Knitting in the round versus working flat, what’s the difference?

If you've been following my projects at all you can tell that I absolutely LOVE knitting in the round and ever since I started constructing sweaters from the top down knit in the round, I have never gone back to flat pieces sewn together. Working a project in the round allows for no seams so when you bind off, you have hardly any finishing to do! Plus you can try on as you go to make sure it will fit. Working flat is a more traditional method and allows you to work with small pieces at a time then put them all together so you don't have a gigantic clothing item on your needles you have to constantly turn and knit. There are certainly a lot of pros to working in the round. Regardless of what construction I'm doing, when I start a project I have been creating a flat gauge swatch (at least I try to be good and knit a gauge swatch, but it doesn't always happen...) It had never occurred to me that I should be doing a gauge in the round if I'm going to be working that way until I stumbled upon some info on the internet. Time for some scientific and experimental procedures again!!


I’ve been trying to be a better knitter and create perfect gauge swatches of my yarn before starting a project. I turned to the internet to get tips and pointers on how to best create a gauge swatch (see my summarized notes in my post “how to create a swatch”) and in my research I learned that you can create a swatch knit in the round. I didn’t even know that was a thing!! Which led me to question, is my knitting in the round that much different than my knitting flat back and forth? Will it make a difference in the dimensions of the garment? For Violet’s puff sleeve sweater, I noticed that the body seemed wider and looser than the top portion where I worked back and forth before joining in the round. So maybe there is something to this 'gauge in the round' versus working flat.


Is there a difference in gauge when knitting in the round versus working flat?


Based on my research for gauge swatches knit in the round, people tend to have a looser tension when knitting in the round versus knitting flat, meaning that there are fewer stitches per inch for the round. This is possibly due to the fact that when creating a purl stitch, a knitter may pull tighter thus creating a tighter tension when working the wrong side of rows for flat knitting. This seems very logical to me because I personally have a lot more ease while doing a knit stitch, it’s more natural and can flow a lot more easily than the awkward purl stitch. I have not see any differentiation between technique such as continental versus English for in the round versus flat, and this topic was really only mentioned on a few sites. Creating a gauge in the round seems to not be a very common practice, so there is a lack of conclusive data to suggest that one gauge is tighter than the other, just the fact that they are different.


Based on personal observation and experience, I believe that knitting in the round will have a looser gauge and therefore fewer stitches per inch versus knitting flat.


Because I think there could be a lot of variation based on the knitter, not necessarily the size of needle or weight of yarn, I enlisted the help of my mother to create a couple swatches for me to help with my data collection. We both chose different weight yarn and needle sizes but the yarn is the same material and brand. We each used the same needles to create two swatches, one knit flat and the other in the round. I then used my gauge ruler to measure stitches and rows per 4".

The yarn used was Brava from KnitPicks (100% acrylic). I had some leftover sport weight yarn from Grace's baby blanket and my mother had some leftover worsted weight from one of her afghan projects. I used size 5 wooden, interchangeable needles while my mother used size 7 wooden interchangeable needles. It should also be noted that we both are 'throwers' knitting in the English style.


Below is a data table of the gauge measurements for 4" swatches for the two different knitters and the difference in stitches and rows per 4" for flat versus in the round.

As you can see, for knitting in the round there is a larger difference in stitches for Heather than for Kim but only by 1/2". Both knitters had fewer stitches for in the round indicating a smaller gauge and looser tension. For knitting in the round there is a larger difference in rows for Kim than for Heather by 1 row. Heather had no difference in row count while Kim had 1 less row for in the round versus working flat. Interestingly both knitters had the same exact gauge for working flat despite the different yarn weights and needle sizes.
Kim's Swatch (Brava Worsted on US 7)                Heather's Swatch (Brava Sport on US 5)


If I were to use this data set, I am not sure I could confidently conclude that knitting in the round is in fact looser than knitting flat with a smaller stitch count and row count. What I CAN conclude confidently is that the knitting in the round is definitely different than worked flat. It is imperative that an "in the round" gauge swatch be used for accuracy when working a project that will be knit in the round. Let me provide an example to show how important it is.

Using Heather's swatches as an example, for garments that have a circumference of about 36", over 4" that is a difference of approximately 9 stitches (1 stitch less every 4" and 36/4 = 9) and looking at the gauge that will be 2"! (For in the round Heather has 18 stitches for 4" so 9 stitches will be 2" because, you know proportions and math) So the project will be 2" LARGER in circumference and that can make a big difference in fit. Even for Kim with a 1/2 stitch difference, it will be approximately 1" larger in circumference which could change the fit.

I do not have a large data set here and since my independent variable is the knitter, it limited my sample size to 2 for simplicity of this report. But I'd love to get more data from you all and update my results to draw a conclusion so ** THIS IS A CALL FOR TEST KNITTERS, PLEASE SEND ME GAUGE INFORMATION FOR TWO SWATCHES, ONE KNIT FLAT AND THE OTHER IN THE ROUND. USE THE SAME YARN AND SAME NEEDLES FOR BOTH SWATCHES. I WANT TO ADD YOUR DATA TO MY DATA SET!! ** Thank you!


While more data is needed to conclude that knitting in the round is a looser gauge for both stitches and rows for ALL knitters, it can be concluded that it will be very different versus knitting flat and thus a gauge swatch for in the round should be used accordingly to get an accurate measurement.

Do you have other burning questions about knitting that could be answered through data collection and a scientific process?? Let me know in the comments below!

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