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How to Embellish Buttonholes with Embroidery

by Jennifer Stern
Threads Issue #135, p. 23

For perfectly balanced and embellished buttonholes, turn to your embroidery machine, and follow these steps.

1.  Mark the buttonhole placement on your garment. Hoop a soft and sheer cutaway stabilizer in the largest hoop you have. Set up your machine, with the largest hoop, choose a built-in buttonhole—or import one from your software—and thread with decorative or regular sewing thread. Wind a bobbin with regular sewing thread.

2. Spray the hooped stabilizer with temporary adhesive spray, and position your jacket in the hoop. Check the placement of the buttonholes on your machine. Position a piece of water-soluble topper stabilizer over the placement marking in the hoop.

3. Embroider as many buttonholes as will fit in your hoop. Then remove the fabric from the hoop, and if needed, repeat step 2 to position the next section of the garment. Embroider.

4. Cut neat buttonholes with a chisel-type buttonhole cutter. A chisel cutter prevents a slip of the scissors. Use a cutting board to prevent the chisel from damaging your work surface.


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  1. gramazin | | #1

    This is a very attractive idea!!!!! I love it!!!!!

  2. jsw2021 | | #2

    Where would I find the tool being used to mark the placement of the buttonholes?

  3. PegBroMac | | #3

    It would be nice if your example had the buttonholes going in the same direction as the finished piece.

    How do you incorporate the embroidery design around the buttonhole? Is the buttonhole not applied with the buttonhole foot? What types of designs would work best in this application?

    The one time I did try this. I sewed the buttonholes by machine & then placed the garment into the hoop and embroidered a design going around the buttonhole. Are you doing everything in a 1 step operation?

    Thanks, Peg

  4. costurita | | #4

    Gracias, por compartir esta linda idea, relamente es vover a hacer nuestros trabajos mas femeninos, si recordamos este detalle es de la epoca de finales de 1800 y principios de 1900 cuando los abrigos princiupalmente de cashemir, se adornaban con estas filigranas bordadas en los ojales, gracias, nuevamente por tu inspiracion.

  5. User avater
    rani_s | | #5

    Threads featured the buttonhole gauge in their November 2008 Issue. https://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4276/five-must-have-sewing-tools : Buttonhole gauge simplifies positioning buttonholes. This exotic device, which costs around $15, looks complex but actually simplifies positioning and measuring buttonholes, pleats, tucks, or anything else needing to be evenly spaced. It's a great time-saver, because it eliminates the need for calculating and carefully measuring intervals. It's easy to use--simply mark the position of the top buttonhole or first pleat, for example, and stretch the gauge to fit.

    Clotilde sells it for $20, as well as other sites online for a dollar or two less. Nancy's notion had it on sale today for $16. http://www.nancysnotions.com/product/supplies/rulers+&+templates/fashion/simflex+expanding+gauge.do

    It's also called the Simflex. It measures space from 3/8" to 3 3/8". For greatest accuracy expand to the fullest length, then bring back to spacing you want. Expands to 24". Made in USA.

  6. LRN | | #6

    I echo PegBroMac's comments. The directions do not make any sense. Stitch a buttonhole and you will get - a buttonhole.
    There's something missing here, like explaining how the surrounding embrodiery is done. Is the design imported and added to the buttonhole program? Is it done afterwards? If so, how is it aligned with the finished hole?
    This looks like a thinly veiled attempt to sell the buttonhole measuring device.

  7. fun2quilt | | #7

    Husqvarna Viking has many beautiful decorative buttonholes to select from if you have the emb. software. Fun2 quilt

  8. smockerlady | | #8

    Hi there,

    I agree with other people's comments; I would love to be able to acheive this look.............

    but the instructions dont tell you how to do the embroidery once you have completed the standard buttonhole.

    How can I achieve this..............I have a Bernina Activa 240s??

    You have tempted me into what is a lovely way to make buttonholes look fabulous. The steps in your instructions dont tell us how to do it..........

    Please put us out of our misery and let us know.

  9. Sugaard | | #9

    Several cute and beautiful button hole embroidery files are available at http://www.emblibrary.com They have a free tuitorial on this too as well as competitive prices!

  10. Kjones9820 | | #10

    The buttonhole is part of the design and is stitched in the hoop. They don't say where they got the designs but you could make your own or purchase them. You might have to do several hoopings according to the size hoop you use and the number of buttonholes you have.

  11. ljb2115 | | #11

    The buttonhole spacer has been on the market forever. I am more interested in the embellished buttonholes. It would be beneficial if Threads would post sites where these items could be found. Embroidery Library has some, but most are very "cutesy".

  12. stsimon | | #12

    This article does give short shrift to the process of embroidering the buttonholes. However, a past article by Carla Lopez does cover that process (issue #71 pp 32-35), and also shows how to self-cord the buttonhole (a corded buttonhole looks better and is sturdier).
    The #71 article suggests using a combination of embroidery stitches that your machines has, even if it is only zigzag. The author says, “get some fabric scraps and play with the stitches in your machine to practice placing the embroidery around the buttonhole. Ideally, the embroidery should look as if it grew out of the buttonhole rather than having been added to it.” She suggests marking the embroidery placement with thread tracing or fabric marker before starting stitching on your garment.
    The lovely samples that illustrate the article give you a clear idea of what you can do with your own machine. In other words, this is a truly creative process.

  13. nancy_in_maryland | | #13

    Hi all--
    I just took a quick look at this article, and I am reminded of a problem that's been troubling me for months now. I'm sewing pants and jackets from Roma Ponte fabric -- a very soft, comfortable knit fabric. Great to sew with, except for one thing. I cannot make a reasonable buttonhole in the stuff. Can anyone give me some suggestions for sewing (and cutting) buttonholes in this mid-weight knit fabric? I've been using different types of iron-on pellon and suit-weight knit interfacing inside my jacket fronts, and each time (three jackets so far...) the buttonholes turn out horrid. It's absolutely maddening to come right to the end of a gorgeous garment, sew a buttonhole, watch it stretch, cut it, and (through the tears) (well, not really; let's get real) watch it scallop. This is going to make a nudist out of me yet -- I'll just give up clothes entirely!

  14. User avater
    ustabahippie | | #14

    to "nancy in maryland". Why not try leaving out the buttonholes and using snaps? Sew the buttons on the outside and forget the torture of trying to sew buttonholes in this difficult fabric. Good luck!

  15. ljb2115 | | #15

    I just searched the Embroidery Library site. Type "buttonholes" in the search box and this will take you to two pages of buttonholes. There are some which would fit the criteria for stitching on a blouse, shirt or jacket. Also, there are regular buttonholes in graduated lengths.

    Buttonholes made on an embroidery machine are far more accurate than ones made on a regular sewing machine.

  16. TTC6 | | #16

    There are buttonhole designs at
    under Heirloom Eyelet section.
    Simply gorgeous in my opinion.

  17. Pattiann42 | | #17

    For Nancy in Maryland, who hopefully, will not have to go naked!

    Have your tried using stabilizer for machine embroidery when making the buttonholes?

    Test(as you probably have already been doing)with a med weight tear-away.

    For any of the members not familiar with machine embroidery - stabilizers are usually displayed separately from interfacing. Interfacing is too flexible for machine embroidery

    Hope this will solve the problem.

  18. User avater
    ibaquilter | | #18

    I found similar emb motifs on http://www.embroideryonline.com/products/newsearch.aspx?search=buttonholes
    I think one of these might be the one used in the sample.

  19. LittleClareU | | #19

    Yes, please where did you get that amazing tool!!!!

  20. edf | | #20

    For Nancy, of the misbehaving knit:

    I don't have a direct suggestion, but the folks at Stitcher's Guild seem to be able to answer almost anything.


  21. Redtop | | #21

    Nancy_in_maryland - have you tried to use gimp in your buttonholes? That should stabilize it enough. Let me know!

    I do believe that the article refers to buttonholes that already have the embroidery as part of the buttonhole.

    I would also be careful as to what stabilizer you use because it will show on the back side of the buttonholes. I would definitely use a tearaway in a colour that would show the least. The water-soluble stabilize such as Badgemaster might also work.

  22. jenniferstern | | #22

    Hi Ladies, sorry that I'm late to the party...
    Here are a few tidbits that might clear up some of the confusion. I used a sewing machine with embroidery capability to do these buttonholes.

    The design I used incorporated a standard buttonhole with a mini embroidery. This design was included in my embroidery software program. I noticed that some of you mentioned embroideryonline.com. (They do have a great selection of buttonholes combined with embroidery motifs to choose from and you can just buy the single design you're looking for instead of a whole collection.)

    You can embroider around an existing buttonhole--print out a template of the embroidery design that you would like to use and mark guidelines to get perfect placement.

    I used a simflex ruler to mark the starting position of each buttonhole. You can do this just as easily with a ruler. I prefer having the flexibility of adjusting the arms of the simflex so I can play with the spacing.

    Stitching buttonholes on knit fabric is tricky, especially if you are trying to use a standard satin-stitched buttonhole. Most sewing machines have "Knit" buttonholes which are actually a series of xxxxx instead of a zig-zag. They work much better on knits because they stretch with the fabric. Another tip would be to use a fusible interfacing behind the buttonhole (Fusiknit for example. You can find it at your local sewing super store or at http://www.sewtrue.com)

  23. User avater
    mirela | | #23

    Great! I'll totally try this. Thank you everyone for the amazing resources lists!!!

  24. KharminJ | | #24

    Jennifer ~ Thank you so much for coming back to answer some of our questions!
    This is a beautiful finishing tip. Bright Blessings ~ Kharmin

  25. Finefelt | | #25

    great idea, but since I can't afford an embroidery machine or a sewing machine that will do that sort of embroidery, I'll stick to doing it by hand!

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