Ask Patty: Button Band Gladness
I’m always surprised by how often I’ll get nearly identical questions in the same week. In fact, it’s happened so often I’m now convinced that every knitter in the world is working on one big KAL together and I wasn’t invited.
So when I got these two emails about button bands ON THE SAME DAY, I emailed Ann and Kay to say it kind of freaked me out and Ann replied:
LOL I could pretty much ask the same question (looking at my Daytripper button band)!
And so, from this month’s “How can every knitter wonder the same thing at the same time” mail bag, we have:
I’ve searched your website for an answer and it doesn’t look like there’s anything published on this question yet.
When I pick up stitches and knit the ribbing at the bottom front of my cardigans, I always get this odd little pulling upward of the bottom edge of the stitches. A little swoosh shape is the best I can describe it.
Do you have any tips or tricks to make this lay more even?
I would love to know how to fix the wonkiness which occurs at the bottom of buttonhole bands. Is it a knitting or a sewing problem, or maybe both?
And in case anyone didn’t know what Susan means by “a little swoosh shape,” Denise cleared it up with this picture:
Dear Denise and Susan,
You are not alone in your button-band sadness (seriously, just ask Ann). When it comes to a button band, we need to address the knitter’s version of who, what, where—how many, where, what.
For the “what,” I have a stupid simple trick that I will share, but before we get to that, we need to address the “how many” and “where.”
One reason a button band pulls in is that the number of stitches picked up might not be right for you.
This may or may not be a given, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say it out loud: You must block your pieces before picking up stitches. (Stunned silence, she taps mic, “Hello, is this thing on?”) There’s a darn good reason a well-written pattern has the blocking instructions come BEFORE picking up stitches. You want to have your real finished row gauge and your real finished stitch gauge so you can get YOUR stitch to row ratio.
All of this spells: The Path to True Happiness—IGNORE THE PATTERN. Back in the day, a pattern might be written as, “Pick up the right number of stitches for your stitch and row gauge, should be a multiple of 2+1.” Now, patterns are expected to tell you how many stitches you should pick up. Why? What am I your mother? How do I know if you are working to the same stitch gauge as me, or row gauge, or if you added a bit of length? I don’t.
How to pick up stitches evenly for button band
1) Divide the space into smaller hunks. Fold in half and place marker, fold in half again, and repeat. (Kate shows this wonderfully in her column here.)
2) Decide how many stitches you want to cast on based on your stitch multiple (e.g., if you want a K2, P2 rib AND you want to begin and end with a K2, then you would need a multiple of 4+2).
3) Stitch gauge and row gauge are not the same. Therefore if you pick up the same number of stitches as rows, it will ripple. If you pick up too few stitches, it will buckle. (Or swoosh!)
How many to pick up for your button band
There’s a whole lot of ways from the simple to the complex for figuring this out. I’m going to give you a few “mathy” ways, and then I’m going to give you my favorite way!
If your stitch or row gauge is not the same as the pattern, then you can’t pick up the same number of stitches. You can measure the edge of the blocked cardigan opening where you are picking up and multiply by your blocked stitch gauge for the band. Make sure to use the stitch gauge of whatever pattern you are using for the button band.
For instance, front button band is 23 inches (58.5 cm) in length; stitch gauge is 4 stitches per inch:
23 x 4 = 92 stitches. If you wanted a multiple of 4+2, you would have to cast on either 90 or 94.
If your stitch or row gauge is the same as the pattern but you’ve altered the length, then you can’t pick up the same number of stitches. If you are working from a pattern, you can also use it as a guide:
1) Check your pattern schematic for the length of the sweater front.
2) Measure the length of your finished piece (after blocking).
3) Multiply the finished front measurement by the number of stitches to be picked up as specified in the pattern.
4) Divide that number by the length of the sweater in the pattern.
The finished sweater opening from hem to v-neck in the schematic is 16″ (30.5 cm). The number of stitches the pattern says to pick up to the neck is 71.
Your finished sweater length is 18″ (45.75 cm) from hem to v-neck.
18 x 71 = 1278
1278 / 16 = 79.875
Double check that it makes sense (i.e., my sweater front is longer so I’m picking up more stitches). Then you need to round up or down to match the stitch multiple. For instance, this band is a P1, K1 rib beginning and ending with a P. This is a multiple of 2+1.
Pick up 79 stitches for your 18″ (45.75 cm)
Math is cool and all, but for those of you who have taken my classes, you know that I believe laziness is the mother of invention. Very often the same stitch pattern is used at the hem and the button band. I like to block my sweater fronts, then hold the hem of one cardigan front against the opening of the other and count a section of rows and stitches so I get a ratio.
Say I count 9 stitches in the same space that I count 12 rows: divide both numbers by 3 and you’ll see a 3/4 ratio. That means if I’m picking up 1 st into three rows and then skip one (picking up 3 st in 4 rows), that’s the right ratio for my gauge. From there you can tweak that number to make sure you are in the stitch multiple for your band.
In the MDK Shop
Another big reason for the swoosh is starting your pick up one row too high. Your garment opening often has a bit of a rounded edge, making it hard to see where to start your pick up.
Here I picked up in what I thought was the first row and knit my band only to find the dreaded swoosh.
If you give a hard pulldown on your edge and give a little poke with your needle, you’ll find that really low space that’s right above the cast on.
Now when I pick up and knit my band, even before giving it a little steam, you can see it’s a much squarer edge.
But as my ever sunny mother (that’s sarcasm) would say, there’s just one problem. It’s a k2, p2 rib, but the bottom looks like a k1. That’s because your bottom edge will naturally roll. So get ready for stupid easy fix!
This is the trick I build into my sweater designs, but you can add this to any sweater. Pick up an extra stitch outside the normal multiple! If it’s a 1×1 rib and the pick-up is a multiple of 2+1 because it starts with a knit and ends with a knit, pick up a multiple of 2 and have a k2 at the bottom. If it’s a 2×2 rib and it’s a multiple of 4+2, pick up a multiple of 4+3 because you are going to start with a knit 3. That’s it. It’s so simple it’s stupid.
Here I have a k2, p2 rib, but REALLY the bottom edge is a k3, and it naturally rolls leaving it looking like k2, p2.
Ann’s response when I shared this trick says it all:
SHUT UP. That’s brilliant!!!!!! I love this so much!
Aw, thanks Ann! I hope you all like it too.
Patty in your Pocket
Brilliance and common sense at the same time. Thank you!
I do this knit 3 first all the time except that I increase 1 stitch to make knit 3 when I do the first row and increase 1 at the end.
Putting all this info in a short page is wonderful too, thank you.
I didn’t even know I have this problem uet because I’ve never knit a cardigan. Yet. But now I will!
OK, that’s all well and good. BUT, my button band does the same thing and it is knit as part of the front piece. There’s a column of stockinette stitches next to the button band of 8 garter stitches.
“Establish Frontband: Row 1 (RS): K8, place
marker, p1, k2, (p2, k2) 12(14-15-16-18) times.
Row 2: * P2, k2, rep from * to 3 sts before marker,
p1, k1, k8. Work even in pat as established until
piece measures 3” from beg,”
Personally, I’m not a fan of a garter button band because they will never look right unless you sneak in short rows. Garter has a different row gauge than stockinette, so it will bunch up. I’d replace it with seed.
You are sooo right!
that is brilliant adding an extra stitch at the edge. Wow. Just wow.
Geez, I’m a cardigan knitter and when it’s time for the band, I get huge anxiety. Huge.
All the tips in here, beginning with the first blocking of it, make perfect sense. Your mic drop was perfectly timed…I actually quit reading and stared at the print for a few seconds, wide eyed.
This is the best tip yet, for me. Thank you!
Wow. This was an entire conference class and one of those that was worth the cost of the entire conference. Thank you!
I always read your columns Patty, not just to learn something, but to have a good laugh (“Hello, is this thing on?”). I’ve never knit a sweater in my life, but have the best of intentions to do so. Bookmarking for the future.
I hope you come to love sweater knitting. I have plenty of video sweater classes full of help and tips.
This is me this week, too! (But unless anyone else is finishing up an 8 year old abandoned Acer, I’m not in a secret knot along either!) that swoosh is so accurate I thought it was my sweater. Today I pull the button band and block the sweater- I’ll start there. Thank you! Eight years is too long to not get it right!
Here’s the secret – it’s NEVER YOU – it’s always them. It’s always the stitches fault.
I have been knitting for 30+++years & you are a brilliant gift ! And your Sunny Mother must know my mother who would die before wasting her time with knitting. Your teaching method has answered so many questions over time not unlike “how to eat an elephant” one bit at a time. Many, many thanks !
You know Ann is excited when she says “Shut up!” I can just hear her.
Thanks for the hot tips as always, and the permission to do the thing that seems like it makes sense, like comparing the bottom rib to the body.
It is brilliant! Thank you! I’ve been knitting sweaters for a decade and that is the first I’ve heard why that occurs. Now I can improve upon future cardigans, Thank you!
There must be excitement few well-written patterns because I’ve never seen a pattern yet you to block before they tell you to pick up stitches for a button band.
Really. I’ve never seen one that hasn’t. Just looked at every knitting book on my shelf and about, a dozen professionally written pdfs, and 1/2 dozen magazines and can’t find any that don’t have you block before pick up, but yes, there are many knitters who sell patterns that are not professionally tech edited, it’s true.
I think it is also cultural. I have knitting books and magazines in Estonian (all professionally tech edited) and I checked and not one asks to block before button band. Maybe it has to do with a fact that 9 months of a year it takes at least two but often three or four days for the sweater to dry (I remember waiting for my jeans to dry a couple of years ago, the waistband still damp on day three). I’m rather curious, what does EZ say? I have a few of her books but I can’t get to them right now.
Many patterns from other countries come from a culture where standard knitting knowledge is assumed. I remember talking to a knitter from Russia once who thought the level of detail in American patterns was bizarre. In many cultures, a pattern would be written assuming all knitters know to block their pieces before picking up stitches, so things like that would never be written out in a pattern.
Do you need to add an extra stitch on the other bottom front side of the button band? Thanks
Only if you want them to match
“What am I, your mother?”
Yes. My knitting mother.
Thanks for the (usual) genius!
Thank you, thank you! Recently I tried to find out whether or not I should block before picking up stitches for a band. I should have known that your answer would be “of course”.
Should I block again after knitting on my band?
If you think it would make it look nice, you could totally hit it with a bit of steam or spray with water and give a smooht.
Absolutely brilliant! Thank you.
I always enjoy reading Patty Lyons! Thank you, Patty, for your funny writting style (as in many other MDK entries, by other contributors), and your very useful, clear knitting tips!!!
Thanks so much, Patty! So many questions answered, especially the pick up and knit thing. Sometimes I SUSPECT a certain answer to my problem but don’t do anything about it until you come along and hit me over the head with it (like burrowing around for that Real bottom stitch).
Great tips… I have a question.. if you start the cast in with 3 stitches I assume you end the other side with 3… probably know the answer to my own question but needed to check,,,
Love all your great advise.. my fav so far is the simplified ssk.. Thank you Patty
The point of the extra stitch is for it to roll in at the start. So, when you say “end” I think you are asking about a button band that is picked up all the way around in one piece. If that is that case then it starts and ends.
Brilliant tips! There’s a similar and really neat demonstration of calculating edge stitch spacing using the gauge within your pattern in this video, starting at minute 46:10 – https://youtu.be/CIy13lVq27A – it’s crochet but identical principle 🙂 I always use this technique on borders now!
One other reason I noticed that a band looks short at that edge is slipping a stitch to make a selvedge treatment. Same solution: add an extra stitch there.
Ha! I have always done the extra stitch at the bottom on edge ribbing, feeling pretty clever that I came up with a Patty Lyons level fix 😉 Ultimately it means that 2/2 ribbing just means pick up divided by 4 (sts/4 +2 +2) – anything to simplify the maths.
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