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Hi Patty,

I’m wondering if you have any advice for those horrible button and buttonhole bands that are knitted at the same time as you are knitting the body of the cardigan.

I’ve just finished a cardigan (with a ribbed button band) and have ended up with these super stretchy bands that pull the fronts all weirdly. Just spoils the whole cardigan.

Is there anything I could do (apart from ripping it out) to help with this? At the moment I’m not even keen to put buttons on, I think it will make it hang even more.

Thanks so much.


Dear Carol,

We feel you. We ALL feel you. The pull to avoid the tedious chore of picking up stitches is strong. Even designers can fall prey to it. Fear not. There are solutions.

Before suggestions for the future, let’s live in the now and deal with your current super stretchy band.

Some bands hold up pretty well on their own, but the weight of the buttons pull at the stitches too much. After only a few wears, you can get those weird little dimples in your knitting, and your sweater falls prey to droopy button syndrome. To help anchor those buttons, try placing a small flat backing button on the wrong side of the band. When you sew on the buttons, you sew them on with the band sandwiched between the button and the backing button.

This helps the dimple, droopy syndrome, but will do nothing for an over-all super stretchy band. To solve that, it’s grosgrain ribbon to the rescue. A simple whip stitch and a length of grosgrain on both bands can not only add stability, but a jazzy pop of color!


Now that we have (hopefully) tightened up your already knit sweater, it’s time to look to the future. As every ’50s TV commercial would say: There’s got to be a better way.

We all know you can get a lovely stable button band by picking up stitches and working your band with a smaller needle. But there are times when we simply don’t want to. (There, I said it.) I remember designing a long cable coat for Vogue Knitting several years back. I had originally planned on a picked-up button band, but when I looked at the length of the coat, I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew if I didn’t want to pick up all those stitches, I couldn’t ask the knitter to.

I knew garter stitch was going to pull in too much and, more important, I didn’t like how the garter looked with the cable pattern. I really wanted a 1×1 ribbed band knit along with the body.

As you might have guessed, just knitting a 1×1 rib for the first few stitches and then going into the sweater pattern left me with a floppy band. The fact that the sweater was knit in a soft and drapey alpaca just made it worse. The stability improved a bit by turning it into a twisted rib (working the knit stitches through the trailing leg.)

But it still didn’t have the umph (highly technical term) needed to stand up to large buttons. We all know that a picked-up button band is usually done with a smaller needle, so a smaller needle it is!


The first thing I needed to do was swatch the button band separately until I found the right fabric. Yes, that means another swatch— it’s not gonna kill you, promise.

Once washed and blocked, I needed to see the row gauge difference. In this example, my stockinette gauge on a US 9 (5.5 mm) needle was 6 rows per inch and my gauge for the twisted rib on a US 6 (4 mm) needle was 8 rows per inch.

How do I work a different needle for the band with a different row gauge? A small circular needle for the band + short rows = perfection!


The trick is using two circular needles. Cast on with the larger circular needle, just to make life simpler. Then grab your smaller circular needle—16″ to 20″ is fine—and knit your way across the button band stitches.

When you’re done with the band, just pull those stitches onto the cable, drop your smaller needle, and pick up the other end of your larger circular to work across your body stitches.

Turn your work and repeat in reverse. Work across the wrong side of the body stitches with your larger needle.

Pull the body stitches down to the cable and slide the button band stitches back onto the smaller needle, pick up the other end, and knit across.

Rinse and repeat.

Work across band with smaller needle, then work across body with larger needle

You didn’t think I forgot about the two different row gauges, did you? Here’s what it looks like after 6 rows. See how the button band is shorter?

It’s time to sneak in a few extra rows. Since you’ll be adding two rows, a wrong side and a right side row, you need to find the two-row difference. This sometimes takes a bit of math. In my case, figuring out my ratio was super simple. I needed to put in a short row turn after every 6 rows since the body gauge is 6 rows per inch and the band gauge was 8 rows per inch. 6 body rows = 8 band rows.

But say you have a band row gauge of 7 and a body gauge of 6, you’d just multiply those numbers until you got a two row difference. In that case, work a short row every 12 rows. 12 body rows = 14 band rows.

Not only is the math simple, there’s NOTHING fancy to do for the short row.

1)  Knit across the band stitches.

2) Turn your work and slip the first stitch purlwise from the left needle to the right needle so the working yarn is now coming from the right.

3) Work across the WS row, turn your work and work back across the RS row continuing with the larger needle on the body stitches.

That’s it, seriously, nobody will see any gap. Nothing fancy needed.

Use this trick anytime you come across a pattern with a knit as you go button bank. Heck, use this trick if you come across a picked-up button band and you just don’t feel like it. Remember, laziness is the mother of invention.

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Think you just helped me in doing a duster coat with a button band. I had been studying patterns nothing seemed what I needed. I will swatch it now this way. Not planning on buttons whole way but wanted a couple at top edge. So thank you agin.

  • Useful and slick! Thanks.

  • Brilliant! Thank you!

  • Brilliant! Thank you!
    “Laziness is the mother of invention”
    Also brilliant!

  • Thank you! Fantastic tutorial, and very helpful!

  • pure genius!

  • This is genius. It is wonderful knowing someone is losing sleep thinking of these tricks for all of us.

  • So great!

  • Genius!

  • Brilliant!!!so would join as you go work also? Knit the sweater body then cone back with smaller needle and join as you go? I guess you would still need more rows.

    • I would have to see how the short row works with join as you go, BUT, it seems like just as much work as pick up and knit. So if I’ve already knit the sweater I would probably kick it old school and pick up my band.

  • Simply genius…

  • Thanks Patty—this really is a genius idea. It’s logical, but who would have considered actually doing it?

  • So clever. Your tips and tricks are terrific. I keep your book on my coffee table for quick referencing.

  • The timing of your article is perfect and the content even more so! I’m knitting a cardigan now and wondered how to improve the button bands. Thank-you so much.

  • You are amazing! I never do button bands but this trick might just help me not only learn something new, but actually do it. Thanks for this!

  • Great tips. I knit a cardigan a few years ago with very SOFT yarn. Even though the button band gauge was correct, it wasn’t going to stay pretty for long. Not wanting to cut buttonholes in the ribbon, I fastened the ribbon behind the buttons, but BESIDE the buttonholes. I used a gorgeous ribbon from Anna Marie Horner that makes me happy every time I see it. (It’s not on her site anymore, but some of her resellers seem to have it, and I’m sure there are other options too.) My grandma always used “grograin ribbon” for this purpose. And she DID fasten the buttonholes to the ribbon and cut slits.

    • That’s Maria Horner. . . .

  • As always, genius!

  • Good solution for when you want vertical ribbing in the buttonband. No way I would knit it separately and sew on!

  • Great tip. Many thanks.

  • I love this solution! As a long time knitter and part time designer, I applaud you !

  • Gee, I thought I “invented” this years ago! I was making a twin set out of blended sock yarn, and I knew that it wasn’t going to block worth a darn because of the poly-whatever it was blended with. It was also an allover lace pattern which called for much larger needles than I would ever use for socks – so I used 2 different sized needles. Unfortunately, my brilliant solution only worked for the button band, and the cardigan had a V neck, so that ended up a bit too tight. Of course I didn’t realize what I had done until everything was sewn together and blocked, but I was really pleased with the button band portion!

  • I love to knit a hat sweater

  • I love this trick! Patty always has such great tips and solutions!

  • I’m a couple days late to the party but just want to add my suggestion: I will use a bamboo (less slippery) 5″ or 7″ dp needle and leave it in the work so its there when I need it. That way I’m sure not to zone out and forget. I don’t do short rows tho. Instead, every 7-10 rows I will knit w the larger needle to maintain the guage.

  • Wow! So smart. Can’t wait to use this in my next cardigan.BTW, whichbuttonhole soe you use? 2 row? Tulip?

  • And Patty has the most beautiful buttonholes technique in her book “Knitting Bag of Tricks”. Thank you Patty!

  • Genius!

    This is why the pros have so much to share: more time and more incentive to sort out something that works.

    We’re lucky that you design for amateur knitters & know how to clearly convey your innovations.

    Now maybe I’ll go ahead with that button up cardigan I’ve resisted committing to knit bc I can’t stand the sloppy floppy button bands.

  • I like your solution to the button band quandary. The best button bands on sweaters I’ve made are the vertical rib as you show here. It looks better in the long run than the horizontal rib that so many patterns call for. Another sweater that has stood the test of time regarding button band is one with a seed stitch band. Nice and stable.
    Thanks for your many good ideas!

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