How to Make Afterthought Buttonholes

Isn’t it frustrating knitting a cardigan and having to deliberate over the best placement of the buttonholes based on how long the button band is and how many buttons you have to play with. Well fear not! Take all the pain out of knitting button bands by learning how to make afterthought buttonholes!! 

Unlike a standard button hole, which is usually worked whilst knitting the button band, afterthought buttonholes are worked exactly like they are named – as an afterthought! Follow the pattern guidance on how to knit both button bands but omit the instructions on how to knit the button holes. In order to start your afterthought button bands you need: 

  • A cardigan with both button bands worked (without buttonholes) –  
  • Spare yarn of the same colour or very similar – if the cardigan was knit from a thick yarn, it may be best to split the fibres to make it thinner, or use a different, lighter yarn. This minimises the amount of bult added to the button band where the buttonhole is worked. 
  • Lockable/removable stitch markers 
  • Crochet hook 
  • Darning needle 
  • Scissors – don’t worry! You won’t be cutting your knitting! 

To put it as simply as possible, an afterthought buttonhole is created by using a crochet hook to pull the ‘bars’ of purl stitches apart to make a hole. The loops on yarn that are created by doing this are then secured on the wrong side of the button band with the spare yarn and darning needle. 

Lets break that down into 12 easy steps: 

Step 1: Lay out your cardigan with both button bands aligned next to each other. Decide which side you wish to have the buttons and which side will have the button holes. 

(Traditionally, for men the buttons should go on the right and the buttonholes on the left. For women, the buttons on the left and the buttonholes on the right – Manufacturers did this for a practical way of distinguishing men’s and women’s clothes!) 

Space the buttons evenly along the length of the button band, you can either do this by eye, based on where you would like the buttons to sit, or by measuring exactly.  Place the buttons so that they sit atop a column of purl stitches, the buttonholes need to be worked into the purl columns. For the Hera’s Cardigan, spaced the buttons by eye first, then counted the columns of knit stitches between each button and adjusted them so that the number of columns between each button was as even as possible. 

Step 2: Once you are happy with the button placement, place locking stitch markers into the purl columns of stitches on the other button band, matching the spacing of the buttons. 

Now the buttonholes have been marked, move the buttons to one side for safe keeping! 

Step 3: Now look a little closer at the column of purl stitches marked for the first buttonhole. The buttonhole will be made by distorting the two ‘bars’ of yarn at the centre of the column (e.g. if you worked 8 rows of rib for the button band, bars 4 and 5 are the ones required to work the button hole). Readjust the marker to highlight the 2 central bars. 

Step 4: Place the crochet hook into the marked bar closer to the button band pick up edge. Pull on the bar to enlarge a loop. 

The two other bars pictured are the bars to be worked in the next steps  

Step 5: Working away from the centre, pick up the next loop in the stitch next to the bar in the column, and using the hook, pull the second bar through the first – very similarly to picking up a dropped stitch (link). 

You can see here how the buttonhole is beginning to form 

Step 6: Repeat by picking up the next bar in the column and pulling through the stitch/bar currently on the crochet hook, as you did in the previous step.  

Step 7: Now that a hole has been formed, pull tightly (but not too tight to snap the yarn) on the bar left on the crochet hook making both the loop and the hole bigger. 

The hole will now be bigger and it should look like a knit stitch has been created 

Step 8: Remove the crochet hook from the loop and position it to the back of the button band, inset it through the fabric where the button band meets the rest of the cardigan and pull the loop through to the back. Place a locking stitch marker into the loop to secure for now. 

Step 9: Go back to the right side of the fabric and the second bar marked by the stitch marker in step 3. Place this bar onto the crochet hook and rework steps 5, 6 and 7, but this time working towards the bound off edge of the button band. 

Step 10: Pull second the enlarged loop to the back of the button band, similarly to step 8, bringing the loop through the fabric just inside the bound off edge. 

Now time to check if your button fits! Slip a button through the buttonhole. If necessary, you may be able to enlarge the hole by pulling a little more on the loops, be careful not to be to rough and break them, though!  

Step 11: Now turn to the wrong side. Take your spare yarn and darning needle, attach the yarn to the inside ‘seam’ (the edge where the button band stitches were picked up from the front panel). 

Step 12: Making sure that the yarn does not show from the right side, carefully sew around the buttonhole, catching the loop and encasing them into the fabric to secure them. Once complete, secure the end into the seam again and snip off any ends with a pair of scissors. 

Repeat these steps to create as many buttonholes as you need!