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Hand sewn buttonholes

sewman | Posted in General Discussion on

Hi all,  I have tried for years to make a beautiful hand stitched buttonhole for tailored wear.  I have researched this in at least a dozen books.  I have spent hundreds of hours trying to master this task.  Does anybody know of a trick that would be helpful?. Thanks!.




  1. damascusannie | | #1

    I think that bound buttonholes are a better finish and as tricky as they are, still easier to make well than a hand-bound hole. I think it has to do with the thread we have available today--I don't think it's the same as our foremothers used when they made buttonholes.

    1. sewman | | #2

      Well, you've given me something to think about.  I actually have never thought about doing bound buttonholes in men's tailored wear.  I'm going to give it a try!. Thanks.

  2. zuwena | | #3

    I don't know any tricks but I can sympathize as I am trying to perfect the technique for a man's vest that I just recently made. I'm told it takes constant and regular practice to line up the stitches. I see that I get better as I get to the second side of the buttonhole. I shall try to do a graphic of my technique in a few days. If it works, I'll send it along to you. Thread may be an issue but I've seen some done recently by some Chinese women on the lower east side in New York and thread did not seem to be a problem for them. Z

    1. sewman | | #4

      Thanks Zuwena!, I look forward to seeing your graphic.  Glad I'm not the only one who's trying to master this.

  3. User avater
    rodezzy2 | | #5

    Boy, are you a person for the detail work.  I can't even fathon hand stitching a buttonhole, I do well to sew it on a machine neatly.  Wow, I'm totally impressed.  I went on line and found a couple sites discussing this and one gave several stitches to be used for hand sewing button holes, one was of all things, the blanket stitch.  Helps to prevent raveling.  The number one stitch is a button hole stitch that has a half knot at the top of it.  It says it is the most appropriate stitch for hand sewn button holes.  Boy, I'm learning new stuff every time I get on here.

    There is also a stitch called "Over cast and cross your hand stitch".  I tried to copy a picture and attach it, but couldn't. 

  4. PASDENOM | | #6

    The challenge with hand stitching is to keep stitches precise and uniform, especially important if they are sitting together in a row. One way to help do this is to use blue painters tape on the right side of the fabric, marked with evenly spaced dots. Each stitch corresponds to a dot and starts and ends at the edge of the tape. There is also tiger tape, a narrow tape marked with quarter inch spaced lines. You'd have to figure out how many stitches you want between each line and then only have to evenly space that many. It's also important to interface and stabilize the buttonhole area so your fabric stays still and smoothe. When you're done a thin line of sealant helps things stay firm and not distort. Fray Block is one that dries soft and Fray Check dries stiff, your choice. Also, finely woven fabric will hold its shape and support the stitching much better than loosely woven fabric.

  5. sewslow67 | | #7

    While most everyone had good suggestions, i.e. consistent, etc. it is important to use silk button-hole twist when making hand-stitched buttonholes.  If you do that, your results will probably be perfection.  Good luck, and enjoy!

    1. User avater
      JunkQueen | | #11

      I just got home a couple hours ago from Thanksgiving celebration, and I am delighted to see you posting. I have been remiss in not inquiring of you earlier. Hope you are well. You are correct, of course, about the silk button-hole twist. It is a nice weight and size and helps make lovely button holes.

      1. sewslow67 | | #13

        Thanks so much JQ; I've had a rather rough time of it for the past few weeks, and it is heavenly to have some bright days again ...and to "see" your smiling face here as well. 

        How was your Thanksgiving ...and have you been doing any sewing for the holidays?  My projects sort of took back seat recently, but I am getting back to it starting this afternoon again.  I sure am behind, which isn't a bad thing as my kids asked if we could "take a reprieve" from too much gift giving this year. 

        A few years ago, we decided to donate to everyone's favorite charity in lieu of gifts, since none of us really need anything, except for a bit of chocolate indulgence.  giggle!  Since chocolate is not on my list of OK foods, I make a huge batch of fudge frosted brownies and ask my neighbor to come over and eat them while I watch.  Amazing how satisfying that can be!  ;-)

        I'm making canvas shopping bags this afternoon with embroidery on the front of each.  I also got a bunch of small guest towels on sale so will add embroidery on those as well.  My pups are going to be giving little stockings with munchies in them to all the neighbor dogs for Christmas, and I haven't even started those ...so I'd best get off the computer and get with the program.   Thankfully, I got a bunch of Christmas fabric 50% off last summer.  Hurray for sales!

        Thanks again for the welcome back.  I missed you to!

  6. jjgg | | #8

    I took a class on this just last month,I'm out of town for Thanksgiving, but when I get home I can send you some of my notes, it's really quite easy when you learn how to do it, there is quite a bit of 'foundation' stitching that has to be done first to support the buttonhole, there the stitch itself needs to be done correctly to get the right twist to the loop.

    1. sewman | | #9

      Thanks! Look forward to seeing your notes!.

      1. Ocrafty1 | | #25

        Please, Please, post your notes for all to learn from!  It would help so many of us.


        OK, should have read the rest of the posts before I posted. DUH.  Also, I checked the Heritage Shop website.  Wonderful illustration! 

        Edited 12/5/2008 9:13 am ET by Ocrafty1

    2. Josefly | | #10

      I hope you'll post the notes here for all to see, instead of just emailing directly to sewman. I'd like to see/read this technique. I've been very dissatisfied with some buttonholes on a rtw garment I have, and wonder if I can make them look better, or if I'll end up making them worse.

      1. jjgg | | #12

        I will be glad to post the instructions here. Be aware that the back (wrong side) of the button hole is not pretty. If you ever look at a mans suit jacket that has hand worked buttonholes, the back side is much different from the front side.The book that was recommended is "hand stitches" from Judy Barlup's websitehttp://uniquetechniques.com/shopbooks/shopbooks.htmlscroll all the way down to the bottom, it's the last book on the page.

        1. Josefly | | #14

          Thanks for that reference. There are a number of interesting books on that site, at a reasonable price. Are you familiar with any of the others? I look forward to your notes.

          1. jjgg | | #15

            OK, I'm home and can't find my notes from the class. So this is what I remember.
            First of course you have to cut the buttonhole, and use one of the little eyelet cutters to punch the 'keyhole' at the end of the buttonhole.sew a tiny running stitch all the way around the buttonhole about 1/8 inch from the cut edge, circle around the keyhole.next you have to lay a thread down along the long edges of the buttonhole. Start at the base of the buttonhole, with the needle coming up from the wrong side, so the thread is laid on top of the fabric, go down at the keyhole and take a tiny stitch across the top of the key hole, then lay down another thread along the other long edge of the buttonhole.now you have to start your buttonhole stitch being very careful to place them correctly, but doing it over the running stitch and the thread that was laid down gives 'padding' to your buttonhole stitch. do each stitch very individually and pull taught (but not too tight) the buttonhole stitch puts sort of a twist into the top (the blanket stitch does not have this twist). put a bar tack at the base (opposite of the keyhole.Use a good quality silk buttonhole twist thread (harder to come by these days)

          2. Josefly | | #16

            Neat. I need to look at some hand-sewing instructions to remember the difference between a buttonhole stitch and the blanket stitch.Thanks for the detailed instructions. I'm going to practice on this.Sewman might appreciate knowing you've posted these, since he's the original poster on this thread, unless you've already posted to him privately.

            Edited 12/1/2008 1:36 pm ET by Josefly

          3. jjgg | | #17
          4. Josefly | | #18

            Amazing, that you have that right at your fingertips! Thank you so very much. Great illustrations.

          5. jjgg | | #19

            :) It's called Google!here is a better view of the difference

          6. Josefly | | #20

            And here I thought you just had those references catalogued in your mind!Thanks again.

          7. KharminJ | | #21

            Am I reading/seeing this right? It seems like the Buttonhole stitch alternates starting sides - comparable to "knit one, purl one"? - while the Blanket stitch is all worked front-to-back, or vice versa.I think my very visual brain needs a couple more in-between pics! But thank you for starting us looking for good graphics - this is one of those things where a picture truly is "worth a thousand words"! KharminDoh! Yes, the QuiltTownUsa article is Much Clearer. Shoulda checked that one too, before I posted! K

            Edited 12/1/2008 9:23 pm ET by KharminJ

  7. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #22

    I posted this hint in another thread but I will repeat a short version of it here.  Make sure you are drawing your thread in the proper direction.  Thread has a nap or grain.  If you draw your thread through the fabric against the grain, it jumps, tangles and frays.  To check to make sure it is threaded with the grain, draw the thread between your fingernails and see which way it jumps less and pulls more smoothly.  Make sure you knot the end that allows it to pull smoothly through the fabric.  Most thread on spools is an S twist, so if you thread your needle directly on the spool, slide the needle to the end, knot the loose end, then cut off the thread, your needle will be correctly threaded, with the grain.    When using multiple strands, it is better to thread several in the same direction than to fold the thread in half.  Cathy

    1. jjgg | | #23

      Another thing I would do is use Thread Heaven on it, I tried waxing the thread, but didn't like the feel of it, Thread Heaven makes for a much more supple thread and helps prevent tangling.Now, I say this but haven't tried doing a buttonhole with the thread heaven (it's the stuff that comes in a tiny blue plastic cube. You can find it at many sewing stores and at all beading stores.) I use thread heaven when doing a lot of hand sewing where I don't need quite the strength that wax provides.I think I mentioned before, you need a good quality buttonhole twist thread. And, I didn't find that twisting 2 strands opf a thinner thread gave a nice result.You can probably find the buttonhole twist (silk) at someplace like Greenberg & Hammer or Banasch, possibly even Lacis would have it, they have so many wonderful old things there.

      Edited 12/2/2008 6:05 pm ET by jjgg

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #24

        As a beader, I have Thread Heaven cubes everywhere!  I highly reccomend the stuff for hand sewing as well.  A very little bit goes a long way.  It helps prevent thread from fraying as you sew, and doesn't flake like beeswax does, and doesn't need to be ironed to set into the thread.  Cathy

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