Hand-Made Buttonholes: Seven Tips for Success

tips on how to make handmade buttonholes for tweed jackets

Elena Tran, the dressmaker and blogger

By Elena Tran

I have the love/hate relationship when it comes to hand-made buttonholes. They are time-consuming and the result depends entirely on your skill and experience. I admit that I prefer to make bound buttonholes whenever possible. Unfortunately, if you are making a tweed jacket, hand-made buttonholes is your best bet because of the fabric weave. Here are my tips for making this experience as pleasant as possible. As usual, I am including a video:

Tip #1:

Make a sample first using the exact same fabric that you are working on. Sometimes, I make two or three samples with different threads and even different techniques.

Tip #2:

Fuse a small piece of fusible interfacing to each buttonhole to stabilize it. I cannot stress this step enough. Your finished buttonhole will look much better.

Tip #3:

Whatever method you choose, start by carefully marking the buttonholes. I measure the buttonholes, the space between the buttonholes, the distance from the fold line etc. a few times to make sure. Once you cut, there is no way for  you to fix your error.

Tip #4:

Stitch around your marked buttonhole before you cut it using the smallest stitch on your sewing machine. I use a stencil that I make from a sticky tape because I don't trust my eye. I set the sewing machine to 0.6 mm and stitch slowly. Why this step? You need to secure the delicate threads so that when  you cut, your buttonhole doesn't disintegrate in front of your eyes. 

Tip #5:

Don't skip stranding. It served a couple of important reasons. What is stranding? You basically wrap a strand of buttonhole twist or another thread around the buttonholes to keep it tight and to make it look pretty. There are different methods of stranding and there is no right or wrong way of doing it as long as you understand why you are doing it. 

Tip #6:

When you make buttonhole stitches, keep hem close together but don't make them on top of each other or the buttonhole will look bulky. This is especially true when you start going around the keyhole (the place in the buttonhole where your button will rest). What thread do you use for handmade buttonholes? Whatever thread you want for your design. I used polyester, cotton, silk threads of different thicknesses, depending on my fabric. That's why I always stress the importance of making a few samples. After I make the samples, I don't just throw them away, I add them to my knowledge folder with notes about the thread I used and other comments so I remember for future use.

Tip #7:

To make a pretty keyhole, I don't punch a hole with a notcher or anything like that. Anything that messes up with the integrity of the fabric around the buttonhole opening makes me nervous. I use a tool that I forever called stiletto (don't ask me why, I learned the term from Madam Angelina di Bello and I called it that ever since), but it is also called an awl. If I didn't have this handy little tool, I would have used a size 3 knitting needle or even a thin screwdriver. The way you use it is as soon as you start working your buttonhole stitch around the keyhole in a fan-like fashion, you insert the stiletto into the keyhole part of the buttonhole (either from the top or the bottom, I do both with the same result) and gently pull the thread around it forming a nice round keyhole. Give it a try. Once you get the hang of it, you will be wondering why you never used it before. 

What is Faux Bound Buttonholes?

Chanel jackets feature faux bound buttonholes, a very interesting concept. The reason for this step is to hide the ugly side of the hand-made buttonholes. You attach two lips matching the lining to the wrong side of each buttonhole. Once the lining is attached to the front of the jacket, you finish around the opening just as you would when you finish the regular bound buttonholes. For those who would like to learn how to make bound buttonholes, I will make a separate video. This is my favourite method that I use on almost all tailored pieces I make, from jackets to dresses.

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