How to Hand-Sew a Buttonhole

comments (38) March 3rd, 2009     

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CalPatch cal patch, contributor
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I love the handmade look of these buttonholes! They have a lot more character than machine-made ones.
I used a 1-inch hem as my facing, but you may not need to do this if your piece already has two layers to it.
Mark the placement of your buttonholes.
I love the handmade look of these buttonholes! They have a lot more character than machine-made ones.

I love the handmade look of these buttonholes! They have a lot more character than machine-made ones.

Photo: Cal Patch
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Technology in sewing buttonholes by machine is incredibly advanced these days: Pop a button into the special foot, press a button, and a perfectly sized buttonhole is done in a moment. But there are many reasons why you might want to sew a buttonhole by hand, and most people don't even realize it's possible! If you don't have access to a machine, or yours doesn't make particularly nice buttonholes (it happens), or you're making something delicate that might not survive the heavy needling of a machine-made hole, or you just want a handmade one for aesthetic reasons, a hand-stitched buttonhole could be the solution. You might just never go back!

All you'll need is some heavy-duty buttonhole or quilting thread (or embroidery floss), a needle, something to mark the placement with, and a ruler if you need to plan out the placement of several holes.

Buttonholes should always be stitched through a minimum of two layers of fabric, so if you only have one layer where you want the hole(s), you'll need to do a fold-back facing (essentially a wide hem) or a separate one. If your fabric is very thin, insert a layer of interfacing in between. I began by stitching a 1-inch hem, which will be my facing.


I used a 1-inch hem as my facing, but you may not need to do this if your piece already has two layers to it.

1. Mark your placement. Use tailor's chalk or another temporary marking tool to indicate the size and placement of the hole(s). They should be centered and evenly spaced. You might find it helpful to mark the center point of each hole for the next step.


Mark the placement of your buttonholes.

2. Cut the holes. Fold each buttonhole in half, and carefully snip through both layers. You may want to cut them a little short and then unfold and finish snipping each end separately.


Carefully cut each hole open.

3. Begin stitching. Thread your needle and tie a knot with both ends together. You'll be using the double strand for extra strength. Starting in the middle of one side of the hole, insert the needle between the two layers (to hide the knot) and come out on the right side, about 1/8 inch from the cut edge. Take the needle around the cut edge to the wrong side, and pierce both layers so that the needle exits on the right side in the same place where it originally came out.


Your first anchor stitch just wraps around the edge of the hole. Hide the knot and tail between the two layers.

Use this first stitch to anchor the top of your first blanket stitch by inserting the needle from right to left under the top of the stitch. Now begin blanket-stitching around the hole from left to right (if you don't know how, hop over to Erika Kern's tutorial here), working your stitches pretty close together.


Begin to blanket-stitch around the perimeter of the hole, keeping your stitches close together.

Continue stitching along one side until you reach the end...

Work around until you get to the end of the first side, then continue around the end of the hole in about three stitches, with the second stitch extending out straight from the cut hole, until you are on the other side.


...then work around the bend, spacing your stitches evenly.

Work across the second side and the remaining end in the same way, until you have reached the starting point. To finish, slip the needle through the top of the first stitch to complete the circle, then from the wrong side, make a tiny stitch (picking up only two or three threads of the fabric) at the base of the first stitch, and before pulling the stitch tight, insert the needle through the loop to make a knot. Finally, insert the needle just next to the knot, through only the wrong-side layer, and pull through to bury the tail between the two layers for a clean back side.


When you've gone all the way around, tie a knot on the wrong side and insert the needle into the wrong side layer only. Pull it out an inch or two away, and snip the tail so that it's buried between the layers.


Wasn't that fun? You can play around with the size and density of your stitches to get different effects, or try fun contrast colors or novelty threads such as metallic or variegated! Hand-stitched buttonholes can add the finishing detail to all kinds of projects, and are the perfect complement to a handmade button.

 

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posted in: , embroidery, buttons, hand sewing, blanket stitch, buttonhole

Comments (38)

Egdon writes: You've created the perfect vampire buttonhole, for vampires aren't able to see their reflection thus they wouldn't know how really, really bad this looks. You gotta be kidding with this, right? This is NOT the way to make a buttonhole.
Posted: 8:38 am on January 16th
stephoneill writes: I cannot tell you how this post has helped me today! I was led here by another blogger 'Smashed Carrots and Peas' and will now finish project with confidence. SusanMLK - thank you for the belly laugh, sometimes I think mine hates me too!! :0)
Posted: 9:04 am on February 24th
GoSewGirl writes: I came across this tutorial while trying to help someone long-distance who needed to make hand stitched buttonholes. Cal clearly states that she is using a blanket stitch here in this tutorial. So, just for further information, there is also stitch called *Buttonhole Stitch* or a *Tailor's Buttonhole* that looks similar but is quite different. It is only a bit more involved, and it creates a more durable buttonhole because a very firm stable edge is created along the inner edge of the opening.

Obviously the stitch anyone chooses to use is personal preference, and as with other aspects of sewing, there are often several ways to do something.


I'm not at all affiliated but here is a link to a comparison:

http://heritageshoppe.com/heritage/stitches/blanketstitch.html
Posted: 1:32 pm on November 14th
kfc385 writes: Thanks for the tutorial, I love how the pics are large, and I can see each step. I learned to make buttonholes a long time ago from my Nan, and my brain just needed a "refresher"...I also must comment on my feelings that common courtesy is just not common enough...I admire all who take the time to do a tutorial, or show their work! My Nan also used to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Thanks again!
Posted: 11:36 pm on July 27th
chammer writes: Seems there a quite a number on this thread that think they can do better than Cal, yet I haven't been able to find THEIR tutorials. Hmmmmmmmmm. What's the old saying??
............ All blow and no show??

If all you better-than-thou people can do it better, let's see it. Put your TUTORIAL where your MOUTH is. Come on, we all want to learn your wonderful techniques. If not, then quit bad mouthing the people who ARE putting themselves out there and doing a good job of it too. Either put-up, or shut-up!!!
Posted: 2:03 am on July 20th
chammer writes: TO: Elleba . . . . . if all you could do was write a post criticizing Cal Patch's hand sewn buttonhole and extolling YOUR "expertise" you should have kept it to yourself. First of all, nobody likes a braggart, and that is exactly what you were doing. And secondly, there seems to be one lesson you did NOT learn growing up and in your 70 years of life, and that is tact. So the next time you are tempted to brag or put someone down who is "out there" helping other people with tutorials, don't bother, because we aren't interested and we happen to ENJOY and APPRECIATE all that Cal does.
Posted: 1:47 am on July 20th
ROMANTIC writes: I make dresses for my 3 daughters and myself.We love to attend the English dances and dress everyday in the Pride and Prejudice dress styles.To make my dresses look more authentic,the homemade buttonholes that I learned from your tutorial make them look all the more beautiful!Thank you for teaching a craft that is quickly going extinct.Keep up the great work!
Posted: 7:12 pm on March 30th
StitchKitty writes: I'm excited to find this tutorial, since my sewing machine (and dear friend/co-conspirator) is an antique. I didn't want to replace it just so that I can make button holes, and I certainly don't want to take it to a tailor and pay to have it done. I love hand-stitching hems and zippers, so this should be fun! It's funny how it always comes back to Cal Patch...

On a note toward the comments regarding the comments stating the hole doesn't look finished or pretty, I usually assume in these tutorials that contrasting threads are used to make the stitches show up better on screen. Different thread sizes and colors can be selected for real projects to make the button holes more discreet. Relax. ;-)
Posted: 12:35 pm on February 2nd
MsMartyD writes: You can make your buttonholes any way you please. Enough with the negative comments! Before finding this site I went to my McCall's sewing book, circa 1963 and learned to make buttonholes for a dress I was making for my granddaughter. I didn't want all that work chewed up by the so called buttonholer on my brand new machine. She is seven and "designed" the dress herself so I couldn't take any chances with it. Thanks for the instruction and for the lovely site. I am happy to see renewed interest in sewing. My granddaughter has many things not made in China but right here in Texas.
Posted: 10:49 am on July 23rd
SusanMLK writes: I appreciate these instructions. My sewing machine hates me and does not do buttonholes. I do a lot of hand sewing, so it's great that my buttonholes will be sewn by hand. Thanks for the info!
Posted: 5:33 pm on February 20th
seniorose1224 writes: My machine is acting up, plus I can not figure out the buttonhole attachment. So happy to find this suggestion.I know I used to make buttonholes by hand years ago, but with age I have forgotten how. Isn't that sad. But will get busy on the pajamas I am making for a great grandaughter and finish the buttonholes. Thanks so much.
Posted: 4:41 pm on November 17th
ringelpunkt writes: Cool. Love the not-perfect-handmade look.
Posted: 10:36 am on September 21st
crafteevivi writes: I meant Vampchick21. ;)
Posted: 2:44 am on April 18th
crafteevivi writes: campchick21, right on. Thanks for that.
Cal Patch, thanks for the tutorial. I have been doing my own buttonholes simply to be as eco-friendly as possible. I did what I thought was right and seeing your tutorial made me feel better. You're awesome!
Posted: 2:41 am on April 18th
vampchick21 writes: elleba, AHH, Norrie2 & PegBroMac, so if you three can create perfect, professional buttonholes by hand that are a trillion times better than what is shown here (and frankly my dears, the appearance here is for visuals only...so people like me can actually SEE the dang thing), then please, create a tutorial amongst the four of you amazing and perfect human beings to show us poor fools how it's done.

Crafty? That's a compliment! Homemade? You betcha, busting arse to do it too. And no, the instructions are not dumbed down (unless you are needlecraft goddesses, which you four clearly are).

This tutorial has done me a good turn, it's taught me something no one bothered to do, since by the time I was learning to sew, machines had evil buttonholers that hate me.
Posted: 9:45 pm on April 13th
floresita writes: Thanks for the tutorial, Cal!

And, regarding the negative comments - what a hoot! One thing I have always noticed about negative commenters is that log on just to say something negative and then promptly disappear. I like how none of these ladies have made any previous comments or share any info about themselves on their profile. Which even leads me to believe it could all be the same person.

I'd just re-iterate what other people have said and that is that there are all levels of experience and expertise. We crafters aren't making buttonholes for the Buckingham Palace, and we won't be flogged if we don't get them perfect. To me, the most important thing is inspiring people to create - not demoralizing them by disparaging their efforts.
Posted: 2:00 pm on April 7th
pomly writes: Great idea! I've never thought to try doing it by hand. I have a fancy machine but I still have trouble making the button holes come out right. I will definitely try this. I think fuchsia embroidery floss would look great on black denim!

Regarding some of the comments below, I hope that when I am older and full of knowledge and really good at doing things, that I will share that knowledge in a positive and constructive and friendly manner. What is the point of saying "I can do this better than you nyah nyah!" ??? Instead of saying, "This is wrong/bad/horrible because..." why not say, for example, "Here is some extra information I'd like to share, another technique that I find works well..."
Posted: 12:51 pm on March 23rd
Kindershop writes: Thank you so, so much. I am buttonhole-phobic; meaning I alwasy pick patterns that do not require me to use my machine for making buttonholes. They just never turn out right. With your tutorial I managed to finish a couple of very cute summer dresses for my girls. Thanks.

http://kindershoponline.blogspot.com/2009/03/summers-calling-toddler-sundresses.html
Posted: 4:04 pm on March 18th
caroleleah writes: When I was a small child, I learned in school to write. I was given a chunky fat pencil and a Big Chief yellow tablet with lines spaced widely apart. I was able to learn to write this way. As I got older, I learned cursive, and my writing "tightened up" and became more refined. I see this button-hole tutorial in the same fashion: When first learning a skill, I need to see something very clearly and plainly to understand. I think this tutorial serves its purpose quite well, by giving me a basic skill to master. I have to learn to walk before I can run. This photo tutorial is a excellent beginning, and is in no manner so intimidating that I am afraid to even try.
Thank you, Cal, for the information! I can begin with this!
Posted: 11:18 pm on March 9th
SCsewer writes: Thank you, Cal, for a simple tutorial on buttonholes by hand. I appreciate the fact that the instructions are not intimidating so that a person who has never done buttonholes by hand may actually try to do this. There is always time to improve your skills after you have learned something new. The important thing is to get you to try doing it the first time.
Posted: 8:09 am on March 9th
SEWButterfly writes: Thank you for this tutorial. I am going to print out and use this technique probably everytime I need a buttonhole. It gives a great touch to the garment or item.
Posted: 7:52 am on March 9th
quitethecrow writes: I was intrigued by the hand-sewn buttonhole, so I dropped in to take a look. Thank you for the quick tutorial. It presents the topic clearly and concisely.

What really amazes me is the passionate negative feedback in earlier comments. I noted that the people who commented in a negative manner have not shared any of their expertise on the site. It seems if you have a better way of doing something, then it is simple enough to post your ideas/techniques without berating another for their thoughtful additions on this site.

Again, thank you for this post and I hope all of the mean-spirited feedback will not keep you from posting and sharing here again...Elizabeth
Posted: 11:43 am on March 8th
LaDiggity writes: I'm printing this out and will use it for all kinds of things from bags to shrugs for my 3 yr old granddaughter. Re: some of the neg comments, all I can say is "Whaaa???" I thought this is a forum for us to trade a variety of crafty tricks... not a place to rip into each other's style. Good grief! I want to learn it ALL! There is never only one "right" way to do anything.
Anyhow, I really love this tutorial. It's clear, easy to follow, and a super adorable idea. THANKS!
Posted: 11:22 am on March 8th
starkes writes: Thanks for sharing the buttonhole idea. I see nothing wrong with it. I am glad that it was done in a way that I could actually see how it is done.
Posted: 10:55 pm on March 7th
DonnaLee50 writes: I love the HANDMADE LOOK!!!! Bah, humbug to the perfectionists.
I will definitely use this technique for attaching buttons as closures for some tote bags I am making. My machine doesn't have a button hole attachment - in fact my machine has no attachments, it has reverse and 5 zigzag stitches and I sew everything with it!
Posted: 6:53 pm on March 7th
bigboots writes: Isn't this not the right stitch though? I think this is just a blanket stitch, which doesn't form a knot, where a tailor's buttonhole stitch does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tailors_buttonhole_stitch.jpg
A handmade buttonhole can certainly look far more tailored than this, even my first one did. I guess if you wanted it to look all chunky like this that it would still work well with the proper stitch. A tailor's stitch isn't hard to do or anything, just a tad bit more work than a blanket stitch. The knot it forms, however, makes the stitch have more integrity and the whole thing won't unravel if a thread breaks.
Posted: 6:29 pm on March 7th
Secretsugar writes: Interesting that "homemade" is used as a negative term on a site where people are handmaking things! But semantics aside, I appreciate that you put this tutorial up. I had no idea that a blanket stitch was what one used for binding handmade buttonholes and I look forward to giving it a try soon--more to add a "homemade" touch, though, because I've always been happy with how my machine sews buttonholes. Thanks very much!
Posted: 3:37 pm on March 7th
LindyLu writes: Thank you for posting this. I understood the theory of buttonholes--what the machine chugged away at--but until I read this I hadn't thought to sew the buttonholes by hand, though doing them by machine always seems very stressful to me.

I understand what the other commenters are saying; we all come to art and craft with different backgrounds and experience, and it is lovely to have a part of our lives where we are truly ourselves and can express ourselves to our own liking and not to the standards and expectations of the rest of the world.

For me, an involved, painstaking tutorial would discourage me from trying a new technique. There are many sewing sites online and books in stores and libraries and they are sources of information on polished, perfect products. I appreciate being inspired by seeing something I can at least begin to try. Perhaps I'll progress to polished and perfect from this first attempt.

Posted: 9:57 am on March 7th
vbrock writes: I think the handsewn buttonhole contibution was great. Even though it does have a "folkart" appearance, it can be done however the sewer wants. The negative comments posted have merit, but this gives a quick tutorial to get you started. Thank you Cal Patch.
Posted: 9:36 am on March 7th
PegBroMac writes: This featured buttonhole looks homemade. The steps to prep the area were skipped. I agree, that the skills for hand sewing are being lost, but we need to show the best that we can do, and if the student wants to dumb it down, so be it. But, if we have not taught the skill to the ultimate, then what have we taught? The buttonhole area needs to be starched and pressed. It then needs to be basted to keep all layers in alignment. Before starting anything, does the button easily slide through the hole? If not, enlarge it before sewing. Using bees wax or Thread Heaven for thread treatment, the stitches should be meticulously spaced close together and a stitching line that is very straight. There should be no visible knot, front or back. Refer to embroidery techniques for starting and ending stitching without using unsightly knots. Sometimes, I make a machine buttonhole, and then use the stitching lines as a guide and do a hand buttonhole over the machine stitches. Looks great.
Posted: 9:19 am on March 7th
Katy_Ravensong writes: Thank you so much for this - and for the sweet memories seeing it brought to me - my dear mama could make a button-hole like this much better and faster than I could make one on a machine. I disagree with the lady that says it is awful, though of course she is entitled to her opinion ;) I am printing this out to keep with my craft stuff.

Hugs,
Katy
Posted: 5:55 am on March 7th
MrsRB writes: I never thought of button holes when hand sewing. But, that is a great idea and you can just continue to sew non-stop when working on a project. I think it is wonderful. You did well.
Posted: 5:03 am on March 7th
Norrie2 writes: I agree with Elleba. I didn't have a machine that made button holes until 1980. I would have been ashamed to have made button holes like these. Ours had to be as good or better than machines do them now. In fact I really don't like some machine button holes because they unravel, hand sewn ones can't because each stitch is locked as you make it.
Posted: 3:26 am on March 7th
AHH writes: Thank you, Elleba, for speaking the truth!! I don't think this buttonhole is "finished" at all! I'm in my mid-50's and have been sewing & crafting all my life. All my aunts and grandmothers on both sides were accomplished in sewing as well as several needle arts and this would never pass as a well-made buttonhole - the stitches are too far apart & I learned to mark a line, lengthwise, on either side of the buttonhole line (before cutting it open) - they serve as a "guide" so the stitches come out even in length.

I suppose if you're looking for a "crafty" look, this would do.
Posted: 3:23 am on March 7th
elleba writes: I am sorry - but this looks awful to me. I learned to sew buttonholes when I as a young girl started to make the Norwegian national costumes for men. For every custume I have to make 52 buttonholes, and that in bright green on black wool. So they just have to be perfect. What I saw here is not good. I just whish that I was good enough on the PC to show you how to sew a really beatuful buttonhole, but alas I am past 70 years, and not able to do it. But it is really bad if this is to be the only way to teach young peaple how to.
Posted: 6:53 am on March 5th
Miba writes: My machine sucks at buttonholing and I decided to do mine by hand. And I had to look all over the internet to figure out how to do it. I already know how to do this, but thank you for posting one here where it's easy to find for others who might not know.
Posted: 9:20 pm on March 3rd
PetitGateau writes: I love this! My machine doesn't always do a great buttonhole, so I will definetely use this!
Posted: 5:04 pm on March 3rd
vampchick21 writes: Ya know, I was taught a lot of things in sewing, knitting, crochet, etc. Even attended a year of Fashion Design. But no one ever taught me how to handsew a buttonhole (or darn a sock for that matter)! Thanks for this, I've printed it out and am keeping it on hand, since the buttonhole maker on my machine hates me.
Posted: 4:34 pm on March 3rd
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