Q for You: What is your favorite buttonhole method?

Q for You: What is your favorite buttonhole method?

You know that thing where you decide to knit a buttonband on an airplane and wind up with no buttonholes? Here’s how it happened:

As you can see, I’ve put a picked-up garter-stitch band on this gem I’ve been knitting. As I was sitting on the flight to Rhinebeck, chatting away with Meg, I sort of unthinkingly knitted my favorite buttonhole — of the slot-shaped, bind-off/cast-on variety — losing track, for the moment, of the fact that that only works on a vertical band (such as my Anna Vest). Running up and down, in knitted fabric, a slot buttonhole like that would just pull right open. I realized it as soon as I’d done it, promptly ripped out those rows, and then puzzled for a minute over what to do. I don’t mind a yarnover buttonhole (in all its minute variations) in a case where it’s sort of lost in the fabric. You can barely see them in my black cardigan, for instance, but they disappoint me a little bit in my camel cardigan, where they’re more evident. That YO hole just doesn’t look as tidy as I’d like, and I knew on light-colored fabric like this, and at this gauge, I would not be happy seeing them. So what’s an impatient knitter on an airplane to do? Leave them out, of course. Knit on, and figure it out later.

You know I love to try new stuff, and I had the thought that it would be fun to try machine-sewn buttonholes, which would give me exactly the neat and tidy slots I want for it. Alas, only after knitting a swatch to test the idea did I realize the fabric is much too thick to even fit under the buttonhole foot of my machine in the first place! Curses. So I guess the new thing I get to try is EZ’s afterthought buttonhole. (At least I already have a swatch to practice on!)

All of this got me thinking about buttonholes in their endless (never quite satisfying to me) variety! Which brings me to my Q for You: What is your favorite buttonhole method(s), and why? I look forward to your responses!

(Bone buttons via Fringe Supply Co.)

IN SHOP NEWS: A few of our long-awaited copies of Woods finally arrived. This is a big, beautiful book with lots of great patterns, profiles, essays … and an interview with me about sweater construction. Hopefully the rest of our order will materialize soon, but we do have some in the shop at the moment, if you’re quick. (I’ll let you know if/when we get more!) Thank you for your excitement about the new notebooks and all your lovely anniversary wishes this week. And if you haven’t had a chance to browse through the Winter 2017 Lookbook yet, I hope you’ll take a moment to do so!

Have a great weekend — see you next week.


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68 thoughts on “Q for You: What is your favorite buttonhole method?

  1. I’ve been dying to try the thing Kate Davies perfected- no button hole at all, just sewing snaps on the back of buttons instead (check her Deco cardi for the look).

    • Great idea! I always seem to get limp buttonbands=limp holes=floppy buttons=sloppy finish to an otherwise well knit cardigan

      • Renee from ELK was showing a cardigan with snaps on in her last YouTube and I really liked the idea. I’m currently knitting Heathered by Melissa Schaschwary and wondering about using them to prevent gaping.

    • I originally thought I might do full on brass snaps on this one, as part of a different idea about a more utility-chic sweater. But then I wound up going much more basic with it and am debating whether snaps would still make sense.

  2. My favorite buttonhole is the mock cable. I don’t know if it has an official name, but it goes like this:
    right side – lift third stitch on the left needle over the first two. Then k, yo, k those two stitches. wrong side, purl. right side, knit. wrong side, purl. Then repeat the sequence.
    It ends up looking like a decorative cable up the button band, with a nice reinforced buttonhole in each twist of the cable.

  3. I have been knitting for over half a century, and I have yet to have found the perfect buttonhole. I am looking forward to these responses. I usually buy my buttons early in the game, generally i buy more than one set of buttons because I’m kind of a button slut. The choice of buttonhole is then dependent not only on the style of the sweater, the weight of the knitted fabric, and the button itself. I may swatch half a dozen styles of buttonholes before I decide what I want, and I may never be fully happy. I don’t like the Kate Davies choice: the clear plastic snap, but I have used bronze snaps with darker colored sweaters and been happy with the outcome.

    Back in my youth, the style of the day had a grosgrain ribbon sewed to the right side of the fabric, and the machine buttonhole was made through that: knitted fabric and ribbon together. I used my moms old straight sew Singer which had a buttonhole attachment: a big clunky thing that used cams, replacing the presser foot. It clamped down on the fabric and moved the fabric back and forth (no zig-zag in the 50s). It made absolutely perfect buttonholes in sweaters because the fabric was never given any opportunity to stretch. If you could find such a thing in a thrift shop, it would be worth buying just for the buttonholer.

    • To this day, I am never totally satisfied with buttonholes on a sewing machine. I grew up with my mom’s Necchi machine that also has cams and that buttonhole was always nice! That machine is the only thing my mom has that my sister and may fight over who gets!

    • I second the vintage singer with buttonhole attachment. I don’t think any yarn could be too heavy for it to handle. Also, the grosgrain ribbon mentioned below is a nice finish and adds stability.

    • The ribbon backing and machine buttonholes is my favorite treatment by far (as far as cardigans I’ve owned in the past) but I’ve never gotten to do it to a handknit. Another friend had suggested I need an industrial buttonhole machine, but the vintage idea is a good one!

  4. Buttonholes are my nemesis! I have used EZ’s one row buttonhole (I’ve forgotten which book it’s in, maybe Knitter’s Almanac?). My last cardigan I had lovely friend-made buttons that were fairly large and irregularly shaped. After much buttonhole swatching I ended up using snaps, which worked fine but has its own set of drawbacks. I like the idea of the mini cable buttonholes above. But I think my next cardigan I’d like to try a crochet buttonband. I feel like crochet would give a firmer edge to the holes.

  5. I love the Tulip Buttonhole, it’s neat, strong, and I actually enjoy working it. I also quite like i-cord loop buttonholes especially on finer knits, and it’s an afterthought application too, so good for indecision or if you want to block before deciding on buttonhole placement and quantity.
    Good luck with the afterthought buttonholes! It actually look very nice. Luckily your buttonband is knitted on, and you’re not going to be snipping into the main fabric.

      • Absolutely, her blog is a treasure. I’ve used it horizontally as well vertically with no issues, although having now read your comment below on successes and failures of slot buttonholes on vertical bands, I’m wondering if the sturdiness of the buttonhole contributed, or whether other factors made them successful. In any case, this entire comment section has given me loads more options to try if the tulips fail me.

  6. I don’t love buttonholes. But I did a sweater that the pattern called for a yarn over button hole, and the way she disguised it was quite clever. I was knitting a garter band, as yours is. Then for one whole row completely around the whole thing, it called for a yarn over, knit two together every two inches! What this did was give you a huge amount of options for placing the buttons, and when you stitched a button on over a hole, it closed up the hole on that side and perfectly lined it up with the opposing hole. It looked neat and like part of the design. I have used it several times on other sweaters.

  7. I have loved the button holes on my Bellows cardigan. They have not stretched out. I just followed the pattern directions.

    • Ok, I had to go look it up as I couldn’t recall what method is used, and it’s the same one described on Ysolda’s blog in the link a few comments up. It is a good one! Now I’m wondering if it would have worked on this particular band.

  8. Thank you for asking this Karen! I have been avoiding buttonholes but know I won’t do that forever! I’m not surprised you couldn’t get it under the buttonholed – I’ve had issues with thick wool when I made a coat. If it had fit, the other issue would be bulk sticking up at the wrong spot and tricking the buttonholed to thinking it’s time to change directions making ugly, uneven buttonholes (ask me how I know!). I always learn so much from your blog!

  9. I have not tried this yet but it looked polished. Anna Ziboorg’s Perfect Button holes on her blog Whistling Girl Knits.

  10. Last time I did buttonholes, I unvented my own buttonhole, mostly because I couldn’t be bother to understand the tulip buttonhole. I knit across the buttonhole stitches with waste yarn, and then went back over with the proper yarn, as if making a mitten thumb. At the end, I picked up stitches around the waste yarn, unravelled it, and then did a half-hitch bind-off around all the stitches. It was not particularly quick, but it was quite satisfying, and the result seems pretty sturdy. I’ve called it the goldfish buttonhole, because it looks like a little fish mouth (well, it does to me, anyway!).

    • It sounds like you got the same end result as EZ’s afterthought buttonhole, but by going ahead and placing waste yarn along the way rather than winging it at the end?

      • [goes off to Google “afterthought buttonhole”]

        Yes, it’s pretty much the same end result! I knew it would turn out to be an unvention :) I would stick with the waste yarn method for slippery yarns, but I can see how EZ’s method snip is no danger with a nice woolly yarn.

        I’m not usually a fan of winging it. In fact, last time I worked buttonholes, I tied a little loop of waste yarn on the same row of the buttonband on the opposite side so that I could sew the button on in exactly the right spot.

  11. I’m trying (and failing) to wrap my brain around why your favorite buttonhole wouldn’t work in a perpendicular button band like this, but then I haven’t actually knit that many button bands before either. I’d be curious to hear more if you’re willing to elaborate!

    • Here’s what I think Karen meant (but I’m not her, so I could be wrong!). If you do a bind off/cast on buttonhole (typical “one row” or ”two row” instructions) in a band where the stitch columns run vertically = parallel to the knitting in the sweater body, then the buttonholes will run horizontally. The shank of the button will therefore slide along the long axis of the buttonhole as the button band and buttonhole band are pulled apart. If you knit this kind of buttonhole in a picked-up band, where the columns of stitches run horizontally = perpendicular to knitting in sweater body, then the buttonholes will run vertically. In this case, as the button band and buttonhole band are pulled apart, the shank of the button will push against one long edge of the buttonhole, potentially pulling the hole open. I’m guessing that Karen is concerned that in a handknit fabric, vertically oriented buttonholes won’t be stable enough to withstand being pulled open like this, and will release the button rather than staying fastened,

      This is a reasonable worry in theory, and certainly it does happen! But vertical buttonholes in picked up bands are really really common in handknit sweaters (I’d say they’re the default), and they definitely can work if they’re well made and sized correctly. Even the EZ afterthought buttonhole still produces a vertical buttonhole in a picked up band.

      I’ve seen people discuss what it would take to knit horizontal buttonholes in a picked up band — you’d have to knit the chunks between the holes separately, or else steek each buttonhole (and then secure the steek without interfering with the buttoning) — but I’ve never seen anybody attempt it. Must be some brave soul out there?

    • If the slot is horizontal — perpendicular to the floor — the button will rest against the end of the slot, so it’s pulling against the terminus. With the slot running vertically, the button is pulling against the long side of the slot, which gives. At least it did with this particular band. Francis’s comment reminded me that I’ve done a slot buttonhole oriented vertically (i.e. in a picked-up band) before in the Bellows cardigan. I don’t know if it’s the difference in the method or the the fabric or scale or all of the above, but that one worked. So now I’m even more eager to do that again and see. Since I no longer am in possession of my Bellows and can’t just take a look …

  12. I have so enjoyed reading these comments! I must admit that I also hate knitting buttonholes. I’ve copied and saved my favorite responses here and now can’t wait to knit a cardi requiring buttons and their holes! Thank you, Karen.

  13. Honestly I have never had an issue doing the slot buttonholes on the perpendicular button bands.

  14. Great topic! I am at the very same place on a cardigan I’m working on (figuring-out which buttonhole to use), and I came across an afterthought buttonhole that I had never seen before. You need to have live, not-yet-bound-off stitches on your needle, but if you don’t mind pulling out your bind-off row, it could work. Tamsin’s Emergency Ladder Buttonhole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnEF6-kKnGk. I haven’t tried this yet, and don’t know how it would look on garter st, but it might be another option.

  15. She attributes the buttonhole to Anna Zilboorg on the blog! I love the look of it. It will be fun to try something new and pretty.

  16. Great subject with lots of answers and ideas and I want to try them all to really and truly find the perfect buttonhole. I’m intrigued with the idea that salpal1 said about the yo k2tog every 2 inches all the way round…that sounds actually quite brilliant and gives a bit of a design element to the button band. I’m heading into a button band soon on my Blaer cardi…hmmm…which one of the many should I do…

  17. I think the type of buttonhole depends on the circumstance. Your basic yarn over buttonhole has its uses in baby sweaters and big chunky seed stitch as in Audrey’s Coat. The next step up is a a tidier version of the yarn over buttonhole and is described at http://chezlizzie.blogspot.ca/2012/07/of-buttons-and-buttonholes.html. I used it in the narrow garter stitch band in the Buttonbox Waiscoat (Knitty, Spring, 2013). For a very tailored absolutely perfect buttonhole in stocking stitch, I don’t think you can beat the one laid out by Ysolda in “Little Red in the Big City”. Then there are all those non-buttonhole closures like I-cord buttonholes and crochet loops (as in Brookline, Twist Collective, Spring 2012). Their advantage is that you don’t have to decide on their placement until the very end. I guess my answer is that there is no one solution. It’s all about context.

  18. I have avoided buttonholes until this day………..I just don’t know how to do them, and seeing all the options out there all seem far from perfection…..I am going to see how much longer can I avoid them….

  19. I think it’s a good idea to check out what some other patterns have used on this style buttonhole band. With regard to eyelets as button holes (k2tog yo), I learned just this week that you can really tidy the eyelet up by knitting tbl on the next RS row: that is, tbl of the stitch that you knit into the yo. This was on stocking st, not garter though.
    I included a pic on my project page:

    • I feel like I’ve done at least a half-dozen different YO buttonholes over the same number of years, with assorted k2togs and TBLs and so on. It’s amazing how many minute variations there are!

  20. Hook and eye. Very neat. More appropriate for vintage or fitted pieces. Or a brooch. Otherwise I havent found a buttonhole that stays neat. I have read a lot of recommendations to back the bands with ribbon and cut a small hole that you handsew or apply fray check on the edges.

  21. I will just add, after reading all these,that an important criteria for a buttonhole IMHO, is that it lies completely closed looking when there is no button going through it. I hate the look of a gaping buttonhole, so if the yarn I am using, an/or the button band style will not allow me to achieve it, I won’t make a buttonhole. There are lots of other ways to close a sweater creatively.

  22. I agree with you that the slot buttonholes don’t work in a knitted-on band. The buttons just slip out, especially since the cardigan I knit has a garter stitch band. The tulip buttonholes I put in another cardigan hold a little better, but that may be because it is a ribbed band. Other than those two cardigans, my sweaters sport yo-k2tog buttonholes, rows of little holes all lined up and gaping. I am intrigued. I hope you and your readers find a better buttonhole.

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  24. I’ve tried all sorts of buttonhole techniques. The variations on yo versions are often my favourites as they are small, tight and unobtrusive. I use them whenever I’m using a relatively small button. Once you start swatching the variations it becomes apparent their size can be adjusted more than we initially think. For larger buttonholes I eventually realized my problems with buttons slipping out were because I failed to account for the stretch of yarn. I now work the test swatch over fewer stitches, usually 1 or 2 less than the button measurement. If the button is tight going through the hole on first try it loosens up over time. I’ve also noticed when teaching classes, that many knitters assess the buttonhole before they take the time to block the bands for me the after blocked appearance always improves the look of the buttonhole.

  25. I work a combination of a knitted buttonhole of your liking in the button band, backed with a woven ribbon (grosgrain or something else solid) with a machine stitched buttonhole. Need, one can work it with every sewing machine or even by hand and no gaping, but maybe no solution for very light-weight knitting (and unfortunately to late for your beautiful cardigan).

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