Bound Buttonholes

This post is really photo intensive.  You may want to skip it if you have bandwidth problems.


I wanted a record of my bound buttonhole procedure.  You see, this Caramel Coat is the first time I’ve made bound buttonholes in years.  I can’t remember the last bound buttonhole I made.  I used to be able to slap my tool on and be done.  Buttonholes averaged about 2.5 minutes apiece. Seriously, I was so practiced that I didn’t make mistakes. Face it, buttonholes are all about 4 very short seams (each) and a lot of steam. But this time I pulled out my tool and couldn’t remember exactly what to do.  So I made a practice buttonhole. Good thing I did because it was pretty awful.  But by the time I’d completed the first, the memories had been located in the deep recesses of my brain.  The second buttonhole was beautiful, even if it did take 20 minutes.  I photoed the process when I sewed the actual buttonholes. Average time is 15 minutes per including the picture taking.  I’m hoping that by having pictures of the critical differences, the next time will be faster.  I’m also putting bound buttonholes on my annual list of things to do just to keep the skill in use.


I use a tool, purchased when I was still in high school.

The buttonhole maker is the little guy at the top.  The tool just below that makes welts.  It’s disadvantage is that the welts are limited to 6″.  Good enough for my lady hands but might not always work for a man’s suit.  Both tools work similarly.  You start with a patch.  Since I’m making buttonholes, my patch was 2.5″ wide and 4″ long.  I could have used a shorter patch, anywhere between 2.5 and 4.  I like the larger patch because it gives me more to hang onto but it also means I need to trim at the end of the process.


Hard to see in the photos above but there are two flat wires on the bottom side of both tools.  The patch is wrapped wrong-sides-together around the wires and both ends threaded through the top opening.  The wires are then snapped into their little holders – also not visible but on the back of the tool.  When the tool is “loaded” it looks like this:


Interface your garment and mark the right side as usual.  I prefer to use either chalk or a water soluble pen.  Since I’m not planning on washing this garment, I used chalk in the Chacoliner with the little wheel.  I have all three colors yellow, blue and white.  The blue made a nice line, but couldn’t be removed!  This is why you always pretest.  Some markers which should be temporary will react with some fibers, some fabrics.  The blue laid down a nice fine line that couldn’t be removed. The white laid down a nice fine line the rubbed off pretty quickly.  I decided to use the white and ended up marking each buttonhole again and again.


When the tool is loaded, it needs to aligned on the right side of the garment in the desired position of the final buttonhole.  You must be exacting here.  If it’s not right now, it won’t be right later. Fortunately both tools have little grabbers on the bottom to help hold the tool in position.  So I lay the garment face-up on the table and the position the tool


The tool has a point at one end (see top of picture) and an angle at the end (see bottom of picture). These line up exactly in the center of the tool and ergo exactly in the center of the buttonhole. My buttonholes are going to be horizontal (or perpendicular to the edge of the front facing) so the tool is first lined up on the white horizontal chalk line.  I’ve also marked with chalk the beginning and end of my buttonhole.  Look on the side of the tool.  I’ve added two arrows on the side.  The side-top arrow points to an arrow inscribed on the tool.  Line up the beginning chalk line with the side-top arrow.  I was having some vision issues-probably because it’s been 2 years since my last exam and 4 years since my last new pair of glasses. I measured the length of my buttonhole and marked that length on my tool. The side-bottom arrow aligns with the chalk marking the end of the buttonhole.  Once this is lined up, slide the tool with patch and still on top of the garment, gently under the pressor foot. Be sure to keep everything in place.  If you even think it might have slipped. Pull it back enough to check. Better to check several times now, than to rip it out later.   Stitch along the inner edge starting at the inscribed arrow and ending at the bottom chalk line:


Smooth the ends of the patch to the other side and stitch the other side:


Release the wires from the tool and slide the tool out of the buttonhole.


I do this assembly line fashion. So I stitch one buttonhole, slide the tool out, reload the tool and then stitch the next. Repeat until all buttonholes are attached to the garment.  Note:  I do NOT back stitch or fix stitch and I leave long tails at both the beginning and end of each of these lines of stitching.  I have a reason for this: Frequently I’m off.


On today’s buttonholes, I repeatedly stitched 1 stitch above the starting line and 1 stitch short of the ending line.  I think that was related to the vision problems. But it did provide me the opportunity to document the step after stitching all the buttonholes: checking and correcting alignment. I’m satisfied with eyeballing to see if it begins and ends where it should.  If a stitch is beyond the chalk marks, I undo the stitch. Then I thread a needle with the long tail and hand stitch at the line all the way to the bottom side. If I need more stitches to reach the chalk lines, I thread the long tail into a needle and make the needed stitches by hand.  Usually, that’s no more than 1, but I have made as many as 3.  When I was really practiced I neither needed to add or remove stitches but I threaded the long tail and pushed the needle to the bottom side.  On the bottom side I use a surgeons knot (that’s a square knot with a 2nd twist) to tightly knot off the top and bobbin thread with each other. I trim the tails close to the knot.  I repeat this with each end and each side of each buttonhole. It can be time consuming, especially if I’ve made errors. But I’ve found it’s important to be precise with this stitching.  If I’m wrong here, I can’t seem to correct it at a later point.


I’m always afraid of the raveling which occurs with fabrics. I know I’m going to be cutting into a scant 1/2″ wide slot and that’s not a lot of weft or warp threads.  Even though this fabric is not raveling-and I had a devil of a time unraveling enough to check the cross grain, I Frey Checked both between the lips of the patch and on the backside between the lines of stitching:

Then it was off to the iron.  Many bound buttonhole methods have you controlling the size and shape of the lips before you even get the garment. My tailoring teacher would make a 3′ strip, mark 1/4″ and 1/2″ lines and carefully sew the two lips (she didn’t use my tool). She said with 3′ to cut from, she was bound to find enough perfect areas for her buttonholes.  Since I’m not doing any basting or prefolding, the lips of my buttonholes are just beginning to take shape and need help.  I carefully arrange the patch, now sewn to the garment and press the lips first on one side then the other.  If the fabric is at all not inclined to stay where I want it, I use a long pin and bayonet the strip to my ironing board (can’t do that with  flimsy padding).


I take my time and don’t switch to the other side until the firs tone is perfect:




However, the pressing isn’t time consuming, especially with wool.  This wool was very cooperative, I paid attention to the even folding of the lips and not burning my fingers.


After all 3 were pressed, remember I do this assembly line style even though I’m the entire assembly line, I marked the ends of my buttonholes on the reverse side.  I did this because I had problems seeing my stitching.  Had my stitching been more visible, I could have skipped this step. I used the blue chalk here, because it made the nicest fine line and I didn’t worry about not being able to remove it all. It’s the backside.  It’s going to be covered up.


I couldn’t photo all the steps to the next short process.  I need to clip a small cut in the middle of the buttonhole.  It only needs to be 3/8″ long. But it needs to go through both the patch and the garment without cutting anything else.  I spread the patch apart and then fold the buttonhole in half


Right there in the middle I make the little clip.  Then I turn it over to the back side and add a pin at the top and bottom of the buttonhole. Right through the blue lines.


When I finish cutting the X, the pins prevent me from cutting beyond the buttonhole or even into the stitching. I’ve made that error before. The solution is make bigger buttonholes and buy new buttons. Or avoid the issue entirely by always putting in the straight pins.


Once the X is cut through patch and garment fabric, it’s time to hold your breath and pull the patch through the buttonhole and onto the back side of the garment:

Just stuff it through anyway you can.  If you tied off the ends with a tight surgeons knot, and stitched with a short stitch length, the fabric can take, and the buttonhole needs the stress.


Not shown, because you’d say Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwe, I go immediately to the sewing machine, set it for a long zig zag and stitch the lips in place.  It only take 3-5 stitches but these stitches are critical.  They keep the lips together and lined up during the rest of the handling. And I do mean rest.  These are the stitches I remove when everything, including buttons  is finished and done. I find that the final appearance of the buttonholes and their appearance during the life of the garment is significantly improved because of these 3-4 stitches.


When the lips have been zigged, I’m back at the ironing board.  This time I’m carefully tugging on the patch and even bayoneting it into place to shape the buttonhole.


Once I’m satisfied the patch is laying right, I add steam. Lots of steam. So that the buttonhole will lay flat on its own:


But I still have to nail down the triangles and ends of the buttonhole.  I place the garment right side up and fold the garment  away from the buttonhole.  I’m aiming for a nice vertical line  I can slide under the pressor foot easily see to stitch.


This time I have those nice blue lines to help me;


Each side of the buttonhole is stitched and then checked from the front.  I seldom need to take out the stitching, but this time as many times in the past, I found it necessary to stitch about 1/16″ closer to the fold.  Yes it’s important.  I would stitch even one thread closer if it was needed. How do you know?  Well the ends should be perpendicular to the sides of the buttonhole, no threads should show and very importantly not even the tinest bit of cut fabric. Every edge,every corner  should show a very nicely rounded fold. Keep stitching until it is right.


I don’t have pics of the next part either.  When I’m satisfied that the buttonhole looks beautiful on the front (The backs going to be covered up. There are no Buttonhole Police. I seldom if ever show the guts of my sewing to anyone.) So when the buttonhole can be pronounced beautiful, I trim the patches to about 1.5″ square.  I whip-stitch the edges with 1 stitch in each lip at each end.  That’s enough to hold the patch into place during the rest of construction.  Between that and the zig-zagging the lips got eons ago, the buttonhole will retain it’s beauty for years.


My tools were in production for years and then apparently all sold out.  About 2 years ago, my little buttonhole tool sold for upwards of $50 on EBay.  I wouldn’t part with it for any cost. Heck, I won’t even lend it to a friend.  I believe that Clotilde jumped on that opportunity, but I can’t find it at her website.  A quick search of the Internet turned up several tutorials for the Dritz Bound Buttonhole tool but no sales. so sorry, I can’t help with a source.