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Buttonbands can make or break a sweater. I mean it! Pick up too few stitches and it will pull, pucker, and never lay flat. Pick up too many, and it’s ruffled, stretchy city. I frequently answer questions about the “best way” to pick up, how many to pick up, whether to follow the pattern stitch count or not. . . and to be honest, I often spend as much time on these finishing aspects of a project as I do on the knitting! That’s my first piece of advice: take your time. It’s well worth it!

Little Oak Curling

Super curly edges, in desperate need of button bands! HELP!

In the spirit of our FAL (Finish Along), I’m wrapping up work on a recent WIP, the Little Oak by Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting. It’s a sock-weight baby sweater, knit seamlessly with a gorgeous, leafy yoke design. The “collar” section is worked at the end of the yoke on smaller needles, leaving only the button bands to be picked up and the armpits to be grafted (more on the kitchener stitch later). Here’s what I’m looking at right now:

Alana suggests picking up 80 stitches for my chosen size. To help do this evenly, I’ll place locking stitch markers at the halfway point, then halfway between this marker and the top and the center marker and the bottom (in other words, at 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 of the way). I’ve divided my button band into four sections, and can plan to pick up 20 stitches in each for a total of 80. ***If your row gauge is correct, begin with what the designer recommends. They know best — they already made the sweater!***

Little Oak buttonband detail 2 Little Oak buttonband detail 1
To actually pick up the stitches, I skip the selvedge (edge) stitch, then working in the space between the skipped stitch and the first full V-shaped sweater stitch, I insert the tip of my right hand needle from front to back through the fabric, yarn over with my working yarn, and draw this new stitch through the fabric to the right side of the work. That’s one! Repeat 79 more times. . . or, just 19 more for this section. Dividing into quarters makes spacing things evenly so much easier, and leaves me with less to rip out if a single section doesn’t quite hit the 20 mark. Full disclosure: I picked up and ripped out the first 20 stitches 4 times before I was completely happy with the spacing.

LO Picking Up Stitches 3LO Picking Up Stitches 2LO Picking Up Stitches 1

Troubleshooting Tips:
– Begin with the stitch count recommended by the designer.
– If you use a circular needle, you can slide all of the picked up stitches down onto the cord or cable to see how it will lie.
– Not laying right? Too many or too few stitches? Determine how many you’ve been picking up in relation to the number of rows — I generally find that picking up 4 stitches for every 5 rows works well, and if you’re working in a (k2, p2) ribbing pattern like me, that multiple of 4 makes counting and maintaining your pattern much easier.

Have some button band tricks to share? A special secret for picking up the perfect number of stitches the first time? We’d love to hear it!