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buttonhole placement

LesleyUK | Posted in General Sewing Info on

Is there any hard and fast rule as to how many buttonholes there should be on the centre front of ladies blouses/shirts? I am guessing one at top and bottom and one opposite the bust point but how many in between? I think you will probably say I can put as many as I like but I would like to know what the general rule is. Thank you.


  1. raven99 | | #1

    I rarely do up the buttons on shirts or blouses all the way to the neck, but I do sew them on and make the buttonholes all the way up to the neck on shirts even though I'll never button them up. Here's my general method. I always place one button (as you do) between the bust points to avoid gaping. Then I try on the blouse and see where the front falls open naturally above the bust point and put a button there and that pretty much determines the spacing of the rest of the buttons with some minor adjustments on shirts where the buttons should go all the way to the neck. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for button spacing except that the larger the button, the wider the spacing should be. Most patterns include button placement guides for the size of button specified for that pattern, and the designer will have specified the size of button most appropriate for the garment, but heck, rules are made to be broken. I don't think I've ever used those pattern buttonhole guides, but in general, the more close-fitting the garment is, the more closely I'll place the buttons, and in the case of a loose-fitting shirt for instance, I'll space the buttons out more, even if the buttons are small. If you're not sure about the look you want to end up with, you could tape the buttons to the garment (masking tape folded so the sticky side is out works well) and try it on before committing to making and cutting the buttonholes.

    I'm one of those who thinks the button is at least as important as the garment itself--at times I've paid more for the buttons than for the fabric, and I think that the colour and design of the button is also a factor in placing buttons, not just the size. Have fun and break some rules!


    1. SewTruTerry | | #2

      Marion I agree with you as far as placement and all being personal choice.  I also understand the reason for womens clothing closing one way versus the other for mens clothing as I was able to research this.  But I have not understood or have been able to find out why RTW almost always put the button holes on vertically versus horizontally.  Can you or some one else tell me why this would be?  I personally like to place my buttonholes in horizontally as I get a better idea of how to place the buttons themselves. I also think the button hole looks better buttoned this way because there seems to be less stress on the button hole.  Am I wrong?

      1. raven99 | | #4

        A very good question, Terry, and something I've wondered about too. Maybe someone on the board with experience in the fashion industry can help us out? I think the logic behind it is that on jackets and outerwear, buttonholes are cut on the horizontal because they have to take more stress and the buttons and buttonholes are usually larger, so a vertical buttonhole would pull out of shape too much. To my knowledge, buttons that are placed on the back of a garment are also cut on the horizontal, again because buttonholes on the back have to take more stress than buttons on the front of a garment. I think that buttonholes on the fronts of blouses and shirts are cut vertically because they are somewhat less noticeable that way. I usually use vertical buttonholes on shirts and blouses and I usually use smallish buttons so there will be less distortion if the buttonhole is stressed. But I have at times cut horizontal buttonholes on blouses just because I thought it would be an interesting detail. I say, if you prefer horizontal buttonholes, do it! Thats one of the advantages of making your own clothes--you can have it the way you want.Marion

        1. LesleyUK | | #6

          I was interested to see your comments about vertical or horizontal button holes. Lots of Edwardian clothes were fastened at the back so I'll make sure I use horizontal button holes for those. Having said that, I recently bought some rtw blouses/shirts from a French catalogue which have horizontal front buttonholes. They are a real fiddle to fasten and unfasten. Maybe it's just a French thing - they are very contrary, you know. Only kidding!

          Does anyone know how it came about that male and female garments fasten in different ways - you know, left over right and right over left?

          1. raven99 | | #7

            What's the name of the catalogue? Do they have a website? I wouldn't mind just having a peek at some of the clothes.As far as the left over right for men, right over left for women thing, I don't know for sure, but I was told once that it became the custom for men in the military because knives and sabres were worn sheathed on the left, and the left over right shirt and coat fronts meant that the handles of the weapons and buttons on the sleeves wouldn't catch on the fronts of garments when the weapons were withdrawn. Makes logical sense to me. The person who told me this has a keen interest in military history and for all I know its true, but I've never researched the fact myself.Hopefully Terry can chime in and let us know what she found in her research on this.Marion

            Edited 6/25/2005 9:36 pm ET by marionc

          2. HeartFire | | #8

            I don't know if this is the reason for it, but if you have a bouse/shirt with a placket at the center front, horizontal button holes would take up the entire width of the placket - just wouldn't look good, verticle buttonholes centered in the placket have a more balanced look.
            blouse/dress backs don't have plackets on them. I suppose if the blouse does not have a front placket a horizontal button hole would be OK. ALSO, there is a rule about placing (horizontal) button holes, (but I can't find my notes on it and my friend has my tailoring textbook) but, it has to do with the size of the button, and leaving enough space at the center-front portion of the buttonhole so that when buttoned, the button doesn't hang over the edge of the fabric, - that amount of space is the rule that I can't find at this moment. the larger the button, the larger that space, hence the further in the buttonhole would be and the longer (for larger buttons) so again, balance is a factor in that a verticle buttonhole would look better on some outfits than others. On jackets, larger verticle buttonholes would gape more than a horizontal one, and jacketes tend to use larger buttons...

          3. Elisabeth | | #9

            Here is a fun site with some button placing info on this page http://vintagesewing.info/1930s/36-hsc/hsc-3.html Are women's clothes buttoned opposite from men's because women were dressed by others more than men were? Seems like I read that somewhere.

          4. HeartFire | | #10

            ah, found my notes this morning - this was for jackets, I suppose it could hold true for blouses as well.
            measure in from the edge of the fabric the width of the button - if you have a 1 inch button, measure from the edge 1 inch, then go back towards the edge 1/8 of an inch and start the button hole there.(so it would start 7/8 inch from the edge) the same rule applied to other size buttons, measure in the width of the button, then go back 1/8 inch.

          5. LesleyUK | | #11

            Elisabeth, thank you for that link - it's a fantastic article on buttonholes.

            I also vaguely remember reading that women fastened the other way because they had servants to dress them but that wouldn't apply to the vast majority of women and most noblemen were also dressed by valets.

          6. SewTruTerry | | #12

            Wow I didn't realize the amount of posting I would generate on this question.  But as I understand my clothing history the reason that men and women's clothing button differently is because for the most part women's clothing did not button in the front but in the back and it made it handy for the noble women's servant girl to get them dressed.  This also explains the men's servants buttoning them from the front and the need to make it easier for them as well.

            Thank you all for your input. I guess after reading all of your posting I will continue to do what makes sense to me.

      2. DONNAKAYE | | #13

        I recently ran across an article in an old issue of Sew News (now I can't seem to put my hands on it!).  It said that although it seems intuitive that horizontal buttonholes are stronger, they are, in fact, stronger when stitched vertically BECAUSE THEY RUN WITH THE LENGTHWISE ("STRAIGHT OF") GRAIN.   Also, where you may have a tight-fitting bust (in ready-to-wear, for example), there is less stress on the crosswise, or weaker, grain.  I didn't know this before, either.

        Donna Childress Brandt


    2. LesleyUK | | #3

      Many thanks for the advise. I am making a garment from an Edwardian pattern book which doesn't have any making-up instructions let alone any refinements such as button placements. It's great fun in a trial and error sort of way but does sometimes involve a lot of unpicking! But it's so satisfying when it ends up like the picture in the book. I would love to use all the original sewing techniques as well but I'm too lazy to do all that hand sewing! I made a Tudor costume for a recreation once which had to be all hand sewn - never again! Right, off to sew some buttonholes, then....

      1. raven99 | | #5

        Ooooh!!! I would love to make some of those Edwardian dresses but I wouldn't have anywhere to wear them! I've looked at some pre-sewing machine dresses where all the work is done by hand and the workmanship is truly impressive. I can't imagine how much time was spent making some of those really elaborate gowns. I congratulate you for making the Tudor costume by hand! I know what you mean about the satisfaction of re-creating the techniques and methods used in making the original garments, I'm just not sure I'd have the patience.Care to post some pictures of the Edwardian garment when its finished? I'd love to see it! Good luck with the buttons!Marion

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