Tutorial: How To Sew a Buttonhole

How To Sew a Buttonhole

Sewing a buttonhole might look a little intimidating at first, but with this handy step by step guide, you’ll be sewing on buttons with ease! We have also shared a video explaining this, check it out here.

How to sew a button hole

1.. Every sewing machine varies in terms of the settings needed but the basic principles remain the same. Check the machine manual for how to set up the machine.

It will most likely advise the need for a buttonhole foot (not essential but makes it easier to track progress), the stitch selection needed and a tension adjustment (mark the normal tension setting with a sharpie/ take a picture for resetting the machine after)

2. Measure the button

For irregular shaped buttons; buttons pass through the hole from any direction so a narrower measurement can be used provided the button isn’t excessively long. If a longer measurement is used the button may come undone in use. If in doubt, practice on a scrap of fabric first.

3. Mark the length of the button parallel to the placket edge, central to a placement mark

Button holes allow movement; the direction of the hole is determined by the most likely direction the fastened button needs to move. The foot of a duvet won’t move much, therefore the button holes are positioned for best fit.

4. Extend the button hole line by approx. 2mm top and bottom to allow room for the top and bottom closing bar

5. Prepare the machine to sew a button hole, then wind the hand wheel until the needle is positioned to the inside of the button hole (the right)

6. Position the placket under the presser foot. Line up the front of a button hole marking under the needle. Move the hand wheel until the needle is in the fabric at the front of the marked line

7. Begin sewing the first part of the button hole; the column of small zig zag stitches on the left side. The fabric will move forwards instead of backwards. Stop sewing when the other end of the marked line is reached.

When sewing ensure the stitches run straight and follow alongside the marked line; this can be the trickiest part of sewing a button hole. The fabric will move slowly, do not be tempted to pull the fabric to speed it up, the stitches need to be close together, hence the fabric moving a small amount each time the needle raises.

8. With the needle raised, set the machine to sew the 2nd part of the button hole; the closing bar

9. Sew 4 stitches for the bar, forming the wider stitches that span the top of the button hole

10. With the needle raised, set the machine to sew the 3rd part of the button hole; the right column

11. Sew along the other side of the marked line, the fabric will move backwards. Follow alongside the marked line and don’t let the stitches overlap the 1st column

12. With the needle raised, set the machine to sew the 4th part of the button hole; the closing bar

13. Sew 4 stitches for the bar, forming the wider stitches that span the bottom of the button hole

14. With the needle raised, set the machine to sew the final, and easily forgotten, part of the button hole; lock stitch.

15.  Sew 3 or 4 stitches to secure the thread ends then cast off.

16. Repeat for the other button holes, then reset the machine for normal sewing.

Opening the button hole

17. There are a number of ways to do this, with any method take care to avoid cutting through any stitches.

Before cutting a buttonhole place a button between the closing bars to check the button hole for size, if the buttonhole is too big/ small see the troubleshooting tips below.

  • Fold the buttonhole in half lengthways and using small fabric or embroidery scissors make a small cut between the 2 columns of stitching. Unfold the button hole and cut up to, but not through, the closing bar at each end.
  • Insert a seam ripper through the fabric between the 2 side columns and make a small hole. Using small fabric scissors cut between the 2 columns of stitching up to, but not through, the closing bar at each end. You can place a pin at the end of your button hole to ensure your seam ripper does not cut through your button hole stitches.
  • TIP: Place a pin at either end of your button hole to ensure the seam ripper doesn’t cut your stitches
  • Position a pin just below the top closing bar. Just above the bottom bar insert the point of a seam ripper and carefully cut between the columns with the ripper until the ripper blade meets the pin.
  • Insert the point of the seam ripper close to the stitching of one closing bar and cut between the columns to the centre. Repeat from the other end of the button hole

Once the buttonhole is opened any loose threads can be trimmed

18. Test the button fits through the finished buttonhole.

Button hole troubleshooting

  • Always practice buttonholes on a spare piece of the project fabric to check for adjustments
  • Buttonholes are difficult to unpick but not impossible, ideally unpick a problem button hole before cutting it open. Though not impossible, it is harder to sew over an already cut button hole
  • If a buttonhole is a little too big the closing bars could be extended inwards with a few more stitches. Set up the machine for a closing bar, line the buttonhole up under the needle and sew a few stitches, not forgetting to lockstitch start and end to secure. If a large adjustment is needed, add a few stitches to the top and bottom to even out the appearance, or consider unpicking and trying again.
  • If a button hole is too small the easiest solution is to unpick and start again. Or the top closing bar can be unpicked, lock stitch overlapping the top stitches of the left column, extend the left column, sew a new closing bar, extend the right column overlapping the ends, then lockstitch
  •  If one column’s stitches are denser than the other, consult the manual. Many machines have a button hole balance adjustment. The balance needed can vary from fabric to fabric; a benefit of sewing a practice button hole for each project
  • If the lines aren’t straight, practice by sewing along a drawn line. Go as slow as needed, occasionally lift the presser foot with the needle down to track progress
  • If the column stitches are overlapping: Some machines will make a slightly wider column stitch depending on the position on the stitch width dial. If the width dial doesn’t ‘click’ into the buttonhole setting, turn it a little closer to 0 and sew another test button hole

Sew on the buttons

57. Check each button position mark lines up with the centre of the corresponding button hole

58. Sew the buttons onto the placket

 And you’re finished, well done!

We hope you found this tutorial useful.

Let us know how you get along in the comments below!

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