This post serves as a companion article to the featured video (below) and is intended to explain in more detail how to sew a buttonhole with a sewing machine. Although the features of sewing machines vary, virtually every machine now comes with a standard one-step or four-step buttonhole setting. We will first discuss the process as shown in the video.
Automatic One-Step Buttonholes
A buttonhole foot is designed to make the task of creating a buttonhole easier than ever. If you have an automatic buttonhole foot as shown in the video, you can place the button you’ll be using into the space at the back of the foot and slide the adjustable bar to hold it snugly. This will tell your machine where to start and stop.
There will be a little tab on the automatic buttonhole foot that you will need to pull down just behind the left side of the
needle. This will act as a gauge for the machine as it sews the buttonhole to the right length for your button. Select the style of buttonhole you want from the machine’s menu, if applicable. Begin sewing slowly and watch the magic happen.
Creating Four-Step Buttonholes
If you do not have an automatic buttonhole foot, you will need to mark your fabric to guide you. In the video, the presenter mentioned that the first step was to mark your garment with a pencil. However, this is not generally a good idea, because pencil marks do not wash out of most fabrics. It is better to use a marking pen or pencil that is designed specifically for fabric. The ink will wash out or disappear over time. Transfer paper is a good choice as well. Use of pins or tape are not recommended, because pins are bulky under the pressure foot and tape can gum up your needle if it passes through the tape.
Replace the regular foot with the buttonhole foot and thread your machine. Place your fabric under the foot with the bottom of the foot lined up with the bottom of your mark. Lower the foot. Check to make sure your machine is set to the buttonhole setting on the control panel. There may be various styles from which you can choose.
If you don’t have a buttonhole foot, it is still a fairly simple process to make a buttonhole using a regular foot. Look for the buttonhole setting on the control panel. It is just a matter of getting the buttonhole the right length. You will need to mark the placement and size of the buttonhole as a guide. As mentioned above, use a fabric pencil or similar marking tool. Follow the markings on your pattern, or place the button on the garment and make a mark on either side of it.
The sequence of steps you will take will generally be as listed below:
Step 1: The left long edge of the buttonhole.
Step 2: The bar tack, or wide binding stitch at one end.
Step 3: The right long edge.
Step 4: The bar tack at the other end.
This four-step process is the most common type of buttonhole system. Note that the buttonhole attachment foot for the machine in the video begins at the bottom of the buttonhole and goes up, whereas other machines’ buttonhole settings may begin at the top and go down. This is important to know so that your finished buttonhole will be in the right place.
If you wish, you can repeat the process a second time to make the buttonhole stronger. However, you will want to make sure your fabric can support heavy stitching. A layer of interfacing or extra fabric underneath will help stabilize the area. Most machines have one standard width setting for buttonholes, but in some cases, you can choose a more narrow or wide setting.
Keep the following tips in mind when following the steps:
Be sure your take-up lever is in the uppermost position when you switch the dial between each step. This brings the needle clear of the fabric.
The needle should be in the center position.
For each bar tack, use between eight and ten stitches to make it strong but not too bulky.
Once your stitches are completed, the final step in the process is to cut the fabric between the stitches to create the hold through which the button will slide. You can use a pair of small sharp scissors to do this, but the best tool recommended is a seam ripper. Slip the tip of the seam ripper in the middle of the buttonhole and slide the blade toward one end. Then go from the middle to the other end.
Be sure to cut slowly and gently to avoid cutting any of the buttonhole threads along the edge or at the ends, as the blade is very sharp. Alternately, you can begin on one end and slide toward the other end. Using a straight pin at the end of your buttonhole will serve to stop the blade from cutting through the stitches you’ve just made.
If you want to ensure that the buttonhole will not unravel with use, stitch a few times in one place when finished with all four steps, or take the thread tails and thread them to the back with a hand needle and tie a knot. Trim any frayed fabric strands carefully from inside the buttonhole for a clean finished product.
As with any skill, it’s always wise to practice until you get it to look the way you’d like. If possible, practice on a scrap of fabric that is similar in thickness and texture to the garment on which you are working. If you still can’t get the buttonhole to turn out right, or you require further details, consult your sewing machine manual or better yet, ask someone to demonstrate the procedure for you.