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Button holes

user-124767 | Posted in General Discussion on

Good morning,


I have always has little success when cutting my buttonholes.  I have a Phaff machine and use the foot to form the buttonholes and they come out beautifully.  It’s when I cut the holes….most often (usually always) I end up cutting the threads on one side causing it to fray.  I treat the buttonhole with fray check before I cut them and allow lots of time for it to dry.  I have used very small sharp sissors to cut them but as luck would have it one always gets messed up.  It’s so disappoining when you sew a beautiful item and end up with such an unprofessional finish to your button holes.


Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Karen N


  1. louise | | #1


    I will bet you have had a ton of replies, but just in case, the definitive solution is to go to your local hardware store and buy a medium to high quality 1/4" and a 1/2" or 3/4" wood chisel (i.e. whatever your smallest and most usual buttonhole sizes are).  Then get yourself a new, small, smooth cutting board.  If you have woodworkers in the family just get a scrap of hardwood about 4 x 8" long and sand it smooth. 

    To cut your buttonholes, align the chisel so that it is in about the middle of your buttonhole.  The bevel of the chisel will automatically slide between the bars of the buttonhole into the groove.  Press firmly, with the wood underneath and presto-changeo your buttonhole is cut!  Now some would do the remainder of the cutting with scissors, but I just reallign the chisel to cut the rest of the buttonhole.

    Why do you have to sand the wood scrap if you are just going to make chisel marks in it?  Well you have guessed it!  The wood needs to be smooth to prevent scuffing  your fabric.

    Why not get your chisel from your local fabric supply?  The hardware store one will likely be cheaper and stronger.  Just remember to store it with the tip protected, think of it as you would your best chef's knife.  The sharp edge will only cut cleanly if the cutting edge is sharp and free of nicks or dents.  Yes you can have a chisel sharpened, again your local hardware store or family woodworker can probably do that for you too!

    Happy Sewing


    1. Brine1 | | #2

      Another method I have found that seems to work for me is to press down hard with the back of a seam ripper between the two button hole "lips" before I attempt to cut. This seems to help separate them. Then I cut with the seam ripper, starting in the middle of the button hole and cut toward either end. As I approach the end of the button hole, I place the point of the seam ripper just inside the bar tack, poking it through from the underside to ensure that when I cut the final portion I will not cut through the threads of the bar tack.

      1. louise | | #3

        Dear Brine

        I have tried them all, given that I am often impatient and strangely enough, at the same time very nervous about button holes; the chisel is my new best friend.  But thanks for the info anyway.


  2. FitnessNut | | #4

    I always use a buttonhole cutter, which is very much like a small chisel. Check out the notions vendors (like Nancy's Notions, for example). I have two....one is 9 mm (just under 3/8") and the other is 12 mm (1/2") and that covers pretty well any size buttonhole I make. I use it on a small cutting mat, after first using fray check on the stitches (as well as the space between them) and allowing it to dry. Occasionally, I will use a bit more fray check on the cut area afterwards, if it seems like there will be loose threads.

    I know that some people use small scissors or a seam ripper to cut open their buttonholes, but every time I do that, I end up cutting more than I intend to and ruining the garment.

  3. SewCreative | | #5

    Cutting buttonholes is always a scary task.  I have a pair of buttonhole scissors that my MIL gave me eons ago and I must admit I don't know anyone else who has a pair.  They are short and a bit fat with a screw between the finger holes and the blades so that you can adjust the screw so the blades only close as much as you want.  I fold the garment at right angles to the buttonhole and make a small cut to get my scissors into the buttonhole opening.  I then cut from the center to each end.  These scissors cut from the back of the blade which is notched out giving you a starting point (no scissor crotch).  I have never botched a buttonhole with these babys.  A note about using a seam ripper, put a pin at each end of the button hole so you can't go further than you intend.  I would never attempt a buttonhole with a seam ripper, just not enough control.


  4. HeartFire | | #6


    Can you make the stitch width on the buttonhole a teeny tiny bit narrower? that will give you a smidgen more room between the sides of the buttonhole allowing it to be cut open easier. This is what I do with my bernina when set up for the automatic buttonhole.


  5. Stitchwitch | | #7

    Dear Karen

    Thank you very much for the question.  I also recently bought the Pfaff 2054 Performance and I have exactly the same problem.  I am yet to figure out quite the correct answer.  I haven't tried the chisel method.  When I told the agent about the problem, they looked at me like I was mad.  Well I'm glad I'm not the only one.  One wonders who actually design these sewing machines - home sewers?  I don't know so much, but I wish they would listen too us more often concerning our needs. When you do a buttonhole on a waitsband I find it to be worse, because it is as if the seam, on the body side, pushes the buttonhole foot toward the firts bar when you sew the second bar of the buttonhole.  I recently made 5 pairs on pants, and on ALL of the I had a problem with the buttonhole.  I have now made my waistband bigger, so we will see.  But I promise you I could have thrown my Pfaff out the window, which I otherwise love dearly. It's no use to have a buttonhole that looks beautiful, but you cannot cut it without cutting the buttonhole.  I even tried a scalpal!

    Regards Jansie, Let me know when you get a definative answer.

    1. SewTruTerry | | #8

      This may seem like a silly question but what type of thread are you using in the top and bobbin?  If you are using the same heavy thread in both that may be your culprit.   I also use a bit of tearaway stabilizer under the needle to help things along as well. I use bobbin thread almost exclusively now unless I have am trying to "top stitch" from the back of the piece.  I find that I do not have the kind of problems that you seem to be having in cutting buttonholes.  But I also have a Viking machine that I am using to make the buttonholes.  Just food for thought.

    2. louise | | #9

      Dear Possie

      I actually have two machines.  One a Janome, fairly basic, which has bar and tack buttonholes.  I can only create more space between the two bars of the buttonhole by narrowing the stitch width.

      I also have an industrial.  This will be cold comfort to most but you can buy buttonholer for even old industrial Singers.  The attachment allows you to alter the length and stitch width of the buttonhole.  It also allows you to change the distance between the two bars.  I like it better because it makes a more secure buttonhole, like you would find on RTW coats and suits.

      I use a chisel for every buttonhole and I cut the entire length by repositioning the chisel.  It works like a dream.  I have never had a bad buttonhole cutting experience since I switched cutting methods.   On a bar and tack buttonhole I don't cut quite to the end.  I have an innate suspicion that bar and tack buttonholes are less secure, so I leave a couple or three threads of the garment fabric uncut just for a little extra insurance!

      Good Luck


  6. suesew | | #10

    Just to add to the chisel information you have already received- if you have a too small buttonhole and a too big chisel simply place the buttonhole to be cut on the edge of the wood block. The chisel will only cut where it has resistance and will not cut off the edge of the block. They really work well.

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