Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Buttonhole Saga

Holy Cow have I ever been away! But here I am to report on buttonholes; hand made vs. machine. I have trouble with buttonholes at the best of times. But the Dainty Dotted Day Dress I've been working on (or not, as I haven't really made much progress) has a very small yoke with not much room for a machine worked buttonhole. So I decided to be very clever and would work a hand made buttonhole, at least on the yoke. After all, I've done this before, on the Handsewn Diaper Shirt, seen above, using the excellent instruction in the A-Z of Embroidery Stitches.

In this closeup view, you can see that the middle one is a bit skewed and uneven, but not too awful. I figure that it should be just like embroidery, right? But in most embroidery, the fabric is kept taut in a hoop, and any cutting usually comes after the embroidery is finished. With hand made buttonholes, the fabric is cut first, then the stitching is worked around the slit, making it much harder to keep the stitches nice and even.

Above you can see my trials on the dotted swiss fabric. They go in order, left to right and top to bottom, just like reading a printed page. I finally gave up on the fifth try as the thread got tangled on the back of the fabric. So I switched to the machine, but not using the automatic buttonholer. Instead I used the separate satin stitches in 2.0 and 4.0 widths, and practiced until I was reasonably happy with the finished buttonhole.

And here is the result. As you can see, the yoke is very tiny so the normal buttonhole wheel wouldn't have any fabric on which to ride. Notice the fabric raveling in the seam allowance? This fabric is a loose weave and kept raveling while I was practicing the buttonholes and completely drove me nuts. The fabric used in the Diaper Shirt is a much finer weave and very much easier to work with. I did think of using tape to keep the threads intact but gave up and went the machine made route instead. I do think that I will try dissolving some Sulky water soluble stabilizer and dabbing that on the fabric, then working the buttonhole. It just might work.

Now it's time to tell you what I've been doing lately. Obviously, not much sewing or embroidery is going on here, but that is changing as of this weekend. Last October I decided to lose some weight, and have managed to drop 29 pounds since then. To do that takes a lot of exercising, which also takes time! Do you remember how I've mentioned here and there that I would like to get into some garment sewing for myself? Now that I'm in normal, not plus sizes (barely), I'm a lot more motivated, and tomorrow I'm taking a pants fitting class at a local fabric store. So not only do I hope to end up with a well fitting pants pattern, I'll be able to take in some of the pants I already own and don't want to throw out.

Then Lyn Weeks, an Australian heirloom sewing teacher, is coming to Southern California at the start of her American teaching tour. I'm taking several classes from her in early April so will have lots to post about.

Now, as I said at the end of the last post, it's on to the sleeves.


  1. Cynthia, I learned a little trick when I did my Chanel jacket. I first did the buttonholes with a 80 weight fine thread in the top and bobbin and I set the buttonhole up so it would not be a tight satin stitch but have some space between stitches. I stitched out my buttonholes like this. Then I cut them open and worked them over by hand with some silk buttonhole twist. Maybe this is a possibility?

    I am so tickled to hear about your terrific weightloss and return to sewing for yourself. I hope you will share some of your pants knowledge with us all.

  2. Bunny,
    Thanks for the idea, I looked up your old post and I think it would work very well. I'll try it on sample piece. I did use 80 wt thread for the machine buttonholes but used 50 wt when I did them by hand.

  3. lol I was going to suggest stabilizer of some sort that would wash out but wouldn't make it hard. I have done them before by working them in a small hoop and leaving the smallest slit between the buttonhole edges and then cutting with my finest pointed embroidery scissors. Worked a treat with no fraying. Mind you I needed a magnifying glass.

  4. Glad you are back. Congratulations on the weight loss! My main reason to try to lose weight would also be to return to making my own clothes. Maybe you will inspire me too!

    Threads put out a great book, "Fitting your Figure," which I used to make some very successful alterations back in the day. I see it came out in 1994! It may be a helpful reference to supplement your classes. Have fun!

  5. I too always use a stabiliser with machined buttonholes; it makes a huge difference. When i was learning hand worked buttonholes i did over 27 trials and still wasn't completely happy with the mere 5 that were on the garment haha

  6. Congrats on your weight loss. I like the machine buttonholes my machine (Pfaff) makes. But I have recently Ben making them on that machine and using a double strand of the thread to make them corded buttonholes. I find they look nicer!


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