How to Convert Pattern Instructions From Circular Knitting to Flat Knitting


cutout shoulder sweater from Knitscene Winter 2018
Shimla Sweater
Knitscene Winter 2018

When making garments, I prefer flat knitting over circular knitting, except for items such as Fair Isle yoke sweaters. A minimal amount of sewing is a must for many knitters. Not me – the finishing process is the part of knitting I enjoy. I like the look of neatly finished seams, and tailored items look better knit in pieces to enhance the construction. Also, it can be cumbersome to knit sleeves in the round from the top of a whole garment. If you’re like me and prefer knitting pieces, you can convert circular knitting instructions to flat knitting, by adjusting the design schematics and stitch counts to knit the pieces separately. Not all patterns are easily adaptable, particularly those designed for knitting in the round, like a yoke sweater, where part of the yoke becomes the top of the sleeve and shoulder area.

yoke sweater design from Vogue Knitting Winter 2017/18
Design #8 Vogue Knitting Winter 2017/18 Yoke Sweater

The following are the steps to convert a simple circular knitting pattern to flat knitting using the instructions for the sweater above.

Choose Your Pattern

If you’re trying this for the first time, choose a simple garment, like the above Shimla  Sweater from Knitscene. The front and back are identical, with attached shoulder bands forming cutout shoulders. The stitch pattern is garter stitch with a cable running along each side. The direction of the cable is slanted towards the side edge. Typically when knitting in the round, the pattern stitches aren’t complex, but you will have to adapt them to flat knitting.

Draw Schematics

I like to redraw the schematics for all pieces. This may not be necessary if you aren’t making any adjustments to the body measurements. The circumference of the front and back pieces need to be divided in half from the original. Looking at the pattern schematic for my sample, the smallest size has a circumference of 34.75 inches (measurement A in schematic), so half approximately equals 17.5 inches wide for both the front and the back. For cardigans, the borders may or may not be included in the circumference measurement, so carefully read the original instructions. Continue through all the measurements that apply to the size you’re making, and write down these numbers, making any desired changes. Use these new numbers to draw the schematics on graph paper.

Do Your Test Swatch and Measure Gauge

Make your test swatch with the chosen yarn. Because the right side is always facing you when circular knitting, the pattern rows are read differently than for flat knitting. Garter stitch on circular needles is made by alternating knit and purl rounds, whereas every row is knit when flat knitting. Adjust your rows accordingly.

Once you’ve made the swatch, measure the test swatch and calculate the gauge. If you obtain the same gauge as in the pattern instructions, it’s easier to calculate the stitch and row counts for each piece. If you change the yarn, the gauge will probably be different, and you’ll need to rewrite the instructions incorporating the new gauge.

Convert the Pattern Instructions to Flat Knitting

If you obtained the same gauge as in the instructions, work through the schematic measurements and instructions, calculating the stitch counts for each piece based on those given in the pattern. The first piece to make is usually the back. For the smallest size in my sample with no changes, cast on 75 stitches for the back. This sweater has side slits, so the front and back are made separately for the length of the slit. Therefore the same number of stitches are cast on for the front and back as given in the instructions. The 75 stitches are worked straight to the armholes, instead of joining the front and back after the slits are made. For most circular sweater instructions, the stitches cast on are for the circumference of the garment, so divide them in half for front and back pieces.  Adjust any pattern repeats so they are evenly spaced across a row. In this pattern the cables are placed as indicated. For cardigan fronts, you need to decide how the borders will be knit and attached.

Sleeves knit flat begin at the lower edge or cuff, the reverse of knitting in the round. The number of stitches to cast on for the width of the lower edge, and the required stitches at the top of the sleeve are approximately the same as in the instructions, since the top of the sleeve fits around the armhole of the front and back. You’ll have to figure out increase placement, but if you obtained the same row gauge, the increases should correspond to the decreases when the sleeve is knit from the armhole down. In my example, I changed the measurement of the sleeve top to 13 inches instead of 12.75 inches (measurement I), so it fits into a 6.5 inch armhole (measurement D); 6.5 + 6.5 = 13. The top edge of the sleeve that fits into the armhole should be roughly the same number of stitches as in the original instructions. Sleeves knit in the round don’t have cap shaping.

The shoulder bands for this sweater are made the same as in the pattern instructions. Block all the pieces as they are completed. For this sweater sew shoulder edges together for 1/2 inch at outside edges, then sew in the sleeves, followed by the side seams of sleeves and of the body, leaving a 4 inch opening at the lower edge. Attach the shoulder bands to the back and voilà, you’re finished.

If you’re crazy about a pattern designed for circular needles, don’t be afraid to convert the pattern to one knit in pieces. Make sure the design is appropriate, draw the schematics, adjust the stitch counts and knit up the pieces. You’ve successfully manipulated a design to your liking!