This post covers how to knit and attach a knitted, sewn-on button band to a cardigan. For in-depth instructions on each step of the process, click the links below to jump to the relevant section.
- Knit and block the non-buttonhole side band
- Sew the non-buttonhole side band to the front, adjusting the length as needed
- Count the number of rows on the non-buttonhole side band
- Calculate buttonhole placement for the other band
- Work the buttonhole side band
- Sew on the buttonhole side band to cardigan front
- Finish the neckline edging, working up from live stitches at each side
- Sew buttons onto the band opposite the buttonholes
- Bonus: tips for working a single-piece band for a v-neck cardigan
For this tutorial, I have illustrated the knit-and-sewn-on technique using the Storyline cardigan from our Lazy Sunday cable collection. However, the same technique could be used to work a sewn-on button band for any of our cardigan designs. It works as an alternative to the slightly simpler pick-up-and-knit button band method that our patterns usually include. The Storyline cardigan pattern includes instructions for both knit-and sewn-on button bands and pick-up-and-knit button bands, so you can work whichever you prefer.
Knit and block the non-buttonhole side band
The first step is to knit the non-buttonhole side band. Typically, this means casting on a few stitches and working in rows in whatever stitch your pattern indicates, until you have a band that’s the same length as your front cardigan opening. Next, you’ll block the button band using the same blocking method you used to block the cardigan body. This will ensure you get an accurate length on the button band.
Button bands require a denser, firmer gauge, so they are usually knitted on smaller needles than the body of the garment. The tighter gauge means that you’ll need more rows in the button band, relative to the total number of rows you’ve worked up the front edge of the garment itself. After blocking both the garment and the button band, you’ll need to add or rip rows until you get to a precise match in length.
Sew the non-buttonhole side band to the front, adjusting the length as needed
Next, pin the button band to the cardigan front. As you seam, aim to work the seam so that these points match up. Using a mattress stitch, begin at the bottom edge of the cardigan front and then work up to the neckline. When I worked this cardigan, there were a few more rows in the button band than in the front edge, because the row gauge in the band was more compressed than that of the cardigan body. This meant that every so often, as I worked the mattress stitch, I had to skip a row in the button band, so the two fabrics would match up.
At the end of the seam, I still had to do a little further ripping back, so the two pieces would match up cleanly.
At this point, you’ll leave the live stitches at the top edge of that band on hold (you can use a spare needle, a safety pin, or waste yarn). These stitches will form part of the neckline finish. If your cardigan neckline is already finished, simply rip the band back to the right height to match the neckline edge. Bind it off there, complete the seam, and weave in the ends.
Count the number of rows on the non-buttonhole side band
Once the non-buttonhole side has been completed and seamed on, count how many rows you have. You’ll want to work the same number of rows on the buttonhole side as you did at the other side (although 1-2 more or less won’t be noticeable!).
I count and stick in pins after each set of 10 rows, so it’s easy to double-check my figure at the end. Once you have your total number, note it down.
For example, I ended up with 158 rows on the non-buttonhole side band here.
Calculate buttonhole placement for the other band
To finish the Storyline cardigan, you’ll work the button bands, leaving live stitches at the top of each band. Then, pick up and work the neckline ribbing at the end, across the live stitches of each button band, for a seamless neckline ribbing pattern. This means the top of each of these bands will have another inch or so of ribbing before the bound-off edge. When you calculate buttonhole placement, you’ll need to add these extra rows onto the calculation.
For example, I counted 158 rows, but I can see there’ll be an extra 9 or so rows worked within the neckline rib – so it’ll come to about 167 rows total.
You’ll need to decide how many total buttons you’d like to have. Sometimes I do this by laying out buttons along the non-buttonhole band, adjusting until they ‘look’ right. You may have a precise number of buttons and want to use them all up! Or perhaps you want a specific spacing (like every 1.5″ or 2″). N is your number of buttons. Whatever you decide, you’ll subtract that number of rows from the total buttonhole height; those will be your buttonhole rows. Total rows – N = remainder rows.
Example: 167 rows – 9 buttons = 158 rows between buttonhole rows.
Next, divide the remainder rows by N+1. This is how many sections there are in the band, either side of and in-between the buttonholes.
Example: 158 remainder rows / 10 = 15.8 stitches between buttons…but I can’t knit a partial stitch!
If the formula doesn’t come out to a precisely round number (and it won’t!), then you’ll need to fudge the numbers a bit to decide how many rows there will be between buttonhole rows and how many rows to place at the beginning (the bottom) and the end (the top) of the band.
Example: To work a total of 158 rows plus 9 buttonhole rows, I worked 11 rows at the beginning and then a buttonhole row. Then I repeated [work 17 rows, work 1 buttonhole row] 8 times. Then, I worked a final 4 additional rows to reach the 158 total rows. This placed shorter ‘gaps’ at the bottom and top of the button band.
Work the buttonhole side band
Once you’ve decided how many rows before your first buttonhole row, how many rows in between, and how many in total, you’re all set to knit the button band following these instructions. There are numerous ways to knit the buttonholes themselves; that’s a whole other post!
To work a simple yarn-over buttonhole, like I did for the Storyline cardigan, work the rib in pattern to the central stitch, work [yo, p2tog], and then continue the rib to the end. This will create a buttonhole large enough for a 1″ diameter button, though I decided that 3/4″ or 7/8″ button were more suited for this cardigan.
After the first buttonhole, I continued on, working 17 rows even and then another buttonhole row (the 18th), for a total of 8 more times (9 buttonholes total). I then knit 4 more rows in rib to achieve the same number of rows (158) as at the other band.
Sew on the buttonhole side band to cardigan front
Once the buttonhole side band was complete, I seamed it directly onto the cardigan front. In this case, I didn’t bother blocking first. I simply lined up a few points along the way and took care to ease the button band to fit as I mattress-stitched the two pieces together.
At this point, your button bands will be complete. If you’re working a cardigan that already has a finished neckline, you can simply bind off across these bands, weave in the ends, and be done. But for the Storyline cardigan, I worked up from the live stitches on each button band to make a seamless neckline ribbing, as follows.
Finish the neckline edging, working up from live stitches at each side
I left the working yarn attached and at the outside corner, all ready to work the neckline ribbing without any ends to weave in. I knit across the button band, picked up and knit the specified number of stitches around the neckline, and then worked across the opposite button band, keeping in ribbed pattern.
Then I worked the specified number of rows (or length) and bound off all stitches in pattern, relatively firmly.
Sew buttons onto the band opposite the buttonholes
With the button bands and neckline complete, the last steps are to select buttons (this also is a whole topic on its own!) and sew the buttons on opposite the buttonholes. Woot! Now you’re done!
As you can see, the knit-and-sewn-on method involves a few more fiddly steps than simply picking up and working the bands one at a time. This method is new to our design catalog, because we tend to design for simplicity and ease of knitting. However, the Storyline cardigan wouldn’t really be classed as a simple knit. It isn’t really quick either! So when I considered how to finish the garment, it seemed worth the extra time and fussiness that this technique required, because I wanted the firmness and tidiness it would provide.
Bonus: tips for working a single-piece band for a v-neck cardigan
If you’re working a v-neck cardigan (like Playdate or Gramps) and would like to use the knit-and-sewn-on button band method instead of the pick-up-and-knit method described in the pattern, here are some suggestions.
First, knit a swatch that is at least 4″ long in the band pattern . Block the swatch and then measure and calculate how many rows there are in each inch of band length (height). Next, measure your blocked, finished garment, and calculate how many inches of button band will be needed. Decide how you’d like to place and space the buttonholes up the buttonhole side of the front.
I would work the buttonhole edge first and then work the remaining inches required to stretch up, around the neckline, and back down the other cardigan front. Knit and block the band. When seaming the band on, begin at the bottom front corner of the buttonhole side. This way, you can adjust the band length at the opposite side as you seam, by adding or ripping back a few rows to match up the band precisely to end at the other bottom of the garment front.
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Mrs June Weaver
November 5, 2022 @ 1:03 pm
Wonderful tips. My mother taught me things like this saying if you’ve spent all that time knitting the garment, don’t spoil it with untidy sewing together!