I must have eaten my Wheaties this morning or something, because I’m feeling feisty. I have that urge to stir the pot, step back and watch people scream.
Not really: I have simply had a Personal Insight. And that insight is that I do not like to knit small tubes, such as sleeves, in the round, and I’m not going to do it anymore. Let’s review the pros and cons. But remember, this is a *Personal* insight. I am not trying to take anyone with me down this path of feckless, reckless flouting of conventional wisdom. Only my personal sleeves are going to be affected. Here we go: pros and cons of seamless knitting, according to me.
Pros of Seamless Knitting
- You get it all done at once, at least up to the armholes. No putting aside the garment while you wait for the mental fortitude to sew the seams. When you’re done knitting, you’re very nearly done with the project.
- Your gauge tends to be consistent on the front and back, because you’re knitting them simultaneously.
- You don’t have to sew those damn seams. (Knitters are in this hobby for the knitting, not the sewing.)
- Sewn seams, especially mattress stitch, lack the flexibility of the knitted fabric, and can be a weak point on the garment. (Remember, mattress stitch is just a single strand of yarn running through all the stitches and pulled taut. No safety valve if that strand breaks.)
- No purling when working stockinette. (This is only a pro if you don’t like to purl, or if you have a tension discrepancy between your knitting and your purling.)
- Fair Isle is definitely easier to work in the round. The only people instructing knitters to work Fair Isle flat are the folks at Rowan Magazine. If I ever get to talk to them, I intend to ask them WHY.
Cons of Seamless Knitting
- If you are knitting the body of a sweater in the round, it gets too big to carry around with you unless you like to haul a shopping bag around with you (which you might like to do, who am I to judge). Pieces are tidier.
- The psychology of long rounds versus shorter rows: this is very personal. The sweater is going to have the same number of stitches in it whether you work it flat or in pieces, but some prefer to work two short rows instead of one long round.
- It is easier to correct mistakes in a flat-knitted piece than a piece worked in the round, especially if you need to take all the stitches off the needles and rip back to the mistake.
- Seams provide structure. This structure is helpful for sweaters that are heavy or cabled. Seams are, in my view, necessary for sweaters knitted in very drapey or bias-prone fibers such as linen or bamboo; a tube of linen stockinette will twist like crazy. Seams help the garment hang straight as a plumb line.
- Seamed construction lends itself to more precise shaping methods than seamless methods. This is especially helpful for knitwear that mimics garments that are typically made with woven fabrics.
All these arguments filled my head Sunday afternoon, when I embarked on the 3/4 length sleeves of my Monomania cardigan. Two little sleeves, not even full length. I futzed around looking for two size 4 US circular needles so that I could cast on those 58 stitches in the round. Fiddle fiddle fiddle. So annoying, so poke-y. Pondered digging out some double-pointed needles. No –how would DPNs be less fiddly, for a sock-agnostic like me? Considered relearning the Magic Loop. Remembered that I disliked all the stitch-sliding involved in that method.
Having rejected these alternatives, I soldiered on with the two circs, thinking that things would get better as I worked the sleeve increases, enlarging that narrow tube to fit the plow-pushing upper arms I inherited from my foremothers. I looked forward to having even 10 more stitches on the needle, so that I could transfer all the stitches to a 16-inch circular, even though I know that knitting around such a small circumferences gets my hands all hurty. There’d still be less stop-and-start, less sliding, less fiddle.
I posted this frustrated picture on Instagram on Sunday, and did a little public pouting. In response, I got a chorus of advice: use 2 longer circs, use a short circ, MAGIC LOOP, WOMAN, FOR PETE’S SAKE, MAGIC LOOP. Practical advice. Helpful encouragement.
But to my surprise, I got a different take from two sources that I consider unimpeachable. Karen Templer said, “I like small circ knitting but am all about seamed sleeves at this point.” Bonne Marie Burns said, “I despise sleeves in the round and have started knitting all of ’em flat. A half hour seaming redeems hours and hours wrestling with cables.” With this blast of cool, fresh air from two trusted authority figures, the scales fell from my eyes. New vistas opened. The way forward was suddenly clear.
Reader, I am knitting those sleeves flat.
PS I know, I know: I knit all of my Icelandic yoked sweaters in the round, including the sleeves, without a word of complaint. But the large gauge at which those sweaters are worked, their relatively stiff fabric, and their ultra-simple shaping, diminish the cons of seamless knitting. The moment when the three tubes — the body and sleeves– are joined into the yoke, is one of the biggest thrills in knitting. Or maybe I’m just full of contradictions. But don’t worry, I’m not going to start knitting Lopapeysas flat.
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