The Knit With Yarn Shop

8226 Germantown Ave Chestnut Hill PA 215247YARN

Buttons for Knits – A Finishing Touch

The Buttons in Bloom ™ collection presents the discriminating handknitter with a stunning array of artisan, handmade, specialty, novelty and antique buttons as well as other closures – all primarily crafted from natural materials. Each button included in the collection – carefully culled from sources throughout the world – wonderfully accents handknits. Whether funky, or fanciful, fun or fantastic, a button selected from the Buttons in Bloom™  collection can be the fashionable finishing flourish identifying your handmade knitting as an exceptionally well-made garment.

The Buttons in Bloom™  collection, really a specialty button boutique within the shop, draws upon the artistry of a number of button craftsmen both domestically and internationally supplemented by the resources of the leading distributors of couture-quality buttons. Artisan buttons are made in the United States ( including American Samoa ), Europe, Asia and Africa. The couture-quality buttons are drawn from the leading button manufacturers in Italy, England, France, Austria, Norway, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic among other countries.

While tastes vary, buttons used in handknits are often selected to preserve the visual focus on the knitting – although it is not unusual for handknitters to design a garment around the lines and textures of a simply marvelous button or clasp.                                                                  


 Buttonholes: What Makes a Cardigan

Some handknitters entirely eschew cardigan styles because of an inherent inability to make refined buttonholes with staying power. What a pity!

Holes merely left in knitting quickly become elongated – making the garment appear prematurely worn-out. Manipulating buttons with every wearing eventually breaks the unworked yarn serving as the edge of the buttonhole – giving full meaning to the term "wear and tear".

Until relatively recently, tailor shops would readily make buttonholes in handknitting; the prevalence of designer yarns ( and their designer prices ) have understandably caused tailors to be reluctant to cut holes in finished knitting. Home sewing machines are often not the answer for a knitter’s desire for a finished and tailored buttonhole: the bulkiness of knitted fabric ( unless the result of an extremely fine gauge ) often does not fit under the foot of home sewing machines.

Complementing the Buttons in Bloom™  collection, The Knit With offers a buttonhole making service whereby handknitters can have finely stitched and tailored buttonholes applied to their garments. For more about tailored buttonholes, see the Service Page  of this website.

A Condensed History of Buttons

Buttons, as we currently know them, are relatively recent innovations in clothing closure design – only the snap, zipper and velcro are more recent.

The Western use of buttons dates only to the early Renaissance when jewels and semi-precious stones – employed primarily as embellishments, often lavishly, and not as closures – were the first buttons. Early buttons were predominately applied as decoration to fabric relying on more ancient methods to fit clothing. Through the seventeenth century, buttons were reserved for use by royalty and aristocrats – and clerics – often serving as a badge of social rank.

Notwithstanding this relatively recent heritage, the concept of using a button harkens to the brooches or the wood, bone and horn pins used throughout antiquity when drape, wrap, lacing and tying were the common forms of closing clothing.

With the advent of the modern age, buttons became more ubiquitous – although certain clothing styles, notably the pullover sweater and the shawl, still adhere to traditional methods of fashioning clothing upon ancient fitting concepts. During the Victorian Age, machine made buttons became de riguer   in almost all forms of clothing – often profusely so! Today, the use of buttons has almost entirely replaced the lacing and draping of fabric – allowing a closer and more streamlined fit and offering better protection against the elements.

The history of buttons is still manifest in the materials from which today’s specialty buttons are made. Specialty buttons richly rely upon wood, stone, horn, bone, shell and other calcium or mineral based materials. It is not uncommon for today’s better button – fashioned from semi-precious and precious materials – to look like, or act like, the jewels employed in yesteryears.

This history is also manifest in the manner in which buttons are applied to garments. As in the Renaissance, it is not unusual for buttons to form the visual and artistic focus of many a current fashion designer’s entire runway line.                                        


 Common Buttons: Petroleum Discs

Despite the rich heritage in button manufacture, the most common material currently fashioned into buttons is petroleum based plastic, available in almost an infinite variety of hues and colors.

Many a discriminating handknitter knows that the selection of an appropriate button is critical to the fit, fashion and function of hand knitted garments, Often the shine or chemical color of mass-produced, petroleum-based buttons simply clashes against the fine wools, silks and mohairs of hand knitted garments.

The history of plastic formulation is especially evident in buttons. Today, buttons made of early plastics – whether casein or other formaldehyde plastics, bakelite, and celluloid – command attention from antiquarians and designers alike.

The appropriate button neither dominates nor diminishes a handknitted garment. Too often, mass produced and commonly available buttons just will not do for handknits, no matter the style of the button. Similarly, buttons available in most fabric stores are unsuitable to handknits as being either too small, too busy or too garish.

For the blossoming of your beautifully knitted garment requiring buttons, choose among the specialty buttons comprising the Buttons in Bloom™  collection.

Style, Shape and Size

When selecting a button, the style of the button is often as much a consideration to the knitter and the seamstress as is the material from which the button is made – and, sometimes, as much a consideration as the size of the button.

The style of a button usually refers to the manner in which the button is applied to knitted or woven fabric and does not, at all, refer to the shape or any design depicted on the button. The two most common button styles are:

Shanks – a full faced button with a looped back for adhering to the garment; and

Eyed – whether hidden, two, three, four or more eyelets or holes drilled, cut or otherwise worked through the face of the button showing the yarn or thread attaching the button to the garment.


  About the Material Sources of the Buttons in Bloom™  Collection

Antler buttons are produced from the fall-off racks of North American deer and elk. These wonderful creatures of the forest need not die to provide its antler for buttons – antlered animals, naturally, shed their racks each Spring; collected racks are fashioned by hand into beautiful and durable buttons. The coloration of antler buttons varies by the species of the animal; variation in color can also be caused by the animal’s specific habitat.

Horn buttons, primarily from Asia and Africa, have striking color variations which vary among species as well as the dimension of the horn.

Walrus ivory buttons are products of the Inuit of Alaska who sustain themselves during the harsh Northern Winter by harvesting walrus and entirely using each animal.

Bone buttons are primarily produced by indigenous peoples throughout in Africa and Southeast Asia although bone buttons are made throughout the world.

Pearl and shell buttons are primarily cottage industry products of islands scattered throughout the South Pacific – from The Phillippines to American Samoa. Pearl buttons, most commonly white or off-white, may also be grey, pink, beige and, although rarely, blue and black. Pearl buttons are distinct from shells having a mother of pearl layer. Both pearl and mother of pearl buttons can be dyed or smoked to alter or enhance the natural beauty of these calcium based treasures.

Wood buttons are made by hand from tress harvested in an environmentally sound manner primarily in the Americas.

Buttons can be found in an almost infinite variety of shapes, although the perfectly circular ( or round disc ) button is the most common style – whether a specialty button or one which is mass produced. The next most common shape is the toggle, which is well suited for coating and casual wear. Dimensional buttons are especially exciting when used on otherwise perfectly plain knitted or woven fabrics. Happily, buttons can be found as triangles, squares, penta-, hexa- and octagons, quarter and half moons, as well as both concave and convex discs.

Novelty button artistry results in closures looking like racecars and raccoons, dinosaurs and daisies, giraffes and garden pots. The variety of designs is seemingly limitless and allows for a full expression of the hand knitter’s creativity.

Buttons are measured by gauge – a language familiar to handknitters – in this instance, ligne sizes. Ligne ( pronounced lin-y ) sizing derives from the French system of counting the number of horizontal threads in fine woven fabric which would be covered by the diameter of the button; other than button measurement, ligne dimensions are employed by watchmakers for measuring the size of watch movements. This technical system for measuring buttons allows the button consumer to more carefully measure relative button sizes although all too often buttons are measured according to common coin sizes or metric or English diameter sizes.

Unlike weavers, the handknitter need not create buttonbands according to precise ligne sizes; often in handknitting, ligne sizes may appear meaningless because relatively few rows per inch are achieved when the most common weights or gauges of yarn are knit.

In a well knit garment, a properly sized button is easily accommodated by a button band which allows between one half stitch and one full stitch of the knitting to remain visible on either side of the attached button; bulkier fabrics and heavier buttons sometimes require less than a full stitch or more of fabric on each side of the button. This simple rule is often altered for effect, impact or style.

Determining the number of buttons to be applied to a garment is a function of the size of the button. Generally, to close any given measure of fabric, smaller buttons are required in greater quantities than the number of a larger button. Buttons should be spaced closely enough so that the knitted fabric does not shutter open, gap or bubble; the edge of the closed fabric should retain a straight and even line.

The chart below provides a sample of the most common button sizes according to the ligne, English and metric systems of measurement. The accompanying graphic depicts actual ligne sizes and the corresponding English and metric measurements. All references to button sizes in the listings provided below measure according to ligne sizes; use the chart and the graph to determine the most appropriate button size for your project.                                                                       


 Sewing Eyelet Buttons

Eyeleted buttons should be sewn to garments using the thread shank method. A thread shank is made by elongating ( usually by no more than one quarter of an inch ) the thread between the bottom of the button and the top of the garment; when the button is adhered to the garment, whip stitch around the thread shank several times and knot through the whipped stitch. Thread shanking allows the garment to be buttoned more easily and is the preferred method for sewing eyelet buttons.

Large or heavy eyelet buttons should be sewn to knitted fabric using a backer button – small buttons to anchor the functional button and keep it from stretching the knitted fabric.

Caring for Specialty Buttons

To assure your continued enjoyment of the specialty buttons selected from the Buttons in Bloom™ collection, clean garments by washing the garment in a natural, non-detergent soap. Garments with more fragile buttons should be turned inside out for washing. When using other methods of cleaning, always protect specialty buttons against exposure to harsh detergents and chemicals by covering the buttons with foil – or, better yet, entirely remove the button from the garment prior to commercial cleaning. For easy removal of shank style buttons, consider using button pins – especially designed for easy removal of shank buttons.

Machine washing may subject certain buttons to unduly harsh or abusive wear. Entirely avoid machine washing delicate porcelain, crystal and glass buttons and carefully consider whether stoneware ( and other earthen ), leather and wood buttons will be adversely affected by the temperatures available when machine washing and drying.

Store pearl and shell buttons separate from common petroleum based buttons. In closed environments and over time, petroleum based buttons cause pearl and shell buttons to effervesce and gradually degrade. The lustre and smoothness of these treasures from the sea will be permanently lost.