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How to Make a Buttonhole

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Buttons are one of the greatest, and cheapest ways to add a bit o' bling to a project. However, with the button comes something many sewers find intimidating: the buttonhole. Luckily, the majority of today's sewing machines do most of the work for you. Our tutorial will allow you to confront your fears, and will show you how easy buttonholes really are. This tutorial covers two ways of making buttonholes: 1) using an automatic buttonhole feature on a sewing machine, or 2) using a four-step buttonhole feature on a sewing machine. Most machines these days will offer at least one four-step or automatic buttonhole. If your machine doesn't offer one of these, it is possible to create a manual buttonhole. But in all honesty, getting a new machine is probably a better option. Then you can make buttonholes 'til the cows come home. And we all know how much the cows love a good buttonhole. However, some specialty fabrics or buttons may demand the extra attention of a manual buttonhole. Check back for a future article detailing this technique.

What You'll Need

  • Sewing machine
  • Buttonhole foot
  • Practice fabric or a project that needs a buttonhole
  • Button of choice
  • Fabric marking pen
  • Thread in color to match or contrast with fabric
  • Small, sharp scissors or seam ripper
  • Straight pins

The Most Common Buttonholes

Diagram
This is a square buttonhole, which is widely used on medium to heavy weight fabrics. It is a standard buttonhole, and the one you would be most likely to use in home decor projects.

Diagram
This buttonhole is used on fine to medium weight fabrics, especially for blouses or children's clothes.

Diagram
This buttonhole is rounded at both ends and is used on fine, delicate fabrics, such as silk.

Diagram
The Keyhole buttonhole is widely used on medium to heavy weight fabrics. It is also suitable for larger and thicker buttons because the keyhole at one end allows a bit of an extra opening to push in the button.

Diagram
This buttonhole can be used on stretch fabrics. It can also be used as a decorative buttonhole.

Diagram
This buttonhole is also suitable for knit fabrics or as a decorative buttonhole.

Testing and Marking

You should always make a test buttonhole on an extra piece of the fabric you are using to check your settings.

Diagram

If your fabric is heavy, stretchy, or if you are using specialty threads, you may need to adjust your buttonhole. Make a test buttonhole according to the instructions below to make sure the settings are suitable. If the button doesn't fit through your test buttonhole comfortably, you can lengthen the size of the buttonhole by pulling the button holder back a little bit on an automatic buttonhole, or by lengthening your markings for a four-step or manual buttonhole.

It is also important to mark your buttonholes on your fabric before you start your project. You can use your test buttonhole as a guide for placement. Additionally, you can use this formula for determining how long your buttonhole should be: Diameter of button + ¼".

Diagram

Use the marking pen to mark the placement of the buttonhole.

Diagram

Instructions for Making an Automatic One-Step Buttonhole

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This is a buttonhole foot for making an automatic buttonhole. As you can see, it is much different than a traditional sewing machine foot. This foot works with a sensor on your sewing machine so that it makes the exact size buttonhole for the button you are using. The button is placed in the slot at the back of the foot, and the foot adjusts to the size of the button. There is a sensor on the machine which works with the foot to create a buttonhole the appropriate size. This is an incredibly easy way to make a buttonhole! There is one down-side, however. It works best with flat buttons. If you have a button with a raised surface, or a button that is not round, this option won't work as well. In that case, it is best to go with the four-step buttonhole, or a manual buttonhole.

  1. Carefully mark the buttonhole(s) on your fabric. Use the following formula for determining size: Diameter of button + ¼".
  2. Place the button in the sensor slot of the buttonhole foot. Pull down the buttonhole sensor. Attach the foot to the machine.

Diagram

  1. Select a buttonhole stitch from the stitches available on your machine.
  2. Place the fabric with the buttonhole mark under the needle. Align the front/top mark with the needle hole of the foot. Lower the needle into the fabric and adjust placement if necessary.

Diagram

  1. Start the machine and sew the buttonhole. The machine will sew the front bartack of the buttonhole, then down the left side, then return to the starting point and sew the right side and the back bartack.
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  2. The machine will stop automatically at the end of the buttonhole.
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  3. Remove the fabric from the machine.
  4. Open the buttonhole using small sharp scissors or a seam ripper. Be careful! You can place a pin in the end of the buttonhole to be sure you don't accidentally cut the bartack stitches.
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Instructions for Making a Four-Step Buttonhole

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This is the foot for making a four-step buttonhole. This foot is generally clear for easy viewing, and has a needle hole that will accommodate zig zag stitches.

  1. Carefully mark the buttonhole(s) on your fabric. Use the following formula for determining size: Diameter of button + ¼".
  2. Place the fabric with the buttonhole mark under the needle. Align the back/bottom mark with the needle hole of the foot. This is backwards to the way you traditionally sew and opposite of how you aligned for the automatic buttonhole (above). You can use the handwheel to lower the needle into the fabric to be sure you begin sewing in the precise location. Once you're satisfied with placement, lower the presser foot.
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  3. Set the stitch length on your machine to 0.5-1 and the pattern selector dial to 1.
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  4. Slowly sew forward until you reach the front/top marking on your buttonhole. The machine will be making tiny zigzag stitches. Be sure that you stop on the LEFT swing of the zigzag (I believe that would be the "zag").
  5. Set the pattern selector dial to 4/2.
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  6. Sew the front bartack. The machine will make a number of stitches back and forth in the same place.
  7. Set the pattern selector dial to 3.
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  8. Sew until you reach the back/bottom marking of the buttonhole. Stop sewing on the right swing of a zig zag stitch
    (you got it ... the "zig").
  9. Set the pattern selector dial to 4/2.
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  10. Sew a few bartacks and remove the needle from the fabric by turning the handwheel.
  11. Open the buttonhole using small sharp scissors or a seam ripper. Be careful! You can place a pin in the end of the buttonhole to be sure that you don't accidentally cut the stitches.
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Comments (48)

Kim Metahysa said:
Kim Metahysa's picture

I am using a Janine machine (my style 20) and eould like to know how to make buttonholes longer than the foot allows?  My buttons are quite large - much larger than the foot length

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Kim Metahysa - I you scroll just below your comment, you'll see I answered this for another person. The higer end Janome have an automatic feature to handle this, but for most machines you need to build your own buttonhole using a tight satin stitch. There are two links below to see what I mean.

kitemma said:
kitemma's picture

I have a White sewing machine with a 4 step button hole procedure.  Is it possible to make a button hole LARGER than the sliding presser foot allows?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ kitemma - we use Janome machines exclusively in our studio and so are not really qualified to troubleshoot the White machines. Several of the Janome models have an option for a manual assist buttonhole that can go as large as you want. We used this feature in our Hiding Curtain: http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/interviews-inspirations/lizs-hidi....

You can also make manual buttonholes with a super tight zig zag. A simple Google search spotted this good tutorial: http://untilwednesdaycalls.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-manual-machine-bu...

angiet said:
angiet's picture

I have a singer simple and trying to do buttonholes but one side is tighter than the other.  Where is the stitch balance lever on the bottonhole foot?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ angiet - S4H uses Janome machines in our studios and so we are not as familiar with the specifics of other manufacturers. I would recommend checking your manual or visiting the Singer website to see if they have any detailed information for that particular model. 

Irina said:
Irina's picture

Hello, i just purchased Janome 525s limited edition; today i ran into having a problem with the button hole foot. It would start sewing backwards like its supposed to but when its time for the needle to move a littlebit to the right in order to start the other half the fabric stops moving and it starts to sew in one spot not moving anywhere. i followed all the instructions in the manual, and tried to redo it like 10 times but i would get same results at the end with only one half completed of the button hole. Is this a machine problem or the foot problem?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Irina - With specific machine issues such as this, it's really hard to troubleshoot long distance. It sounds like you are doing all the right things to remedy the problem. I would recommend taking it back to the dealer for help (especially since you just purchased it yesterday!). This is a "retired model" - so if you didn't buy it from a dealer, you could also contact Janome America directly: custrel@janome-america.com.

Stevie said:
Stevie's picture

Hi guys. I recently brought a brother ns50 because of the mostly because of the 10 automatic buttonhole features. I have now just discovered that they don't go big enough :( does anyone have any advice on how I can get around this? Am I able to create my own personal one? I have read and re read the manual but havent found anything. Any help would be AMAZING as I am so stuck!

TIA

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Stevie - we use Janome machines exclusively in our studio and so are not really qualified to troubleshoot the Brother machine. Several of the Janome models have an option for a manual assist buttonhole that can go as large as you want. We used this feature in our Hiding Curtain: http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/interviews-inspirations/lizs-hidi....

You can also make manual buttonholes with a super tight zig zag. A simple Google search spotting this good tutorial:http://untilwednesdaycalls.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-manual-machine-bu...

Stevie said:
Stevie's picture

Thanks Liz.

could you reccommend a janome model? Im going into a janome dealer tomorrow so would like to know roughly what model would suit me. I have a small home business making baby product (pram liners, bibs, blankets etc). I have tried researching janome machines on their website but most I can find is where it says the number of automatic button holes it does and the manuals that I have looked at doesn't say how big they go either.

thanks for the information. My mum did advise me to go with a janome, and as usual I should have listened haha.

TIA

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Stevie - I'm going to guess from the "pram" and "mum" that you are not located in the US . This presents a bit of a problem because not all the Janome models are the same around the world. The Hiding Curtain example I linked to above was done on the MC11000SE, which is a model from a few years back, but I know there are more recent models that offer this "maunal assit" option. I think your best bet it to simply explain to the dealer exactly what you want to do and go from there. There are so many variables, it is hard to give a specific suggestion of which model will address your specific needs for:  budget options, embroidery versus no embroidery, bed size, etc. I'm sure you'll find something great. Every Janome I've ever sewn on has been great.

carla p said:
carla p's picture

everyone gives the same instructions for making buttonholes but no one tells us where to begin the buttomhole on the fabric.  mark it according to the pattern but where does one place the needle or the buttonhole attachment to begin making the buttonhole.  top, middle, end, WHERE?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ carla p - pull out your machine's instruction manual to be 100% sure, but the majority of machines start at the bottom end and stitch up. If you are having trouble wrapping your head around what the "bottom end" is on horizontal versus vertical buttonholes, you could do what I often do: mark a partial strip that simulates your project and do a test buttonhole. Then you can watch it stitch and be sure you are starting at the right point. But again, double check your machine's manual as there can be unique settings from machine to machine.

Ann said:
Ann 's picture

Thank you! This post was very helpful. Now, how do you make the whole wider, the A and C parts? when I was cutting the opening I sometimes clip the inside "zig" of the longer sides, and at that point its too late. Thank goodness for Frey Check. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Ann - the width is not generally adjustable. You would need to check your machine's instruction manual to see if there are additional buttonhole styles. One cutting tip: When you cut the buttonholes open, cut in a little from each edge towards the center. This is better than trying to cut them open with one action, which often leads to cutting into the buttonhole stitching.

Barb W said:
Barb W's picture

Your tutorial is really helpful.  It does not address the problem I'm having with my new Singer Talent 3323S - and I'm not getting any useful help from Singer.  Despite following each step from the manual, my fabric is getting stuck in the starting place, which on this machine is the bottom tab of the buttonhole.  It's a one-step buttonhole that was supposed to be a lot easier than my old machine - but is not doing the job.  I appreciate any help.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Barb W - It sounds like you are doing what you should: carefully following the steps in the manual. I imagine you've also re-threaded the top thread and the bobbin and changed the needle -- those are the top three standard ideas to start with for any problem. My guess would be that it is your machine - not you! We do not use any of the Singer machines in the Sew4Home studios, Janome is a sponsor of S4H and we use their models exclusively. So, I'm afraid I can't give you any specific troubleshooting ideas. Perhaps you can find a local dealer who can take look. 

Catherine Todd said:
Catherine Todd's picture

Sorry for the duplicate comment - can you remove the first one? Also: If I buy a new sewing machine to make buttonholes, which would be the best one? Thanks CT

Catherine Todd said:
Catherine Todd's picture

I'm in Guatemala where people don't have buttonhole features on their older sewing machines, so am looking for buttonhole attachments. There are so many! Not sure where to start, since people have different models of machines. Is there a universal type that would be good to start with? Any suggestions would be most welcome.

This has been a very informative website and I appreciate reading all the comments and articles. Gracias, amigas!

CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com.

PS: Is there a way to sign up for email notices of updates on your website or responses?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Catherine Todd - To sign up for our emails, simply add your email address into the field at the top of the right hand column on any page. The heading says, "Subscribe to our Newsletter" in red and below it is a field to type in your address.

Regading your machine question - I don't know how much help I can be, because I really don't know what models are available in Guatemala. Janome is one of our sponsors here at S4H and we HIGHLY recommend all their models. There is a subsidiary in Mexico; they might be able to direct you to some dealers in Guatemala: http://www.janome.com.mx/

And, regarding buttonhole attachments, that is indeed an older accessory - all the modern US machines now have built-in buttonhole features. I don't have any experience with attachment options. Again, a local retailer would be your best option. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Edward Graves-Tagg - I'm afraid I don't have that information. It is indeed a garment technique, and therefore, not our specialty. I'd recommend visiting a local sewing machine dealer and asking him/her and/or searching more garment-focused sites for techniques. Threads magazine (produced b Tauton Press) often has very good tutorials on couture techniques. That might be a good place to start.
Edward Graves-Tagg said:
Edward Graves-Tagg's picture
I would like to create a suit keyhole button hole with a small rope inside the threads like those made on good London suits... I have a preference for old singer 1960's sewing machines - Which machine does this or do I have to learn to do it by hand?
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Jenn tak - Not all machines can do the keyhole buttonhole, but if your machine has the capability, the three steps will be exactly the same: you would need to select the keyhole option, set the tension to automatic, attach the correct foot and stitch. If this is an option, the machine will automatically stitch the keyhole shape in the same manner it does the regular rectangle shape: down the right side, up the left side and a bar tack at the top. Check you machine's manual for more details.
Jenn tak said:
Jenn tak's picture
Hi,

I love your step by step instructions, can you please add the 4th step for keyhole buttonhole. My aunts are trying to figure it out but the person at work is holding back information which is unfortunate for them.
Sacvalley said:
Sacvalley's picture
Thanks for pointing out what the instruction book doesn't with the Automactic Buttonholer on the Husqvarna 116-118. The button needs to be round and smooth. So when we're going to Use a textured or square button on the project; place a round/smooth button (of the same size)in the button holder. Many buttons can just be turned over, and a smooth side is exposed. Also remember to use the re-set after each button. Plus there's two knobs to set to the buttonhole position.
Evelyn in Iowa City said:
Evelyn in Iowa City's picture
Thank you so much for this well-illustrated, clear explanation. I deeply appreciate your effort in creating and posting this.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ WyomingGranny -- Glad our article was some help to you. Janome is one of our great sponsors here at S4H, but we are a completely separate company, so I don't have the inside scoop of all their models. I am not familiar with the 7330 you mentioned. My first recommendation would be to contact your Janome dealer locally and take the machine in. Perhaps there is a simple adjustment that needs to be made. Or you can contact the Janome America customer relations department at: custrel@janome-america.com
WyomingGranny said:
WyomingGranny's picture
Your tips are a great help for my Janome 7330 automatic buttonhole maker, but I thought I was doing everything right, including pulling down the senser, but sometimes it starts sewing forward instead of backward. I've yet to get three consecutive, identical buttonholes on my (interfaced) fabric scrap. What am I still doing wrong? I'm almost ready to dig out my 20-year-old Singer with its separate buttonhole gadget that used cams to produce consistent buttonholes every time.smilies/tongue.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ sara livitchi -- I always suggest asking your sewing machine dealer for help first, because you can bring in your machine and show him/her exactly the problem you are having and then practice the techniques they suggest. In the meantime, below are links to a couple good online articles. The first one is from a blog done by the Janome Canada group and shows how the stabilizer plate Janome sells can make working on difficult fabrics, like knits, easier. It also shows you the best buttonhole styles for stretchy fabrics. The second link is to an interfacing tip. Hope that helps

http://janomelife.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/new-buttonhole-stabilizer-plate/

http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/review/readreview.pl?readreview=...
sara livitchi said:
sara livitchi's picture
Can I ask for help? I have a Janome machine and am new to the world of buttons and button holes. I am able to make beautiful, professional looking buttonholes on regular fabrics, but when I recently tried on a stretch knit cardigan, the foot stopped moving the fabric like it should and everything got all bunched up. I tried several different buttonholes and each ended with the same result. Is there a trick to get it to work correctly? I would greatly appreciate any ideas smilies/smiley.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Liz D -- Sorry, I don't know much detail about the Husqvarna line. I would suggest taking the machine to your local Husqvarna dealer or contacting them online. I does sound like there is something wrong with the machine.
Liz D said:
Liz D's picture
Hi Liz,
I have a Husqvarna Emerald 118. I'm trying to use my automatic button foot, but every time I do it sews one side of a buttonhole and never does the bartack - it just stops feeding, then keeps sewing in one spot. My manual says I have the settings correct, and I have my buttonhole tab pulled down. Troubleshooting suggestions?
-Liz
Coffeebean said:
Coffeebean's picture
Thanks so much for this tutorial! I finally learned how to do the 1-step buttonhole on my Janome. This explanation is far more simpler and easier than the one in the manual. My buttonholes came out beautiful!
Thanks again for this tutorial!
- Coffeebean
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi again Sstendell -- sounds like you've done everything you are supposed to... including reading your manual (I'm impressed on that one!). Your next option might be to forget about using the buttonhole foot and make a TRUE manual buttonhole. BurdaStyle did a good tutorial on this awhile back:

http://www.burdastyle.com/techniques/make-buttonholes

Doesn't look as perfect as an automatic buttonhole, but it works. Hope that helps.
Sstendell said:
Sstendell's picture
I have a kenmore 19110. I read the manual and it doesn't appear to have a manual buttonhole option, just the automatic. I have to place the button in the back of the foot. It says it only does up to 1 in but I need larger. I'm trying to recover an infant carseat and make the buttonhole where the straps come thru.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Sstendell -- it depends on the type of machine you have. On my Janome I have an "Auto Buttonhole" feature, which allows me to essentially do a manual buttonhole in a large size. I used this feature when I made "Liz's Hiding Curtain" for which I needed buttonholes that would fit over a drawer pull.

http://sew4home.com/tips-resources/interviews-inspiration/652-lizs-hidin...

It is important when you do manual buttonholes that you have very clear and precise markings.
Sstendell said:
Sstendell's picture
Is there a way to make the button holes long than 1 in when u use the automatic button hole foot on a machine?
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi moabgirl -- I have never had a button fall out of my automatic buttonhole foot. On the contrary, sometimes I've had trouble sliding the stop back to get it out! Check your manual to make sure you have it locked in place correctly. You might also want to bring it by your local dealer; there might be something wrong with the foot.
moabgirl said:
moabgirl's picture
My problem with the auto buttonholer was that the button kept falling out. What was I doing wrong? Anybody else have that problem?
Harriet said:
Harriet's picture
You wonderful, wonderful person. I have a good machine and the automatic foot but had never managed to make it work until i read this. "Pull down the buttonhole sensor". "Pull down the buttonhole sensor". Genius! I never knew my machine had one or that my not using it was the reason why my buttonhole foot never worked. A thousand thank yous. I am going to go buttonhole crazy now. You are brilliant.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Karen in NC ... this is probably a question for your sewing machine dealer or you can dig out the manual that came with your machine. The automatic buttonhole foot is easier than a 4-step. Your machine does have to have the 1,2,3,4 functions (similar to what we show above) in order for the four-step process to work correctly. Some more advanced machines also have a feature that allows you to set the start and stop and create a larger buttonholes. On my Janome machine, this is called the "Auto Buttonhole" feature. I'm not familiar with the details of your model, so I'd say try your dealer, the manual or the manufacturer's website for specifics. You can create your own buttonholes with a super tight zig zag, but it's really a hassle and I don't think it ever looks quite as good as a machine-done buttonhole.
Karen in NC said:
Karen in NC's picture
Can I do the 4-step method if my machine only does the automatic? I have a Euro Pro 7130 and can't seem to get the auto to work. I'd love to try the 4-step method, but don't know how I'd do steps 2 & 4.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Doddy 'Pin - I'm SO happy we could help you. Like they say, "Once you have a hammer, everything is a nail." In your case ... now that you've mastered buttonholes, everything will need a button" smilies/grin.gif
Doddy `Pin said:
Doddy `Pin's picture
I love you, because for month I was looking for an explanation for
my singer 1 step bottonhole sewing machine. Nothing in youtube
I coudn´t doit wit the manual
Thank you a lot and I will try it rigth now!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Ivorster,
Glad you're enjoying all the tips. Ahhhh -- zippers smilies/shocked.gif. They are indeed on the calendar. We have two articles planned for the site before the end of year. Thanks for visiting!
lvorster said:
lvorster's picture
Wonderful to have all these tips availablesmilies/smiley.gifHow about something on zzzzippers?smilies/cry.gif

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