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