Friday, August 24, 2012

"Keyhole" Buttonhole

The Keyhole Buttonhole

This technique was developed for a very specific instance; it is to be worked over 2 purl stitches that are flanked on either side by columns of knit stitches.  However, it would work just as well on stockinette.  The example uses (p2, k1) rib.

Keyhole is a hybrid of a two-row horizontal buttonhole and a yarnover (or “sheep’s eye”) buttonhole.  It doesn’t actually bind off any stitches, but rather uses paired decreases on the bottom row, and m1 increases on the top row.

Here is a YouTube video showing you how to do the Keyhole buttonhole.

Here are written instructions for the Keyhole buttonhole.

Work up to 1 st before the hole will begin, then:
Round 1
Ssk, YO, k2tog.
Work most of the way around, until you reach the place where you began – 1 st before the hole.
Round 2
k1, m3 in YO strand, k1.  (This creates an extra stitch on top, which just makes the buttonhole a little larger.)
Work most of the way around, until you reach the place where you began – 1 st before the hole.
Round 3
K1, p2, k2tog.
Continue working in pattern.

"Eye of Ra" Buttonhole

The Eye of Ra Buttonhole

I have to give credit where credit is due here: I would not be posting this if it were not for TechKnitter, whose always-impeccable illustrations and technical knitting mind have always been a great inspiration to me and many others.  My Eye of Ra buttonhole is very similar to her Tulips buttonhole, but uses different methods of reinforcement at either end, and requires no tools other than 1 pair of knitting needles.  Other than that, Eye of Ra is very similar to Tulips, as well as other reinforced horizontal one-row buttonholes in the knitting sphere.

If you're familiar with Lucy Neatby's crochet provisional cast on, you may recognize the adaptation of this method here for use with two knitting needles, rather than a crochet hook.  That said, feel free to use a crochet hook if you prefer.

Here's a YouTube video showing you how to do Eye of Ra.

Below are written instructions telling you how to do it.

The example used here is a 3-st buttonhole worked in stockinette, but this buttonhole can be worked on any stitch pattern over any number of sts.

1. Reinforce opening edge:
  1. Wrap st (reverse YO; sl1, pass rev YO over st and off R needle, sl st back from R - L).
  2. Sl1 R > L, then k this st.

2. Bind off 3 sts:
  1. sl2, pass 2nd st over 1st st and off R needle
  2. [sl1, pass 2nd st over 1st st and off R needle] 2x.

3. Work top of buttonhole:
Sl1 R - L and turn work.  This section is worked from WS.
  1. Insert R needle tip into the back leg of the 1st st on L needle from back to front; slip off to R needle .
  2. Bring working yarn between needles and to the back.
  3. Wrap yarn around both needles and pull loop through st on R needle.  Gently snug, not too tight 
  4. Repeat step 3 three more times, for a total of 4 cast on sts (number of bound-off sts +1). 
  5. Slip st on R needle up onto L needle without twisting. 
  6. Turn work.

4. Reinforce closing edge (RS)
Yarn should be in front at this point. 
  1. Sl1 R - L, then bring yarn to the back -- over the work and under the needles.
  2. k2tog
K to end.

On the next row, work plain.  You may find some loose stitches next to the opening edge; if so, use your needle tip to gently distibute the slack backwards along the previous stitches in the round.

Note that although you added a total of 5 sts when casting on, two of them end up getting worked into each edge, leaving you back at your original stitch count.

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. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anatomy of a Wrap

I wrap stitches a little differently than most knitters.

You might notice that the technique illustrated below is rather a hairsplitting one.  But I bring it to you because I use it in several different contexts, and its utility is not commonly known.  I figured it was about time I documented it. 

Here is the classic way to wrap a stitch:

1. With working yarn in back (shown here in pink), slip a stitch from L to R needle.

2. Bring the working yarn to the front, and around the slipped stitch.

3. Slip the stitch back from R to L needle and bring the yarn to the back again.
Voila, the stitch is wrapped.

Straightforward enough.  Here's how I do it.

1. Reverse yarnover.

2. Slip a stitch from L to R needle.

3. Pick up the YO with the tip of the L needle, and pull it up and over the slipped st and off the R needle.

4. Voila, the stitch is wrapped.

Did you see the key difference in the resulting wrapped stitches?

Image A shows what results from the traditional way of wrapping stitches: your working yarn is coiled around your wrapped stitch like a spring, with the tail of the working yarn, shown here in light pink, emerging from the top of the coil.

Whereas, Image B shows what results from how I wrap a stitch: the working yarn emerges from underneath itself, like a loop cast on turned on its side.

It's a subtle difference, yes, but my method makes a neater result because the wrap can't creep up the sides of its stitch when the fabric is under stress. It is this little difference in structure that makes Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bindoff so elastic, and gives my reinforced "Eye of Ra" buttonhole its tidy edge.

P.S. Almost forgot!  Above applies to how I wrap a knit stitch, because the yarn starts and ends in the back.  When wrapping a purl stitch, the yarn starts and ends in the front, so it works a little differently.  This is why, in JSSBO, you do a reverse yarnover for knit stitches and a regular yarnover for purl stitches.

Here's what happens.  Purl sts are shown in darker grey.

1. Yarnover the usual way, and bring yarn to front of work.

2.  Slip a stitch from L to R needle.

3. Pick up the YO with the tip of the L needle, and pull it up and over the slipped st and off the R needle.

4. Voila, the stitch is wrapped.

Here's how it looks close up: