A Better Buttonhole

My new button!

I found the most beautiful button the other day. It's a heavy button, though, and it'll need to be reinforced with a little clear plastic button on the inside of the sweater I finally choose to put it on. And because of its irregular edges, this button will need a really sturdy buttonhole to withstand the stress of buttoning and unbuttoning.

Guess what? I found that perfect buttonhole in the Summer 2010 issue of Interweave Knits! The regular Knits department, Beyond the Basics, introduces a new buttonhole construction, the tulips buttonhole. This is just the type of feature that you can expect from Beyond the Basics every issue: our knitting professionals delve into a subject to bring you step-by-step details and instruction. Beyond the Basics is a sort of Master Class of techniques, one that'll push your knitting further with each issue.

Here's Knits editor Eunny Jang to demonstrate the latest Beyond the Basics topic, the tulips buttonhole. Plus, there's an interview with its creator, TECHknitter. Take it away, Eunny.

The Tulips Buttonhole

I love cardigans. In Colorado's crazy desert climate, dressing in layers makes life a lot easier—it's nice to be able to cover up or cool off as needed.

I don't, however, love knitting buttonholes. The usual one-row buttonhole is easy to work, but the results are a bit flimsy. As a firm adherent to the theory that finishing details can make or break a sweater, traditional buttonholes have never quite satisfied me—they're not quite symmetrical from top to bottom; they pucker and gape at the corners; they need reinforcing after the fact with hand-whipped buttonhole stitches if they're going to stand up to real wear. And who wants to do that?

In the Summer 2010 issue of Interweave Knits, the ever-inventive TECHknitter introduced us to the brand-new "tulips" buttonhole. This buttonhole is a bit trickier to work than the usual one-row horizontal buttonhole, but it solves all those niggling little problems: the tulips buttonhole is perfectly, truly symmetrical (a chain bind-off is reflected by a chain cast-on at its two edges); its corners are tight and strong (this buttonhole won't stretch after being buttoned up a few times); it's already double-reinforced. The finished result is neat, tidy, lovely to look at—extra effort, but worth it.

Check out the video how-to below:

A Q&A with TECHknitter

I talked to TECHknitter a bit about how she came up with the tulips buttonhole.

Q) What prompted you to develop the tulips buttonhole? In the article, you explore the pros and cons of various other buttonhole types, but was there a specific need you set out to fill?

In traditional buttonholes, a single strand of yarn must take the entire strain at one or both corners. Further, buttonholes are asymmetrical top vs. bottom. Beautiful hand knits with stretched-out, asymmetrical buttonholes just seemed wrong. There had to be a better way.


TECHknitter's beautiful pile of buttonhole swatches

Q) Did you try a number of variations? Did some of the roads you went down end up not working out?

A) You bet! I must have knit twenty skeins of yarn into 2" wide buttonhole strips over maybe 15 years.

I realized early on that six points make or break a buttonhole: lower right starting point, lower bound-off edge, lower left ending point. Then, these same three positions for the upper edge. Plus, the symmetry issue.

I'd get a buttonhole which looked swell on some points, but bad on others. Attempting to fix the bad points while preserving the good worked like a slide-tray puzzle: you get all the numbers in order except for one. Then, trying to fit in the last one destroys the order of the others.

Finally, it came to me one night. I shot out of bed in my pj's to try it. And, it worked! Because it looks like "two lips" when worked in stockinette, it's called "tulips."

But, the troubles weren't over. The issue became trying to explain/illustrate the intricate steps.

Q) What's an instance in which you might choose another buttonhole, for instance, over this one?

A) Tulips has many virtues, but it is best made on at least three stitches. Sometimes, this is too large. So, the simple YO buttonhole is a good match for when you need a really small buttonhole.

Q) Do you have any tips for readers on working this buttonhole?

A) The hard part to conceptualize with tulips is unwinding the wrapped yarn and switching it back to go the other way. Hopefully, having the video in addition to the illustrations will de-mystify this step.

The tulips buttonhole isn't the only advice TECHknitter has about buttonholes: Check out the full article for general button and buttonhole tips, refinements to other buttonhole options, and much more. 

And check out TECHknitter's blog for some alternatives to buttonholes you may not have thought of, as well as thoughts on a huge range of knitting techniques.

At Interweave Knits, we're always looking for innovation. Every knitter fine-tunes and refines classic techniques to fit the way he or she knits and solve problems—we may not even realize it, but we're all moving the craft forward every day.

Knit on,


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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

32 thoughts on “A Better Buttonhole

  1. Hi, Kathleen, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the picture of your new button. I have to tell you that of all the zillions of buttons you could have posted, I used this exact button last winter on a custom made bag. The customer wanted a rather classic, understated, dress clutch with a nice plain gold button, but I just had to add this beautiful piece of art instead. She loved it!


  2. That is a beautiful buttonhole!!! I would like to use it on a cardigan for my little granddaughter, but the button is smaller. How can I adapt this for a smaller button? Thank you very much!!

  3. wooow this is a neat buttonhole and i ithink not so difficult at all, so thanks for the great tute on the video and the sharing, i curtainly will try this out;-D

  4. I find her odd way of knitting distracting. And the way the camera bounces to the close up really makes you jump and shows an odd angle and really doesn’t help. It would be better to just slowly zoom in. The buttonhole is amazing!

  5. These directions are why I bought the summer Interweave Knits in the first place. I was never happy with the buttonholes in sweater bands, now I have a better way to do it. What I didn’t realize at first was that the buttonhole was on ONE row, not in both directions. The video was very, very good and I sent a link to my sister who is also knitting a cardigan. We both have been knitting for years and years and, I’m sure, have always done the buttonholes as has been “traditional” for all this time. Thanks for the neat new way.

  6. This is a WONDERFUL new buttonhole. I wish I could fold up the video and carry it around with me. All these years I’ve used the “traditional” buttonhole and then, with my trusty crochet hook, turned the sweater or placket over and reinforced the buttonhole. Aaaargh! I HATED doing that. Now I don’t have to. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  7. I love tutorials like this, but I have to tell you thatthe music is too loud, very distracting, and most annoying when trying to hear Eunny’s instructions.

  8. Wow! Absolutely fabulous. I’m working on a lace weight cardigan right now and I’m betting this is going to save me a lot of heart ache later. Thank you TECHKnitter. 🙂

  9. Oh, a couple people I’ve noticed have asked about that button… I know I’d seen it before and sure enough, it’s available through Black Water Abbey yarns.
    and the button directly

    I’ve bought other buttons from them before at Stitches west and they are nice quality. I don’t know if this is their button or if they just buy them.

  10. Kathleen, I like to pick up antique or just old buttons at estate or yard sales. I’ve found some really nice ones, but the button you found is fantastic. I can see I’ll need to try some new on line places.
    I don’t know why I can’t open your video.. maybe my pc’s just to old.
    Thanks, janw247

  11. Love the look of the tulip buttonhole but can’t remember how to do it and I can’t have my computer with me all the time. Are there any written instructions that i could print off? Hope so.
    Susan (in the UK)

  12. Hi, Eunny and Techknitter,

    What a great buttonhole and an excellent demonstration. Eunny, I’d love to see you knit in slow motion…I am a continental knitter, too, but my middle finger movements are really large and you barely move your fingers at all…very efficient. Thanks for sharing!

    Linda Guzzaldo

  13. I can’t wait to try this buttonhole! The ones I have made in the past were the traditional type and they were never as nice as I would have liked. I have a subscription to Interweave Knits and will definitely use this one a lot! By the way, I have been a Continental knitter for 50 years so am glad I’m not the only one. Thanks, Eunny!

  14. Does any one answer questions posted here. This is my first entry.
    I liked this buttonhole very much and am eager to try it, but would really like to be able to have the directions in printed form. IS that at all possible?

  15. To those wanting written directions: There is a fully illustrated tutorial about this same buttonhole in the current (Summer 2010) Issue of Interweave Knits–it is the “Beyond the Basics” article.

  16. My favorite buttonhole is vertical – not horizontal. The horizontal can sometimes stretch out and leave a hole when buttoned.

    The vertical is a bit harder to make in that you have to add a bit of yarn where you want to have the hole and do about three rows using the new yarn and the old -then go back to the single strand again. The ends of the yarn have to be woven in, but I really do like the buttonhole — and it doesn’t look “stretched” out.

    Phyllis Johnson

  17. OMG, this is the most amazing buttonhole I’ve ever seen!! Wow… I thought “how can you really do much to improve a buttonhole, it’s always going to sag or look a little odd in a knit item”… boy was I wrong! 🙂

    I LOVE this… thank you so much for sharing this, I’m now looking forward to my next knitted buttonhole item, rather than dreading it or looking for ways to work around it!!

  18. Dear Euny, I can’t thank you enough for this and all other videos on ‘how to knit …’. It makes it so much easier to watch it, and even practice in front of my screen when I finally come to the place in my knitting where I have to do whatever it was you explained. This buttonhole especially is a lot easier to understand when you see it done in front of you. Thank you for being so clear and taking the time to do these!

  19. Thank you for the easy to follow instructions for the Tulip buttonhole. Can you tell me how to incorporate that technique into a pattern? I’ve practice and can do it on a 2 inch sample swatch but I am too new of a knitter to know how to use it in a pattern.

  20. I watched the video, stopping and going back over and over and over again. It looked so doable when I first viewed it, but then reality kicked in. I’ve been struggling with this buttonhole method for almost two hours now.l I’m a great knitter, so I am frustrated that I am having so much difficulty figuring out how to make this gorgeous new buttonhole. I think more close-ups would help, and could you please go a little slower when you get to the crochet etc. parts? I wish I knew if it was possible to increase the size of the video screen. Now I have TWO issues to figure out tonight!