Here goes, and as usual please add your own insights into the comments.
This week a notice of a new Indie pattern arrived in my in box. This detail caught my eye:
A couple of things I noticed.
First of course was that the buttonholes were way too big for the buttons and that shirtdress was sure to come undone at some point, which is not really a great outcome for a shirt dress or the person in it.
The second thing I noticed was that the buttonhole at the top was dangerously close to the end of the placket likely to fray through. It needed to be moved down so the end of the buttonhole was at least 5/8" below the neck edge of the placket. Of course the sewer might have wanted to keep the placket ends right on top of each other at the neckline but buttons aren't staples. If you want that to happen what you really need is to end the top of the buttonhole that 5/8" or so below the neckline and sew in a small snap to keep it all neat.
All that is showing here of course is inexperience and there isn't a lot of information around on buttonhole fine points, and so I will try to make a bit of a contribution here.
First of all buttonholes freak sewers out.
I was once followed around a fabric store by a woman with a blouse in a bag. She had heard I sewed and wanted me to put the buttonholes in her finished blouse for her. For 20 years she had sewn snaps onto her blouses with buttons on top because she had such terrible luck making buttonholes.
How nuts and how identifiable is that?
The thing with buttonholes is they are the last thing. It is entirely possible to ruin a perfectly wonderful garment in the last 5 minutes with a buttonhole disaster or buttonhole cutting disaster. I know. I once made a suit for a friend and sliced through the entire front cutting open the very last buttonhole.
I have tons of stories like that.
Truth is that some machine do a better job with making buttonholes than others. This is often a case where it is not you it's them.
My personal view is that many of the super duper computerized gadgety buttonhole systems are not as reliable as the sales person will lead you to believe. When they tell you "You will be able to make buttonhole after identical buttonhole, after the first one because the machine will memorize it" what they should add is that the "sensor" most often is just counting the number of zig zag stitches on the first side and of course if fabric layers change, as they can do in a garment, this may not be the right number of stitches to match the sides, and despite the miracles of New Machines your buttonholes can unexpectedly still turn out uneven even in your $5,000 machine. (Does that make sense or only to me?)
I have a former top-of-the-line for example that does this and, even worse, has a default where the sides of the buttonholes are so close together there is a 105% of cutting some of the stitches when the buttonhole is cut open.
So back to the machines.
I personally prefer old school four step buttonholes where you turn the dial - down one side, bar tack at the button, up the other side, bar tack. I have a couple of vintage Berninas and an expensive Janome that make buttonholes this way and I trust them.
This system allows you to control what is happening and that is a good thing.
Of course the nicest and completely most foolproof buttonholes in the world are make with the old template attachments, that you can buy anywhere, eBay, or at consignment shops sometimes (I got a spare at Value Village for $3.50).
Here is what those look like:
These units require you to cover, or drop your feed dogs and remove the presser foot and screw them onto the needle bar.
The buttonholes are made by inserting cams or templates of the buttonhole (including keyhole) of various sizes into a trap door in the bottom of the unit.
To operate you line up the foot, lower the presser bar and give it gas. These devices make a real racket, sort of like a tin truck on a tin road and you really wonder if this is a good idea.
The thing is that totally without any skill at all they make gorgeous round ended buttonholes with zero skill or involvement from yourself, which is kind of nice.
This week I made a short sleeved Negroni shirt for my youngest son's surprise birthday (music festival theme, hence the tie dye) and I made the buttonholes this way.
Here is the shirt:
And here is the buttonholer in action:
So assuming you have rigged up, or figured out, how to make a decent buttonhole, here are a few other random facts you might want to consider:
- Make a test and make it in the same number of layers of fabric, including the interfacing you will use in the final garment. Interfacing in particular can really tighten up a buttonhole and make it smaller.
- When you cut the buttonhole open put a pin across the end so you won't slice through to the garment (see voice of experience above and jacket incident). You can use one of those Barbie doll chisel things if it is the same size as the buttonhole, or a seam ripper to open a small hole in the middle and sharp small scissors to cut through further.
- Since the interfacing will show through once the buttonhole is cut you might want to think about this when choosing that. I have had white interfacing show through on a dark shirt for instance and got all involved with trying to Magic Marker to match, which was actually not a good use of my time.
- Don't get all obsessive about heavy coverage with your buttonhole satin stitches. Industrial strength bars of close satin stitches are actually a dead give away of a home- made as opposed to a hand made garment - you don't want the stiffness of the buttonhole to overpower the weight of the fabric itself. If you look at the example above there is good coverage but tiny space between the stitches, that is OK.
- Be aware that all machines move forward better then they move backwards and it is entirely normal, not any thing wrong with your machine, for the side of the buttonhole that stitches down to look better than the side that is stitched in reverse. Not a lot you can do about that but this:
- Use a device like those shown here that do not use feed dogs to move the fabric.
- Loosen your top tension (actually you should do this with all buttonholes anyway) so the top thread is pulled to the underside, hiding the lock stitch on the wrong side of the fabric, creating a nice smooth bar.
- Use a cotton machine embroidery thread instead of a sewing thread to make your buttonholes. Unlike sewing thread that is smooth, cotton machine embroidery thread is slightly fuzzy with the specific intent that the fuzzes fill in the stitches a bit. This will make both sides of your buttonholes look prettier
- Use vertical buttonholes for garments that you definitely do not want to gape. The shirt dress above for instance. Use horizontal buttonholes for garments where a little lateral movement or give might be handy, coats, jackets and bands on collars for instance.
- So your buttons do not pucker or pull in make sure you have a slight thread shank in all but the thinnest of fabrics. The principle is that the shank should be as long as the thickness of fabric the button has to travel through once it goes through the buttonhole. Putting a darning needle, a toothpick or whatever better idea you have between the wrong side of the button and the fabric while you sew on the button ( you remove this later of course, it is just a sort of button elevator during the sewing process) is helpful. And of course for really thick fabric proper shanked buttons are the best option. The idea is once buttoned, your button should float on the surface of the fabric not pull it in.
Any other buttonhole thoughts I have will come to me at 3:00 a.m. but this is a start.