Hi everyone! I’m one of the hosts for this month’s button-ups and wanted to write a quick post supplementing the great info already posted in May. I’m taking a quick look at buttonholes since we’re getting close to the end of the month and this is one of the final things you’ll do on your shirt. I’m just about finished with my Novelista, which I’m making out of this popping Nani Iro pochi fabric.
Creating buttonholes and adding buttons strikes fear into the heart of many a sewist – and I understand why – I used to be exactly the same (and occasionally still am if it’s a treasured piece of fabric!). But really, there’s nothing to worry about. A bit of practice with your machine and a few little tips will get you well on the way to perfect buttonholes. So without further ado, here are some of my favourite buttonhole and button tips and tricks when making a button-up:
Do you need to adjust your placket?
I have made this mistake once or twice (see below on a favourite dress – urk!) and it definitely applies to the Novelista shirt as it has separate button placket pieces. Basically, if you’re making adjustments to your shirt front – in my case I almost always add a full bust adjustment – make sure any resulting length is added/subtracted to your plackets too! My full bust adjustment for the Novelista resulted in an extra 3/4″ in length, so I added the same to the placket piece. It’s an easy thing to overlook and it’s probably not the end of the world, but you might have to do some creative thinking if you forget.
Lining up your buttonholes
Most patterns come with a button layout on the placket piece. While I’m not suggesting to disregard it completely, this is what I do and I think it works well to avoid gaping (the curse of button-ups). Place your first buttonhole by putting on your unfinished shirt and working out where you have the largest circumference. This would usually be at the fullest point of your bust, but not always, depending on your shape. Put a buttonhole there and then work upwards and downwards at regular intervals. My next move is normally to put in the top buttonhole or two just in case you end up with weird placement at the top of your shirt.
Another tip you may want to consider if you are full-busted is to either use a larger number of smaller buttons than the pattern calls for or to put covered snaps inside the placket between larger ones. This can help avoid gaping with more points of contact between the two sides.
Equal buttonhole spacing
- There are several ways to measure out your buttonholes – I often just use a tape measure and/or ruler and mark them with Ultra Washable Crayola markers. These are my favorite marking tool as you can be very precise – the marks don’t rub off like chalk, but wash out when you launder the garment. Definitely test your fabric if you haven’t used them before, but I have never had an issue and I’ve used them a zillion times.
- A very nice way to get equal spacing with minimum fuss is to invest in a button spacer. Again, I have sewing friends who swear by them, so I added one to my Christmas list. Fingers crossed!
Each machine is different when it comes to sewing buttonholes, but there are a few general tips you can employ to make life easier:
- It sort of goes without saying, but definitely practice on a scrap of your final fabric first. I’ve found that different buttonhole stitches on my machine work best on different fabrics. I thought it was just the shape that was affected and used a “favourite” stitch number all the time, but then once set another stitch shape by accident and it was much better on that fabric! Lesson learnt.
- When you test your buttonhole, make sure you cut it open and ensure the button fits through it. If you have a thick or domed button it may need a larger buttonhole than your machine thinks (assuming you have a foot that “measures” the buttonhole circumference).
- Interfacing: most instructions will recommend interfacing your placket, but if they don’t or if you’d rather not for some reason, it’s still worth stabilizing the area behind the buttonhole with a small square of interfacing. It will really make your buttonhole so much neater and even.
- I’ve seen a few different recommendations for sewing your buttonhole twice. Some say shorten the stitch for the second sew, others just to sew it the same way twice. I must admit, the resultant buttonholes look pretty good, so I might try this one with the Novelista!
Fray check those buttonholes
This is the one tip that has taken me from dodgy-looking buttonholes to “Did you really do those yourself?” buttonholes. The secret is to apply the fray check before you cut the buttonholes open. Simply apply a thin line down the centre of your buttonhole, leave to dry and cut as normal. What a difference!! Fray check is basically just a fast-drying fabric glue – you should be able to find it or similar easily in any sewing shop or online.
Cut with ease
There are two main ways to cut your buttonholes – use a buttonhole chisel or use a seam ripper/scissors. I know people who swear by their buttonhole chisels and I definitely want to get one sometime, but I use the second method. The important thing about using a seam ripper is that you don’t slice right through into your shirt. There’s a very easy and common way to avoid this – insert a pin horizontally at each end. The pin will stop the seam ripper cutting too far.
Spacing your buttons
Lots of people space their buttons by laying their garment flat and overlaying the plackets. This is a fine method, but my preference is to actually put the garment on. I don’t know if it’s because I’m fairly curvy, but I find if I do it flat, my buttons can be a little off. I overlay the plackets as if I’m wearing the shirt and poke my marker through my finished buttonhole to mark the exact position of the button. I usually do two or three at a time, add the buttons to check they’re okay, then fasten them and do the next batch.
Sewing on your buttons
I was a little surprised recently to notice a few experienced sewists on Instagram mention that they hadn’t realised you could sew on buttons with your machine. I am not a very proficient hand sewer, so I checked this machine feature out ultra-quickly after purchasing my machine and had assumed everyone else did too. But apparently not, so if you’re in that boat, prepare for some revelatory info, because it is SO easy.
All you do is measure the distance between the holes in your button in millimetres (on my machine at least). Pop on the little button foot and sit it over the button, lining up with the middle. Select your button stitch if you have one, or a wide zigzag with 0 stitch length if not, and then set the width to that of your hole measurement. ALWAYS test your settings by doing one full stitch with the handwheel. If you got it wrong and start machining, you’ll probably break your needle (ask me how I know). Run the stitch for 10 secs or so and you’re done!
Obviously check your manual for your own particular settings, but these are the basics for many machines and it makes sewing buttons fast and strong. You can use the same method for anything with holes – I recently sewed on a hook and eye the same way (above). If you have a four-hole button, you just do the first two, lift the presser foot, slide the button up and do the last two. Genius!
That sums up the basic tips I wanted to mention today, but of course there are loads of good articles out there on the internet for more specifics on different sewing machines and feet – and I found useful technical information in some of my older sewing books too on different buttonhole sewing methods.
Do you have any favourite button or buttonhole tips? Share them in the comments and we can all be buttonholing experts!