Do I have a treat for you today! Tasha of By Gum By Golly (one of the best vintage fashion and sewing/knitting blogs, in my opinion!) has a fantastic tutorial for all you knitters (and sweater-refashioners) out there! This clever lady has figured out a great way to add a button band to a sweater. This is something that a lot of vintage knitting patterns specify, but the instructions are usually less than clear. Thank you Tasha for deciphering and sharing how to do this!–♥ Casey
Hi everyone! I’m Tasha and I blog over at By gum, by golly. I’m excited to be helping Casey out, and I’m here today to share a tutorial with you!
If you’re a vintage clothing aficionado like I am, you may have occasionally found a cardigan finished with grosgrain ribbon along the opening edges of the button bands. I first noticed it on the inside of many of my machine-knit vintage cardigans from the 1950s. It stabilizes the fabric and allows for buttonholes to be easily added by a sewing machine.
I later discovered this technique in some of my knitting patterns from the 1940s, but it was on the outside, as a design element. What a nice way to add a bit of fun to an otherwise simple cardigan! Unfortunately, though, the instructions are scant in those patterns, basically amounting to “sew on ribbon, work buttonholes”. After lots of testing, I finally settled on a technique that is easy to work and looks great. So without further ado…
How to sew grosgrain ribbon button bands to a cardigan
Other than the typical assortment of straight pins, measuring tape, tailor’s chalk or marking pen, a sharp sewing needle for the ribbon and a sewing machine for the buttonholes, you’ll also need the following:
One knit cardigan, washed and blocked to size.
Matching thread and grosgrain ribbon. Depending on the width you’d like your button bands, ⅝” to 1” works well.
Buttons for your cardigan.
Before you get started:
You’ll need to make a minor adjustment to your knitting pattern before you knit your cardigan. Essentially you want to knit a cardigan that will fit when closed, but without working buttonholes. (You’ll do that later after you add the ribbon.)
Using a vintage pattern that includes grosgrain ribbon button bands? Simply omit the knit buttonholes and work those stitches in pattern.
Using a pattern that has you knit-in the button bands? Simply omit the buttonholes and work those stitches in pattern.
Using a pattern that has you pick up stitches to knit button bands after the cardigan is complete, or has you knit a button band and then sew it to the cardigan? Do not follow those steps in your pattern. Instead, when working the front left and front right pieces, add to the center edge of each piece the number of stitches it takes to get the desired width of the button band. For example, if the front right piece is supposed to be 8” wide, and your pattern says knit a 3/4” button band, instead knit your front right piece 8 3/4” wide.
Cut two lengths of ribbon approximately 5” longer than the opening edge of your cardigan. For example, if the edge is 21” long, cut it about 26”.
Wash the ribbon the same way you plan to care for your sweater. (I hand washed mine.) If you machine wash it, secure the ends with a zigzag stitch so it doesn’t fray in the wash. Once the ribbon is dry, press well.
Start with the left button band first (left on your body, not looking at the cardigan). It’s the side that will have the buttons sewn on. (It’ll make sense why a little later into the tutorial.)
With the cardigan on a large flat surface like a table, lay one edge of the ribbon against the open edge of the cardigan, with a couple of inches hanging off the top and the bottom. Pin the ribbon to the edge, being very careful not to stretch the knitted fabric while you pin.
Insert the pins parallel to the ribbon, close to the edge.
It’s handy to put something flat between the side you’re pinning and the back of your cardigan so you don’t accidentally pin through the whole cardigan. (I used a clipboard.)
Why pin so close to the edge of the ribbon? Grosgrain ribbon can mar with a needle if you move the needle around too much, forming a bit of a hole or a ‘run’.
So whenever you insert a needle into your ribbon do so carefully, and don’t move the needle around more than you have to. Go straight in and straight back out.
Now you’ll sew on the ribbon using matching thread. Starting along the open edge at the top or bottom (whichever is most comfortable for you), make a small knot in your sewing thread and bury it into the knitting, pulling through a loop at least once to secure it.
Pull your needle through the very edge of the ribbon to start your first stitch.
Taking small stitches about ¼” to ⅛” apart (I used about ⅛”),continue sewing down the length of your ribbon (an overcast stitch or whipstitch). You’re just pulling up through the knitting and the very edge of the ribbon, then back around again.
Don’t pull the thread too tight as you sew, as you don’t want the ribbon to pucker. Both the ribbon and knitting should stay flat as you sew. I recommend keeping the cardigan on a flat surface instead of placing it on your lap, where it can get distorted out of shape.
Stitch close to the edge.
Once you reach the other end of the ribbon, discretely knot and cut your thread (leaving the remaining few inches of ribbon hanging off the end for now). Press the ribbon.
You may notice your ribbon is slightly ruffled along the edge. A little bit is okay, but if you end up with much more than shown below, you may need to re-do your sewing and take care not to stretch the knitting or ribbon.
Now it’s time to sew the other edge of the ribbon. I like to work from top to bottom, so I flipped my cardigan over so the starting point was back at the top.
Sew down this edge of the ribbon, taking up about half a knit stitch from the cardigan as you go. Don’t go completely through the knitted fabric to the other side, but grab enough to secure your stitches.
Use your knitting as a guide. Sew into the same vertical row of stitches to make a nice, neat line!
When you reach the end, knot and cut your thread if you are left with a short length. If you have enough thread left, however, you can keep using the same working thread. Cut the end of the ribbon so about 1” is left hanging off the edge of the cardigan. Even though you’ll tuck the raw edge under, you may want to use a dab of Fray Check along the raw edge. (I did.)
Fold the raw edge of ribbon under.
Using small stitches (and taking care that your stitches don’t poke through to the front side of the ribbon), tack down all three edges of the ribbon on the inside of the sweater. When you reach the part of the ribbon that’s tucked under, do not catch the raw edge in your stitches. Let the thread pass over it between the knitting and the other edge of the ribbon. This will help hide it.
Once complete, it will look very tidy on the inside.
You’ll have a clean, attractive looking ribbon button band on the front! Press the entire band on both the ribbon side and the inside.
Repeat these steps for your right button band, omitting the part where you tuck the raw edge under and sew it closed. Leave the few inches of extra ribbon extending off the top and bottom of your cardigan.
Why? These extra ‘tails’ of ribbon make it easier to work your first and last buttonholes, as you can use it to grab on and maneuver your knitting better.
Once you’ve finished sewing on your ribbon button bands, all that’s left is working buttonholes and sewing on buttons!
You can decide if you’d like to work buttonholes on your sewing machine or by hand. I wasn’t happy with the way my hand worked buttonholes looked, however that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you! If you’d like to hand work them, try Sunni’s great tutorial at A Fashionable Stitch.
I opted to use my sewing machine instead, which does a 4-step buttonhole.
First, plan out the placement of your buttons. I laid them on my right button band until I was happy with the location, then measured an even distance between each button (5.5cm, in my case).
Mark vertical buttonholes with tailor’s chalk or a fabric marking pen. The total height of the buttonhole should be the length + width of your button + ⅛” (so the button will fit through the hole).
Work buttonholes as instructed by your sewing machine manual or by hand. If you work them by hand vertically, use a bar tack at both ends. If you work them by machine, pull all threads to the back side of the buttonhole and knot or bury the ends in the edge of the buttonhole.
When you’re done, cut through the buttonhole with a sharp knife, seam ripper or scissors. If you get a little fraying on the inside of the buttonhole from the ribbon, carefully trim the threads away.
If you’d like, you can use a little bit of Fray Check along the back of the stitching on the inside of the cardigan. (I did.)
Press your ribbons again thoroughly one last time. Then sew on your buttons! If your buttons are small enough (mine actually were not), you can opt to sew an extra on the inside bottom edge. Then you’ll always have a button handy if you lose one!
At this point, I must say that I highly recommend practicing buttonholes on a swatch, no matter how you decide to work them! Simply knit up a short length of your pattern, block it, and practice until you’re comfortable with the technique. This is especially true if you’ve never taken knitting to your sewing machine, or if you plan to handwork your buttonholes. Fabric, knitting and ribbon do not all act the same.
Look how much neater my buttonholes are on the real cardigan compared to one of my swatches. This is why it’s good to practice!
And that’s it! How does it all look in the end?
I knit it from a 1944 pattern for a classic boxy, drop-sleeve cardigan. It was a popular style in women’s and teen’s during the 1940s. I found it in a delightful vintage knitting book called “Campus Classics for Knitters”. I’ve posted the pattern free on my blog, so you can make one from the same pattern too, if you’d like!
It looks so classic! It’s adds the perfect vintage touch to your sweater, too.
I just love this cardigan, I can already tell it will be a wardrobe staple. I already want to use this technique on another sweater in the future!
Think of different ways you can modify this technique, too… try contrasting or patterned ribbon, experiment with it to turn a pullover into a cardigan (a great suggestion from Casey), put the ribbon on the inside edges instead of the outside edges, or include it along the top of pockets, too. How else might you use it?
Hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial! A big warm thanks to Casey for letting me share this fun project with her readers!