How to stitch BUTTONHOLES with your sewing machine

sewing machine buttonhole

Sewing Buttonholes has never been this easy – buttonhole foot is the best thing invented since clothes – for those who have had a frustrating time making buttonholes the old-fashioned way by hand stitching. With this foot, you can make countless buttonholes on your sewing machine in a fraction of the time it took earlier.

Checkout the post on making easy buttonholes by hand (it needn’t be that frustrating, and it is a beauty)

Easy Handmade Buttonhole

The buttonhole foot that comes with the newer sewing machine gets you perfect buttonholes  in one go (or 4 steps depending on the sewing machine model). But those who do not have this foot need not worry. It is possible to make similar buttonholes with your regular sewing machine without the foot with just a little practice (ok, lots of practice)

General Guidelines for making Buttonholes

  • Buttonholes are made before the buttons are attached ( but after the rest of the garment is finished).
  • For women’s garments buttonholes are on the right and for men’s garment on the left.
  • Always interface the area you are making the buttonhole. 
  • Use a thread with colour close to the garment fabric or choose a slightly darker one. Cotton machine embroidery thread looks good when made into a buttonhole. You can use the regular sewing thread as well.
  • A slightly looser top thread tension will make your stitching go easier.
  • After you have made the buttonhole, when cutting it open, keep two pins at the top and bottom and then slice it open. This will prevent accidental large holes..

Vertical Vz Horizontal buttonholes?

On shirts, vertical buttonholes are used on the front except on the collar (on the collar stand, a horizontal butthole is made). On jackets and overcoats, you can make horizontal buttonholes.

Always make a test buttonhole on a scrap of the same fabric you will be using for the garment before making the actual garment. In fact, I would use an actual interfaced fabric scrap.

keyhole shaped buttonhole

How to make a buttonhole with a buttonhole foot

The  buttonhole foot will  have the following features.

  • An opening to accommodate the needle movements
  • A large groove on the underside so that the foot can move easily over the buttonhole
  • A gauge to measure the length of the button
  • Your machine will also have a lever that you move so that it tells the machine when it should move in the other direction ( check your manual for this)

Some machines will come with a one-step automatic buttonhole system, and some with a 4 step buttonhole system. The one-step is very automatic – you just have to position the foot and start stitching. The machine will do the rest. For the 4-step version, you will have to be more hands-on. All the sewing machine manuals will have instructions to make them which are very easy to follow.

Here is what I do to make the buttonholes. 

Step 1 Mark the buttonhole position

Some general guidelines in marking  buttonholes

Ensure the distance between the buttons is the same. It is usually set at 2-3 .5 inches. But you can decide on the distance in a more customized manner by doing the calculations given below.

How to space the buttonholes on your shirt

Measure the whole area of the opening where you mean to place the buttonholes. Divide this by the buttonholes you require. You will get a figure; This is your X. Mark your first buttonhole. Then mark the next buttonhole x inches from the first. Continue marking like this.

Always place one button at the fullest part of the bust. Otherwise, the opening will gape.

Each buttonhole should be of uniform distance from the edge of the garment opening.

Step 2. Change the dial of the sewing machine to buttonhole (Consult your sewing machine manual if you do not know which)

Step 3. Insert the button on the buttonhole foot.

buttonhole feet

Step 4. Attach the buttonhole foot on your machine.

The lever on the machine to operate the buttonhole foot

Step 5. Take the top needle thread to the back.(out of the way or it will get caught in the stitching)

Step 6. Keep the pressure foot down on the space where you marked the bottom bartack of the buttonhole ( this order will depend on the order in which the particular sewing machine model you have will sew the buttonhole; consult your sewing machine manual for more details)

Push back the buttonhole lever (This has to be done everytime you make a buttonhole)

Now start stitching. Your machine will automatically make the perfect buttonhole as per the button you have placed on it.Cut open the inner space with a seam ripper or buttonhole cutter. Apply fray sealant or fabric glue to the cut edges.

If you think the buttonhole needs some more thickness, immediately after the buttonhole is made, push the buttonhole lever again and start again. The machine will automatically make stitches over the earlier buttonhole in the same sequence. 

You can also add a cord to the buttonhole to make it strong and stable. Your sewing machine manual will have complete instructions on how to make this. Mine does.

buttonholes in a sewing machine

How to make the buttonhole without a buttonhole foot

This is a scenario where you do not have the buttonhole foot or you have misplaced it  or you do not want to bother about changing the foot or something.  

You can definitely make buttonholes on your regular sewing machine without a buttonhole foot. You need a zig-zag machine and a zig-zag pressure foot, though; You also need sewing thread which goes without saying, and an exacto knife/ razor blade/ seam ripper to cut the buttonhole open.

If you have the specialised tool – buttonhole cutter – lucky you.

Keep a piece of interfacing on the back of the marking for the buttonhole. Next, you have to measure the size of the buttonhole you need.

How to determine the size of the buttonhole for a particular button

If you have a flat button without much depth, measure your button. Add 1/8 inch to this measure. This is the length you need.

If the button is a raised one like a cloth button stuffed or an embellished button, you will need to wrap a string around it to see the length of the button. Take half of this measure and add 1/8 inch to this measure.

Mark the buttonhole so that the button will stay inside the placket when the opening is closed; 1/8 inch from the center is ideal.

buttonhole sides in sequence

Step 1. Make the top bar tack. 

Step 2. Make the side stitches on the left; reduce the stitch width to 1; See what works in your machine.

Step 3. Make the bottom bar tack; for this, increase the stitch width to double what you sew the side stitches.

Step 4.  Make the right-handside stitches.

buttonhole with sewing machine

A buttonhole is not complete on its own. You need buttons sewn on too. Checkout the post on sewing buttons (by hand and by sewing machine) for more details.

When sewing buttons, remember to keep a needle under the buttons as a means of creating slight ease. You need buttons that easily fit through the buttonhole you have made, not pinch it in.

Related posts: How to make handsewn buttonhole; Sewing hooks and eye 

fabric opening

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

6 thoughts on “How to stitch BUTTONHOLES with your sewing machine”

  1. The side stitches on my buttonhole are not equal. The stitches on the left side of the buttonhole are correct but the stitches on the right are a zigzag that are too large and do not match the stitches on the left. Any suggestions?

  2. Hello, I am using Brother LX27NT . Settings are: : Length is F , tension is 3 and width is maximum 5 . But my foot moves only if tension is 1.5 or 2. But, I am not getting equal thickness. So, please mention correct specification to get perfect button holes. At the earliest. Thank you..

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