Making Felted Buttons

Alice Starmore Scottish Hand Knitwear Yarns and Designs – Mountain Hare Jacket From Glamourie (Felted Buttons)

Have you ever been on the hunt for coordinating buttons to sew on your project, but seem to come up short? This past weekend, I happened upon some tutorials by Alice Starmore on Virtual Yarns. Starmore is the reigning expert of traditional Fair Isle and Aran Knitting. The tutorials demonstrate the how-tos of felted buttons and beads, which she created for the embellished costume-like designs in her book Glamourie. I had so much fun working these delightful, easy to make buttons, that I want to share a brief synopsis on how to make them. Check out Starmore’s well done tutorials for further information, and also lessons on making beads.

Knitting Buttons

Felted buttons are an easy, quick, and inexpensive means of making unique embellishments. The beauty comes in the experimentation with colours, and coordinating the buttons with the coloured yarns used to knit a project. These details look lovely on Fair Isle knits and other colourwork projects.

The right type of yarn is critical; a fine quality, 100% wool with a high crimp and minimal processing. As with making any felted project, superwash wools will not work, because the scales, that are responsible for felting have been removed in the process.

I couldn’t find Starmore’s knitting instructions for the buttons, as they are likely in her book Glamourie. I came up with my own simple knitting instructions. You can certainly create your own, as the process is open to experimentation, to find the right shapes and sizes desired. I used fine weight fingering yarn, to make small round buttons.

Larger Button – With 2.5mm needles, cast on 6 sts. (See Knitting Terminology e-book in Resources for abbreviations you’re unfamiliar with)

  • p1 row
  • k across inc 1 st at each end (8 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • rep inc row (10 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • k across dec 1 st each end (8 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • rep dec row (6 sts)
  • bind off 

Smaller Button – With 2.5mm needles, cast on 4 sts.

  • p1 row
  • k across inc 1 st at each end (6 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • rep inc row (8 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • k across dec 1 st each end (6 sts)
  • p1 row
  • k1 row
  • p1 row
  • rep dec row (4 sts)
  • bind off 

Fold the piece in half with cast on edge meeting bind off edge. Starmore closed the knit piece sideways, but I found this didn’t give a nice round button. Sew part way leaving an opening. As she does in the video, cut up yarn bits for stuffing, and of course these bits must be wool. Stuff button until desired firmness. The head of a knitting needle works well to push the stuffing in. Sew the button closed. Knit up all your buttons. Coloured effects can be knit in or use variegated yarn, and add embroidery like French Knots before felting.

Felting Procedure

I was surprised how little time it takes to felt these small items by hand, a matter of minutes. You don’t have to use natural bar soap like she does in the tutorial. I used a mild liquid wool wash; not too much. It’s not the soap that does the felting, it’s the hot water and friction.

Fill basin with very hot water; dissolve soap. Have a small bowl of cold water ready to drop the buttons in. Wearing rubber gloves, which gives the added friction, simply immerse a button in hot, soapy water, then place it in the palm of your hand, and vigorously rub in a circulation motion until you achieve the desired felt. When the effect is reached drop button in cold water. Repeat process with all your prepared buttons.

After the felting is finished, rinse the buttons in warm water to get rid of the soap, and re-shape as desired. Place on towel to dry.

I had great fun making felted buttons. Now I have to find the right project to design these delightful embellishments. Maybe a classic Chanel jacket?