Sew Buttons Securely on Hand Knitscomments (3) July 22nd, 2008
Sometimes, a happy accident is all it takes to separate a cardigan-lover from a pullover fanatic. Okay, usually people go one way or the other; they don’t like mussing up their hair to take off a sweater, or they prefer the cleaner lines of a pullover. We have both in our house; my partner hates pulling anything other than a T-shirt over his head, while I covet the warmth and simplicity of sweaters, but I confess that I’m wearing a zip-up fleece hoodie as I write this. (Hey, my modified Rusted Root is still on the needles and my Cyd unfortunately just emerged from mothball treatment…more on that another time, maybe when I’m over it.)
Others are simply worried about sewing on buttons. I was shocked when I read the confession in a knitting forum that one woman had had numerous buttons simply fall off her hand knits—until someone uncovered the fact that the knitter was using the project yarn and blunt-tipped yarn needles to sew on her buttons. I actually have done this at least once—but only once, as I found the challenge of finding buttons with holes or shanks big enough for my yarn and needle nearly impossible.
Luckily, I learned how to sew on buttons in high school, I believe it was—I don’t actually remember the circumstances that clearly, which is probably for the best, high school being what it was. But I retained the important things, and here’s how I sew on buttons now. This is pretty much what I do for knitted and sewn garments.
What you need is your standard hand-sewing needle and thread, plus your chosen button(s).
Any hand-sewing needle will do, so don’t worry about the distinctions between “sharps” and “betweens.” Today I'm trying a fancy "ball-point" needle for the first time; it's got a dull point that should help avoid snagging yarn in your hand- and machine-knit fabric, and instead go between the stitches. I've never used one before and though it worked well, I don't think you need to run out and buy one before you get started. Just use what you have.
As for the thread, just about any thread fine enough for machine sewing will work. Some people will insist on polyester because it’s strongest (and woe unto those who try to break this with hands or teeth!), but cotton-wrapped polyester, cotton, or even silk is probably okay, but that’s in descending order of strength. You can use buttonhole thread or upholstery thread if you’ve got it lying around, but I like to buy thread to match if I can, and who doesn’t need an excuse to go to the craft store?
What I like to do first is find the position for the button by closing the garment, lining up button band and buttonhole band just where I want 'em. Then, I mark the spot with my needle and thread by making a first stitch on the far side of the garment through the buttonhole.
You'll notice I've got my thread doubled and knotted at the far end. This makes sewing on the button faster (twice as strong with fewer passes!) and gives me an easy way to secure the first stitch, rather than having to make a knot. You instead attach the thread by looping the needle through the loop created by the doubled thread.
Now I’m ready for the button and slide it onto the needle and thread.
(While I like these colors together, I chose them mainly for visibility; usually I match thread color closely to either the button or yarn color, depending on the desired effect.)
Now for the sewing: Go through the back of the button band, then back up and through the button three or four times, not too tightly. Make sure to go around both "legs" of one knit stitch to help your button lie flat and avoid pulling too much on one strand of yarn; this can distend your stitch
Tip: If you just can't avoid tightening up, try putting a toothpick or slim DPN or crochet hook between button and garment, then slip it out before the next step. The next step? Bring the needle back through the garment to the space between the garment and button.
Wrap the thread around the sewing, creating a shank.
Now pull the needle back down through the shank and wrap it around the shank crosswise. I like to do this three or four times to assure security.
Pull the thread to the back of the button band and tie a knot—again, I tend to wrap and knot a few times.
Now you can snip the thread and you’re done!
You shouldn’t have any buttons falling off your hand-knit garments again. You might still avoid buttons on some baby items, especially if the mom is the obsessive type—being a mom’s hard enough, and babies are pretty much cute as a proverbial button without the actual thing getting in the way.