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Kristina Seleshanko

With a little know-how and practice, you can dramatically improve the look of your buttonholes-and take the fear out of buttonhole-making.
Photo of various buttons and buttonholes

Long gone are the days when time-consuming hand stitches were the only way to create a buttonhole. Today, sewers have machines that can handle the job more efficiently. But just because sewing machines have taken over the role of buttonhole-making doesn't mean this popular closure is completely anxiety-free. Even the best sewing machine can create a less-than-desirable buttonhole. Choosing the proper buttonhole size, preventing stretching, controlling fraying, using the right stitches--and yes, the machine used--can all drastically affect how buttonholes turn out.

Machine-made Buttonholes

Many sewers blame their machine for poor buttonholes. That blame isn't always fairly placed--but depending on what sewing machine you use, you'll certainly find buttonholes easier or more difficult to sew.

Some sewers insist that when they're buying a new sewing machine, the crux of their decision is the quality of buttonholes the machine produces. Although you probably shouldn't use buttonholes as the ultimate machine test, you can tell certain things about a machine by the buttonholes it makes-whether or not the stitching is uniform and whether the tension is good or bad. At the very least, prospective buyers should know a bit about how modem machines make buttonholes.

The buttonhole functions of today's machines come in three basic types: automatic, one-step and four-step.

Automatic buttonholes are featured on computerized machines, and are the dream of every sewer who hates making buttonholes. In some cases, the buttonhole gets programmed into the machine's memory by putting a sample button in the buttonhole foot. Then, at the touch of a button, you have as many perfectly sized buttonholes as you desire. Usually, the density of stitches can be manually adjusted, and the style of buttonhole often can be changed as well. Although the bar tack is frequently the buttonhole of choice, many machines can make rounded and keyhole buttonholes, as well as eyelets. Some high-end machines even have a feature that makes the machine-stitched buttonhole resemble a hand-worked one.

One-step buttonholes are achieved by turning a dial on the sewing machine. Again, many of the modern machines allow you to automatically determine the opening size by placing a button in the buttonhole foot. The machine then stitches a buttonhole, without the sewer having to manipulate either the fabric or the machine any further.

Four-step buttonholes also are achieved by turning a dial, but different settings create different components of the buttonhole: One setting on the dial stitches the zigzags that make up one side of the hole; another setting creates the bar tack on the lower end; the next setting makes the zigzags on the remaining side; and the final setting makes the bar tack on the buttonhole upper end (1). The stitching order varies by machine brand.

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