Friday, August 24, 2012

Down the Button-Hole

I mostly knit socks, scarves, and other accessories that don't have closures, so I haven't had much use for a knowledge of buttonhole techniques... until now. I recently began designing garments with buttons, and it turns out the buttonhole rabbit hole is deeper than I realized! 

There are 3 basic categories of buttonholes:
  • Eyelet buttonhole, in which a yarnover creates a hole in the fabric; no sts are bound off or cast on;
  • Vertical buttonhole, in which separate strands of yarn work each side of the hole independently;
  • Horizontal buttonholes:
    • Two-row buttonhole, in which sts are bound off in one row and cast on in the next; and,
    • One-row buttonhole, in which sts are bound off an cast on in the same row.
TechKnitter, as usual, has provided an excellent and comprehensive exploration of all these buttonhole techniques.  If you want the nitty gritty, she's your source.  If you want the Consumer Report, read on.

Within each buttonhole category, there are limitless variations on a theme, and of course everyone claims that their way of doing it is the best.  Resist these claims -- different methods work, or don't work, for different knitters! 

As for the main three categories of buttonholes, here is my take:


  • Pros: super-easy to do!
  • Cons: leaves an un-reinforced, loose area of your fabric that is somewhat vulnerable to disfigurement with frequent handling.


  • Pros: ?
  • Cons: Personally I was not able to identify any redeeming qualities of this method.  It requires using a second, independent length of yarn, which means more ends to weave in, and possible color-matching issues.  The design places a lot of stress on the stitches at the top & bottom of the hole, warranting reinforcement with yet another length of yarn and access to additional tools.  Also, if you are not skilled at working a selvedge, the vertical edges will not look tidy.


  • Pros: These buttonholes can be made to be very tidy and strong without requiring extra tools or lengths of reinforcing yarn.
  • Cons: the edges of the hole will be weak and loose without reinforcement -- but there are several simple workarounds that mitigate this.
The Horizontal buttonholes were the most interesting to me, so this is where most of my exploration took place.  Here are some good resources for making horizontal buttonholes.

TechKntter on Horizontal buttonholes
In this post, TK delivers an illustrated deconstruction of why the un-reinforced simple two-row buttonhole is a poor choice.  She also includes instructions for her own horizontal reinforced one-row buttonhole, "Tulips" , complete with link to video by Eunny Jang.  Note that although this buttonhole is attractive and highly functional, the method of execution is very complicated (IMHO, unnecessarily so).

Reinforced one-row buttonhole using cable cast on for top stitches.  The end result of this buttonhole is similar to TK's Tulips, but the method of execution is much simpler. Uses different methods of reinforcing each side of the opening, and uses a different cast-on for the top stitches (TK uses a provisional chain cast on).  Here are links to the same exact buttonhole, in three formats:
1. Video tutorial -
2. Photo tutorial - NeoKnits
3. Illustrated tutorial - Knitting Daily

Homegrown variations

My exploration of this topic gave birth to a couple of my own variations that work best for me.  These are each explored in greater depth in their own posts.
Eye of Ra
I wasn't completely happy with any of the horizontal reinforced buttonholes I found because I wanted something that would look just as beautiful as TK's, with a similar structure, but would be easier to make.  "Eye of Ra" is thus named because the appearance of the top and bottom edges reminds me of an Egyptian heiroglyphic eye.

Here I wanted a buttonhole for a very specific context: one that would nestle neatly into a 2-stitch purl column flanked by columns of knit stitches.  Keyhole does not actually bind off any sts, but uses paired decreases in the first row, topped by M1 increases in the next row. 

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