It’s amazing how many times we hear seamstresses not making a garment if it has buttonholes. Buttonholes feel so final; not something that can easily be unpicked and, to add to the pressure, you usually have to create more than one on the same garment!
We have decided to demystify the buttonhole and show you how to create lots and lots of gorgeous buttonholes (and if a few of them aren’t perfect along the way – that’s ok too!).
We’ve just launched our latest sewing pattern “The Blouse” which has 8 buttons at the front. We’ll be using this pattern as the example to create buttonholes.
Buttonholes are usually created on the right side of the fabric. When you are wearing the garment, the buttonholes will be on your right-hand side. For The Blouse, we don’t mark the buttonholes until the garment is finished as this means that you can try on the garment to ensure the buttonholes are in the right position for you and not creating gaping across your bust.
The buttonholes are placed vertically along the button stand of the garment (apart from the collar which is horizontal). This is an example of the vertical buttonhole.
On your main garment
Press/iron the front edges of the blouse so that there are no creases. Lay the garment with the right side facing you and on top of the front pattern piece. Line up the pattern to the blouse, bearing in mind that, if you are creating the buttonholes after sewing the collar and hem, the garment needs to start 1cm below the top of the pattern piece and 2cm from the bottom to accommodate for the seam allowances.
Using the pattern piece as a guide, place pins horizontally across the garment marking each buttonhole. Try the garment on and check that the buttonholes are in the right position for you. The key buttonholes are the ones across your bust, waist and hip.
We are going to create some test buttonholes on spare fabric (that is the same as the garment) first. Recreate a section of spare fabric that is similar to the buttonstand of the blouse. Press/iron a piece of interfacing onto the fabric and turn over to give you the same front edge as the blouse. Press/iron the fabric again so that the edge is crisp.
Sew a 2cm button stand along the edge or draw with a fabric marker. Place the pattern piece underneath and mark a couple of buttonholes with pins.
The stand on the front edge (from the stitching line to the edge of the blouse) is 2cm. Therefore, we would like the buttonhole to sit in the middle of the stand which will be 1cm.
Mark the 1cm mark at the bottom pin (our pink dot). This is going to illustrate where to start sewing, as the buttonhole moves from the bottom of the buttonhole to the top.
Using the buttonhole pressure foot for your machine, pull open the buttonholder to the back and place the 9mm button in it. Push the buttonholder together tightly around the button.
By placing the button in the automatic buttonhole foot automatically sets the size of the buttonhole. It usually adjusts for a button up to 2.5cm in diameter.
Attach your buttonhole pressure foot to your machine as per your sewing machine’s instruction book. It’s important to note that our sewing machine creates the entire buttonhole in 1 step (automatic). There are some machines that will create one step, you then adjust the machine, create the next step and so on, until the buttonhole is created. Read through the instruction book to check how your machine is illustrating this process. The wonderful thing about sewing machine manuals is they really do take you through each step so don’t hide your manual away :)
Set the machine to the buttonhole setting. As you can see in this illustration, our sewing machine instruction book is guiding us on the settings needed to sew a buttonhole:
- The width of the stitch. For a finer buttonhole you would use a narrow stitch width and for a more substantial buttonhole your stitch would be wider.
- The length of the stitch. Use a shorter stitch length for finer fabrics and a longer stitch for heavier fabrics.
After placing the buttonhole presser foot onto the machine, the buttonhole lever needs to be pulled down. This stops the buttonhole from sewing past the correct size for the button. If it’s not down the machine will not know where to stop and you will just keep on sewing backwards.
The buttonhole will automatically sew:
- the front bartack
- zigzag on the left side,
- back bartack,
- zigzag on the right side
This means you start at the “bottom” of the buttonhole and, once the front bartack is sewn the next stitches will be the left side of the buttonhole.
Place your fabric underneath the foot, lining up the edge of the fabric with the foot. Your needle may start sewing the front bartack from the left to the right or the right to the left but it will always then move down the left side of the buttonhole next.
Here we go – the first bartack is across the width of the buttonhole. The needle is going into the left of the dot, then creating the bartack and automatically moving down the left side of the fabric, before creating the next bartack and moving up to the right side, completing the buttonhole.
We kept our fabric straight by lining it up with the edge of the buttonhole foot. That only worked on this type of buttonhole as it’s a vertical buttonhole 1cm from the edge. Ensure that when you are creating buttonholes the fabric is kept straight.
Once the buttonhole is created you can remove it from the machine. Check that you are happy with the width of the buttonhole stitches and the length and adjust as necessary. The only marking you need to make is the start of the buttonhole for each buttonhole. The machine will do the rest for you!
Our advice would be to, in between creating each buttonhole, change the setting from buttonhole to something else, the back to buttonholes. That will ensure that when you start your next buttonhole it is at the beginning of the procedure.
Create lots of test buttonholes to get used to the procedure and then move on to marking your blouse and creating the buttonholes.
Finishing off a buttonhole
There are some tools that will help give the buttonholes a really great finish. They aren’t imperative to the perfect buttonhole but, as they are relatively cheap, they are a worthwhile investment.
Starting on the left, Fray Check (please always test on scrap fabric) – this colourless liquid is painted on to the buttonhole and stops the cotton from fraying once the buttonhole is cut. On the right, a buttonhole cutter! Love the person that invented this tool.
The blade on the edge literally cuts through the fabric in the buttonhole with such a clean slice. Place a piece of board underneath the fabric and voila, once cut your button slides right through. If you don’t have the cutter, place a pin at the end of the inside of the buttonhole and use your unpicker to gently slice through the fabric. The pin will stop the unpicker from slicing past the buttonhole
Once you have sewn all your buttonholes and have cut through the fabric to allow the buttons to enter, place the garment so that the buttonstands are on top of each other with the buttonholes on the top, lining up the top and hem of the garment.
Place pins directly through the middle of the buttonholes. Lift up the buttonhole stand ensuring the markings for the buttons don’t move. Using a fabric marker, place dots on the buttonstand marking the button placement again in the middle of the buttonstand (1cm from the edge).
Handstitch the buttons to the garment and the blouse is completed.
We hope that this has made the buttonhole process a bit easier. Test, test, test on a spare piece of fabric until you feel you are confident with the process and then go for it! Don’t forget to reset your machine back to its original settings before sewing again.
Adjusting the buttonhole placement
Allow us to introduce you to another fabulous tool. Should you wish to change the buttonholes on a garment then these lovely gadgets will change your sewing life. It’s an expanding buttonhole gauge. You can use it to work out the placement of your buttonholes and then use a fabric chalk to mark the buttonholes. Lush!
2 thoughts on “CREATING PERFECT Buttonholes”
I have nearly finished my blouse. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it – even though my ‘area of expertise’, i.e., unpicking, was well used! But I hate setting sleeves into armholes. I have a feeling that when I have done the buttons/buttonholes I may be unpicking again and having another go. I did follow your instructions, but still was not happy. How about a lesson on your webpage as good as the buttonhole one? Question? Why can’t I do them by setting the sleeve in before joining the bodice side seam, i.e., flat. Years ago I was told that was the way it was done in industry. I then started looking inside M&S garments and got quite a few tips! Most useful was when soft pleated skirts were popular and M&S ones were overlocked around the bottom edge and then turned up, ironed and machine stitched just the width of the overlocking. I have just looked at the ‘tools’ part of your buttonhole tutorial and thought you might be interested in the following – years ago I was involved in machine knitting design and construction. I went into a knitwear factory and was shown by the boss a piece of equipment he had bought to position buttonholes evenly on high class knitted 2-piece outfits. He told me that he was very annoyed about spending £150 on it, as one of his new employees pulled her own gadget out of her pocket! It was a piece of elastic, with equidistant markings on it – she just pulled it to the length of the jacket/cardigan and marked the positions!
Hello Maureen, I am glad you enjoyed making The Blouse. You could absolutely set in the sleeves using the flat method. OH I love love love the buttonhole placement “tool” – what a brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing xxx