Located at the centre front of your cardigan, the button band is a crucial detail.
Working your first button band can be intimidating, and even experienced knitters don’t always get them right the first time. The great thing is, since they are applied after-the-fact, you can easily rip and start over if you don’t get it right.
How To Pick Up and Knit a Button Band
- Start with the non-buttonhole side, pick up and knit stitches at the rate suggested by the pattern. Note the total number of stitches picked up. Work the number or rows or inches specified, and note the total number of rows worked, and the which side (WS or RS) and method used for binding off (so you can make the other band just the same).
- Once you have completed the non-buttonhole side, you can assess whether you like the effect. Is the fabric dense enough? Sometimes you need to go down an extra needle size or 2 to get a really tidy / tight ribbing. Sometimes you need to pick up less stitches (or more stitches) to get a band that doesn’t flare or pull in relative to the body of the garment. If you are satisfied with this this band, then you can proceed to work the buttonhole side.
- Choose the number and kind of buttons to use. Lay them out against the completed band to see how they will look. Buttons can really ‘make’ a project… we’ve written a whole post on it here! You must also pick a buttonhole method (or use the one suggested by the pattern) – the buttonholes will be 1, 2, 3, or more stitches wide.
- Now you have decided on the number of buttonholes, the type of buttonhole, and you know the number of stitches and rows in your button band. Determine visually or mathematically, as described below, how to space your buttonholes.
- Pick up and work half the rows, work the buttonhole row as calculated, work the following even rows, keeping in pattern, and then bind off! Your button bands are done.
- Sew your buttons on to the band opposite, aligning them with the buttonholes.
How To Knit Buttonholes
There are many techniques for creating buttonholes! Use what works for you, and the buttons you’ve chosen. We’ve got a tutorial on working one-row button holes here.
My preferred buttonhole is a simple yarn-over buttonhole. Simply work a yarn-over (to make the hole) followed by a k2tog decrease (so the stitch count is kept the same). This is simple to work, and creates a tidy, small hole. Because yarn is quite stretchy, you can fit a surprisingly large button through this hole. To keep in pattern, you can also work the decrease before the yarn-over, and/or substitute a p2tog in place of the k2tog if that suits the button band stitch pattern better.
If you need a larger buttonhole, try the following technique.
One-row buttonhole, worked 2 or more stitches wide
- Set-up step: slip one stitch, purlwise, from the left-hand to the right-hand needle.
- Step 1: slip one stitch, purlwise, from the left-hand to the right-hand needle. Now there are two slipped stitches on the right-hand needle.
- Step 2: use the left-hand needle tip to lift the first slipped stitch up, over the second, and off the needles. One stitch bound off. One slipped stitch remains on the right-hand needle.
- Repeat steps 1-2 until the total desired number of stitches have been bound off. 1 slipped stitch remains on right-hand needle.
- Slip that remaining stitch from the right-hand needle tip back to the left-hand needle tip.
- Cast new stitches onto the right-hand needle tip. Cast on as many stitches as you bound off. You can use the backwards loop cast-on method, or turn the work so the WS is facing, and use the knitted on cast-on method.
- Continue, working across the stitches to the next buttonhole placement.
The buttonholes created with this method are, unfortunately, not terribly beautiful – but they are effective. And they’ll be covered up by the button, anyways! For a slightly ‘tidier’ version of this method, check out this tutorial. Before you proceed to make your first button band, you can test out a couple different methods, and see how they work with your desired buttons.
Determine buttonhole spacing visually
This is the method I use most often to work out buttonhole placement.
After I complete the non-buttonhole side band, I lay it out, and use pins to decide on a number of buttons, and spacing and placement that ‘looks right’. Within a ribbed band, with a few tries I land on a number and placement that satisfies me. I leave the pins in the non-buttonhole side, and use the pins as a guide while working the buttonhole row.
Calculate the buttonhole spacing
When working button band in stockinette it’s difficult to work visually. And some knitter’s minds work better with numbers! You can calculate spacing using simple math: first subtract the buttonhole stitches, then divide the remainder to calculate the number of stitches worked between buttonholes.
An example: Say I were planning to work five 2-stitch buttonholes, in a 65-stitch band.
- First subtract the buttonhole stitches (5 x 2 = 10), 55 sts remain.
- Do 55 sts would divide evenly by six? No. 55/6 = 9.1666 … it’s not a precisely even split into 6 sections.
- I’d work out if I placed 10 sts into 4 of the 6 sections, that would make 40 sts, with 15 sts remaining. I could work 7 sts at one end (perhaps the top?) and 8 sts at the other end.
- To work the band in this way, I would work 7 sts, [work a 2-stitch buttonhole, work 10 sts] 4 times, work one last 2-stitch buttonhole, then work the last 8 sts in pattern.
How To Sew Buttons to your Hand Knit Cardigan
I like to sew through the button itself 4-5 times, then wrap the yarn around the base of the button (directly between the button and the band), then secure the thread on the back side of the band). If the yarn I knit with is too bulky to fit through the button, I often untwist it and use one or two plies to sew the buttons on; for tiny buttons, instead of the project yarn, I use matching sewing thread. For more details on sewing on buttons, check out our tutorial here.
Buttons are fun – play!
There are lots of interesting things you can do with buttons… they don’t have to be evenly spaced, for example. You can button a cardigan just at the top, and let it flare open below, or you can use a single button! Sometimes high-contrast buttons, or mismatched buttons can add great charm to a garment.