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Twist Collective

Buttonhole Basics

 

By Sandi Rosner

When drape-front cardigans without closures came into fashion, a collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the knitting community. No more need for buttonholes, an element that’s stymied knitters for years. But I personally don’t enjoy fussing with a cardigan that flaps in the breeze, and I can’t be bothered with pinning my sweater shut. I like buttons, and that means making friends with buttonholes. So if, like me, you’d like to find a better way to secure your sweater fronts, read on.

Buttonholes are a lot like air conditioning vents— rarely attractive, but functionally essential. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Let’s start by talking about what makes a good buttonhole:

  • It’s the right size, stretching to let the button in and then holding the button until it needs to be unfastened.
  • It’s stable—no stretching out of shape or distorting the edge of the band in which it sits.
  • It’s as unobtrusive as possible.

In most cases, I buy the buttons to fit the hole rather than making the hole to fit the button. Of course, exceptions must be made for those occasions when you’ve come under the spell of a special button and want to make it a design feature. For everyday buttons, I take my swatch or nearly finished sweater to the store and play with the options until I find buttons that look great and fit my buttonholes well. 

 

Swatch Smarts
Some buttonhole techniques are better suited to specific edging stitches than others. To make the best choice for your sweater, it’s best to spend some time testing your edging and buttonholes on your gauge swatch. A good swatch will provide you with four edges on which you can sample different stitch patterns for your button bands and try out different buttonhole styles to determine what gives you the best result. For the example shown here, I worked a garter stitch border on one side and K3, P2 ribbing on the other. I know many knitters avoid swatching and sampling, particularly when the finish line is in sight. But I’d much rather work out any issues with my edging and buttonholes over five or six inches on my swatch than run into those issues when I’m halfway through a 22-inch-long buttonhole band. Plus, it’s easy to toss that swatch in my handbag when I head out shopping for buttons.

 
From top to bottom, one-row, two-row, and eyelet buttonholes. 

 

Buttonhole Options
There are many ways to create a hole in your sweater that will accept a button, and almost infinite variations and refinements of the basic techniques. Here are the three buttonholes most commonly used in modern knitting patterns:

 

Eyelet Buttonhole
This is the buttonhole I use most often, mainly because it’s simple to work and unobtrusive. This buttonhole is also self-scaling—when worked in fine yarn, it makes a small hole; when worked in chunkier yarn, it makes a bigger hole. This saves you from having to figure out how big the buttonhole should be, since you’ll probably want to use a smallish button with fine yarn and a larger button with chunky yarn.

Eyelet buttonholes.

 

An eyelet buttonhole is made over two stitches. To work the buttonhole, knit to the position where you want the hole, yarn over, and knit the next two stitches together. On the following row, work the yarn over as a normal stitch. Couldn’t be easier.

 


Knit to the position where you want the hole, then work a yarn over.

 


Knit the next two stitches together. On the following row, work the yarn over as a normal stitch.

 

Two-Row Buttonhole
This buttonhole gives you more control over the size of the hole, while still requiring only basic knitting skills. It can look a little sloppy, especially at the corners, and will benefit from some reinforcing stitches made with your tapestry needle and extra yarn after the knitting is done.

 

Two-row buttonhole.

 

Take care when sizing this buttonhole as it will stretch quite a bit to accommodate your button. If you make the hole too big, your button will slip out too easily. In general, make the buttonhole a stitch or two smaller than your button. For example, if your edging stitch has a gauge of six stitches to an inch, and your button is one inch in diameter, make your buttonhole over four stitches. Again, testing on your swatch is the best way to avoid disappointment.

Step 1: Work to the position where you want the hole to begin, bind off the number of stitches required for the hole, then work to the end of the row.



Work to the position where you want the hole to begin, bind off the number of stitches required for
the hole, then work to the end of the row.

 

Step 2: On the following row, work to the first bound-off stitch, cast on the same number of stitches you bound off, then work to the end of the row. For the most stable edge, I recommend using the cable cast-on method.


On the following row, work to the first bound-off stitch, cast on the same number of stitches you bound off,
then work to the end of the row.

 

One-Row Buttonhole
This buttonhole is a little fussy to work, but produces a buttonhole far superior to the two-row style. It is unlikely to stretch out of shape, is relatively good looking, and needs no reinforcement.

One-row buttonhole.

 

Care is needed when sizing this buttonhole to fit your button. It has less stretch than the two-row buttonhole, so may need to be worked over more stitches to accommodate a similarly sized button.

Work to the position where you want the hole to begin.

Step 1: Bring yarn to the front and slip the next stitch purl-wise. Bring yarn to the back and leave it hanging there.



Bring yarn to the front and slip the next stitch purl-wise. Bring yarn to the back and leave it hanging there.

 

Step 2: * Slip the next stitch, pass the first slipped stitch over second slipped stitch (one stitch bound off); repeat from * until the appropriate number of stitches have been bound off. Slip the stitch remaining from the last bind-off back to the left-hand needle and turn the work.


* Slip the next stitch, pass the first slipped stitch over second slipped stitch (one stitch bound off);
repeat from * until the appropriate number of stitches have been bound off. Slip the stitch remaining from the last bind-off back to the left-hand needle and turn the work.

 

Step 3: Move the working yarn to the back. * Insert the needle between first and second stitches on left-hand needle and draw up a loop, place the loop on the left-hand needle (one stitch cast on); repeat from * until you have cast on one more stitch than the number bound-off in Step 2. Turn the work.


Move the working yarn to the back. * Insert the needle between first and second stitches on left-hand needle and
draw up a loop, place the loop on the left-hand needle (one stitch cast on); repeat from * until you have cast on one more stitch than the number bound-off in Step 2. Turn the work.

 

Step 4: With the yarn in back, slip the first stitch, pass the last cast-on stitch over this slipped stitch to close the buttonhole, and continue working your row.


With the yarn in back, slip the first stitch, pass the last cast-on stitch over this slipped stitch to close the
buttonhole, and continue working your row
.

 

On the Edge

Buttonholes need a button band on which to sit. These can be worked in any number of ways, as long as they provide a flat, stable surface that isn’t prone to rolling. Ribbing, garter stitch and seed stitch (shown here, left to right) are good choices. Bands can be knit in as one with the garment piece, picked up and worked on the sweater, or stitched in strips and sewn to front edges of the garment. Knitting them at a smaller gauge than the rest of the garment will provide a sturdier surface.

 


From left to right: ribbed, stockinette and seed-stitch button bands.

 

While the buttonholes described above are the most common, every designer has his or her favorites. With practice and experience, you’ll soon have favorites of your own. As you develop your repertoire of techniques, you’ll soon feel confident changing buttonholes to suit your preferences. After all, it’s your knitting, and details like buttonholes are an easy way to make a sweater uniquely your own.

 

Sandi Rosner is the Executive Creative Director at Premier Yarns in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her latest book is 21 Crocheted Tanks & Tunics: Stylish Designs for Every Occasion (Stackpole, 2016).