13 January 2012

Stitch demo: Handsewn Button Holes

There are several great demos already for making button holes. There's even a great one for making them in a period fashion by Jennifer Carlson.

But I want to make my own. Why? Because most of the ones I find are either done with thread on fabric (as Ms. Carlson did at the link above) or illustrations.  And that's not optimal for me. Illustrations rarely work to teach me anything and for photos, I need things biggie-sized a bit.

So out comes the plastic canvas and the yarn.

Because I'm me, that's why.

Some simple rules:

  • Always work toward the cut. This means that your needle points toward the cut edge of the button hole.
  • Use the thumb of your off-hand to hold a loop of the thread down so that the needle always passes in front of it. (see the pictures below)
  • Use the warp & weft of the fabric to keep your stitches evenly-aligned. Naturally this is easier with linens and even-weave fabrics and almost impossible with velvet. Do your best.
  • Practice practice practice.

Let's get started...

Cut a button hole first. 

With needle threaded, make a small stitch at one end. Either end will do, I prefer working left-to-right.

Poke your needle through the fabric and up through the cut, passing the thread behind the needle.

You will need to keep drawing the thread over like this to maintain tension and keep your knot at the cut edge as shown.

Do this repeatedly, using your off-hand thumb to keep the loop out of the way and to maintain tension on the knots.

When you reach the corner, just turn it around and keep going.

Work your way back across to the original edge of the button hole.
To create a bar along the side (as shown in many extent garments, many documented by Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion") move from your final knot and make a stitch at the end of the first knot you made. Try to only bite as much fabric as you have been to keep things looking tidy.  Work across to the bottom of your stitches.

As you make the last stitch in your bar, pass the needle through the row of stitches to the other end of the button hole.
Work across that side and then tie it off.
Annnnnnnnnd you're done!

Now make a dozen more just like that.

A lot of people who are quite good at sewing gripe that they're not good at making button holes.  I am good at making button holes. Sure, it's monotonous, but what else are you doing with your hands as you watch television? 

Without any statistical basis or scientific investigation I feel that the reason most people aren't good at the finicky things is because they don't practice the finicky things. They say "Oh, I hate doing that" so they avoid doing it.

As with anything, we improve with practice.  If you want to get good at playing an instrument, or drawing, or sculpting, or riding a bike, you have to practice.  So to it is with stitching.

So grab some plastic canvas and sit down to a How I Met Your Mother marathon and make some buttonhold stitches.  You'll be glad you did.

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