Week 3: Buttons!



Welcome to week 3 of the Sand Waves Poncho KAL.  By now you should have figured out your gauge, cast on your poncho and knit enough to get a sense for the pattern.  Maybe you are well into your first ball of yarn, or second, or more, or not, but wherever you are I hope you are enjoying the process.  The second time through, knitting the poncho has been kind of a Zen experience for me with the soft feel of the cashmere and rhythm of the stitches.  Yesterday I got so relaxed I had a nap on the couch with Dexter the cat!  It was lovely.

As you settle into your knitting rhythm and work through the balls of yarn, it’s time to start thinking about buttons for the finished poncho.  I have been sewing since I was a teenager and have always had a fascination with buttons and the impact they have on a finished garment.  It’s the same with knitting, a well-chosen button can really show it off.

This blog is all about finding the perfect buttons! The poncho pattern calls for 12 buttons, six ½” buttons for the right side and six ¾” stabilizing buttons for the back.  The kits purposefully don’t come with buttons so that you can choose your own.  What you ultimately choose will be dependent on your personal preferences, the color of the yarn you are using and how much money you want to spend.

Button Primer

Buttons come in three basic types:

  • FLAT BUTTONS are the most common with either two or four holes through the middle. This is the one to use on the back side of the poncho for stabilizing.
                                                                      

Here is Norah Gaughan’s choice of flat stabilizing buttons for the back of the shawl--a lovely shell button. Note, that you can wear this side of the shawl as the visible side too, so pick stabilizing buttons that you like.  

  • SHANK BUTTONS are made up of a shape that sits on a shank or stem. The stem has the hole through it so when sewn on a garment, the button sits up with some height. Shank buttons are perfect for the front of the poncho and almost all of the examples below are shank buttons.

Here are the shank buttons that Norah chose for the front side of the shawl. She chose one with a metal shank for durability.

  • STUD or JEAN BUTTONS look a lot like shank buttons, but they don’t have a hole, they have a peg or pin that goes through the material and snaps into a second piece on the inside of a garment. Not really suitable for knits!

Manufacturing Materials

Buttons come in all shapes, sizes and colours and have been made out of almost every natural or synthetic material known to us.  Buttons also come on a wide variety of colours, depending on the material.  Plastic buttons are by far the most common and because plastics and resins are more easily shaped and dyed offer the biggest array of shapes and colours. Older buttons are made of the early plastics like celluloid and bakelite, or out of lucite which is a clear polyacrylic resin.

Wood, metal and seashell are also common materials for making buttons, as is glass and ceramic.  Metal buttons are made of aluminum or brass and you might find earlier ones made out of copper.  Metals take well to enameling and some have beautiful enameled finishes. Wooden buttons are carved from any type of wood, but a common one is the coroza nut, referred to as vegetable ivory.  Seashell buttons are made out of every type of shell possible and will have a translucent sheen, sometimes they are referred to as mother of pearl or MOP.  Czechoslovakia is famous for glass buttons and all of the oldest glass buttons came from that country.  I think glass, metal and wood buttons lend themselves really well cashmere in an organic kind of way.

 Where to find buttons

  • Knitting, Fabric and Craft stores

The most common places to look for buttons. I am seeing a resurgence in button popularity and there is more and more variety in these stores all the time. The newer buttons are made primarily of plastic, metal or wood.  In some knitting stores I have seen cards of buttons that are similar in shape, size and color but are all different

  • Knitting Fairs and Craft Markets

Knitting fairs, textile and craft markets, one day fabric sales which are popular now, all have buttons.  The larger events, live Vogue Knitting Live, have vendors who sell nothing but buttons. 

  • Button stores

Metropolitan centres like Los Angeles, New York and Toronto have stores devoted to buttons.  Sometimes they sell online.  I recently went to one in the Textile centre of NYC and it was stuffed full of all kinds of buttons and other fasteners.  Oddly, I didn’t come away with any buttons, I came away with a brooch!

  • Vintage or Antique stores

I really like vintage buttons and find a lot of my buttons in vintage/collectable/antique stores, and outdoor markets.  They have usually been identified by the seller as to the material the button is made of and the time period. This is what I used on my first poncho—in fact, I chose a card with all different buttons on it.  

  • Thrift or Second Chance clothing stores

Thrift stores often have buttons still on the cards. I have also cut buttons off old sweaters or jackets bought just for that purpose.  If you don’t see any buttons, just ask, more often than not, there are buttons tucked off somewhere.  The buttons on the back of my first shawl came from a second hand shop.  

  • Yard Sales

I have found the most amazing buttons at yard sales.  They are often collected in a tin or box or jar and I buy the whole thing.  So much fun to go through them to see what’s there.  Again, many are still on the cards.  Any I don’t want I donate back to a thrift store.

These are buttons from my stash that I am trying out on the natural colored yarn.  

 

Black glass shank buttons from a collectables market.  I really like these on the fabric, they seem to reflect the black fibre that is in the yarn. I also like the hexagonal shape. It somehow works with the waves.

 

Metal inlaid shank buttons with metal and ceramic.  Great buttons I found at a thrift store. I love the buttons but don’t think they show off the poncho, they need a fabric where they are the stars.

 

Brown celluloid vintage flat button, trying just for fun, also from a thrift store.  They really aren’t thick enough to work well on the poncho but wanted to see the effect of brown buttons on the fabric.

 

Metal buttons I cut off a dress I wasn’t wearing anymore.  I like this one, too, not too showy and the design reflects the waves.

It is always so tempting to want to find the exact buttons the designer has used but each button looks different on the fabric and it really is an opportunity to find your own self expression. Once you start looking, you will see buttons everywhere. Take your knitting with you so you can test the buttons against the color and wavy texture of the design. 

I hope you are inspired to look for that perfect button. I’ll show you how to fasten the buttons you find to the poncho in a blog on finishing techniques.

In the meantime, will you send us some Work-In-Progress photos that we can share on our website and on social media? It’s time to see all the beautiful June Cashmere colors show off the poncho wave pattern—and vice versa. If you’ve chosen your buttons, show those, too. Have a favorite button source? Share that. Use our Q/A section to submit your photos and details. You can let us know there if you’d like to be anonymous. We'd also love feedback from you. Other things you'd like support with in your poncho knitting? Please let us know! Future blogs will talk about finishing and cashmere in general--and any other topics you suggest to us.

Until next time, happy button hunting!

Signe