How to seam on a button band

How to seam on a button band

I’ve preached a lot about the merits of the vertical button band over the years, even though I’ve only actually done it myself a couple of times. But when I was writing the Anna Vest pattern (and knitting its predecessor), I knew with absolute certainty it needed to have a vertical band. The opposite of this would be a picked-up button band, where you pick up stitches along the front edge(s) of your cardigan and then work those stitches in garter stitch or 2×2 ribbing or whatever the pattern might call for. That’s simpler and faster to do, but it also creates a less firm band and contributes to the problem of the band gaping when it’s buttoned. Vertical bands, by contrast, are knitted on small needles in 1×1 ribbing, which is very dense and thus creates a nice firm band. There are a couple of downsides. The first is you have to knit it, and if you think 50-ish inches of 1×1 ribbing doesn’t sound that bad — I mean, it’s only 11 stitches wide, in this case — let me point out to you that’s a full 50g skein of yarn. It’s a lot of knitting, I’m being honest here. Second is you have to seam it on, and again, that’s a long stretch of seam. But as I believe anyone who’s completed their Anna will tell you, it is 100% worth it.

STEP ONE is to get the sweater ready for its band. You need to have knitted the fronts and back, blocked all of the pieces to the pattern dimensions, and seamed them together, so you’ve got a finished neckline. (If you’re doing a crewneck cardigan with two separate, straight fronts, you could feasibly do those without having seamed the shoulders together. Arms or armhole edging can be done either before or after the band — they’re not relevant to this process.) You want to make sure to block the pieces first because you want the length of the pieces to have been finalized so you’re matching your band to the finished dimensions. Also, while blocking, pay extra attention to the neckline edge stitches — the flatter you can get them to lay, the easier this will be.

STEP TWO is to knit the band(s). In the case of a V-neck sweater like this, you’ve got one continuous band that runs up one side, around the back of the neck, and down the other side. A vertical band like this is a lot like a bias strip in sewing — it’s stretchy and can be manipulated to match the length of the fabric you’re attaching it to. So my recommendation is not to knit to a finished length, but rather to knit to within range of the end and keep those stitches live for the moment. You can finish it up once the rest of the band is seamed on so you can knit it to the precise length your knitting and seaming calls for.

How to seam on a button band

STEP THREE is to line them up, ready to seam. Because we’re leaving the exact length of the band TBD, it’s necessary to start with the lower right front edge of the band, so you can knit the button holes for that side of the garment, then carry on with plain 1×1 for as long as it takes to fit the edge. I’ve also written Anna so that the first stitch on each RS row is slipped with yarn in front, then knitted on the wrong side. This creates a really nice, attractive, smooth edge for the side of the band that remains visible (see top left photo above). The opposite edge of the band is in stockinette (as is the body edge it’s joined to), for the sake of easy seaming. So the band has a definite right and wrong side, and you want to make sure you’ve got it lined up that way.

How to seam on a button band

Note, too, how the buttonholes line up with the right front piece, above. I’ve left a removable marker in each front piece where the shaping began, and you can see the top buttonhole sits just below that spot.

How to seam on a button band

STEP FOUR is to start seaming! When you go to pick up that first bar in the bottom of the band, make sure you’re between the edge stitch and the adjacent knit stitch. You should be able to count five full knit stitches (five V’s) to the right of your tapestry needle, plus the slipped edge stitch. Try not to use black yarn your first time! And do this sober and in good light.

Now here’s the trick. This is plain old mattress stitch. (There are good tutorials at Kelbourne Woolens, Purl Soho and Knitting Help, if you need it.) However, typically with mattress stitch you’re joining two pieces of identical fabric, as you  are in Anna’s case at the side seams. Normally, you have an identical number of rows of knitting, and they’re of the same gauge, blocked to the same dimension — so it’s a direct 1-to-1 equation. With a button band, that’s not true. You’ve specifically knitted the band on smaller needles, which means tighter row gauge — more rows per inch than what you have on the body pieces you’re seaming to — so it’s no longer 1-to-1. What that means is you have to lay them flat next to each other, use your judgment, and work back and forth picking up whichever bar is directly across from the one you just picked up, which most likely will mean skipping one every few rows along the straight parts of the front, and easing them together as makes sense along the slopes. (The outer lane of a racetrack is longer than the inner one. So you’ll need to allow more band fabric along the front curves.)

Getting started is the hardest part, and you should expect it to take several tries before you find your rhythm with it. The beauty of mattress stitch — especially at the start of the seam — is that to pull it out, all you have to do is yank on one end. As long as you haven’t split the yarn anywhere along the way, it slides right out!

How to seam on a button band

If your ratio is off, and you are in effect joining too much band fabric to the corresponding body fabric, it’ll shove out of alignment like you see in the top photo above. Try again, picking up fewer rows and keeping them adjacent rather than sequential, and you’ll wind up with the bottom version.

It definitely requires some patience and persistence, so just be mentally prepared for that and not in a hurry. Once you get past those first few rows or inches, you’ll pick up speed and see your joinery improving. When you get to the back of the neck, where you’re joining the band horizontally to vertical stitches, you want to run your needle under both legs of each stitch (the whole V). And when you reach the lower left front, where you left off knitting your band, you’ll have a much better idea of how close you are to the right length. Knit a little bit, seam it on; knit a little more; until you’ve got exactly the length you need.

You may get so much better as you go that you decide to start again and really nail it. Because, after all, you’ve put this much effort into knitting this garment and this band. You’ll never regret taking the time to get it right!

p.s. There’s no schedule for the Anna Vest Knitalong, so join in anytime! Just use hashtag #annavestkal wherever you might post!

p.p.s. This yarn is Terra from The Fibre Company/Kelbourne Woolens


PREVIOUSLY in the Anna Vest Knitalong: A sampling of Annas

27 thoughts on “How to seam on a button band

  1. I love this. And had forgotten about it. Button bands created from stitches picked-up along the edge inevitably seem to change the hem’s straight horizontal line/hike it up, as it were. Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! I’m nearing the button band stage of a cardigan and have NOT been looking forward to the final step. Your post came at exactly the perfect moment.

    • If your picked-up band (or your seamed-on band, for that matter) is distorting the edge in any way, you just need to adjust your ratio and try again. If you pick up too many stitches, you’re basically making a ruffle of a band. If you pick up too few, you’ll be effectively cinching up the body fabric, which is what it sounds like you’re describing.

      • I have knit the shawl collar on my #knittingforhimalong sweater twice now and I need to knit it again because I have really bad luck picking up stitches (first too few, now too many). I look forward to trying this technique sometime. Thanks for the detailed instructions!

  2. Thanks. Very helpful. Completed one recently with 2 vertical bands on crew neck cardigan. By luck and instinct followed most of your advice. Will be even better next time. I wasn’t entirely happy with the top of each band. You don’t comment on that – just the continuous band.

    • I’ve never actually done it on a crewneck (straight fronts) sweater. I think what I would do in that case is block the pieces and go ahead and knit both bands to that exact length, then make sure I’m keeping it properly aligned while seaming.

  3. Thanks for such detailed instructions/pictures. Because you used Terra, did you knit at a different gauge than the pattern called for?

    • No, this is knitted at pattern gauge. Unless I’m misremembering — it’s been so long since I cast on! It’s blocked at pattern dimensions, and I believe the gauge is also the same.

  4. It sounds like you don’t block the button band before seaming. I’ve always been concerned that would cause problems once I washed the sweater — but I’m guessing it doesn’t?

    • It sure can, depending on how much the yarn stretches when washed. I always block my button bands first.

    • I don’t block the band before seaming. It’s really too tiny to stretch independently of the garment, especially with the seam stabilizing its length.

    • Apparently I’m outside the norm on this one. I always like to block a finished garment, even if I’ve blocked all the pieces separately. I recently learned from a discussion on Instagram that I might be in the minority on that.

  5. “And do this sober” this was great! Resist temptation and have a glass/bottle of something ready for you when you finish. Don’t start before you are done seeming, it will seem so. much. harder. Also lovely seater, it’s on the list to make!

  6. Karen, your tutorials are so straight forward and easy to follow. Thank you thank you! AND…this vest is great. I love a good vest, but so few knit vests truly hit the mark (for me at least). This one, though, really does. Cheers!

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  8. I finally ordered this beautiful book. God knows when I’ll get to it, but I plan on making this vest! Agree with previous poster about your clear directions, and how amazing it is that you’ve only been knitting for a relatively short period of time!

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  11. Karen, I am knitting my first garment and chose The Anna Vest and am making it for my husband. When I knit the button band and start with the buttonhole sides, I will be doing it backwards. My question is how do I adjust the directions for this so my edges are correct? or should I just do as the pattern states and leave the buttonholes to the end? Thanks.

    • Either way! You can reverse it so you start with the stockinette selvedge at the right edge of your band and the slip-stitch at the left edge. (And begin seaming on the opposite side, so you’re matching selvedge to selvedge.) Or you could do it as written, measure your blocked neckline for the exact length of your band and then plot out where you’ll need to work the buttonholes at the far end of the knitting.

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