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Knitted Cardigans: Buttonholes 101

Nov 13, 2009

The cardigan sweater is a classic for all seasons. You can throw it on over a T-shirt in the fall and spring, keep a light-weight cardigan on hand for chilly summer evenings, and wear one as a top in the winter. I have several cardigans in my closet and I wear them all year.

There are so many ways to knit cardigans, too—in the round, top down, or in pieces. I like the top down raglan method the best—it's a lot of knitting (LOOONG rows), but when it's done, it's done. And if you're brave you can just knit in the round and cut your sweater up the front to make it a cardigan! (This technique is called "steeking" and it works best with wool; I wouldn't try it with a slippery yarn.)

We recently published a free ebook, Knit Cardigan Patterns From Knitting Daily: 7 FREE Knitting Patterns. (If you haven't downloaded your copy, please click on the link and get yours today!) One of these seven patterns is sure to strike your fancy: from lacey and feminine to bulky and casual, there are a variety of styles to choose from.

Whichever cardigan you choose to knit, and whichever technique you prefer, one thing almost all cardigan sweaters have in common is buttonholes. Today I'm going to show you how to make two different kinds of buttonholes, the one-row buttonhole and the eyelet buttonhole.

One-Row Buttonholes

This buttonhole is a good one to have in your arsenal because it works really well with medium to extra-large buttons;  I normally use this buttonhole with 3/4-inch or larger buttons.

To decide how many stitches to use while working this buttonhole, simply place your button on your fabric and see how many stitches it covers. Subtract one stitch, and that's how many stitches you should use. This example, from The Knitter's Companion by Vicki Square, uses five stitches.

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 Step 1    Step 2    Step 3  

Work to where you want the buttonhole to be, bring the yarn to the front, slip the next stitch purlwise, then return the yarn to the back.

Step 1. *Slip the next stitch to the right needle, then pass the second stitch over the end stitch and drop it off the needle. Repeat from *.

Step 2. Slip the last stitch on the right needle to the left needle and turn the work. Move the yarn to the back and use the cable method to cast on 5 stitches as follows: *Insert the right needle between the first and second stitches on the left needle, draw up a loop, and place it on the left needle. Repeat from * 4 more times. Turn the work.

Step 3. With the yarn in back, slip the first stitch from the left needle and pass the extra cast-on stitch over it and off the needle to close the buttonhole. Then work to the end of the row as usual.

Since some of us find videos easier to learn from, here's Interweave Knits editor Eunny Jang with a video tutorial on the one-row buttonhole. (She demos the cable cast-on here, too!)

Eyelet Buttonhole

The eyelet buttonhole is self-sizing—bulky yarns make large holes that accommodate large buttons; fine yarns make small holes that accommodate small buttons.

Work the eyelet buttonhole on the right side of the work as follows: yarnover, then work the next two stitches together. That's all there is to it!

You can use an overcast stitch to reinforce the buttonhole if you think your yarn might wear or if your yarn is really flexible and you want to stabilize the size of the buttonhole.

I hope these buttonhole techniques will be a welcome addition to your finishing skills.




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woolenewe wrote
on Feb 16, 2012 2:20 PM

Excellent - very clear instructions

Waldine wrote
on Dec 17, 2009 3:27 PM

Your buttonhole video was a great help to me but what I was impressed with, was the way the demonstrartor was knitting with the working yarn in her left hand.  I would like to learn to knit that way,  Is there a site with tutorials or videos to help me learn to knit like tha ?  What would you call that type of knitting ?

on Dec 7, 2009 5:45 AM

This just made making a buttonhole crystal clear!  AND I learned how to cast on additional stitches in the middle of a pattern!!  I have been searching for the last techinque for weeks.

DebHeaphy wrote
on Nov 24, 2009 5:16 PM

As a life long knitter I've never found a buttonhole technique that looks good being a straight slit.  I'm currently making a sweater shawl and it has only one buttonhole.  The project is knitted with two strands of worstead-weight yarn and has 3 buttons.  I decided to try the one row buttonhole and used the video to help me.  This is an absolute find!

kremser.c wrote
on Nov 16, 2009 2:18 AM

This one-row-buttonhole is realy the best one, i have ever seen.

For me it is difficult to read english instructions, but this clip is great!

Thanks from Germany

cmax wrote
on Nov 15, 2009 6:46 PM

What a nice clean looking button hole-I've done button holes before but this one just looks nice & finished. Thanks again for another wonderful "Knit Secret"!

DarylS wrote
on Nov 15, 2009 3:01 PM

Fabulous video and great instructions. I just couldn't quite visualize the instructions and have struggled with sloppy buttonholes forever. After watching the video I finally get it, the instructions make sense and can't wait to try it out. I'm ready to cast aside all the WIPs so I can make a cardigan just to try it out. Thank goodness my queue is full of them. Thank you Eunny and Kathleen.

on Nov 15, 2009 2:38 PM

You explained and showed this so well!  Thank you very much.  Trying just to read in a book how to do this is next to impossible to understand, especially for me the novice knitter.

ANNETTEG@5 wrote
on Nov 14, 2009 7:37 PM

I liked that video, and what I like most is the fact that I can see it several times, if I don't get the instructions the first time.


BetteN wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 11:25 PM

This buttonhole video has a problem. She casts off four stitches, and then casts on four stitches. However, as she connects the cast on stitches, she drops one more by passing one of the cast on off over the last stitch. By my figures, she's one stitch short on the row count.


BetteN wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 11:25 PM

This buttonhole video has a problem. She casts off four stitches, and then casts on four stitches. However, as she connects the cast on stitches, she drops one more by passing one of the cast on off over the last stitch. By my figures, she's one stitch short on the row count.


BetteN wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 11:25 PM

This buttonhole video has a problem. She casts off four stitches, and then casts on four stitches. However, as she connects the cast on stitches, she drops one more by passing one of the cast on off over the last stitch. By my figures, she's one stitch short on the row count.


barbl@15 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 6:57 PM

Thank you so much for these instructions and video.  It's hard to picture it when reading and the video just makes it so much easier to understand.  I have a garment that's been sitting on the needles because I didn't know how to do the button hole.  Now I can finish it!

MarinaC wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 6:18 PM

The tutorial is awesome! I'm sorry but there's one thing I didn't understand. She casted off 4 stitches, then, casted on 4 stitches. But after that, she passed over one last stitch. Didn't she lose one stitch on the last pass over?



Dear@2 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 5:30 PM

Thank you so much for showing us how to make a button hole.  I have been knitting for a couple of  years and am ready to start my first cardigan.   But, I  was intimidated by the button holes.  The video was great.  Also, thank you for the email on how to knit a cable without a cable needle.  That is going to help so much.

AliT@2 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 1:38 PM

That was so neat!!  I have only done simple YO buttonholes, but now I am gonna do these instead!  Thank you so much for the awesome demo.

on Nov 13, 2009 1:25 PM

The best zipper info I've seen on the web is at Grumperina's site, click

Hope this helps.

JudyR@33 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 1:14 PM

I want to thank you for all your knitting knowledge and the informative website.  I would like to know how to put in a zipper into the front of a knitted hooded cardigan.  My daughter has asked for one for Christmas, and I have completed the sweater up to  the application of said zipper.  Can you help????

knittingfor5 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 12:25 PM

Thats totally freakin awesome! Who ever comes up with this stuff is so stinkin smart!!

Thanks everyone!

D.Bonzagni wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 12:17 PM

I had difficulty following the written instructions for that buttonhole, but the video clip was fantastic!  Clear and concise.  Thank you!

LaurieS@3 wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 11:27 AM

It is worth mentioning somewhere that  a buttonhole band with a knit facing needs 2(!) buttonholes paced so they line up when folded over.  Ask me why I wish this were mentioned somewhere.

Sophiestree wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 10:53 AM

The clip on the buttonhole is brilliant!

I really feel I have learnt something completely new

Thank you very much

Bonnie wrote
on Nov 13, 2009 8:24 AM

This is the best demo of a one-row buttonhole I've ever seen. The tip to twist the cast-on stitches when placing them on the needle is excellent.  Thanks!