Adding Buttonholes To a Knit Garment

Hello! My name is Cara, and I’m here to (hopefully) give you some tips and instructions for making buttonholes in your garments. Usually when sewing with knit fabrics, you don’t need fasteners such as buttons or zippers…maybe a drawstring now and then…but knits are nice and easy in that for most things you make, you can just pull them on and go. However, every so often, you come across a pattern that might need a little more.

I recently decided to make the Women’s Madeline Ballet Sweater from Laela Jeyne Patterns. This pattern is for a cross-front, cropped sweater that comes with three options: a banded bottom for a quick pullover style, a button closure, or a classic, ballet-style side tie. If you decide to make either the button closure or side tie version, you will need to make one or two buttonholes in your sweater. Some of the following instructions and photos may vary based on your type of sewing machine, so definitely consult your manual as needed, but the basic steps still apply for making buttonholes in knit fabrics.

Let’s get started!

For my sweater, I chose this lovely Dusty Pink Rayon Spandex from Phee Fabrics – the color is gorgeous and the quality is amazing.


If you are making the Madeline, just follow the instructions for assembly up until adding the buttonhole(s). When it comes time to add the buttonholes to your garment, make sure you have all the tools you need. Pictured here are my buttonhole foot, the button I’m making the hole to fit, a small piece of woven/knit interfacing, a disappearing ink pen, my seam ripper, and some fray block (Dritz Fray Check). The fray block is optional for knit fabrics, since it won’t fray, but I still like to stabilize my buttonholes even on knit fabrics.


As for stabilizer, you need something that is suitable for knit fabrics. My go-to stabilizer is Shape-Flex, a.k.a. SF101, from Pellon.


I go through this stuff like candy when making bags and wallets, so I buy it by the bolt. However, if you are only going to be using a little bit in your sewing, you can buy smaller amounts at a sewing store. In the U.S., you can find it at Joann’s, and you can have a small amount cut for you at the cutting table. They also now sell small packages that you can find near the by-the-bolt interfacings.

Apply the interfacing following the manufacturer’s instructions to the Wrong side of the fabric where you will be adding your buttonhole.


Now, before you attempt to add the buttonhole to your garment, I HIGHLY recommend making a test buttonhole in a scrap of the same fabric you are using for your garment. Not only can you check to make sure your buttonhole will be the right size, but you can make sure your current settings will work for the type of fabric you are using. Here I have my scrap piece of fabric ready (with the start of my buttonhole marked) and also my buttonhole foot holding the button I am going to be using.


Placing the button in the buttonhole foot will “tell” the machine how big to stitch the buttonhole. Pretty neat, right? (“But what if my button won’t fit?” If you aren’t using a flat button, but one with a shank, don’t worry…your manual will tell you how you can calculate the size and translate that to how to set your button guide.)

Now is the time you want to consult your manual to see how to attach your buttonhole foot and the types of stitches available to you. According to my manual, there are 2 buttonhole stitches that are suitable for knit/stretch fabrics.


I like to use stitch 32, as it’s a little more sturdy.


So go ahead and install your buttonhole foot and select your stitch. Make sure your button is still in your foot (if applicable)! Here is how my buttonhole foot looks when installed.


Make sure the buttonhole lever is down and behind the small bracket on the foot, otherwise, your buttonhole will not stitch properly. You also want to pull your top thread down through the hole in the buttonhole foot.


Now you will take your test fabric and line up the mark you made with the guides on the buttonhole foot. The mark you made on your fabric should be aligned with all 3 marks on the foot.


You are now ready to start stitching your buttonhole! Gently hold the top thread and then start sewing. My machine will automatically stitch the buttonhole and finish it off.


Here is the finished buttonhole:


You now need to cut out the center of your buttonhole. Do this very carefully, so you don’t cut through your stitches! I like to get mine started with my seam ripper, then finish with a small pair of sharp scissors. I then apply the fray block to the stitches and inner edge of the hole. Again, this is optional when working with knits, but I just feel it helps secure my stitches and makes my buttonhole a little sturdier.


And voila! Your finished buttonhole!


Now is the time to test and make sure your button will actually fit nicely. You can just pass the button through the hole. It should go comfortably through the buttonhole, but the buttonhole shouldn’t be too big that it won’t stay securely in place once buttoned.


If everything looks good, you are ready to use the same steps to make the buttonhole in your garment. Consult your pattern or tutorial/instructions to find where to place the buttonhole. (PS – don’t forget to put your button back in your buttonhole foot!)

Here is my finished garment. I only needed one buttonhole for the tie version of the sweater, and the rayon spandex is so dreamy and soft! I look forward to wearing my sweater with short-sleeve or sleeveless dresses in the fall and spring to get a few more weeks of wear out of them.


17_Final2I hope you have found this helpful! Happy Sewing!

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