Thursday, February 23, 2012

Button lore (part 2 of button holes for hand knitters series)

This is the second post in a TECHknitting series on buttonholes in hand knitting.  The first post covered lore and tradition about buttonholes, plus some nifty tricks. Today, some background information about the buttons themselves, as well as how to sew them on.

Buttons, shanked and unshanked
It is evident that a buttonhole must be large enough to allow the button through without straining, yet not so large that the button pops loose when you breathe. Less evident, perhaps, is the relationship between the thickness of the band and the height of the button shank.

Buttons come in two kinds: shanked and unshanked.   Shanked buttons are the kind with a little stem on the button back.  Unshanked buttons feature sewing holes which go right through them.  When using an unshanked button on hand-knit, it is wise to create a thread shank as the button is sewn on. Matching shank height to band thickness helps prevent puckering and undue wear from a too-short shank, or drooping from a too-long shank.



Thread shanks
To make a thread shank on an unshanked button, insert a spacer (traditionally a matchstick or a toothpick) between the button and the button band, before sewing down the button. Go to this post for a nifty new trick for holding the spacer in place as you sew.

Continue sewing the button. When the sewing is complete, remove the spacer. As the last step before knotting off the thread, bring the threaded needle up between the buttonband and the button, then reinforce the shank you've made by winding several times around the sewing threads. Whether you create the shank from thread or whether the button comes shanked, match the shank height to the thickness of the buttonhole band: a button shanked high enough for a heavy woolen sweater-coat will droop and wobble if buttoned through a thin summer sweater.



Anchor buttons
For a heavy button which wants to droop regardless, consider an anchor button on the inside of the buttonband.  An anchor button distributes the weight of a heavy button, and help keep it upright.  Conversely, anchor buttons also work well on thin or delicate fabrics: they distribute the weight of the main button, take the strain and prevent ripping at the attachment-point.

Both the main button and the anchor button are sewn at the same time, using the same thread and needle. The main button is shanked-- either by being a shanked button in the first place, or by sewing it on with a thread shank.  By contrast, the anchor button is sewn on flat because it is non-functional (it does not go through a buttonhole).



* * *
The next post in this series will be about how to make"sheepseye" buttonholes, which some folks call "yarn over buttonholes."  We'll look at the traditional method, plus a nifty trick to skip the yarn over, which tightens them up and makes them prettier.

Until then, good knitting!

--TK