Tips for Sewing Buttons on Handknits

Often the last line of a knitting pattern reads: Sew on the buttons and enjoy!

Embroidery floss and a darning
needle work well for sewing 
on handknits.
Take two tiny stitches on the
front of the garment.
Stitch up through the button and
over the spacer. 
Wrap your thread around the loose
threads to create the shank. 
Take three stitches in the shank, pass
the needle to the back and take
three stitches to secure. Done! 

It sounds easy. But what if it's a loosely knit cotton. Or a chunky knit wrap. Surprisingly, the same techniques can be used for nearly all knits! Use these tips to confidently attach flat (non-shank) buttons to your handknits. (For shank buttons, use the same techniques, but eliminate stitching over the spacer.)

First, gather your supplies.

1. Choose your buttons. Have fun with the color and shape, but make sure the buttons do not overwhelm your knit in size or weight.

2. Find a needle that will pass through the holes in the button. The eye of the needle has to be small enough to fit through the buttonhole, yet large enough to be threaded with yarn or floss. There is no one right needle. Start collecting different sizes so that you have a variety of needles available.

3. Pick your thread. Your chosen fiber needs to be both thin enough to go through the eye of the needle and the buttonhole, and also strong enough to hold the button in place. Knitting yarns need to be multi-plied, smooth, and have a tight twist. If your knitting yarn is not strong enough, sometimes adding a doubled length of sewing thread will give it the necessary strength. I often turn to embroidery floss when I'm sewing smaller buttons onto fine-gauge knits. It comes in a wonderful array of colors and is strong and smooth. Separate the plies for tiny buttons. Why not just use sewing thread? Because it is so much more tightly twisted, it may cut through softer yarns. I would avoid using sewing thread on softly spun yarn.


1. Every flat button sewn to a handknit needs a thread shank. The shank allows the button to rest on the top of the buttonband when buttoned. The shank should be the same height as the finished knit fabric. For most dk weight or worsted weight projects, a wooden matchstick makes a great spacer. For sportweight or finer, use a thick tapestry needle. For big, thick, chunky knits, try a chopstick or a size 13 double pointed needle.

2. Thread your needle but do not knot. Leaving a 3" tail, take two tiny stitches on the front of the garment at the button placement. Then go up through the button, over the spacer, and down to the back of the garment. Repeat until the button is firmly attached. In general, three or four passes work well.

3. Have your last stitch exit under the button but above the face of the knit. Pull out your spacer, and pull the button up. Wrap your thread around the threads at the base of the button about three times to create the shank. Take two small backstitches into the shank, then pass the needle to the wrong side of the garment and take two or three more small backstitches. Clip this sewing thread and also clip off the tail from the starting stitches.

4. For extra security, add a small drop of FrayCheck to the last backstitches.

Now, button up and enjoy!

For more knitting inspiration, tips, techniques, and the latest in knit design, try a risk-free trial issue of Interweave Knits magazine today.

Do you prefer yarn, sewing thread, or embroidery floss when you sew buttons on your knits? Let us know in the comments below.

Happy knitting,


Assistant editor
Stitch magazine


Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Buttonholes, Sewing for Beginners

6 thoughts on “Tips for Sewing Buttons on Handknits

  1. To reduce the strain on your knit item, add a back-button: While sewing on the button, also thread your needle through a small button on the reverse side. Small pearl-like buttons look wonderful on baby sweaters. You will be sure to get comments from your recipients.

  2. I use back buttons frequently as well. Love the idea of tiny pearl buttons on baby sweaters–what a sweet touch that would be! Thanks for the additional tip!

  3. Thanks for this information. I have only been knitting five years and most of it is flatwork, or accessories – gloves and things I can embroider on but have not added buttons. With the thought of beginning a “buttoning shawl” or baby sweater (hoping for grandchildren) these tips will be very helpful to me.

  4. I love to make baby sweaters when I’m trying out new techniques–they’re small and don’t take too long. One modification I often make is to reduce the number of buttons to three or less. I remember as a young mom trying to button up six or seven of those tiny buttons on a squirming little one! I usually put the buttons near the top and let the bottom be button-less.

  5. I’ve been knitting forever but lately I’ve been checking for improved techniques. Thank you for this info. I just used embroidery floss with your instructions, including FrayCheck, to sew buttons onto a child’s cardigan. Much better than sewing thread or yarn. Love It! Thank you thank you thank you!