Buttonholes and Buttons

We know what you’re thinking. Buttonholes and buttons are fiddly and time consuming. Well yes they can be but with the help of our easy step-by-step guide they will soon become a cinch. Find out how you can master the art of buttons!


The first thing you should know is that there is no one type of button. They come in all sizes, colours and materials, from metal to plastic. The traditional button has two holes to sew the thread through but there is another type – the shank. The shank has a loop on the back that secures it to the fabric. This type of button is normally used with tough, heavy fabrics – the type normally used for winter coats.

The How To

Get your fabric together and mark with a fabric marker or a piece of chalk, the exact position where you want the button to sit. This means getting both layers, pinning them in place so that you know exactly where the buttonhole needs to be created and where the button needs to be threaded.

This is a vital first step. Get your measurements wrong and the fit of the garment will be wrong. As a rough rule of thumb, for both vertical and horizontal buttonholes the button marking should be about 3mm from the outer edge of the buttonhole itself.

Sewing on the Button

The first thing to think about is sewing the button on the fabric. Once this is out of the way we can get started on the buttonhole.

Step 1 Get your button and your thread together. In most cases you should choose a thread that is an exact match for the button. This looks neater and will hide sloppy sewing. Those going for a funky, colourful garment should definitely think about using contrasting colours. When sewing buttons it is normal to double up your thread. This makes the process quicker but will also ensure that the button is secured in place. To do this simply thread the needle – you will need about 15 inches of thread – move the needle to the middle of the thread and knot the ends together.

Step 2 Remember that marking you made on the fabric? Grab your button and place it directly above it. Then from the underside of the fabric, push the needle up and into one of the buttonholes. Pull the thread all the way through, until you can feel the tension of the knot. Then push the needle, back to the underside of the fabric, going through the other hole of the button. Repeat this back and forth motion about 6 times to ensure that the button will stay secured on your garment.

Step 3 Once you have secured the button, push the needle to the underside and tie the thread with a double-knot.

Onto the Buttonholes…

Sewing a button on is a manageable challenge but the buttonhole itself seems insurmountable. Well, there is some good news. It is fairly straightforward so don’t fear this part of your project. All you need is a sewing machine – the majority of today’s models are prepared for this task and will do all the hard work for you.

Look closely at a shop brought garment with a buttonhole and you will see that the edges are perfectly edged with a zigzag stitch down both sides. This is what you should be aiming for. How do you do it? Well in reality this finish is made up of four separate stitches:

  • Bar tack at one end;
  • Satin stitch (zigzag) on one side
  • Bar tack at the opposite end
  • Satin stitch on the final edge

Getting Started

Go back to your fabric and familiarise yourself with the marking you originally made. The position should be about 2cm from the edge of the fabric although this will depend on the size of the button and the buttonhole.

The width of the buttonhole needs to be at least 2mm bigger than the size of the button. The fit should be relatively snug but not impossible to do up. Get the machine set up – if possible attach a buttonhole foot to the machine. This will be a tremendous help and will guide you through the process.

In most cases, you can programme the machine to go through the three steps and all you have to do is guide the fabric through, very slowly and carefully. Step one will be the first bar tack and once done the machine will wait for you to turn the dial before completing the satin stitch and second bar tack. The third and final step will be the final satin stitch. Once all the stitching has been done use a seam ripper to open the buttonhole. Do this carefully – you don’t want to rip too much and undo all your hard work.

The Big Moment

Once you have opened the buttonhole, try and fasten the garment with your button. In the ideal world it will fit perfectly and you can move onto the next set. If the worse comes to the worse and the position isn’t quite right, undo the button stitching and start again. This is the easiest way to remedy the problem. Align both pieces of fabric together again and take your time to make precise markings.

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