After four years of knitting I can’t believe that I’m just now finding out how hard it is to make professional looking medium to large sized buttonholes.

The instructions for this cardigan essentially say to knit 13 two-stitch, two-row buttonholes using the following process.

On the first row work to the start of the buttonhole and then bind off two stitches. Work to the start of the next buttonhole and  bind off two more stitches. Repeat binding off 2 stitches for each buttonhole until the row is finished. Turn work. On the second row, work to where the stitches have been cast off on the previous row and then cast on two. Repeat for the rest of the buttonholes.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well I did it and didn’t like how it looked; a tiny hole punched through the band with stranded yarn peaking through the hole. Yuck. Sometimes I can be very picky about my knitting and this odd looking button hole wasn’t up to snuff.

Feeling a bit frustrated, I pulled out all the reference books. Most mentioned making buttonholes just like the pattern. When I got to “Principles of Knitting” I had to chuckle at Ms. Hemmons Hiatt’s assessment of buttonholes. She says, “Buttonholes make me rather unhappy, I suppose because I am a perfectionist by nature and it is quite impossible to make a perfect buttonhole in a knitted fabric. Oh we can make reasonable buttonholes, but they all look rather better when covered by the button than they do alone.


The most reasonable buttonhole that I’ve found is the one described in Ann Feitelson’s book. It’s a one row buttonhole that’s a bit firmer than the one mentioned in other Fair Isle books. I’ve adjusted the buttonhole spacing to accommodate this three-stitch one-row buttonhole.

Working buttonholes and keeping track of color changes is quite a task. I found that for this button band working buttonholes on the wrong side made it much easier to manage both tasks.

Notice there are two rows of each double color combination (purple/green or orange/green)? When I knit the first row I need to keep track of the color changes by following the chart but on the second row I only need to follow what I did on the last row. Since I can easily follow the color changes from the previous row, I can forgo looking at the chart and concentrate on making “reasonable” buttonholes. The picture on the right shows one buttonhole from a short sample piece that I did earlier in the week.


In the next few days I’ll get back to working on the actual sweater. Buttonholes should become second nature after I’ve finished all twelve so I’ll report back soon with a description of how I work this type of buttonhole. By the way, I also noticed that the latest issue of Interweave Knits has an excellent set of drawings and instructions on how to do a one-row buttonhole that’s very similar to what I’ve been doing.

Now if only my house guest will give me back my sweater. I’ve tried to trade her for an older sweater but to no avail.

5 thoughts on “Buttonholes

  1. I also prefer the one-row buttonhole. Did you do a knitted-on cast on? I find that it makes a neater top edge. For really big buttonholes which look even messier, after the sweater is done, I use a tiny crochet hook and SC around the entire buttonhole to neaten it up. It gives the look of buttonhole stitch and looks very professional.


  2. I agree with you and Ms. Hiatt about button holes, but I like cardigans, and I thought I’d use the instructions here (scroll down the page):
    I think these are like the IK instructions. I was also thinking of using silk buttonhole twist thread and working a buttonhole stitch around those on a worsted weight sweater that is nearly done. That is, after I worked the knitted buttonhole, I’d go over it with thread to tighten it up. This would be better on my sweater (all brown) than you yours (many colors). But if it works, I’ll post the instructions when I get a blog up (soon). I know that some people have tried to make buttonholes on a sewing machine, but I was always worried that the machine would catch on the knitting and make things worse.


  3. Does anyone know what the best sewing machine is for making buttonholes on my knitting? I like that old fashioned look, but am not a machine sewer and need advice if any knows. Thanks!


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