Video Tutorial: Buttonholes without a Buttonhole Foot

Sophie at Un Peu de Couture made a pair of Burda pants recently, and in her post she asked about tutorials for making buttonholes without a special foot.  I know how to do this, in theory, though I don’t usually sew them this way.  It’s good to learn because when you are in a tight place with some bulk or weird fabric layers (like a waistband), the automatic buttonholer often craps out.  I believe that’s the technical term.

Also, automatics usually make buttonholes only 1″(2.5cm) long or less.  You can also use this technique to make a longer buttonhole if desired (though it will probably droop).

My rectangle-guide is a little crazy, if that makes your heart stop then do draw a little buttonhole-window with tidier angles.  Whatever helps you get the job done.  Also, my buttonhole isn’t perfect.  I was talking and stitching.  Practice until yours is better than mine, it’s worth it.

I used a stitch width of 5.0 for the bar tacks at the end, and 2.0 for the “legs.”  The stitch length is .3.  Depending on your machine, your threads and your fabric you may need to use different settings.

Many, many thanks to Stephen for his camera work.  (Next time I’ll get him to go in tight on the stitching!)  I used this buttonhole technique after we filmed for his pajamas, so now he can wear them.

Does anyone know of any other online tutorials that show another way to do this?  How do you make buttonholes?


  1. Thank you ever so much Steph for this tutorial!! I now need to pratice a lot in order to get something nice and regular. By the way, I love the comment about women being always right, it made me laugh a lot, but also will help me remember where to place my buttonholes. I used to mimic the way I close my coats to check which side they were on.
    thanks again to you and to Stephen for the filming!

  2. I used to make my button holes this way (well, close anyways) before I got my new machine with a button hole foot. They aren’t super pretty but they are all still functional! I’ve seen a tutorial for using a machine that had an automatic button hole function but not the foot where you tap the bar with your hand but I found that it was more difficult to control than doing it this way.

    • It’s just practice… I can do it on my regular machine, this one is a loaner and we aren’t as “in tune” as the other machine… I’ll have her back soon though, she’s been sick.

  3. I couldn’t get on with my buttonhole foot or the settings on my machine so I’ve been practising hand sewn buttonholes…I am getting better, made 12 so far…

    • Really well done looking for another solution and practicing so hard!

      Let me just tell you though, it’s really worth it to go back to the dealer/get a half hour private lesson/something to help you use the buttonhole feature. It just makes life that much simpler.

  4. “Loops (or holes) on the Left for Ladies- if you’re Looking at it”
    One of the hardest things I’ve found about buttonholes- no matter how many practice ones I do on scrap- is that often their real placement is near seam allowances that make the buttonholes want to wobble. Like the top button of a collared shirt or cuff buttons, even if I trim the SAs down, the presser foot wants to slide away from it. Oy! there is always more to learn.
    It’s nice to hear your voice!

    • Ah- another little mind hook.

      Sometimes I will make a practice buttonhole at the bottom of a placket. Or you can take some scraps of your fabric and actually seam them together like your garment and practice on that. It sounds OTT but it can help…

      I guess the thing to remember is that *you* are in charge of the machine. It’s not the sewist, it’s a tool. I have been known to carefully pull the fabric through myself at the right speed to get a good buttonhole. You need to do several practice ones to get the “rhythm,” but once you know how the fabric should be fed through the machine you can do it yourself.

  5. Threads magazine had an article some years ago with instructions for making a buttonhole using a zigzag stitch/foot and adjusting stitch width for the different sections of the buttonhole (and good markings on the fabric).

    It’s the method I use as the “automatic” buttonhole on my machine (older Janome/New Home; wasn’t any better on my previous machine – a fairly basic Babylock – both machines sew well…but not buttonholes!) isn’t much worth the effort – it isn’t consistent in sizing (uses one of the buttons for sizing but doesn’t stay secure in the buttonhole foot so each buttonhole is a different size), nor does it actually cover the edges of the buttonhole enough for it to be secure.

    Best buttonholes ever (IMO) are the ones made using the old Singer buttonhole attachment. I miss it! (Learned to sew on an old Singer Featherweight – and we had the buttonhole attachment to go with it!)

    • Yes- markings are important. Mine look like a drunk monkey did them. I’ll work on using my hands and talking at the same time. ;)

      I’ve heard about that Singer attachment- sounds legendary!

      I usually go for an automatic buttonhole, life’s so short. My regular machine does them quite well, but some autos can be just dreadful, can’t they?

  6. Great video! That is how I first learned to make buttonholes, well after I learned to stitch them by hand. Now I am glad my machine makes them automatically. D
    I love your blouse. I am trying to draft those sleeves. Did you blog the blouse?

    • Thanks Nora… It’s a heavily altered burda pattern, I’ve made it up seven or eight different ways, I think I need to start blogging about that because it’s a simple simple top to sew but you can do so much with it… I’ve drafted a few for friends, I could take a look at drafting you one if you’d like to play. In fact, just the other day a friend came over in one of these tops she’d made herself. For some reason, it didn’t click in my mind it was my pattern and I was like “Wow Enid, that’s a cool top. So minimalist…” She was like… “Uhm.. This is your pattern.” ;)

  7. Thanks for posting this. My buttonhole foot just decided to stage a rebellion, so either I’m going to need to whip it back into shape or follow your directions…

  8. nice tutorial, i generally use the 4step buttonhole setting on my machine, always good to know alternatives though!
    was amused by the women are always right reminder – i made 4 pairs of trousers for a male friend with the fly the “girl” way round, he’s had them for years and still is surprised everytime he goes to unzip!!

  9. I always enjoy seeing others’ techniques (or emergency techniques in this case).

    My machine’s automatic buttonhole stitch gives me really poor stitching. I could try my kids’ machine, but then I’d have to switch threads. So, I’ve been using this method for a couple of years – after a lot of practice it’s very quick and fairly consistent if I’m careful. I’m pretty slapdash on marking – I chalk in the button alignment line, mark x for each button, place the button on the x and chalk on either side of that. The width of the tailors’ chalk is the “extra” width. The thing I can’t do (or haven’t tried to do) is a nice keyhole.

  10. Pingback: Beautiful buttonholes! | Un Peu de Couture

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