Friday, April 30, 2010

Buttonhole alternatives

If you have trouble knitting good-looking buttonholes, two main choices face you: You can improve your buttonholes, or you can find an alternative.

Today, we'll look at these alternatives.

Although the neighborhood seamstress is an endangered species, machine-made buttonhole services are still available on-line and through many local yarn shops. A modern home sewing machine with buttonhole capability can work too, but try this out on a swatch before committing your precious sweater!

Upside: looks professional especially when paired with a grosgrain ribbon lining.
Downside: If sent out, it usually takes a while to get your sweaters returned , and this option can be expensive. Can be hair-raising to try this at home.

SNAPS. Many knitters want to try on the garment before deciding closure placement. One solution to accommodate this desire is snaps. After settling on placement, one half each snap is sewn into matching position on each front band. A decorative button can be sewn on over each top snap for a traditional look. Decoration buttons should not flop around, but should give the illusion they are buttoned through a button band, so use a button with holes (not a button with a shank!) and sew it on flat. Also, remember to sew decoration buttons onto the band which would ordinarily sport the buttonholes (men's: left; women’s: right) so that the sweater looks buttoned when snapped shut.

Upside: Looks good buttoned, allows you to defer closure placement until after the garment is finished and can be tried on
Downside: Doesn't look all that great when the garment is worn open: The half snap visible on the underneath button band may have that home-made look.

FROGS and CLASPS. Braid frogs (originally Oriental) and metal clasps (originally Scandinavian) are traditional non-button methods of holding garments shut. Both are widely available in many sizes and styles, both are sewn on at the end. These let you avoid buttonholes and can add a design element, also.

Upside: Like snaps, these allow you to defer placement decisions until after the garment is finished. These are easy to sew on. Both frogs and clasps add a decorative element. A plain sweater can be jazzed up to be quite unique by simply using these fasteners.
Downside: As the braid from which they are made stretches with wear, frogs begin to come open fairly easily. This requires sewing the loops smaller with secret tiny hidden sewing stitches. Although easy to sew on, it isn't always all that easy to sew an entire line of frogs on straight relative to one another.
As far as clasps go, these can be quite heavy, dragging down the front band of a sweater. Therefore, clasps work best when the sweater to which they are attached is knit firmly in a relatively heavy weight of yarn--DK and above, or when the clasp is small. Also, clasps can be expensive.

: These are like frogs, but feature a straight or curved button which fits through the loop, rather an a knot of braid as frogs have.

Upside: Like frogs and clasps, toggles are sewn on afterward, which lets you experiment with closure-placement after the garment is finished (i.e.: when you can try it on). Toggles have the potential to be an interesting design element.
Downside: Like frogs, you have to keep a close eye on your sewing to get all the toggles sewn on straight relative to one another on both bands. but more important, when the garment is worn open, the toggle swings loose, (annoying!) and may catch in things, especially the pointy horn-shaped toggles. Any kind of toggle is not so good for babies who may get the toggle in their mouths: a potential choking hazard.

SHAWL PINS. Originally used to keep elegant scarves and shawls together, these are increasingly used for sweaters, especially the swing-type held shut only at top. Great versatility is possible: in the evening, a bold jewelry-like pin can dress up the sweater which spent the day at the office looking demure under a plainer, smaller pin.

Upside: Beautiful, easy to use. Easy to change the look.
Downside: Works best on a sweater which can be worn with one (and only one) closure point--such as the top of a swing jacket, of the waist of a fitted sweater or jacket. On two-piece shawl pins--where the stick-like tang pokes through a shell (casing), but is otherwise not attached--the tang can fall out.

Good knitting! --TK

PS: You can still participate in the POLL with a chance at a PRIZE through May 15, 2010!


Melissa said...

Would it be possible to show a picture of the front side of that sweater where buttonholes had been made by a machine? Thanks!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Melissa: The original of that photo is on the Raineysisters blog, as a moving tribute to their mom, who made the sweater

Here is the photobucket link:

Thanks for writing. TK

TECHknitter said...

PS: You have to cut and paste the links in the above post to get to the right photos. I don't know how to add links in comments!

Heather Madrone said...

And my favorite button-replacing closure: a nice zipper!

Zippers are a bit of a pain to sew in beautifully, but once they're in, they make any sweater move up three notches on my favorite scale.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Heather:
I agree with you! Zippers are a GREAT alternative (aaaaand...there will be a TECHknitting article on a new way of installing zippers in the next winter edition of Interweave Knits.)

Thanks for writing. -TK

Angie said...

Another great post! I love the button alternatives.

rachmouse said...

Another option for snaps is to use snap tape (which is akin to hook and eye tape). Snap tape is a woven fabric ribbon with either metal ring snaps or small plastic snaps securely installed in regular intervals. It is great for baby garments as there is no danger of the snaps coming loose. I think it is also easier to install and match up the snaps evenly as opposed to individual snaps since it only requires a bit of machine sewing - which could also be a drawback. Another drawback is you loose the stretch on the snap band since you are machine sewing stitches. I've seen snap tape in many colors and many stores have a small, narrower version for baby or delicate garments, and a larger, wider version for bigger items.

Impatient Griselda said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have just fought with the buttonholes on a beautiful sweater I'm knitting, and I was just about to frog the whole thing because of it. I think I may try the grosgrain ribbon and machine sewing . . .
Thanks for the other ideas!