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Buttonhole Basics

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Simple buttonhole
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One-row buttonhole
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Simple eyelet buttonhole. Ssk, yarn over is at right and yarn over, k2tog is at left in this swatch.
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Buttonhole stitch (1)
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Buttonhole stitch (2)
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Buttonhole stitch (3)
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Buttonhole stitch (4)

Buttons and buttonholes can be used to fasten everything from cardigan fronts to mitten cuffs to shoulder wraps. Here are three basic methods of working buttonholes along with a few tips for proper placement.

Simple Buttonhole

This is the most basic horizontal buttonhole -- the knitting goes up and down, and the buttonhole lies side to side. Work to the place where you want to start the buttonhole and bind off the required number of stitches. On the next row, cast on the same number of stitches using cable cast on.

This buttonhole is weaker on one side than the other -- the stitch just before the first bound-off stitch (at the bottom right of the buttonhole) is a loose single strand. If you're going to use this buttonhole for a cardigan or jacket front, you may want reinforce it (see below).

One-Row Buttonhole

This is a firm and neat buttonhole that requires no reinforcing and is good for cardigan fronts and jackets. Like the simple buttonhole described above, it is horizontal. It's not as elastic as the simple version, so you may need more stitches. Be sure to make a swatch before making the buttonhole in your garment.

Work to the place where you want to start the buttonhole; bring the yarn forward and slip one stitch from the left to the right needle; bring the yarn to the back and drop it; *slip one stitch from the left to the right needle; pass the next stitch on the right needle over this slipped stitch and off the needle; repeat from * for the required number of stitches.

Slip the last bound-off stitch from the right to the left needle. Turn the work. Use the working yarn you previously dropped to cable cast on the same number stitches you bound off; cast on one extra stitch but bring the yarn forward before placing it on the left needle; turn the work; slip one and pass the extra cast-on stitch over it and off the needle.

Simple Eyelet Buttonhole

Use this buttonhole with small buttons. It can be worked one of two ways: yarn over k2tog, or ssk, yarn over. If you want to use this buttonhole with bulky yarns and larger buttons, you should probably reinforce it with buttonhole stitches (see below).

Reinforcing Buttonholes

Use this buttonhole stitch to strengthen or neaten the appearance of knitted buttonholes. To keep the buttonhole from becoming too bulky, cut a length of yarn and separate it into a one- or two-ply strand for sewing. Thread a tapestry needle with this length of yarn.

Bring the needle from back to front at the edge of the buttonhole and pull the yarn through, leaving a short tail to weave in later; insert the needle from front to back one stitch from the edge and pull the yarn through, passing over the yarn where it originally exited, forming a looped stitch (buttonhole stitch Photo 1).

To make the next stitch, insert the needle from front to back through the stitch next to the previous one sewn through, once again passing the yarn to form a looped stitch (buttonhole stitch Photo 2).

When you get to the side of the buttonhole, insert the needle through half a stitch and proceed as before (buttonhole stitch Photo 3).

Continue around the buttonhole and end by passing again through the spot where the first stitch was made (buttonhole stitch Photo 4).

Buttonhole Placement

If you want to space buttonholes down the front of a cardigan, measure the full length of the button band. You'll usually want to place the top and bottom buttons about 1 inch from the edges. Then divide the remaining space between the rest of the buttons. You'll need one more space than you have buttons.

For example, if your button band is 16 inches long and you've placed a buttonhole 1 inch from both the top and bottom, you'll have 14 inches left. If you have six more buttons, you'll need seven spaces -- you'll place a buttonhole every 2 inches.

If your cardigans tend to gape open at the bustline, consider this for spacing: Place the top and bottom buttons 1 inch from the edges of the band. Position a buttonhole at the fullest point of the bust, and then evenly space buttons between this one and the top and bottom buttons.