explains why it is a bit more difficult to do). For you, as a knitter, this means, when you want to convert a pattern to flat knitting with straight needles, you will have to convert every second round and knit it from the wrong side.
So, grab a piece of paper and transcribe every second row. A knit stitch turns into a purl stitch, a purl stitch into a knit stitch, and so on. You will need a little conversion chart to do that:
|Right side||Wrong side|
|M1R & M1L||M1PR & M1PL|
Here’s an example of a simple little lace pattern:
- Round 1: k5, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k5
- Round 2: k4, k2tog, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k4
- Round 3: k3, k2tog, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k3
- Round 4: k2, k2tog, yo, k7, yo, k2tog, k2
And when you convert every second round to flat knitting, it looks like this:
- Row 1 (RS): k5, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k5
- Row 2 (WS): p4, p2tog, yo, p3, yo, p2tog, p4
- Row 3 (RS): k3, k2tog, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k3
- Row 4 (WS): p2, p2tog, yo, p7, yo, p2tog, p2
Note: A yarn over is a not a stitch but an unknitted strand of yarn. It’s the only stitch you do not have to convert.
You have to go through each little stitch and instruction in every second row, and translate them to the wrong side. “k5” turns into “p5”, “k2tog” into “p2tog”, and so on.And you will have to go through this process for every second round of your pattern and convert it accordingly. Check twice for any typos/mistakes.
Step 2: Adjusting the knitting order
Now, it’s important to note that there is one more difference you need to account for: The knitting order. The example above was utterly symmetrical. But a lot of patterns include directional increases or decreases – or are asymmetrical, to begin with.
The problem: The stitches you would normally perform at the end of the second round, need to be knitted at the beginning of the second row (on the wrong side) so they end up in the same absolute spot. After all, the end of the right side row is the beginning of the wrong side row, right?
Hence, you don’t only need to mirror all stitches but also mirror the overall knitting order. In reality, the lace example above would probably have looked like this with left and right-leaning increases. And I also added a bigger border on the left side for good measure.
Round 1: k5, SSK, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k15
Round 2: k4, SSK, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k14
Round 3: k3, SSK, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k13
Round 4: k2, SSK, yo, k7, yo, k2tog, k12
So, to convert from in the round to flat knitting, you also have to rearrange the knitting order. Basically, you need to start transcribing at the END of every second row. This would be the result.
Row 1 (RS): k5, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k5
Row 2 (WS): p14, p2tog, yo, p3, yo, SSP, p4
Row 3 (RS): k3, k2tog, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k3
Row 4 (WS): p12, p2tog, yo, p7, yo, SSP, p2
Of course, you could also use a pencil or so and mark every wrong side row with a little arrow. And whenever you see the little arrow, it means you have to read that row from right to left. In fact, that is precisely what every knitting chart does (learn how to really read charts here).
Step 3: Adding a selvage for the seam
But simply converting every second row like this isn’t enough. Later on, you have to seam things together to achieve a tubular shape. If done right, the seam will be utterly invisible from the right side but it will use up some fabric. As a result, you have to add a selvage on either side to account for the fabric loss and to make it easier to seam.
I suggest adding two stitches of stockinette stitches on either side of the repeat. This means two knit stitches in every right side row and two purl stitches on either side of the wrong side rows. Here’s how I would adjust the little lace repeat from above:
Row 1 (RS): k2, k5, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k15, k2
Row 2 (WS): p2, p14, p2tog, yo, p3, yo, SSP, p4, p2
Row 3 (RS): k2, k3, k2tog, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k13, k2
Row 4 (WS): p2, p12, p2tog, yo, p7, yo, SSP, p2, p2
As an alternative, you could also add 2 knit stitches on either side of EACH row and then use the mattress stitch for garter stitch. This would be my preferred method for things like the brioche stitch or (obviously) garter stitch patterns. Since this seaming method works a bit differently (and doesn’t use up so much fabric), one stitch can often be enough.
Step 4: Factoring in the gauge
For more complex patterns, you will also have to factor in your gauge. Now, knitting a swatch is always recommended before you knit a pattern but in this case it is twice as important. Because here is the problem: A lot of people have a different knit and purl gauge. Typically, their purl stitches are a bit looser.
As a result, their flat swatches (where you have to alternate between knit and purl rows), will be bigger. Typically, it’s only the row gauge that is affected and the swatches end up a little bit higher.
If that is the case, the easiest way to compensate for that is knitting a couple of rows less. Say, you knit a sweater top-down, then you’d simply have to stop knitting 5 or 10 rows earlier. Of course, you could also try to get gauge but that is often impossible.
Also, do consider that the seam might be less stretchy than the rest of your fabric. In a big sweater, that might not matter, but for a project with a very small diameter, you might have to add more than just two selvage stitches on either side to account for that.
Step 5: Special tips for knitting stitch patterns
And here is one last thing you need to consider. Often, knitting stitch libraries give you a repeat for one preferred method to knit it. And if you want to convert that to flat knitting, maybe because you want to knit a motif intended for socks for a scarf or so, you have to pay attention to the fine details.
So for example, if I want to knit a 2×2 rib in the round, the repeat would be very simple:
- Cast on multiples of 4
- Every round: *k2, p2*
The literal conversion of this knitting stitch pattern will definitely work, but it might not look neat. Often, you have to add half a repeat at the very end or add a border so things look symmetrical. Of course, a nice selvage stitch will also make things neater. As a result, I would knit the ribbing like this:
- Cast on multiples of 4+4
- RS: Sl1, *k2, p2*, k2, k1
- RW: Sl1, p2, *k2, p2*, p1
So, I added a slip stitch selvage and one additional knit column at the end for a symmetrical and neat edge on either side (just in case: here is a list with 10 neat selvage techniques).
Sadly, there is no general rule of thumb. For a different knitting stitch pattern, a different method might be required. So, for lace charts, you often need to add half a repeat at the far end so you don’t end up with a motif that is cut in half. I recommend knitting a swatch to see how you like things. And if you don’t, try something else.
Further things to consider when converting patterns in the round to knitting with straight needles
There are two important things I would like to mention here at the end of this article.
First of all, knitting in the round is easier than you think it is. Sure, that very first project will often be aggravating. But you need to push through that and allow your mind and muscles to get accustomed to the new motions. It will take a project or two – just like it took a project or two to learn knitting with straight needles.
- Here’s my tutorial on the magic loop technique (circular needles)
- And here’s my tutorial on knitting in the round on double-pointed needles
Often, I see knitters trying this once and giving up way too early. For all the wrong reasons. Millions of knitters before you have managed to learn knitting in the round and with a little bit of patience, you can do it too.
Because here is the second thing you need to know. A designer will typically use one way of knitting a pattern for a reason. Typically because it’s easier, neater, or faster to finish. So, I would not ignore that decision lightly – especially as mistakes can happen when transcribing the pattern.