A step-by-step tutorial on making a buttonhole in knitting for beginners
Do you want to knit a cardigan, a little polo shirt, or maybe just a little pouch? You already have your buttons but you have no clue how to make a buttonhole in knitting? Well, then this tutorial was made for you because I will show you a super simple method for beginners and some tips and tricks along the way.
Knitting a basic buttonhole is very simple. You only need to know a standard bind-off and a cast-on. And that’s already it. It’s definitely a knitting technique even a beginner can handle with ease – provided you have some patience.
Let’s dive right into it!
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- Knit in pattern up to the position where you want to place your buttonhole.
- Here, in the middle of the row, and using a standard bind-off, bind off as many stitches as you want your buttonhole to be wide. Typically you should be able to barely cover up the gap with your button without being able to see it.
In this case, I bind off 4 stitches.
- Continue knitting in pattern and stop when you reach the gap on the wrong side or in the next round.
- To bridge the gap, cast on as many stitches as you've bound off in the previous round using a single cast-on. In this case, I cast on 4 stitches.
- Then, simply continue knitting in pattern. Make sure to keep a nice tension to avoid any holes between your cast-on and the rest of your fabric.
- As you knit across your cast on in the next row, consider knitting the first stitch after the last cast-on stitch through the back loop for a neater finish.
Try to avoid casting on too loosely as you bridge the gap. That will typically not look very neat. Also, try to knit very close to the tip of your needles as you knit across the cast-on in the next row or round to avoid stretching out the stitches too much.
How to determine the buttonhole size in knitting?
In sewing, you typically wrap a little ribbon around your button, measure the circumference, and divide it by 2. But that formula doesn’t work in knitting because knitted fabric is very stretchy and you typically don’t want your buttonholes to be as wide as the whole button.
There are two ways to determine the length of a buttonhole:
- The probably easiest way to do it is simply placing your button on your (already blocked!) swatch. Align the left edge of the button with a column of knit stitches. And then simply count how many stitches you need until you hit the farthest hole in the button (in the example above, that would be 4 stitches).
- You measure the distance from the edge of the button to the farthest hole in the button and multiply that by your stitch gauge.
Ie. stitch gauge = 2.1st/cm; 2.1st/cm x 1.8 cm = 3.8 st
In both cases, round up the next full number.
Important: It’s very difficult for me to tell how stretchy your fabric will be. This depends on your knitting stitch pattern, your individual gauge, and your yarn (sheep wool is much stretchier than cotton or silk).
On top of that, not all buttons are shaped in the same way. For an important project, I would definitely always knit a swatch to confirm your calculation and adjust accordingly.
Tips and tricks for making a buttonhole
As you can see, making this buttonhole is fairly simple and straightforward. The result will be serviceable but far from perfect. Especially the cast-on edge can often look a bit lopsided and wonky and the corners are prone to wearing out. Here are some tips:
1) Instead of a single cast-on, you can also use a knitted cast-on or a cable cast-on to bridge the gap. When you reach the gap, simply turn your work around to the other side, so you can use these techniques. And once you’ve cast on the required number of stitches, turn your work around again to continue knitting.
This will create a more stable upper edge.
2) Avoid placing the buttonhole too close to the edge. Keep at least 3-4 stitches in between the corner of the buttonhole and your selvage. Otherwise, they will wear out too fast and your edge will look very bumpy.
3) If you are using horizontal buttonholes, do consider that the buttons will nestle into the corner and pull towards the outer edge. Typically, you will have to offset horizontal buttonholes from the edge, so that the buttons will appear to be centered when worn.
4) Knit your buttonholes smaller than you think they need to be. For bigger projects (like cardigans, etc) definitely knit a swatch. You should be able to barely squeeze your buttons through without overstretching the fabric. Do consider to “abuse” your swatch a little bit to simulate wear and tear. Don’t just pull the button through once and call it a day. Go through it 10 or 20 times, wash the swatch, and then do it again.
5) Your yarn weight should dictate the size of your buttonholes and not vice versa. First of all, pairing tiny buttons with bulky yarn typically looks unbalanced. But more importantly: the bigger your buttonholes, the more they will wear out over time. And that’s typically something you want to avoid. So, if you are knitting with a fine gauge, consider using smaller buttons and placing more buttonholes.
Ultimately, you should definitely be aware that there are many different buttonhole techniques. This basic buttonhole is definitely a nice idea for simple projects. Say some simple wrist warmers you want to knit flat or a tea cozy.
If you want to knit a cardigan, where the buttons are in the center of attention, then you should definitely consider learning a more advanced technique to reinforce the buttonhole.
Knitting a reinforced buttonhole is not all that much more difficult than the basic version I showed you above. There’s only one little trick you need to know and it should be fairly simple for any intermediate knitter.
Simple vertical buttonhole
Buttonholes don’t need to be horizontal. Sometimes you need something vertical or something quite a bit smaller. In this case, this simple vertical yarn over button can be a great choice. It’s not the sturdiest option but perfect for smaller projects that don’t experience a lot of wear and tear.