Choosing My Buttons for Kate Davies’s OWLS Sweater

There are so many little decisions when knitting something. What fibre do I want? Should it be washable? What colour? Should I lengthen the sleeves or torso for my shape? What buttons should I use? An OWLS pullover, like mine has 20 pairs of buttons to consider. One pair for every set of cabled owl eyes.

The Pattern

Most pullovers do not require you choose buttons (except maybe for the edges of a wide bateau neckline or at the cuffs), but as any knitter knows, Kate Davies’s OWLS is not like most pullovers – it is a cultural phenomenon. When OWLS was first released in February 2010, it was only Kate Davies’s sixth pattern released. It has since been favourited 48,163 times on Ravelry and there are 8,762 projects.

Back in 2012, Debenhams briefly sold their own version of it under the Red Herring label, which was pulled from stores after their infringement was brought to public attention. Though that event did not change the design of the sweater, it did show that knitters and the designs they love are defended with great passion and loyalty. 

And that loyalty is for knitter friendships too. My friend Wyvernfriend knit me my own OWLS sweater in almost seven skeins (700 meters on 6mm needles) of my chosen yarn of Berroco Weekend Chunky (6923 Green). Luckily, we have almost the same measurements so checking fit along the way was easier. I have had the sweater and worn it regularly for over three years and am just now getting around to adding the buttons. This is a photo of how I’ve been wearing my OWLS since Wyvernfriend mailed it to me in 2014. The first photo is the true color.

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The Wool/Yarn

Now, before I talk about choosing buttons for Kate Davies’s OWLS, I need to talk about the wool used and how this sweater has worn for the last three plus years. I chose Berroco Weekend Chunky because it is 75% Acrylic, 25% Cotton and wool against my neck/back/arms/torso makes me itch like crazy. Sadly, this yarn was discontinued and is no longer commercially available. But if you love it like I do, you can look for it in the sell/trade option on Ravelry or opt for a similar yarn using YarnSub. I really love this yarn and especially this color, which brings out my eyes. It also wears well and is soft. No pilling, snagging, unraveling, sagging, or issues. I wear it fairly often too. Usually while carrying a backpack or satchel for work – or schlepping a small human. I’ve read other blog posts that were not aligned with my enthusiasm for the chunky or the green on AilRedLoh, Sewaholic, and Stay & Roam – so in the interest of knowing everything you should check out their perspectives if you are considering your own OWLS. Gemma over on Stay & Roam now has me wanting to knit an OWLS in cream. Hmmm. *daydreaming* Also, Stay & Roam’s earlier post about her grey OWLS which offers advice on armpit seaming and blocking.

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The Buttons

Now, let’s focus on the eyes of the 20 cable knit OWLS on my sweater. This is when it is nice to browse finished projects on Ravelry to see what others have done. I considered pink button eyes, like LaNina used, but they reminded me of Bunnicula. Red felt too Christmassy. White was too stark a contrast. Black buttons felt bland. Beige buttons were too beige. You get the idea. And size matters. Plus, I wanted two-hole buttons not four-hole buttons for their eyes. I wanted something whimsical, yet versatile. It was a hard decision and the OWLS were eyeless for ages.

Three years later, when I least expected it, in a Michael’s craft store in the States, I saw Favorite Findings mini buttons and it seemed right for my OWLS. Each little bag held 75 buttons in four colors. Options in one place and small enough to bring back to Cork in my luggage. They had the mini buttons in four color sets, but the Ocean set included green buttons that closely match my OWLS. It also included navy, aqua, and teal. I thought it was the best option. Yes, I was tempted to buy all four sets. No, I did not. So, I bought the Favorite Findings Ocean set for a whopping $2.99 plus state sales tax and gave it a look.

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Then I had to wait two months to be back in Ireland to try them out with my OWLS.

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Green faded a bit more than I wanted.
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Navy was oddly dark yet bright and stood out more than I wanted.
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Aqua was bright and cheerful.
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Teal was rather perfect.
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I put them out alternating on the front ten OWLS to see if more than one color would even look good. Spoiler alert: It was adorable, but busy! The true color of the sweater did not photograph well in this photo though.

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The teal and aqua were my favourites.

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I decided to use a combination of alternating button colors in pairs as eye buttons for OWLS in my sweater using the teal and aqua buttons in the set. Then came the tedious, yet oddly satisfying, process of sewing the 40 buttons on. Finally, these little cabled owls would get to see the world through blue-tinted buttons. The package of buttons had 19 aqua buttons, I needed 20 which meant one pair would be teal instead. I can deal with that. As my grandma would say, “on a galloping horse, no one will notice.”

I considered whether to have the thread match the buttons or the sweater wool. But when I put them out to see, I realised I wasn’t crazy about all the eyes. I have a one-year-old and could just see things getting caught on one of the 40 buttons.

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So, after looking at it I decided to sew on just one pair of eyes to start then wear it for a bit to see how I like it. I debated aqua or teal and settled on teal button eyes and teal thread for the accent pair.

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I sewed the single pair of teal button eyes on the OWL over my heart as an accent and gave it a test drive to lunch with my friend Stephen. He did not know I had been debating this issue, but immediately said he liked the “accent eyes”. Which is a good sign that he, as a non-knitter, recognised they are eyes and that the knows me well enough to say nice things about my hand knits. So, I will let the accent pair of eyes stay for a while.

Here are photos of how it looks.

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I am in awe of how the color of the sweater photographs slightly differently each time. For such a vibrant green, it comes across as grey-sage quite often.

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I finally gave up and made this photo black and white.

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The most important things to remember when sewing on buttons for Kate Davies’s OWLS: Choose which way the buttonholes will align and be consistent. Do you want your stitch to cross from left to right (horizontal) or top to bottom (vertical). I opted for horizontal. No need to leave space for a button band to fit behind because these are decorative buttons only.

Final BEFORE and AFTER pics…

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Project Summary:

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