A Better Buttonhole

My new button!

I found the most beautiful button the other day. It's a heavy button, though, and it'll need to be reinforced with a little clear plastic button on the inside of the sweater I finally choose to put it on. And because of its irregular edges, this button will need a really sturdy buttonhole to withstand the stress of buttoning and unbuttoning.

Guess what? I found that perfect buttonhole in the Summer 2010 issue of Interweave Knits! The regular Knits department, Beyond the Basics, introduces a new buttonhole construction, the tulips buttonhole. This is just the type of feature that you can expect from Beyond the Basics every issue: our knitting professionals delve into a subject to bring you step-by-step details and instruction. Beyond the Basics is a sort of Master Class of techniques, one that'll push your knitting further with each issue.

Here's Knits editor Eunny Jang to demonstrate the latest Beyond the Basics topic, the tulips buttonhole. Plus, there's an interview with its creator, TECHknitter. Take it away, Eunny.

The Tulips Buttonhole

I love cardigans. In Colorado's crazy desert climate, dressing in layers makes life a lot easier—it's nice to be able to cover up or cool off as needed.

I don't, however, love knitting buttonholes. The usual one-row buttonhole is easy to work, but the results are a bit flimsy. As a firm adherent to the theory that finishing details can make or break a sweater, traditional buttonholes have never quite satisfied me—they're not quite symmetrical from top to bottom; they pucker and gape at the corners; they need reinforcing after the fact with hand-whipped buttonhole stitches if they're going to stand up to real wear. And who wants to do that?

In the Summer 2010 issue of Interweave Knits, the ever-inventive TECHknitter introduced us to the brand-new "tulips" buttonhole. This buttonhole is a bit trickier to work than the usual one-row horizontal buttonhole, but it solves all those niggling little problems: the tulips buttonhole is perfectly, truly symmetrical (a chain bind-off is reflected by a chain cast-on at its two edges); its corners are tight and strong (this buttonhole won't stretch after being buttoned up a few times); it's already double-reinforced. The finished result is neat, tidy, lovely to look at—extra effort, but worth it.

Check out the video how-to below:

A Q&A with TECHknitter

I talked to TECHknitter a bit about how she came up with the tulips buttonhole.

Q) What prompted you to develop the tulips buttonhole? In the article, you explore the pros and cons of various other buttonhole types, but was there a specific need you set out to fill?

In traditional buttonholes, a single strand of yarn must take the entire strain at one or both corners. Further, buttonholes are asymmetrical top vs. bottom. Beautiful hand knits with stretched-out, asymmetrical buttonholes just seemed wrong. There had to be a better way.


TECHknitter's beautiful pile of buttonhole swatches

Q) Did you try a number of variations? Did some of the roads you went down end up not working out?

A) You bet! I must have knit twenty skeins of yarn into 2" wide buttonhole strips over maybe 15 years.

I realized early on that six points make or break a buttonhole: lower right starting point, lower bound-off edge, lower left ending point. Then, these same three positions for the upper edge. Plus, the symmetry issue.

I'd get a buttonhole which looked swell on some points, but bad on others. Attempting to fix the bad points while preserving the good worked like a slide-tray puzzle: you get all the numbers in order except for one. Then, trying to fit in the last one destroys the order of the others.

Finally, it came to me one night. I shot out of bed in my pj's to try it. And, it worked! Because it looks like "two lips" when worked in stockinette, it's called "tulips."

But, the troubles weren't over. The issue became trying to explain/illustrate the intricate steps.

Q) What's an instance in which you might choose another buttonhole, for instance, over this one?

A) Tulips has many virtues, but it is best made on at least three stitches. Sometimes, this is too large. So, the simple YO buttonhole is a good match for when you need a really small buttonhole.

Q) Do you have any tips for readers on working this buttonhole?

A) The hard part to conceptualize with tulips is unwinding the wrapped yarn and switching it back to go the other way. Hopefully, having the video in addition to the illustrations will de-mystify this step.

The tulips buttonhole isn't the only advice TECHknitter has about buttonholes: Check out the full article for general button and buttonhole tips, refinements to other buttonhole options, and much more. 

And check out TECHknitter's blog for some alternatives to buttonholes you may not have thought of, as well as thoughts on a huge range of knitting techniques.

At Interweave Knits, we're always looking for innovation. Every knitter fine-tunes and refines classic techniques to fit the way he or she knits and solve problems—we may not even realize it, but we're all moving the craft forward every day.

Knit on,


Post a Comment