These are the buttons I made for my Talamh sweater. I found some factory-made buttons covered with knit fabric in my button stash as I was starting the sweater, and the idea stuck. When I finished the sweater, I knew I wanted buttons covered in my yarn, so I made some. Afterwards, it occurred to me that I might have been reinventing the wheel here, but searching Google and Ravelry turned up nothing like these, so here are the directions! At the end of the post I’ll also include some links to other ideas I did find, in case these aren’t quite your style. As always, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.
Knitting the Cover
Pick your buttons to go inside the knitted cover first. They should be a little smaller than you want the finished button to be, and ideally a similar color to the yarn you’re using to cover them.
These buttons are knit in the round from the center out. Since they are tiny, there are only a few rounds before you decrease, and secure the knitting to the button.
You want the button fabric to be tight, so that it will be sturdy and the button underneath won’t show through. Use a much smaller needle than you usually would with the yarn (even if your yarn is thicker). Here I used size 1 needles, after using size 4 with the same yarn for the sweater. I’ve illustrated using double points, but of course you could use two circulars or a magic loop if you prefer.
Start by casting on four stitches, using Judy’s Magic Cast On, or another method that starts seamlessly from the middle (this one from Cat Bordhi is also good).
If you increase 4 stitches per round, it makes a flat circle of knitting. I learned this from Daniel Yuhas’ book, Knitting from the Center Out. Since a flat circle is my goal here, I knit into the front and back of each stitch, for 8 total stitches in the next round. (If you aren’t sure how to knit front and back, otherwise known as kfb, just Google it—more tutorials than you’ll ever need will pop up.)
Increase 4 stitches again in the next round (ie: knit into the front and back of one stitch, knit one stitch, repeat those two actions around). At this point I switched some stitches onto a third needle, to keep my little circle from getting too stretched out where the needles join.
Since my button is tiny, I only needed one more round of increasing 4 (knit front and back, knit 2, repeat around, for a total of 16 stitches) to reach the size of my button. You can compare the amount of knitting you have to your buttons, but it can be hard to judge without finishing. Luckily, these only take a few minutes to make, so it’s easy to try another one if the first one isn’t quite right.
When the button is the size you want, start decreasing, so that the knitted fabric will cup around the edges of the button smoothly. If your button is bigger and/or thicker, you may want a plain round before you start to decrease, but for these little guys I found it made the cover too baggy for the button, so I went straight from an increase round to a decrease round.
I did one round of knit 2 together, knit 1, repeat. You can see how the cover begins to puff up in the middle as the edges draw in.
On the next round, I knit every 2 stitches together, until there were 5 stitches left. If you have a lot more stitches, it may take a couple more rounds of decreasing. You also want there to be enough fabric on the back of the button so that you can pull these few stitches together at the center back.
When you have just a few stitches left, cut the yarn, thread the end on a sewing needle, and pass it through the remaining stitches.
Knitting Meets Button
At this point the actual knitting part is done. There are a couple more tricks I want to show you as we sew it together, to make the button come out really nice.
First, before you start to cinch up the knitting around the button, take the sewing needle from the end you finished knitting with, and thread it on the end left from casting on.
Open out the little circle so the inside of it is clearly visible. Use the center yarn tail to cinch up the first stitches from the cast on, if necessary. Then sew around in a little spiral, starting near the center, piercing just the backs of the knitted stitches (use a sharp needle). This secures the tail, and adds a little extra cohesion to the stitches that will be the button front.
When your spiral is done, trim the inside tail, and thread the outside/last knitted with tail back on the sewing needle.
Place the button in the middle of the circle, and draw the edges up with the remaining tail.
Pull the last stitches tight together in the center back, which hopefully will snug the whole cover nicely around the button. If it’s too loose or too tight, just start again, make another one with modifications.
Once your cover fits your button, secure it by taking a stitch through one hole in the button, out to the front side.
Then take a stitch back, aiming to enter the knitted fabric in the same place you came out (so as not to leave a stitch on the surface) but angle the needle so it goes through a different hole in the button. You’re putting a loop of yarn through the button itself, to secure the knitting in place.
I think this technique would also work with shank buttons, you would just want to take a few stitches around/through the shank instead.
Lastly, I stitched around the edges of the back side of the button, adding a little more yarn and securing the stitches there.
Tada! A tiny knitted covered button, ready to go.
I sewed these on using a variation of my usual technique (I updated the photos on that post just this week, and love how they came out): sewing through the yarn on the back of the button rather than through the button itself.
I’d love to try making some bigger buttons using this techinique, too.
As if that weren’t enough, when doing research for this post I stumbled on a few other fun things. Actually, I fell down a bit of a rabbit-hole of cool ideas for DIY covered buttons, both for sewing and knitting, and another post is probably coming soon. In the meantime …
Kate Davies has a lovely clear tutorial for yarn-wrapped buttons that come out looking sweet.
What about embroidering a design with your yarn on fabric, and then covering a button with that? There’s a tutorial here on The Purl Bee.
There’s always traditional thread-button techniques, like these from Threads Magazine. Full disclosure: I long ago tried and failed to make sturdy buttons using similar techniques, but I’m pretty sure it was user error.
You could also knit a circle from the bottom up, rather than from the center out, increasing and decreasing at the sides, and then gather it over a button or use a commercial button form. There’s an example on Knit Darling here. She uses a cover button kit, and rightly points out that those don’t work in small sizes with thick fabrics. I think you could gather a smaller size over a regular button and secure it something like the second part of my technique (but I haven’t tried this yet to be sure).
Not that there aren’t beautiful buttons out there, but especially during this season when we’re surrounded by encouragement to over-consumption, I just love the idea of putting the final touches on a project myself, made with bits and pieces I have around the house. Here’s wishing you all a restful, creative December!