Making Buttonholes

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting in a restaurant, discreetly checking that the button sitting in the middle of your chest is not slipping out of its too large buttonhole. Another possible scenario is that the buttonholes are too small, and you struggle to do them up. The best buttonhole is large enough to slip the button through it – not too big or too small for the size of the button. There are different methods of making buttonholes in hand knit garments, and choosing the right one depends on the style of the garment, how it’s worn, the size and type of button, position of the buttonhole, and the type of yarn. You wouldn’t want to place tiny buttons on a coat made of bulky yarn; they are out of proportion to the style of the garment, but also they won’t stand up to the wear and tear.

It’s best  to select buttons prior to finishing the garment. This is helpful when you want a particular type of button, which may require adjusting the buttonhole size. Another suggestion is to incorporate the buttonholes into your swatch, and take the swatch to the store and select the correct button size.

The following are the most common buttonhole methods used in knit garments. Horizontal buttonholes should be centered on the band. For bands knit vertically (made from the held ribbing stitches of the lower border), there should be at least two stitches on either side of the buttonhole, so the holes don’t stretch.

Two-row Horizontal Buttonhole

This buttonhole method is made by binding off a number of stitches, and casting them back on the following row. This is the most frequently used buttonhole in knitting instructions. 

Steps to making the two-row buttonhole:

  1. Work across a right side row to the placement of the buttonhole. 
  2. Knit the first 2 stitches; insert the left needle into the front of the first stitch, and pull it over the second stitch (binding off). Knit 1 and repeat binding off until you’ve bound off the desired number of stitches for the buttonhole. 
  3. On the following wrong side row, work to the bound-off stitches, and cast on the same number of stitches that were bound off. The method often used to cast on is a single cast-on or backwards loop method.

I rarely use the two-row buttonhole, because it tends to require reinforcement and is not firm. There are other versions of this technique that strengthen and tighten up the corners of the buttonhole.

single rib swatch with one-row and two-row buttonholes

One-row Horizontal Buttonhole

If you want the perfect buttonhole this is it, self-reinforcing and neat. I work it on the right side of the band or edge. 

Steps to making the one-row buttonhole:

  1. Work in pattern stitch to where the buttonhole is to be placed. With the yarn in front of work slip the first stitch purlwise from left needle to right needle, then place the yarn in back of work.
  2. Slip the next stitch off the left needle to right needle and pass the first stitch over it; one stitch is bound off. Continue to bind off the total number of stitches for the buttonhole.
  3. Slip the last bound off stitch back to the left needle and turn the work.
  4. Now place yarn to the back of the work. Using the cable cast on method, cast on the number of bound-off stitches plus an extra stitch as follows: *Insert right needle between the first and second stitches on left needle, work as if knitting a stitch and draw loop through leaving the loop on the left needle. Repeat from * until all stitches are cast on. Before slipping the last stitch onto left needle bring yarn to the front so it sits between the last two loops. Place last loop onto left needle. Turn work.
  5. Slip first stitch from left needle to right needle and pass the extra cast on stitch over the slipped stitch to close the hole. One buttonhole is complete; resume pattern stitch and work across the row. Repeat all steps for rest of buttonholes.

Eyelet Buttonhole

This is a simple, round buttonhole and is ideal for small buttons and children’s garments. On the right side of band or edge, work to where the buttonhole is to be placed, then either make a yarnover (yo), followed by knit 2 together, or knit 2 together, then yarnover. On the following row, work all stitches in pattern, including the yarnover.

simple yarn over eyelet buttonhole

Finishing Buttonholes

A buttonhole finish is optional, and is typically used with the two-row horizontal or eyelet button. A finish is used for reinforcement, ribbon faced button bands, double buttonholes, or decorating the buttonhole with a contrast coloured yarn. There are two ways to finish a buttonhole, either buttonhole stitch or overcasting. When working the buttonhole stitch, the stitches should not be too close or the hole may be distorted. The overcast is best used on eyelet or small buttonholes.

buttonhole stitch and overcast finishes
from Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Needlework


These are the three most common buttonholes used in knit garments. Most knitters agree that the one-row buttonhole is the neatest, and doesn’t require further reinforcing. Sometimes a buttonhole does require a finish for a little more reinforcement, particularly with ribbon faced bands and double buttonholes.