The button band conundrum

The button band conundrum

When I wrote the Pullovers for first-timers post, I planned for it to be quickly followed by “Cardigans for first-timers.” I’ve basically been writing that sequel for a year. Obviously the difference between the two — what makes a cardigan a cardigan — is that a cardigan has an opening down the front. Which seems simple enough, but there are a thousand different approaches to that opening. Are the front selvages straight up and down (leading to a crewneck) or sloping (leading to a v-neck)? Are there closures — buttons, toggles, a zipper? Are those closures attached to a button band? And if so, how is that button band created? And not every cardigan has bands or closures — in the past few years, there have even been a flood of sweaters designed to be worn right-side up and upside down. In other words, cardigan construction is a little bit complicated to talk about.

When we kicked off the #fringeandfriendsknitalong, I debated about whether to address the button bands up front or at the point where they’re actually worked in the Amanda pattern, which is at the end. I decided on the latter — even though those of us knitting Amanda had to make a decision up front about whether or not to knit the bands as written. We’ve spoken of that decision in a couple of posts so far (meet the panel and progress report), and it’s been brought to my attention that for the thousands of you reading along rather than knitting along, you don’t know how it’s written.

I’m not sure what I was smoking last week when I said Anna was almost to the join and would hopefully be able to photograph it soon. She is working on her third body piece (she’s done with the back and one front; now knitting the other front) but still has sleeves to knit before she can join the pieces at the underarms! Duh. So while we all keep knitting, let’s pause for a minute and talk about those button bands.

Button bands, like I said, are complicated, but since the Amanda cardigan has straight fronts and a crewneck, this is the easiest type to talk about. Typically, with a straight selvage like this, you would do the bands in one of three ways: 1) Knit them at the same time as the body of the sweater, all of a piece. Generally in that case the “band” stitches — and inch or two of stitches at each front edge — are worked in garter or seed stitch or something relatively firm. Ribbing generally requires a smaller needle than the main fabric, so is not such a good choice for this approach. 2) Pick up stitches along the selvage and work 2×2 ribbing perpendicular to the sweater. For an example of that type of band, take a look at my Acer. 3) Knit two separate vertical bands of 1×1 ribbing and seam them along the fronts. Tightly knit vertical 1×1 ribbing is very clean-looking, and that seam provides stability, but not everyone wants to seam their bands on. (Of course, there are more than these three basic options. And a v-neck cardigan is a whole different can of worms.)

The way Amanda is written is a hybrid of 1 and 3. You cast on all of your front stitches and work the ribbing on the smaller needle. When you’re ready to switch to the larger needle and start working the main fabric, you set aside the button-band stitches on a holder. I asked knitalonger @dxlcarson if I could borrow her pretty photo above, which gives us a really clear look at this. Once the sweater is completed all the way up to the neck, you put those band stitches back on the smaller needle, work the bands to the same length as the fronts, and then seam them on. Again, the reason for not just knitting them concurrently with the body is that the smaller needle creates a tighter, firmer rib, and also creates a difference in row gauge, which you can finesse when you’re seaming them on. So the decision we were each making up front was whether to go ahead and cast on those button band stitches at the outset, or leave them off and do the bands a different way later on. Jaime is actually knitting hers along with the body. Kate and I both opted to leave them off. I think Kate is considering doing picked-up bands (#2). I’m doing separate vertical bands (#3) and am planning to back them with ribbon for a really traditional look, which will also negate the kind of gaping you tend to get with handknit button bands.

On a related note: Saturday I spent eight hours alone in my car, and I took it as an opportunity to listen to I had heard the first two episodes of Hannah Fettig and Pam Allen’s podcast last year, and loved it enough to have sponsored the first two eps this year, but had never gotten to listen to the rest. I had just listened to ep 3 on a walk last week, so I started in on Saturday at episode 4, which happened to be about button bands! If you’re new to the subject (or even if you’re not), it is worth a listen. The whole series is fantastic.

So that’s what I have to say about Amanda button bands. Button holes, we’ll address another day.


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: WIP of the Week, week 4


Photo © @dxlcarson, used with permission

18 thoughts on “The button band conundrum

    • I wouldn’t say it would be “easy” but it could certainly be done. The biggest trick is you’d have to change the neck shaping. If you look at the shape of the main fabric on Bellows, it’s a v-neck shape, with the fronts gradually sloping away from each other. You’d have to create that curved edge in order to do a Bellows-style band. For a shawl collar like that, you pick up stitches all the way up one front, around the neck, and back down the other front, and work your ribbing outward from there, and the shawl-collar part itself is created with short rows.

      Given that they’re both worsted-weight sweaters, I would buy the Bellows pattern and compare the row gauges (its, Amanda’s, yours) to see if you could just use the neck-shaping numbers from Bellows and then work the collar from that pattern, too. But even if it’s not a perfect 1:1, you could see how Bellows is done and then apply that same thinking to Amanda.

      • I should note that you’d be applying that shape to a raglan yoke (Amanda is raglan; Bellows is set-in sleeves), so it wouldn’t be worked exactly the same way as the Bellows fronts.

        Another option would be to follow the Bellows pattern from the start, replacing its stitch patterns with Amanda’s honeycombs and diamonds, but you’d need to make sure your overall gauge was matching up.

      • This PANEL shown, could be a very FANTASTIC gift to people you really like, as a DOOR PANEL with a bell, possibly, put on the end of it. It’s a great way to try the pattern out in a small piece that is usable. Great trial piece! Door pull!

  1. Hi Callie, it’s a bit hard to see from the photos but yes, it looks like the bands are knitted as per #2 in Karen’s 4th paragraph above i.e. omit the band stitches at cast-on then after the cardigan is completed pick up stitches along one front, around the neck then down the other front. Bellows looks like standard 1×1 ribbing is used (not 2×2 as Karen said) which is also very common. Use smaller needles for a firmer fabric. The pick up rate is not one stitch for one row as this may lead to loose, ‘ruffly’ bands, but usually 2 stitches for every 3 rows, or 4 stitches for every 5 rows. Probably short rows are used for the shawl collar too, which you would need extra instructions for, rather than the straight bands of Amanda. It is a gorgeous pattern and I love all things ‘Mishi’.

  2. Thanks so much for the feed back Karen & meppybn! I’ll have to really look at it, since I already have one of my fronts done. Don’t really want to go back! Maybe I’ll just have to make that one next! :)

    • Ever tried making a sweater in ONE PIECE – getting rid of all those pieces to have to knit and then sew together? Top down is best as you get the most tedious (yoke) done first! Arms are a lot fewer stitches and body is fewer stitches than that yoke. Great way to try! I’m on my first one – top ddown – and I’m on my arms. Only problem I created for myself, was not straight knitting it! Fool that I am, I’m knitting it in the waffle stitch. I always seem to make difficulties for myself! Keep the sweater straight knitting – you’ll like it!

  3. Ah how convenient,! I’ll start listening right away.
    I’m doing my button bands as written – mostly because I got to that point and didnt know what else to do, so just continued following the pattern.
    I like the idea of a ribbon behind the button band – is that something you just sew on later? Could I still do that with the button bands as written? hmmm

  4. As somebody who pestered for more background on the Amanda button bands — wow thank you! Lots to think about here. I think I see the appeal of the button band method Amanda uses: in theory, it has the benefits of a seamed-on band, while keeping the ribbing across the bottom seamless. I’d love to hear from those who knit it as-written (or have used this method before) about how they think it performs in the wool.

    And I’m (selfishly) glad to hear you’re planning to try ribbon-backing, Karen, since I’ve decided to head that direction for the first time on a (non-Fisherman) sweater I’m knitting right now and I’m a bit nervous about how it will come out.

    (also, gosh @dxlcarson, if you’re reading this, your photo is beautiful… love how the leaves set off that ochre yarn!)

  5. Amanda looks beautiful – you should be very proud! I always put ribbon on the button band – love that detail for a variety of reasons!
    After following your blog, I’ve decided I really need to push myself to increase my knitting skills. I typically just follow the instructions that the designer provides and I don’t consider different options. Time constraints generally dictate my following the directions, but I’m certainly not adding to my repertoire of skills. Thanks for pushing me and challenging my thinking – both signs of an extremely good teacher!!!

  6. I love your blog! Funny – in my search for the perfect men’s cardy, the button band was crucial. I am not a fan of the P/U K2 P2 band, seems a bit floppy and weak. I decided upon Alexis Winslow’s East Hale Cardigan (from a selection in your blog a while ago), because of the button band. (I am now on my third Hale.)
    And the button band is why I wasn’t immediately sold on Amanda. It is gorgeous! Solution? I agree with Maureen and you, I need to expand my ‘in – the – box follow the directions’ thinking! Get brave and mix it up. I love knitting! There’s so much to learn! And thank you for all the info you so graciously masterfully share!

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  9. Now that I’m working the front I have to make a decision about the button bands, and I’m so glad this information is here! I am making a different pattern ( I opted to do ribbing on the bottom instead of garter stitch, and so I will do the bands the way they are in the Amanda pattern. So for now I’ll put those stitches on a holder…I hope I can figure it out.

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