Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The perfect buttonband

I've made over two dozen sweaters now and have learned a LOT, I'm proud to say. One of my greatest discoveries: the twisted stitch buttonband from Julia Farwell-Clay's Hiro. I think she got it from Elizabeth Zimmerman, the font of all knitting wisdom. Regardless, it is now my go-to buttonband for any cardigan.

Hiroic - my version of the Hiro which uses this buttonband
The problem with most buttonbands is that they are too flimsy, allowing the buttons to pop out of the buttonholes. They also stretch and sag. With this perfect buttonband, the stitches in the middle of the band with are knitted with twisted knit stitches which strengthens the band. It's almost like adding interfacing to a buttonband in sewing; you get the extra fabric strength you need to support both the buttons and the buttonholes.

Here's how it goes.

First, let's begin with the end: you have to seam. For all the sewing loathers reading this blog, if you don't want to seam, you can't have this fabulous buttonband. There's no work-around. But if you can get past your distaste for or phobia of sewing, you will be handsomely rewarded.

These instructions assume you are using worsted weight yarn; adjust your stitch counts as necessary for your yarn weight. Assume also that you have already knitted the body of your sweater.

Springbrook Cardigan - made with CustomFit
software, but I swapped out the buttonband and
used this technique instead
The general idea is that you knit the band and leave the stitches live on the needle or a stitch holder. After your seam the band to the body, you can knit or remove additional rows to make the buttonband the just-right length.

So for the left band:
  1. Using smaller needles, CO 10 sts.
  2. RS: k1, p1, (k1 tbl, p1) 3 times, k2.
  3. WS: p1, (p1, k1) 4 times, k1.
  4. Repeat these 2 rows until band matches length of sweater edge, with band slightly stretched. 
  5. Leaving live sts on holder, sew band and body together. Place markers on button band for desired placement of your buttons.
For the right band:
  1. Using smaller needles, CO 10 sts.
  2. WS: p1, (p1, k1) 4 times, k1
  3. RS: p1, (k1tbl p1) 4 times, k1.
  4. Repeat these 2 rows, checking for length against left band, working button holes as you come to markers in this way:
  5. RS: p1, k1, yo, slip first st without working to right needle, slip 2nd st tbl and reseat on left needle as a twisted st, pass 1st back to left needle and k2tog, (p1 k1) 2 times.
  6. WS: p2, (k1, p1) 2 times, k the yo tbl, p1, k2.
  7. Work band incorporating buttonholes until band matches length of sweater edge, with band slightly stretched. Leaving live sts on holder, sew band to body edge.

Memories of Maine - my rendition of
Marilyn King's Cape Code Cardigan, but
I swapped out the buttonband here, too
After you get the buttonbands exactly right length-wise, start at right side and work your buttonband stitches  in pattern as established, purling the last stitch of the band together with first stitch of the body. Work all body sts in k1 p1 rib pattern (or the ribbing of your choosing) to last body stitch. Work that stitch together with first stitch of left button band, and then work the remaining stiches of band in pattern as established.

Work the neck until you reach the desired ribbing length. Bind-off. That's it!

One of my other button tips is to use a lot of them. Buttonholes will gape far less if there isn't a lot of stress on the buttonhole. Having a lot of buttons helps keep the band from stretching out of shape and popping out the buttons.


  1. Thank you for sharing this! I was just noticing the other day that one of my RTW cardigans has a button band similar to this and I was wondering how I could replicate it on my next hand-knit cardigan. And I agree about using lots of buttons--it makes all the difference!

  2. Ready to try this right away, however, in row 3, I am counting 11 stitches, not 10. If it were not close to midnight, I would probably just work it out, but it seem easier just to ask. Thanks

    1. great catch, Ellen. I've fixed the blog post. Thanks for your help!

    2. Thanks for a prompt response! Always willing to try for better button holes.

  3. I don't understand how it would be different than just knitting the button band at the same time as knitting the body?

    I really like better button bands, I must be missing something here!

    1. I guess you could knit this buttonband at the same time you knit the sweater, but the seam makes the band stronger and more stable.

  4. Great explanation, Julie. I did one similar to this about 30 years ago with an old Brunswick pattern. Time to try it again.