Buttons, Button Bands & Buttonholes: A Knitter's Guide

Buttons can add a functional and decorative finish to your knitting projects, so knit them wisely! Most knitting patterns will tell you how to knit your buttonholes and button bands, but if you’re designing your own or adding buttons to an existing pattern, you might need some extra help.

Check out the different types of buttonholes below and figure out which one works best for the size of your buttons — and for how you like your button bands to look! We also have tips for choosing the right button for your project, plus lining up those buttons on the button band.

Types of knitted buttonholes

There are several buttonhole styles out there, but here are just a few of the most basic and common. 

Horizontal buttonhole

Horizontal refers to the orientation of the buttonhole to your project on the needles, which will not necessarily correspond with how the holes appear on your finished product.

To create a horizontal or two-row buttonhole, you cast off stitches where you want the hole. How many stitches you cast off will depend on your gauge and the size of your button. On the next row, when you get to the spot of the dropped stitches, you simply cast on the same number of stitches using the backward loop method . Because this buttonhole involves casting on and off, it creates a more defined edge.

Vertical buttonhole

Just like with the horizontal buttonhole, vertical refers to the orientation of the buttonhole to your project on the needles, which will not necessarily correspond with how the holes appear on your finished product.

To create a vertical buttonhole, use two strands of yarn: one on the right side of the hole and one on the left. At the spot where you want to begin your hole, switch to working with a different ball of your yarn. (In the above picture, a different color yarn is used for contrast.) You'll use that yarn until you come back to the hole on your next row.

Then switch back to the original yarn for all stitches on that side of the hole. Continue this way until your hole is the size you’d like. Then resume knitting entire rows with your original ball of yarn.

To keep your yarn tension, wrap your new yarn around your original yarn at the beginning and end of the buttonhole. You can further fix any tension issues when you weave in the ends.

Eyelet buttonhole

An eyelet buttonhole is quite small, so it's best for small buttons and kids’ clothes, too. It’s also perfect for those tiny, delicate round buttons that you see on so many lovely cardigans.

This buttonhole is based on lace knitting techniques. The base of lace knitting is the combination of a yarn over (yo) and knit two together (k2tog) because it creates those holes in the body of your project. One of those holes works perfectly for a small button.

Make a yarn over by wrapping your yarn from the back of your needle up and around the right needle before working your next stitch. When you combine the yar -over with the k2tog, you end the row with the same number of stitches as you began it. You can also do the k2tog before the yo.

1- or 2-row buttonhole

You’ll knit this buttonhole in one row and never have to worry about it again — at least until you knit the next buttonhole. Like the eyelet, this buttonhole is also great for smaller buttons.

Need a buttonhole that’s not too big, but not too small? This could be the right one for you! Like the name suggests, this buttonhole takes up two rows of knitting, so it’s a nice medium-sized option.

More quick buttonhole knitting tips

  • Buttonholes will stretch over time, so it’s smart to make the buttonhole smaller than the button. This will ensure that the buttons won’t slip out after you wear the garment a few times.

  • Gauge is super important when following a pattern that tells you how to knit the buttonhole. If your gauge is too loose when you work the buttonhole, the button might slip right out when you try and button it. If the gauge is too tight, you’ll have to squeeze that button into the buttonhole.

  • If your buttonhole seems a bit stretched or weak, use a whip stitch to stitch around the buttonhole by hand. This will reinforce the buttonhole and tighten it up.

  • Do you have store-bought sweaters that gap and stretch a bit between buttons? That’s probably because you don’t have a lot of buttons on the button band. The more buttons you use, the smoother your buttonhole band will be when you wear the garment. It’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re planning a knitted sweater.
knitted hat in progress

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Choosing the right button for your knitting projects

The world of buttons for knitting projects is almost as overwhelming as the world of yarn, with so many sizes, colors and weights to pick from. The choice is equally as important as choosing yarn because the right buttons can dictate the entire look of your finished project.

Consider these tip next time you're choosing buttons.

What's your budget?

Are you willing to spend more money for more unique buttons? If not, that’s OK!

There are plenty of budget-friendly buttons out there. If you’re on a budget but still want a unique button, try second-hand stores. They often have old buttons that are both unique and inexpensive.

If money is no object, go nuts! Your local yarn store is sure to have a big selection of buttons you won’t find just anywhere.

What button size do you need?

Know how big you want the button to be before you make a purchase. It’s not as simple as measuring the buttonhole and choosing a button that’s the same size. The button should actually be a bit larger than the buttonhole so that the button won’t slip right out.

Brenda Lavell , who designed the beautiful cowl pictured above, has a tip that I really love. She suggests knitting a little buttonhole swatch with the yarn you used for your project; then take the swatch on your shopping excursion. This way you can test all the buttons and make sure it fits.

What style are you going for?

Buttons can determine the look and style of a project. Do you want your project to look dressy? A sparkly button might be the way to go. Going casual? Maybe a wooden button would work.

The best way to find out if it’s right for you is to test it. Don’t be shy about bringing your knitted project to the store and holding the buttons up to it. Most store owners — especially yarn store owners — totally understand why you need to do that!

How light or heavy is your project?

Pick up the buttons and see how heavy they are. I’ve been tempted by many buttons that are surprisingly heavy when I pick them up. Using a heavy button on a light, lacy project is bad news, because that button will pull on the fabric with its weight. Likewise, a small, light button can get swallowed up by heavier yarn.

How do you plan to wash your project?

If you’re planning to hand wash your garment, you don’t have to be too picky about the button. However, if you’re planning on putting that sucker through the washing machine, you’ll need to choose wisely. Some buttons are fragile and can show wear or scratches when they’re knocked around a washer.

Do you need a shank button?

Take a peek at the buttons on your heaviest coat. It probably has a shank button rather than a button with holes so that the thick fabric of your coat can still fit underneath the button. Consider buying a shank button if you’re knitting with a super-bulky weight yarn.

When to shop for your buttons

Some knitters like to have all their supplies on hand when they start knitting. Some knitters like to mull things over for a long time. Another advantage to waiting for your shopping trip that when you finish the project, you can take it with you to the store to find the perfect button!

How to line up buttons and buttonholes

Patterns often don't indicate exactly where to place the buttons, since each knitter's buttonhole placement might be slightly different. To get super accurate button placement, the designer leaves it up to the knitter to evenly space the buttonhole placement.

Most of us knitters are in a hurry to get past all the finishing so we can wear our sweaters, but getting those buttons in the right place is so important. Let’s take a look at one great way to ensure your buttons line up with your buttonholes so you can wear your sweater ASAP!

What you need

For this technique, you need locking stitch markers like  Clover Locking Stitch Markers . In a pinch, you can also use safety pins, T-pins, or any other longer pin.

Ring stitch markers (the ones that have no opening) won’t work for this since you need something you can remove easily.


Step 1:

Overlap your buttonhole band and the opposite side of the band (where the buttons will go). The band with the buttonholes should be on top. If you don’t want your button band to wiggle around, you can secure the top and bottom of the band with a stitch marker or pin.

Step 2:

Use your fingers to pull each buttonhole open a bit. Place the stitch marker into the button band on the bottom, in the center of the buttonhole.

Note that you’re not joining the two bands together; you’re simply marking where you want your button to go on the other side. You should be able to lift the buttonhole band away from the marker.

Step 3:

You’re not done quite yet! Now that you’ve lined up all the buttons horizontally, make sure they are lined up vertically. Fold the buttonhole band over so that you can clearly see all the stitch markers on the button band.

Take a look at the first two buttons. Do the stitch markers line up on the same row? If not, shift the stitch markers so that they lay on the same row. Repeat this down the button band, making sure everything is lined up on the same row. I just use my fingers to trace where the stitches are, but you might also find it helpful to use a ruler.

Step 4:

Overlap the buttonhole band with the stitch markers one more time to make sure everything lines up neatly before you start sewing.

One at a time, replace a stitch marker with a button, sewing the center of the button where the stitch marker was placed.

If you finish sewing on the buttons and find that one of them seems out of place, just cut the thread, fiddle with the placement, and sew it on again. The great thing about buttons is that they’re easily replaced, which means it’s OK to make mistakes when you’re first lining them up.

knitted hat in progress

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In Bluprint, watch endless knitting tutorials, explore projects, learn more, ask questions. Get started today!Learn More

May 20, 2018
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Buttons, Button Bands & Buttonholes: A Knitter's Guide