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How to Sew Buttonholes

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Do you know how to sew perfect buttonholes that looks like store-bought quality? Whether you have buttonhole foot or you’re not familiar with the features on your sewing machine as beginner, creating beautiful buttonholes for your DIY clothing is a must-have sewing skill.

If you are in a stage where you are building your sewing tools, prepare various sewing needle for woven and knit to accomplish high quality garments that last long. From overlock foot to zipper foot, each sewing project will require the basic sewing tools to accomplish the project with a professional finish.

However, buttonholes are everywhere and you cannot avoid them when making clothes from scratch. They are one of the primary closures used in many clothing designs.

How do you sew buttonholes? The fabric choice and type of buttons you are using are important when sewing buttonholes on the garment. You may or may not need a buttonhole foot to create special hemming around the holes to avoid fraying.

Make sure to mark the correct position for the buttonhole to match the button to create an even closure.

In this tutorial, we will learn sewing tips and the detailed methods used for sewing buttonholes. From manually sewn hand buttonholes to using a sewing machine with a buttonhole foot, we cover the frequently asked questions so you can find a comfort zone to create nice finished buttonholes for every project.

What is a buttonhole?

In terms of sewing, buttonholes are simply two parallel zigzag stitching lines on either side with a slit though the fabric in the center. It is an opening where buttons can easily slip through without damaging the fabric. The zigzag stitch prevents fraying on the slit and secures the opening without ripping the fabric apart. 

However, we need to keep a few things in mind when it comes to sewing buttonholes. 

When holes are made in fabric, it leaves behind raw edges. The raw edges of the buttonhole are generally finished with the help of stitching to avoid continuation of fraying. 

This could be done either by hand or with the help of a sewing machine. There are various types of buttons, and some require the use of rope or loop of cloth instead of the typical buttonhole. 

Types of Buttonholes

Depends on the style of garment, utilize different buttonhole types to create beautiful finishes for clothing. Most buttonholes are easily accomplish with practice and proper technique that you can do by hand, machine, and using fabrication for button opening. 

Here are the most commonly used buttonhole styles that you will be using when sewing garments from a sewing pattern.

  • Piped Buttonhole: Piped Buttonholes are folded strips that are stitched behind the buttonhole in the leather or suede. Due to using cording to give 3D effect, it is decorative with functional element.
  • Bound Buttonhole: Bound or faced buttonhole has two tiny pleats or lips that meet at the center of the buttonhole. This method is widely used for sleeves or laden on the blazer for a clean formal look.
  • In-seam Buttonhole: In-seam buttonhole is formed by leaving a gap in a seam that can be left plain or be topstitched on each side to secure the edge of the hole. It is basically an opening in the seam to insert the button.
  • Fabric Loop Buttonhole: Fabric loop buttonhole is most commonly used on women’s garments from blouses to dresses. Use leftover fabric to create tubes or you can use elastic cord to give easy access and attach on one side of the opening with the button sewn on the other side to secure the closure.

Buttonholes have both functional and embellishment purposes on the garment. Whether you hand sew or use sewing machine, make sure to use the correct thread to keep the buttonholes neat and tidy.

tutorial on how to sew buttonholes

Tips for Sewing Buttonholes

While sewing buttonholes may seem simple and easy, there are quite a few things that you must learn and perhaps even unlearn. Sewing that first buttonhole can certainly be tough and intimidating, hence it would be better to learn a few useful tips that could save you time so you gradually learn and then master the whole process.

  • To start with, it would be a good idea to choose a fabric that is easy to sew. For your first few attempt it would be better to stay away from silk or other such slippery options, rather look for something simpler and easier such as linen or cotton. Easy to sew fabrics are also easy to cut and size more accurately.
  • Understanding how glue basting helps the fabric to remain in place. Avoid using pins because it often leads to bumps in the fabric.
  • Practicing topstitching is also something that could make all the difference. It will give you the opportunity to try out threads of different colors and adjust the stitch lengths. 
  • Make use of scrap fabric to sew straight with sewing machine where buttonholes require nice straight lines. This will give you practice, help you to learn it better and choose the method you consider to be the best.

How do you mark a buttonhole on fabric?

There is no doubt that marking the place for the buttonhole on fabric is extremely important and vital. Improper markings will make a total mess of the buttonhole and will also damage the fabric beyond repair. 

In addition, you may end up disproportion in between the button spaces and also have uneven closure.

The rule of the thumb is to make sure that the marking of the buttonhole is as follows: 

  • The length of the button should be measured and additionally ⅛ inch should be left for wiggle room on either side. 
  • Mark the button locations after sewing your buttonholes, that way everything lines up properly and are in the right place.

Expert Advice: Place the pattern piece on top of the fabric and transfer the position with pins. Remove the pins and use fabric marking tool to draw a line between the two pins. 

This method will help you to position, mark and sew easily instead of sewing over the pins. 

How do you sew a buttonhole manually?

If you do not have a buttonhole system or the fabric is too thick to use on the machine, you may consider to sew a buttonhole manually. Manually sewn buttonholes gives a handmade touch that makes the garment feel more couture.

When sewing a buttonhole manually, you will be using blanket stitches that are sewn really close together with two loops instead of one, one over the needle and one under. Be patient and sew each stitches neatly to create even look on both side.

Manual Buttonhole Materials you need:

  • Hand Sewing Needle
  • Fabric Marker
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Buttons
  • Thread
  • Interfacing

Manual Buttonhole Step by Step Tutorial:

  • Transfer the buttonhole mark from the pattern, make sure the space in between is even and also add ⅛” for ease on both side.
  • Iron on a small amount of interfacing or tear-away iron on the back of the fabric for extra support.
  • Cut open the marked buttonhole with sharp scissors or an Exacto knife.
  • Make two parallel stitches using running stitches with your needle around the slit.
  • Use thick pearl cotton thread to make buttonhole stitches around the hole.
  • Bring up the needle from the back of the fabric near the right edge to the left. 
  • Continue making closed buttonhole stitches till you reach the end.

When you reach the end corner, make 2-3 stitches on top of each other that is equal width of the buttonhole to secure the thread from opening up the hole.

Expert Advice: The width of the buttonhole stitches will depend on the fabric you are using. If you have lightweight easily frayed fabric, use wider stitches, however not too wide that the stitches look like they disappear.

How do you sew a buttonhole with a sewing machine?

While many people find manual sewing of buttonholes easy to do, it may not be the same when it comes to sewing a buttonhole with a sewing machine. It will take a bit of practice, however it is easy to follow and sew along with the step by step tutorial included below.

Types of Machine Buttonhole

Each sewing machine comes with different options for making buttonholes. It is crucial to understand and know your machine’s feature to select the type of buttonholes that best suits certain fabrics and particular garments. 

Here are most used machine buttonhole types that sewing machines can easily execute.

  • Standard buttonhole: A rectangular buttonhole with dense and neat satin stitches. Widely used in light to medium fabrics for shirts, blouses, and pants.
  • Stretch buttonhole: A rectangular buttonhole with a zigzag stitch. Frequently used in stretch fabrics such as knits or even woven blended with spandex. 
  • Keyhole buttonhole: A rectangular with a round circle on one end. The rounded shape has a diameter larger than the width of the parallel line. It is generally used on heavyweight or non-stretch fabrics such as jeans, coats,  and jackets in menswear.
  • Round-end buttonhole: This buttonhole is a standard buttonhole with slight curved end on one side. The rounded end helps to fit around the button shank. This method is used on medium and heavyweight fabrics in most outerwear garments.

What is a Buttonhole Foot?

Majority of modern sewing machines come with assorted sewing machine feet. They are extremely useful when you know what to do with the, but you may wonder what a buttonhole foot is used for and how to use it properly. 

The standard buttonhole attachment has white rectangular plastic guides to determine the size of button and the space where the needle sews. The role of buttonhole foot is to clip onto the machine and be able to create buttonhole for various size. 

It is possible to make a buttonhole with the simple step by step tutorial and correct setting on the machine. However, there are a few things that you must bear in mind. 

Start by removing the presser foot, and only then clip the buttonhole foot onto the machine. 

This is a standard method and way for you to measure the sizes that is required for a flat button:

  • Decide on the size of button you are using to determine the dimensions of the buttonhole. 
  • The size should be perfect enough to let the button slip through easily but not so big that at the same time it remains in place. 
  • To ensure this, place the buttonhole presser foot perfectly to avoid breaking the needle. 
  • Make a note of the markings on either side of the attachment so that the stitching is accurate.

Materials you need to create buttonholes with a sewing machine:

  • Buttonhole foot
  • Sewing Machine
  • Buttons
  • Fabric marking pen
  • Thread
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Fabric scrap 
  • Interfacing

Sewing Machine Buttonhole Step by Step Tutorial:

  • Depending on the fabric, add light to medium interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric before sewing a buttonhole.
  • Transfer the buttonhole position from the pattern with the pin.
  • Mark with fabric marking pen on the right side of the fabric.
  • Attach buttonhole foot and thread the bobbin properly.
  • Place the button on the button feet to know the exact measurement for automatic or manual technique.
  • Start sewing the first side, first T bar, second side, and finish with the second T bar.
  • Place a pin over the bar on top and bottom, and then insert the seam ripper to create an opening. 

Expert Advice: Make sure not to pull or push the fabric while sewing as the will cause tension issue and set the buttonhole foot off. Also, try a stitch width of 2.0 with a length of 0.3-0.5 for side, then adjust for the T bar to 5.0 width and 0 length.

Once all 4 corners are stitched, run the threads in and secure the end that you can select from the machine feature. If not, simply tie the threads off by hand. 

Pull the thread through to the reverse side and knot the threads or sew the threads into the back of the buttonhole with a needle. 

Sewing Buttonholes: Final Thoughts

Have a clear understanding of the various types of standard buttonholes. Make use of the above instructions and follow the same rules that you follow when you are going in for buttonholes in a manual environment.

It is clear from the above that if you wish to sew buttonholes the right way, you have to learn it the right way. It takes some time and practice, but once you are able to go through it, you will be able to master it within a short period of time.

Whether you manually sew buttonholes by hand or use the buttonhole foot and stitch with a sewing machine, the process is relatively straight forward. Follow the sewing tips shared above for the best results and your buttonholes will be elegant and functional with a professional looking finish.

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