Monday, September 29, 2008

Guide: Buttonholes

Because bound buttonholes must be made at the beginning of construction, you need to make a decision about buttonholes early on in your construction process. If you're going to make handworked or machine worked buttonholes, once you've made that decision you can forget about them for awhile. If you decide to make bound buttonholes, then you need to work those in the front before you stitch your shoulder seams or side seams.


  • Bound buttonhole - make these before front facing is attached, then finish back through facing after garment is fully assembled. These are a hallmark of a finely tailored women's coat or jacket. You will not find these on men's coats.
  • Hand worked buttonhole - these are worked after garment is fully assembled.
  • Machine worked buttonhole - these are worked after garment is fully assembled

You have the choice of making Bound Buttonholes, appropriate for women's coats, and the time to make them is before the jacket is put together. Because your entire front should be interfaced with the hair canvas or interfacing that you're using to support and shape your lapels, it is a good idea to put your buttonholes in before applying the hair canvas. The hair canvas should not be sewn into your bound buttonhole. It is appropriate to add an alternative interfacing in the area of the buttonhole.

For any method you'll first need to mark your coat front with a "ladder" to make sure that your buttonholes are consistent and lined up. Using thread tracing stitch the CF line, then a line for each end of the buttonholes - so you now have 3 vertical lines. Then you'll add the horizontal lines to mark the placement for each buttonhole.

3 methods of bound buttonholes:

What I call Patch and Wrap - I'm honestly not certain if there is really a name for these. After the patch is cut through the center, the patch is wrapped around the seam allowances in the center and stitched down.
  • Summerset has already written a great tutorial for this here
  • Simplicity has a clearly illustrated tutorial here
  • A tutorial for another patch method may be found at Vintage Sewing site.

Corded Bound Buttonholes: Does anyone have an illustrated source for the old fashioned way to make the corded bound buttonholes? The type where you make a corded piping, then sew the piping to the buttonhole box, cut the fabric, then turn the corded piping through and stitch the triangles on the ends?

Hand worked buttonholes
I chose to make hand worked buttonholes for my military style jacket, made with a cashmere/wool blend coating weight wool. I just thought that bound buttonholes would not be in keeping with the style of this jacket. And, just to show you that I'm along with all of you, I'm having to make samples, work on technique, and practice some of this stuff that I don't do often. I'm going to post pictures of the first sample buttonholes I've been making for my jacket. It's obvious that I need to practice. But, I'm showing you my first and second buttonholes here - which are pretty miserable. Thankfully, by the time I got done with my 6th they're looking much much better. If you click on the picture it'll get large enough to see.

These are the epaulettes that go on the shoulder. I made one set that came out lopsided, even though I carefully marked my seamlines, so I used them to practice the topstitching and buttonholes. The topstitching is by machine, using a 5mm stitch and Madeira Lana thread. I'm very pleased with the look of the topstitching. I had to experiment with widths from the edge.

I made my first hand worked buttonhole using Madeira rayon embroidery thread. Too shiney, and the stitches were really uneven. The second buttonhole I tried using Madeira Lana thread, doubled. Too heavy, although I like the matte finish of the thread on the wool, and again, I still need a lot of practice with the handstitching.

Next I tried the regular Gutterman All purpose thread, doubled and waxed. The thread buried so deep into the wool that it didn't look as if there were any buttonhole there at all. So then I tried a single thread of the Madeira Lana wool thread. It's what I ended up deciding to make in the epaulettes.

I've made the buttonholes for the epaulettes and stitched them onto the shoulders of the jacket. I'll practice more before making them for the front. I'm being realistic, even the 5th and 6th hand worked buttonholes I made weren't anywhere near perfect enough for the front of a jacket. But the epaulettes will never be unbuttoned, and those buttonholes will not show. I did want working buttonholes up there, I think it's better looking than just popping a button on top and stitching the end of the epaulette down.

Machine Worked buttonholes.
All I can say, if you're planning on making buttonholes by machine is "Sample sample sample!" Practice before you make your first one.


Gry said...

Thanks a lot for all the work you put into this sew-along, Marji. I have learned a lot by participating. This blog is a very valuable resource - I am sure I will refer to it for future projects.

Jean in NC said...

Hi Marji,
Thanks for the info on buttonholes. I had planned to tackle the hand worked buttonholes but if you had problems with them, it's certain that I would as well. I think that bound buttonhole might be too "formal" for my sportier looking coat. However, as you suggest, I will test some samples. It was important to learn when to insert the type of buttonhole chosen. Thanks again for this information.

Liana said...

Did you use at least a doubled thread to cord the buttonhole? That's what really made my stitches stand on top of the fabric and look good. You could use as many strands as you needed.

I bought some wool blend thread to try for my coat's buttonholes, so it was exciting to see that you used this.