How to sew a buttonhole by hand

Learn how to sew buttonholes by hand

Easy Handmade Buttonhole

A true couturier will vouch for the beauty of hand-stitched buttonholes. It is convenient to pop the cloth onto the machine and get those nicely done buttonholes out. But the buttonhole will always look assembly-made. The perfection of a hand-worked buttonhole is something else.

A hand sewn buttonhole is made with a buttonhole stitch which is a variation of the blanket stitch.

But making those machine sewn buttonholes are also easy – checkout the tutorial for sewing buttonholes on sewing machine.

Buttonhole stitches are basically blanket stitches which are worked really close together, with two loops instead of one – one over the needle and one under.

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Your patience is going to be overworked when making those neat buttonhole stitches. The first time I made a hand-stitched buttonhole, I think I cursed the whole hand-sewing thing and almost threw the towel in – But I didn’t. And believe me, it gets better with practice. Let us see how to get it done the right way. 

Handsewn buttonhole – tutorial

You need the listed things to start with. 

  • Sharp scissors.
  • Two pins.
  • Chalk or pencil.
  • Thin and small hand-sewing needle.
  • Buttonhole thread or pearl cotton thread.
  • Your garment, of course.
  • A thick thread (gimp) if you are sewing for a jacket.

Some tips for marking the buttonholes

☝ Buttonholes are sewn before buttons.

☝ For women’s garments, the buttonholes are placed on the left side of the garment (so that they will close right side over left side). 

☝ Sew horizontal buttonholes on areas where there is fitting (strain). If the fitting is loose vertical buttonholes can be used.

☝ Interfacing the area under the buttonhole is a good practice because this makes the area stronger.

☝ You can leave 1/2 of the button as overlap edge from the edge of the button to the edge of the garment.

☝ It is important that you space the buttonhole evenly on the garment opening edge / placket. A simple calculation can get you there.

Mark the buttonholes

Step 1
Mark where you will be placing the top and bottom buttons,

Step 2
Measure the space in between- take this as A. Determine how many buttonholes you want. Subtract one from this. Take this as B,

Divide A by B. This is the distance between the buttonholes you should be maintaining for even placement.

How to sew the handmade buttonhole.

Step 1
Keep the button in place and mark its length by placing two pins on top and bottom . Add 1/8 inch for some ease. Remove the button.

hand sewn buttonhole

Draw a line connecting the two pins.sewing buttonholes by hand

how to sew a buttohole by hand

Step 2
Interface the fabric with a small piece of normal iron on interfacing or tear-away iron on interfacing.

Cut open this line with a sharp tool.

make a buttonhole with hand stitches

Step 3

Make two parallel stitching lines with your sewing machine or simple running stitches with your needle and thread on the left and right of the line you have drawn.

Make sure that two stitching lines are very close to the marked line. You do not want those lines to be visible later. 

handmade buttonhole

You can make diagonal basting stitches in this fashion for greater strength.

diagonal basting stitches made around buttonhole 

Step 4
Thread the needle with a thick thread suitable for sewing the buttonhole, about 25″ in length.

The buttonhole thread you get will be slightly thicker than the normal sewing thread. I use pearl cotton thread. 

buttonhole stitch

Make buttonhole stitches around the hole. 

Start sewing by Bringing up the needle from the back of the cloth near the right edge. Make some backstitches to anchor the thread. The buttonhole stitch used here is usually worked from right to left.

buttonhole stitch

Buttonhole stitches are blanket stitches in which the thread is looped over and under the needle as in the picture above. 

The width of the buttonhole stitches will depend on the fabric you are sewing them on. If you have an easily fraying cloth, you should make wider stitches; otherwise, the fabric will wear out near the middle cut. But at the same time not too wide that the stitches will look very thinned out.

Continue making close buttonhole stitches till you reach the end.

If you are making a tailored garment or wish the buttonhole to be a design feature, you would want the buttonhole to hold its shape at all times.

This is possible by using a firm thread underneath the buttonhole stitches. This thread is placed along the hole, and as you work the buttonhole stitches, this thread is enclosed inside, giving your buttonhole a nice structure. 

Step 4
When you reach the left corner, you can either make a fan-shaped stitch or a bar tack stitch. In the bar stitch, 2-3 stitches are made one on top of the other, ensuring that the width is equal to or smaller than the buttonhole.

Step 5
Continue with the buttonhole stitch to the other end. Here also you have a choice of making a keyhole shape (Fan shape) or a straight bar. Another option is to just fan out the stitches.

When you have finished, bring the needle to the back and weave the needle through the stitches on the back to anchor the thread. 

hand sewn buttonhole


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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.

12 thoughts on “How to sew a buttonhole by hand”

  1. Just starting to try and sew a button hole for baby dress and am nervous.
    But praise Yahshua for good tutorials!
    I will try this soon!
    John 3:16
    For Yahweh so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life!

  2. This is not a proper button hole stitch for a quality garment. It’s been decades since I last tailored a hand button hole. I was hoping to find a refresher on how to make the “pearl” that provides a smooth refined finish along the inside edge.
    This stitching is not presentable for finished garments.
    Hopefully I’ve miss read something and viewed a beginners practice piece not a finished button hole. Fine hand tailoring is rare among American garment makers but we can do better. Standard hand stitching techniques are not difficult to master.

  3. An interesting tutorial. Now can you please tell me – On a man’s linen jacket would a bound buttonhole be “proper” or would it be preferable to use a stitched one? Hope you can advise. Thank you.

    • Hi Maureen
      Now you have confused me – as both are good. All the store bought ones have machine stitched buttonholes and the couture ones have perfect hand sewn buttonholes made tightly and shiny over a gimp thread or perfect thin bound ones. Bound buttonhole is formal and very elegant. In my experience, if you are making the bound buttonhole, get to be an expert before you try on the original jacket.

  4. Thank goodness for someone who knows there is a difference between blanket and buttonholestitch! I am a sewing teacher from England now teaching adults in California. I was taught hand stitching from age 6 on and am now 73 !
    Every place I look people here are saying that buttonhole and blanket are exactly the same stitch just spaced differently….but no ……thanks for that .

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