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How to Knit a Button Band

January 24, 2014

button-band-01Located 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 the first time.

Basic Steps for Working a Button Band :::

1. Start with the non-buttonhole side, pick up 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 side (WS or RS) and method used for binding off (you’ll want to make the other side the same).

Tip: 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, or perhaps 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 like the look of this band, then you can proceed to working the buttonhole side.

2. Choose the number and kind of buttons you will use.  Lay them out against the completed band to see how they will look.  Buttons can totally ‘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.

Buttonholes :::
There are many techniques for creating buttonholes.  My preferred method is a simple yarn-over buttonhole (work yo, k2tog), because it is simple, and creates a tidy small hole.  As yarn is quite stretchy, you can fit a surprisingly large button through this hole.  If you are using larger buttons, you will need to use a slightly more complex method to create larger buttonholes.

To make a 3-stitch buttonhole in 1 row:
Slip next 2 sts. Pass the first st over the second (bind off), *sl 1, bind
this st off* twice. Sl st from right needle onto left needle. Turn work
and cast on 3 st knit wise. (If you find this buttonhole is too big or too small, you can work
similar buttonholes by binding off then casting on 1, 2, or 4 sts in the
same manner).

The buttonholes created are, unfortunately, not terribly beautiful, but they are effective.  They are 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 may want to test out a couple of these methods on a swatch, and see how they work with your desired buttons.

3.  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.  You are now ready to do the math.  Work through the example below, using your own numbers.

How to Calculate Buttonhole Spacing :::

For this example I am going to work five 2-stitch buttonholes spaced evenly in a 65 stitch band.  How do I calculate where they go?  I always draw a diagram, because my mind works best that way…


So you can see that I have a 65 stitch band, with 5 buttonholes in it.  Each buttonhole is 2 stitches wide, so the total stitches used by the buttonholes are 10.  65 – 10 = 55 stitches remaining.


Next you must determine how many stitches to work in between the button holes.  There will always be one more ‘space’ than there are buttons.  So there are six in this case.  55 / 6 = 9.1666 but stitches can only be whole numbers.  So you must work back from 9.  9 x 6 = 54.  55 – 54 = 1.  This means that there is one section that will have an extra stitch (10 rather than 9).


So now that you know that there are 5 sections with 9 stitches, and one with 10, you can draw out the button band, and double check the math.


Lastly, all you have to do is work the button-hole row, in this case you will work as follows:
[work 9 sts in pattern, work buttonhole] five times, work last 10 sts in pattern to end

4. Once you’ve done the math, 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.

Tip: 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 2 plies to sew the buttons on; for tiny buttons I use matching thread.


Antler button band with big horn buttons and 3-stitch buttonholes. The edge was bound off knitwise (all sts knit) on a right-side (RS) row, for a tidy vertical line.

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.

Now that you can work a button band…

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Denise Anderson permalink
    May 29, 2021 3:46 pm

    Is this button band a K1P1 and slightly blocked? Looks fabulous, and thanks for explaining how to get the tidy bind off edge!

  2. Kate Thrift permalink
    October 7, 2019 7:43 pm

    Thank you, thank you! This is my first time doing buttonholes, and I needed to change the number of buttons. Your math and diagrams helped me enormously to figure where to put the bottonholes!!!

  3. October 5, 2019 8:32 am

    This is very helpful info about buttons. I’ve not made a sweater needing buttons yet… but this post helps me to be brave and maybe go for it!

  4. Marilyn permalink
    October 25, 2018 3:47 pm

    It is not easy to find directions on how to knit a button band. This is useful and very outstanding. Thank you so much!!!!!!!!

  5. paws permalink
    November 9, 2016 5:18 pm

    Thank you! This was so helpful as I worked on the buttonband for Old Growth.

  6. July 6, 2016 12:54 pm

    I don’t understand some of this as I’m just a beginner but they are good instructions thank you.

  7. Karen permalink
    December 11, 2015 9:17 am

    Great tutorial, however, doesn’t that make the first and last button too far down and up from the top and bottom?

    • December 22, 2015 10:18 pm

      This is one method, but depending on the results you’re seeking (ie. if you want to adjust so the first and last button are closer to the ends), you can do so! It all depends on the specifics of how many buttons, and how far apart each is within the band.

  8. Lee Ann fleming permalink
    January 26, 2014 1:08 am

    Thank you for this blog post. Timing is just incredible. I also love your simple collection & am just about to cast on harvest. Your patterns & tutorials are excellent in both clarity & presentation. So helpful. Thanks again.

  9. Chris permalink
    January 25, 2014 2:03 am

    Very clear and helpful! Thank you!

  10. January 24, 2014 12:48 pm

    You guys are so awesome!
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge


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