A Preamble to Vertical Button Bands
Now, you may wonder why knit the band separate from the sweater? Why not just add those stitches to the pattern? While this is certainly a possibility, there are a few reasons why it’s best to knit the band separate. Aside from the fact that it would be a lot of knitting to un-do if you should forget to put in a button hole, the band has certain features that don’t make it totally compatible with the body of a sweater. Button bands should be tightly knit, should lay flat, should be a little bit shorter than the front edge of your sweater, and a little wider than your desired buttons. What does this mean?
Tightly Knit: When I knit my button bands, I like to knit them with needles that are much smaller than the needles I use for the body of the sweater. (I often use the same needles for ribbing, so that the ribbing is nice and tight and tidy as well.) Which means if I have a sweater that I knit with, say, a size 5 (3.75mm) needle, I’ll use a size 1 (2.25mm) or 2 (2.75mm) needle for the button band.
Lay Flat: Stockinette stitch as well as a variety of stockinette based knitting stitches, as I’m sure you know, curl. Having a button band serves the purpose of keeping the edges of the sweater from curling, which is why they are generally knit in some kind of ribbing pattern. I generally like to do ribbing that is something like this: k2, p1, k1, p1, k2. A wider band would have more k1, p1’s in the middle. Having extra stitches on the edges makes the edges look nice, and gives you an extra stitch for your seam allowance. The ribbing in the middle pulls together and the whole thing doesn’t look much different than stockinette stitch, but it doesn’t curl at all.
Shorter: This is where knitting button bands becomes reaaal vague. You’ll often see patterns that say, “Until the length of the band is equal to that of the front when slightly stretched.” What does “slightly stretched” mean? Should the button band be a certain number of inches shorter? A percentage? And why does it need to be shorter? The reason it needs to be shorter is because when you seam it on, if the band is even a little too long it will end up flaring out at the edges. Whereas if it’s just a little shorter it’ll end up pulling slightly in–and with wear and the natural stretch of knitting it ends up laying flat and looking tidy. The matter of it being slightly stretched is by no means an exact science, but here’s what I typically do: For a crew neck cardigan, I just knit the button band with about the same number of rows (give or take 2-4 if it makes the math easier) as for the front of the sweater. Because the button band is knit with smaller needles than the sweater was, it’ll end up shorter, but since it has the same number of rows it makes keeping track of seaming very easy. There is no math, it’s just two stitches for two stitches, which makes the dispersal of the size difference really even. When I’m making a band for v-neck, What I’ll generally do is knit the band the same number of rows as for the front edge, and take note of this so that I can know how many stitches to knit for the other front side. Then I’ll actually seam the band on without binding off, continue knitting it and seaming it around the neckline (so that I can just ease it as I go without having to guess what number of stitches will work). Then when I reach the other front side, I work out where the button holes are supposed to go based on the stitches I had for the first part of the band.
Wider than the Buttons: This is where I think having knowledge of how to knit button bands is very useful, regardless of the pattern you are using. Because you should really be knitting your button band to suit your buttons, not searching for buttons to suit your button band. When you fall in love with the perfect set of buttons, there is no reason to pass them by because they’re 1/4” bigger than the buttons specified by the pattern. You just need to add a few extra stitches to the width of your button band. And remember: you need to account for your seam stitch–so make sure you have 1 extra stitch on the edge of your band in addition to the width you want your band to be.
A note on Button Hole Rows:
I’m not going to cover the making of actual button holes in much depth in this tutorial. However, I will touch on the fact that there are typically a few ways do do button holes, and they can either be done on just one row or they can extend a number of rows. The tutorial below pretty well assumes that you’re only using 1 row to make your button holes. If you are planning on using 2–or in the case of some vertically worked button holes, several– rows, you should account for that in how many stitches you place between button holes by marking off extra stitches on either side of the marker needle you place for where the buttons lie.
The Button Band Tutorial
Now that you are armed with all the information for why button bands should be a certain way, here is the how. This technique doesn’t require any math, though I do have a quick break down of how to do the math at the end if you’d rather just calculate it out.
First, you should make your hole-less band. This will allow you to figure out what your spacing needs to be on your holed band. Remember, this should be just a little shorter than the front of your sweater. If you are making it for a v-neck, knit it until it is 1/2” shorter than where you want your top most button to be, and then follow the rest of the steps without casting off your stitches.
Next, lay out your buttons so they are evenly spaced across the band, with the top and bottom buttons flush with the ends of the bands. (Don’t worry if you don’t want your buttons to be at the very edge–we’ll handle that later. Right now we are just trying to figure out spacing.)
Slide a knitting needle into the stitch on which each button rests, and count the number of stitches that lie in between these needles. Do not count the stitch the needle is in–this stitch is representative of the buttonhole row itself, we just need to know how far your buttonholes will be spaced on the other band. Try to make the numbers as equal as possible. You may be able to average out the difference, or you may have some button holes that are spaced 1 stitch more than others–just write down how many stitches lie between each button and keep these numbers handy.
Now we need to shift our buttons over by about 1/2”. The reason we do this is so that the bottom button is just a little bit up from the edge, and so that if you are knitting on a collar separately, the last button hole is worked on the collar. (These next few steps are not necessary if you are knitting a v-neck band, just skip down to the section below)
Put a needle in where the first button is (where the first buttonhole will be) and count the number of stitches that are below it.
If you are knitting two separate button bands:
Cast on the same number of stitches you did for the first button band. Now work the number of rows you counted in the last step for that first 1/2”. Make a button hole, then work the number of stitches you wrote down as the space between your first two buttons. Make another button hole. Work the next number of rows you wrote down. Keep doing this until you have made all of your buttonholes except for the topmost one, which again, should be on the collar.
If you are knitting one continuous button band for a v-neck:
Continue knitting around the band until you reach the point at which your first button should lie. Work your first button hole, then work the number of stitches you wrote down earlier for how many stitches were between your needles. Then work your next button hole. Keep doing this. Once you’ve done you’re last button hole, you should have about 1/2” left of stitches to work to reach the bottom of the band.
If you don’t want to count stitches, here is how you do the math:
You should still knit your hole-less band first, because it will give you an idea of gauge, and you’ll still need your total number of rows for the button band. Then do the following math:
Total Rows - # of Buttons - 1/2” worth of rows = Remaining Rows
Divide your remaining rows by the total number of buttons you have, minus the collar button if you are working a crew neck. In the case of the button band above I have 5 buttons, so my math would be:
Remaining Rows / 4 = rows between button holes
For example, let’s say I have a button band that is 54 rows, I want to place 5 buttons on it, and my row gauge is 8 rows = 1” (so 4 rows = 1/2”). This is how I would do the math.
54 - 5 - 4 = 45
Now I take those 45 remaining rows, and divide them by one less than my total number of buttons.
45 / 4 = 11.25
Obviously, 11.25 is not a very nice number to work with as far as number of rows to work between stitches. There are number of ways to deal with this. One way is to work an unequal number of rows between buttonholes. I could work three buttons with 11 spaces between, and one with 12. (11 x 3 + 12 = 45) or I could put that extra row before the first button. Or, I could adjust my total number of rows down by one. In this scenario, one row isn’t going to make a huge difference no matter where I put it, so it’s pretty easy to deal with. It will likely be the same for you. One or two extra rows are pretty easy to fudge.
Now all you need to do is sew your band to your sweater, and you’re good to go! Button bands are not difficult, they just require a lot of turning around and a little bit of math or counting. The results are worth it.
Has this helped you? Do you still have questions about button bands? Feel free to comment below, I will do my best to help you out.