Brainthingy and I have been chatting a bit about the great knitting controversy: flat vs. circular. Controversy? Why, yes. There are people who hate circular knitting so much that they knit mittens on the flat, and people so enamored of it that they will knit a cardigan in the round and cut clear down the front.

As with so many other great controversies — Mac vs. PC, standard vs. automatic, arts vs. sciences — I find myself standing firmly with one foot in each camp.

This is not because I am wishy-washy. It is because I believe in versatility.

Now, in case you are not a knitter, let me quickly mention that knitting can be done back and forth to make a flat piece, as on the right, or around and around to make a circular piece, as on the left. Some people use straight needles for flat knitting, but I prefer to use circular needles all the time. I just knit back and forth if I want flatness. And for quite small circles, I use double-pointed needles, such as those below on the right.


As a general rule, I knit flat things flat and round things round, which seems logical to me. However, there are exceptions.

For example, my usual mode of making a raglan sweater (the kind with diagonal lines at the sleeves) is to knit it seamlessly from the top down, making the lines with increases, as you can perhaps see on the left. But Brooklyn is a raglan which the designer has written in flat pieces –knitted from the bottom up — that then must be sewn together. So I’m making it that way. You can see the back on the left, with the diagonal lines made by decreasing.

It seems a little counter-intuitive, but I might learn something from the experience And so far at least, the decreases along the diagonal make an attractive edge.

Brainthingy and I were talking particularly of Fair Isle. Fair Isle is a style of colorwork (from Fair Isle) which is characterized by a special kind of color patterning. Both the examples here use just two colors. But you can use more colors for Fair Isle. If so, it is customary to use two colors for each row, in this sort of pattern: for the first row, use color A as background and B as foreground. For the second row, you use color A as foreground and color C as background. For the third row, use color C as foreground and so on, using as many colors as you like. Each row uses just two colors, and each color gets a chance as background and then as foreground.

By the way, if you aren’t using this sort of patterning, you can’t, strictly speaking, call it Fair Isle. I’m not going to tell on you or anything, but I thought you might like to know.

 Myself, I make flat things with Fair Isle designs flat and round things with Fair Isle designs round. But not everyone considers this correct. There are people who feel that Fair Isle should always be done in the round. There may be historical justification for this.

I have a couple of Fair Isle projects in mind. For one thing, the beautiful glove pattern I’ve mentioned a few times (check out the splendid work knitting in color is doing) strikes me as just the thing for one of the bawks on my list. Bawks are done in the round, so I expect to do it in the round. But I also intend to make Erin, an Alice Starmore cardigan.

This sweater is designed to be made in the round, as though it were a pullover. Then one is to cut down the front to make it into a cardigan. I’ve had this on my “to make” list for a year and still haven’t settled whether to do that or whether just to make it in my usual cardigan way.

There doesn’t seem to be any advantage to making it in the round. I’ll use circular needles either way, so the greater comfort factor of circulars isn’t an issue. It seems to me that working back and forth would give nicer front edges, without multiple ends to fret over. This would make the picking up of the front bands, or the sewing on (I haven’t checked what approach the pattern uses) easier — particularly since I work a selvedge. There is no interesting shaping in this pattern that might depend on working in the round, either — the colorwork is the whole point of it.

It may be like socks. I have seen so many patterns that appear to be written specifically in order to avoid having to turn a heel, or graft the toe, or some other technique commonly used in sock making. I even tried out a couple of them — and I frogged the socks. They just aren’t as nice.

Now, no one can say that Alice Starmore’s designs aren’t nice. But the cutting and steeking may be a tradition or a habit more than a sensible design decision. Unless you have trouble reading the pattern back and forth, or are bothered by having the purl side toward you half the time, then it is hard to see any value to working a flat thing in the round.

I am interested in your views on this, knitters.