The humble hand sewn buttonhole is a shining example of how a hand-stitched process can still be valuable in the world of machines. In today’s world of technology and computerization, it is refreshing to know that some handcrafts are still valued. There are many occasions when sewing a buttonhole by hand is just the better option.
Why Do a Hand Sewn Buttonhole?
If you're asking yourself if you should do a machine buttonhole or a hand sewn buttonhole, here are a few reasons to consider.
- You don’t have a buttonhole system on your machine and you really need a buttonhole
- Your fabric is too thick to be buttonholed by machine
- You are nervous about the confusing buttonhole gadgets on your machine
- A bad experience with a machined buttonhole makes you prefer hand sewing
- It’s a decorative option and you like the idea of crafting it yourself
If you decide you'd rather learn how to a buttonhole with a machine, I have a tutorial for that too! You can use automatic or manual settings on your sewing machine.
Further Reading: How to Sew a Buttonhole
Whatever your reasons, the hand sewn buttonhole is not that difficult and with practice can be a work of art!
Hand sewn buttonholes are assembled in a different order to the machine-stitched version. The hand-stitched buttonhole starts with the cutting of the hole before the stitching begins. This is the exact reverse of the process when you machine stitch a buttonhole.
Hand Sewn Buttonhole
Step 1 - Mark Position
Prepare your fabric and measure and mark your buttonhole position. This means using the actual button to mark the distance and checking how many buttonholes you will need.
For thicker buttons, don't forget to add the depth of the button to the length of the buttonhole.
Formula: buttonhole length = length of button + depth of button + ⅛" extra
In the preparation, decide on whether you will sew a horizontal or vertical buttonhole. This could be specified in the pattern or your own personal choice. While the majority of the jackets in my cupboard have horizontal buttonholes, some are placed vertically as one and I have one with diagonal buttons. There is no real right or wrong.
For thin fabrics, you may need to add some interfacing behind the place where the butthole will be placed. This will give some strength to the buttonhole and prevent it from stretching out after a few uses. The fabric should be at least double.
Step 2 - Outline Stitch
Choose a contrasting thread to run a row of small running stitches around the edge of the buttonhole before you cut.
This is especially important on thick fabrics for coats and jackets and very thin slippery fabrics on blouses. It helps to secure the fabric and keep the multiple layers together.
Decide if you want a keyhole (rounded) ending which is useful if the button is very big and you want it to sit well. The keyhole should be facing the center edge so when the button is done up it can rest in the keyhole position.
Step 3 - Cutting
Cut your buttonhole and mark the ends with a straight pin.
If the fabric is an open weave or one that is prone to fraying, you can put a stop fray solution on the edges to increase durability.
Step 4 - Buttonhole Stitch
Now start stitching using your buttonhole stitch.
Always practice a few times to get the stitches correct. Buttonhole stitch is not the same as a blanket stitch so cut a scrap of fabric and a slit to practice first.
Hand Sewn Buttonhole Stitch
Insert the needle for buttonhole stitch from the top (1) to the cut edge (2). Wrap the thread around the needle at the bottom going under the tip of the needle to make the buttonhole stitch.
When you pull your thread through there should be a little knot at the top on the cut edge. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘purl’ stitch and gives a nice ridge to the neatened buttonhole.
What is the difference between buttonhole stitch and blanket stitch? Blanket stitch is stitched in the opposite direction and there is no knot or ‘purl’ stitch finish. Practice first and you will see the difference.
Tips for a Hand Sewn Buttonhole
- Keep stitches even and close together as precision is important.
- It is possible to lay a piece of fine cord along the edge of the buttonhole and to sew over the cord to create a raised edge. This gives some extra support around the edges of the buttonhole.
- Remember to stitch several times at the top and bottom of the buttonhole to secure the ends.
- Work any keyhole in a fan shape.
Hand Sewn Buttonhole - In Conclusion
When your little work of art is completed you will be proud of the time and effort it took.
Buttonholes, sewn by hand on coats and jackets, have stood the test of time. Now you can proudly go out and……
Button up your overcoat. When the wind is free, Take good care of yourself… because you belong to somebody! (Words adapted from a well-known song from way back in 1928!!)
More Uses for Buttonhole Stitch
Did you know that you can use this stitch for more than hand sewn buttonholes? Buttonhole stitch is great for decorative embroidery and making flowers. It is sewn the same way as your buttonholes except you don't need to cut the fabric or outline the shape. Look how pretty these flowers look!
Further Reading: Buttonhole Stitch
More Buttonholes & Buttons
If you are still not sure about a hand sewn buttonhole, don't worry as there are lots of alternatives including Velcro, Kam Snaps and Hooks and Eyes. See the articles below.