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Pattern Conversion…de-mystified

January 15, 2011

Whether you are a well seasoned knitter or a beginner there are many choices to be made in each project you decide to knit.  Deciding on the yarn to the which pattern to knit; deciding on the type of needles to use to the particular gauge to knit; and so on the decisions must be made.  When it comes to knitting technique, though, most people resort to their personal favourite.  Knitting in the round or knitting pieces flat have many followers.  Whether you love or hate either technique there will be a time when you fall head over heels in love with a pattern that is designed for the other side.  You might want to consider converting the pattern to your favourite technique.  What follows is a simple to guide to accomplishing a conversion.

I’ve often come across a pattern where the designer chose to knit flat  and wondered why they made that choice when the project  is clearly meant to be knit in the round (or vice versa).  I then wonder just how much I really need to knit this project.  If I have already fallen in love with the photographic representation of the FO (finished object) then I shall cast on completely ignoring the designers choice and revert to my own (which is knitting in the round, by the way) favourite technique.  Before you begin to give that designer a bad rap (complete with colourful language) take a deep breath and read on.  Converting a pattern from circular knitting to flat knitting, or vice versa, is not difficult.  There is a bit of thought involved, but nothing too taxing.

Many, if not all, patterns can be easily converted between flat/circular knitting.  There are few exceptions to the rule (but there are some).  The important point here is that when you are knitting flat, you are alternating working on the “right” side and the “wrong” side.  When you are knitting in the round, you are only working on the “right” side.

“What does this mean to your knitting strategy? “you might be asking?  What this means is that when you begin the conversion process it is necessary to reverse the stitches on every other row.  Easy…right? Yes it is.

Here is an example:

Stockinette Stitch (flat knitting):Flat R1: Knit (right side; from now on referred to as RS)Flat R2: Purl (wrong side; from now on referred to as WS) Stockinette Stitch (circular knitting):Circular R1:  Knit (right side)Circular R2:  Knit (right side)


Lace stitch

Lace knitting is easily stitched in the round or flat.

Now that you’ve mastered the simplicity of stockinette conversion, let’s move onto something a little more challenging.

Conversion can be a bit challenging when dealing with a more intricate or complicated pattern, like cables.  The solution here is to remember that all you are doing is reversing knits and purls on every other row.

Cable (flat knitting):

Flat Rows 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21 (RS): P3, *K8, p3, k8, p3; rep from * to end.

Flat Row 2 and all WS rows: *K3, p8, k3, p8; rep from * to last 3 sts, k3.

Flat Rows 3, 7 and 11: P3, *[4-st RC] twice, p3, k8, p3; rep from * to end.

Flat Rows 15, 19 and 23: P3, *K8, p3, [4-st RC] twice, p3; rep from * to end. Row 24 Rep row

Cable (Circular Knitting)Circular Rows 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21 (RS): P3, *K8, p3, k8, p3; rep from * to end.

Circular Row 2 and all WS rows: *p3, k8, p3, k8; rep from * to last 3 sts, p3.

Circular Rows 3, 7 and 11: P3, *[4-st RC] twice, p3, k8, p3; rep from * to end.

Circular Rows 15, 19 and 23: P3, *K8, p3, [4-st RC] twice, p3; rep from * to end. Row 24 Rep row

Lace and Cables from the toe up.

Cables and lace knit in the round are found in sock knitting.

Give both techniques a try with this simple cable stitch.  You’ll be amazed at what ends up to be your favourite, flat or circular knitting.

Remember those rules we mentioned earlier? Even though there are exceptions, there are patterns that don’t lend themselves nicely to conversion.

  1. I’ve often found that certain flat knit projects, like an afghan, shouldn’t be knit in the round.  This is not to say that knit in the round afghans do not exist for they certainly do.  However, knit in the round afghans serve up a good heaping helping of steeking
    (you stitch and then you cut apart your knitting so it lays flat).  This can be a frightening process to learn.  I prefer to stitch my afghans flat thus avoiding the stress and heart palpitations that accompany steeking, or taking a pair of scissors to months of time and effort that went into a piece.
  2. I highly recommend avoiding converting any pattern that has cables or twists on both odd and even rows.  These types (ie: intricately cabled sweaters) often are designed in the round or flat for a reason  – this is one case where I urge you to trust the designer.
  3. Large or heavy sweaters are often knit flat with the pieces seemed upon completion of each piece.  I recommend that you trust the designer here and follow the instructions.  Heavy pieces lend themselves nicely to flat knitting as the seaming adds stability and helps the sweater maintain its shape.  Let us leave these types of patterns as they are.

You are now ready to go forth and knit your favourite project.  Keeping these simple rules and instructions in mind, you are also ready to take your favourite technique and apply it to that special pattern.  Whether it is knit in the round or flat and whether you favour knitting in the round or flat knitting your arsenal of knowledge has increased providing you with the tools needed to rework any pattern in your favourite style.

Try something simple at first like a hat or mittens.  Soon you will be on your way to converting every pattern you see, and enjoying the freedom that comes with using your favourite style to create those spectacular knitterly items that are converted by your friends and family.  You truly are the master of your own design (or technique).

Now go forth and knit and Happy Stitching!

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Jillian permalink
    August 14, 2012 3:31 pm

    Would I have to add two more stitches to a hat whose pattern calls for circular needles but I’m using straight needles?

    • August 14, 2012 4:07 pm

      Hi Jillian. Thanks for stopping by. I would suggest that you add 2 extra stitches on either side of the piece. These stitches will be slipped on the right and wrong sides. This method creates a fantastic selvage that is easily sewn up. Let me know how you make out.

  2. Nancy permalink
    May 24, 2013 9:08 am

    Thanks for your article! I’m knitting a pair of fingerless mitts for my sister, and so far so good, but this greatly helped to clarify things!

    • May 24, 2013 12:45 pm

      Hi Nancy! Thanks for dropping in. It warms my heart to know that my posts help other knitters. I think of things that bother me or that I struggle with and turn them into posts that, I hope, help other knitters. I’m so glad you found this helpful. What else would you like to know about?

  3. December 28, 2013 10:45 am

    I am knitting a dog sweater.. the first bit is in the round, then after the tummy I’ll cast some off, and continue on with the back in the flat. I’d love to do some cables.. but not sure how to go from knitting in the round to knitting on the flat in the same piece. 😛

    • August 24, 2015 4:51 pm

      Cynthia, you would continue knitting the pattern as established. The pattern rows will be knot on the right side. The wrong side would be knit the knit stitches and purl the purls as they appear.

  4. Sue permalink
    August 20, 2014 9:04 am

    I have just discovered knitting in the round. My first project was a gansey for my OH which took a bit of doing but it was worth it. Now I never ever want to have to sew a garment together again! I now have a straightforward sweater which would be knitted flat in sticking stitch. I am going to try it in the round. Do I cast on the same number of stitches or a couple less to allow for the seam that would be in a flat piece? The sweater has raglan sleeves, so I am not sure what to do at that point. I think I should split at the sleeve point and switch to flat knitting for that part but would appreciate your advice.

    • August 20, 2014 11:48 am

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Sue Ann. I am a huge fan of knitting in the round. I have come to enjoy steaking sweaters too – absolutely no seaming. There are, of course, certain patterns that are better off created flat and then seamed.

      I would cast on the number of stitches that accounts for the two fronts and the back plus 4 stitches that will be purled (this is where you will steak once the garment is complete), if this is a cardigan. If it is a pull over, add the front and back stitches and that is the amount you cast on. Does the pattern note a seam allowance? If it does, then subtract that amount of stitches from the the total you would cast on.

      Your instincts are correct. I usually flat knit the raglan sleeve portions. I suppose you could do it in the round if you had two separate balls of yarn (one for the front and one for the back). Sometimes switching to flat knitting produces a slightly different stitch gauge. Be careful of that.

      Please do let me know how you make out and send me a photo or two of your progress.

      • Sue permalink
        August 20, 2014 2:58 pm

        Thanks so much for this Bonnie! Will do. Not sure I have the courage for steaking yet!

      • August 20, 2014 3:09 pm

        After you steak once, you will wonder why you did not do it before! It is only scary the first time.

  5. Lisa permalink
    February 3, 2015 1:49 pm

    Just wondering if there’s a way to flip your knitting around when working in the round. I am making some pants with a hemmed waistband. The pattern is mostly knit in stockinette stitch but when I seamed the hem on the waistband, I ended up knitting the ws so I have to purl each row. I find knit stitch quicker & easier so am wondering if there’s a way to switch from knitting the ws to the rs when knitting in the round.

    • August 24, 2015 4:53 pm

      You would simply change direction, Lisa. Work in the opposite direction.

  6. March 25, 2015 5:08 pm

    hi, i am trying.. for several days now, to work this pattern in the round or circular knitting….. this is the pattern:
    Row 1: (WS) K1 *YO, Sl 1, K2tog tbl* , end K1
    Row 2: K3 *Sl 1, K2* , end Sl 1, K1 (the slipped stitches will be the yarn overs from previous row)
    Row 3: K1 *K2tog tbl, YO, Sl 1* , end K1
    Row 4: K2 *Sl 1, K2* (the slipped stitches will be the yarn overs from the previous row)
    its the brioche waffle stitch

    • August 24, 2015 4:54 pm

      The patterned rows would be worked as they appear in the pattern. Work a straight knit row in between them.

  7. Phyllis permalink
    August 24, 2015 12:39 pm

    With the Cable Circular Knitting pattern, at the end of the instructions it says Row 24 Rep row. Which row is repeated, or is it a repeat of the previous 23 rows?

    This was a wonderful and easy to follow technique to follow. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • August 24, 2015 4:48 pm

      Phyllis, it meant to say repeat the entire set as established. I am very glad you found this list helpful.

      • Phyllis Ward permalink
        August 24, 2015 6:44 pm

        Thanks Bonnie!!!


      • August 24, 2015 6:51 pm

        You are very welcome, Phyllis!

  8. Leslie permalink
    January 30, 2016 9:16 am

    I am a beginner knitter and am having a hard time finding a variety of hat pattterns knit in flat pieces and then seamed up. if you know how I can solve this problem I would appreciate it.

    • August 27, 2016 2:49 pm

      Leslie, have you checked Ravelry’s pattern database for the patterns you are looking for?

  9. shirley cimring permalink
    May 22, 2016 11:07 am

    im knitting a beanie using brioche stitchinthe round- and would like to convert this pattern to knit flat – especially the crown decreases- and would really appreciate your help with this method shirley cimring from S.A.

    • June 16, 2016 1:22 pm

      Hi Shirley! Were you able to figure out the conversion to flat knitting of the beanie you were working on?

  10. Confuzzled & Lost permalink
    August 13, 2016 10:21 pm

    Hi Bonnie👋 I’ve got the conversion of stitches down but I’m wondering about pattern colorwork. I want to convert a circular Fair Isle pattern to flat needles. The sts are all knits so no problem there. Will I have to read the colors right to left(row 1) and then left to right (row 2)? Thanks so much for your time.

    • August 13, 2016 10:36 pm

      In most cases you would work the pattern in a zigzag fashion. Right to left for row one and left to right for row two and so on. Be sure to stop and check how the pattern is progressing in the fabric. Does it look okay? If it looks squashed or stretched you may need to adjust the graph a bit. I hope that helps.

      • Confuzzled & Lost permalink
        August 16, 2016 6:54 pm

        It does. Thank you so much. I haven’t charted my design yet and I’ll keep the squish factor in mind. I foresee a lot of ripping out and reworking but that’s all part of getting exactly what you envision. 😉

      • August 16, 2016 7:04 pm

        There is such a thing called knitter’s graph paper. Do a Google search for it and you ought to be able to print some off. The squares are sized appropriately and ought to help you cure the squished issue too.

      • Confuzzled & Lost permalink
        August 17, 2016 12:27 am

        Thank you again. I downloaded printable portrait & landscape knitting paper. I was all set to use the graph paper in my Notes file. Unbeknownst to me, knitting isn’t square. Now my vision will be, at least, proportional on paper. 🙂

      • August 17, 2016 1:39 pm

        Indeed! The knit stitch is NOT square. In order to have chart a design that looks wonderful once knit, we have to remember that little bit. That’s why knitter’s graph paper is important to use. I hope you send me a photo once your design is finished! Email it to me at . Happy stitching!

  11. Diana permalink
    October 4, 2016 3:09 pm

    I am trying to understand the conversion from circular needles to straight. I must be dumb because the way I read it made it sound extremely hard. I know it can’t be THAT bad. Do you think there is another way it can be explained? I knitted MANY years ago but it never got beyond knit & purl. slippers, scarves and dish cloths. I did find a 3 square turtleneck sweater that I will attempt. Can you please help?
    thanks in advance

    • November 27, 2016 9:06 am

      Maybe videos will fit the bill for you? I am sure this technique can be explained many ways and in many different formats.

  12. Elsie Thomson permalink
    January 31, 2017 10:47 am

    Hi. My name is Elsie. Thank you so much for your Pattern Conversion -de-mystified. But I am still stuck. The pattern calls for Magic Loop in the round but I have arthritis in my hands and find it very difficult to do so I am changing it to flat needles. Where I am stuck is the first 21 sts. In the round it is K5, P5, K6, Knit to end. 2nd row is K5,P5,K6,P5 then I would purl to end. Do I leave the first 21 st as is or do I reverse them every other row. There is a cable st in this pattern. Row 11 has a CB6 cable st. Row 13 4 st RPC, 4st LPC, Purl 4 then Knit to end. I am 75 yrs old and love to knit for the grand kids for there AG dolls . But I am really stumped on this one. Really appreciate all your help. I am also not very computer smart so please forgive me if I am asking these questions in the wrong place. Have a great day Elsie

    • diana ross permalink
      January 31, 2017 6:32 pm

      I have a question please. I have knitted for years BUT only VERY simple things

      The question I have is….how do you know if you are on the Right side vs. the Wrong side.

      And HOW can you start on the Wrong side? I know there is probably a VERY easy solution but for the life of me, I cannot figure it out.

      Thank You

      Diana- from Canada


      • January 31, 2017 6:38 pm

        I suppose the wrong side is usually the purl side and the right side is the knit side. Start with a purl row to begin on the wrong side.

    • January 31, 2017 6:41 pm

      Elsie, you are in the right spot. Without the context of the pattern, I am guessing that you would knit the knits and purl the purls on the wrong side of the piece. I hope that helps.

  13. Linda Berg permalink
    December 10, 2017 7:44 pm

    Hi, I am knitting a hooded poncho in garter stitch, straight needles as the pattern calls for. It is all one piece, starts at a point at the front, ends in a point in the back. For the neckline I knitted x # of stitches, cast off 30, knitted the required # of stitches to the other side of the neckline and then cast on 30 stitches…then continued on in the pattern. For the neckline the pattern calls for 60 stitches to be picked up on Circular needles….knitted in K2P2 ribbing for 1.5″, then lay flat at determine which point you want in the front and mark the center front of neck opening. Count 8 st from each side of center and mark those 16 stitches, then work in established rib to beginning of those 16 st. Bind off 16 stitches for the front, and then continue in rib to end of row…….My question is this: Can I do this with 2 needles instead of the circulars by doing the front & back separately on straights by casting by picking up one extra stitch on each side & use those 2 stitches for a seam? I’m thinking that would work, then transfer all the stitches to one set of straight needles and continue with the pattern for the hood? I would knit the front and back on 2 separate sets of straight needles…..I’m thinking this would work…….a bit complicated I know….

    • December 10, 2017 7:46 pm

      Linda, you can always give it a try! I think I would stick with the DPNs or circs, though.

  14. Cindy permalink
    April 2, 2018 9:26 am do you convert a lace knitting pattern for dpns to flat knitting? What do you do with those yarn overs when you convert the pattern to flat knitting patterns?

  15. July 14, 2014 9:27 am

    Thank you for re-blogging this post, Diane!


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