In 2018 I wrote a tutorial for a type of one-row buttonhole I've been using for years. As I was reading Patty Lyons' Knitting Bag of Tricks and her improvements for the best two-row buttonhole ever (it's on pages 192–194, by the way), I came to the realization that the same tweaks could be applied to my buttonhole technique, too.
In this blog post I first discuss what makes a good knitted buttonhole, where and how the one-row buttonhole is lacking, and what tweaks could be done to make it better. Then I'll demonstrate two ways of knitting a (nigh on) perfect buttonhole in 2x2 ribbing, the first one done over 2 purl stitches and the second over 2 knit stitches.
One-row Buttonhole: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
When I was developing my one-row buttonhole technique I wanted it to address a few issues I'd encountered in the ones I'd used previously. A good knitted buttonhole is one that's quick to knit, easy to remember, not too loose, and not too tight either. Let's examine these properties in close.
A yarnover buttonhole, while very quick and easy to do, is quite unstable in use: the entire structure of the buttonhole literally hangs by a thread. Two-row buttonholes are a little more stable in use but can become too loose and stretch out over time. And as the name suggests, they require two rows to do: one row to bind off stitches where the buttonhole go, the return row to cast on stitches to replace those that were bound off.
The TULIPS buttonhole, on the other hand, is very sturdy and robust. But it's also quite complicated, and I'd always need to look up the directions since I couldn't remember them by heart. And in fact that sturdiness became a disadvantage: I found the TULIPS buttonhole too tight in use.
My one-row buttonhole technique became a Goldilocks buttonhole of sorts, combining all the aspects I wanted in a good knitted buttonhole. But looking back on it now there are a three shortcomings that could still be improved upon.
#1. Binding off the last stitch in the buttonhole results in a loop of yarn that strangles the stitch that stands to the left of the buttonhole.
#2. The stitch above the loop can get stretched out and elongated, resulting in an unstable left edge to the buttonhole.
#3. Casting on new stitches using the knitted, purled, or cable cast-on disrupts the flow of stitches to the right of the buttonhole.
Let's address these three shortcomings next.
Improved One-row Buttonhole in a Purl Column
A one-row buttonhole that covers two stitches looks particularly good when worked in the purl column in 2x2 ribbing. It's flanked by two knit columns on either side, and like magic, the resulting buttonhole just appears out of thin air. Or yarn. Here's how to do it.
1. Work to one stitch before buttonhole placement.
2. Slip 1 stitch purlwise (that is, without changing stitch mount).
3. As explained above, binding off the last stitch in a normal way results in a choking loop around the next stitch. To eliminate that, the last stitch is bound off backwards: lift the second stitch on the holding needle over the first towards the needle tip. It's now the stitch before that's being choked but the loop of yarn is hidden with the purl bumps in the column. Shortcoming #1, check.
Binding off backwards also takes care of another issue: the stretched-out stitch to the left of the buttonhole. Shortcoming #2, check.
4. Return the slipped stitch back on the holding needle but reverse the mount: the right leg is behind and the left leg in front of the needle.
5. Knit the two stitches together through the back loops. (What you've done here is essentially an SSKi with some extra steps between.)
Let's pause here for a moment. Having just bound off stitches for the buttonhole we now need to replace them. On a two-row buttonhole they would be created on the next wrong-side row. Since we're doing a one-row buttonhole, that needs to happen next.
But what type of cast-on to use? As discussed earlier, using any type of cast-on that's done into an existing stitch (knitted or purled cast-on) or between stitches (cable cast-on) results in a visual blip on the right edge of the buttonhole. Cap Sease calls this category of cast-on methods knit cast-ons.
A loop cast-on, on the other hand, is done with only the working yarn and doesn't need an existing stitch as a base. But they can result in a very loose, very unstable edge that's str-e-e-e-e-e-ched out when worked into. If you hang out on r/knitting on reddit, you're bound to see this issue pop up time and time again.
To solve this conundrum, we pick the best of both worlds: cast-on the first (right) stitch using a loop cast-on and the second (left) using a knit cast-on. Shortcoming #3, check.
Since the buttonhole is worked in a purl column, we need to create new stitches above the buttonhole so that they continue in pattern and look like purl stitches on the right side of the work. The first stitch is cast on purlwise (from the right side), then the work is turned over, and the second stitch is cast on knitwise (from the wrong side).
6. Using the e-loop a.k.a. purl-loop cast-on, cast on 1 stitch; the working yarn comes off from the back of the work. Sidebar: if you google e-loop cast-on, you'll find many results demonstrating the backwards loop cast-on instead. They are not the same; in fact they're opposites of each other.
7. Turn the work, then cast on 1 stitch using the knitted cast-on.
Turn the work to face the right side again. Snug up the working yarn, then continue working in ribbing until the next buttonhole. You want to cast on both of these stitches rather firmly since they determine the size of the buttonhole.
The resulting buttonhole is a beauty to look at! In combination all these little tweaks we did make the buttonhole blend in with the ribbing without any visual interruption on either the right- or left-edge knit columns.
Improved One-row Buttonhole in a Knit Column
If you're working in 2x2 ribbing and have a stitch count that's evenly divisible by 4 between each buttonhole, you can always work the one-row buttonhole across two purl stitches. But what if you don't?
Next I'm going to demonstrate how to knit a one-row buttonhole in a knit column. It uses many of the same elements as the one above but, unfortunately, doesn't result in quite as smooth and invisible buttonhole. The first three steps are done the same way as above.
1. Work to one stitch before buttonhole placement.
2. Slip 1 stitch purlwise.
3. Bind off one stitch backwards.
4. Replace the slipped stitch on the holding needle — don't reverse the mount!
5. Now bind off this stitch backwards, too, lifting the second stitch over the first. The buttonhole is flanked by purl columns so the loop around the stitch blends in with the purl bumps.
6. Purl this stitch. Lifting the previous stitch over does, unfortunately, result in an elongated stitch below the one you just purled. You can try to wiggle some of the looseness to the surrounding stitches.
Since the buttonhole is worked in a knit column, we need to cast on new stitches so that they appear as knit stitches on the right side: the first one knitwise (from the right side) and the second purlwise (from the wrong side).
7. Using the backwards loop a.k.a. knit-loop cast-on, cast on one stitch; the working yarn comes off to the front of the work.
8. Turn the work, then cast on another stitch using the purled cast-on.
Again, you want to cast on both of these stitches quite firmly. Turn the work, snug up the working yarn, and continue working in ribbing.
The resulting buttonhole looks pretty good but it has a couple of blemishes. Binding off the stitches brings the column of knits into a curved close rather than a flat top. And there's that enlarged purl stitch to the right of the buttonhole. It'll of course be covered by a button but I'll know it's there...
What about 1x1 Ribbing?
If you're working in 2x2 ribbing with an even number of stitches between buttonholes, you can alternate between perfect two-stitch, one-row buttonholes in purl columns and almost-ideal two-stitch, one-row buttonholes in knit columns. But life — or knitting — isn't always that sweet.
What if you have an odd number of stitches between buttonholes? Or are working in 1x1 ribbing?
You can combine the two methods: work the left edge of the buttonhole following one way and the right edge the other. Then cast on new stitches in pattern, except now doing both of them either knitwise (from the right and wrong sides) or purlwise (from the right and wrong sides). Read your knitting to determine which one comes next.
And if you get it backwards... who's going to know? It'll all be covered by buttons!
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