How to Sew Buttonholes | Sewing Machine Techniques

Do you know how to sew buttonholes or is the thought so intimidating that you plan your garments without them? No more! With some fabric scraps and a little practice, you will soon be eager to sew buttonholes for both utility and decoration, thanks to these great tips from The Sewing Machine Classroom by Charlene Phillips.


How to Sew Buttonholes

Measuring and marking
1. To determine the length of the buttonhole needed, measure the button. It is generally the button width, plus the height, plus 1?8in (3.2mm). The height measurement allows extra room for ball or half-ball buttons.

2. Determine placement on the garment. The first decision is whether the buttonhole should be horizontal or vertical. Tailored buttonholes are typically placed horizontally – perpendicular to the edge of the garment – for additional strength.

3. Make a small mark or insert a pin to indicate the placement for each button. Measure to make sure they are equally spaced from one another.

4. Using a vanishing fabric marker, begin marking each buttonhole. Mark the horizontal length of each buttonhole opening, and draw short vertical marks on each end. If the buttonhole is 1in (2.5cm) long, measure 5/8in (15.9mm) in from the edge of the fabric and make a short vertical end mark. Measure 1in (2.5cm) to the left of this mark and draw a second short vertical mark. Connect these two marks with a ruler to mark the length of the buttonhole. It is helpful to extend this mark so it is easily visible while sewing.

how to sew buttonholes
Measure and mark accurately for professional results.

Sew buttonholes on the sewing machine
Computerized machines have a memory function for buttonholes. This allows sewing any size and type of buttonhole, each one exactly the same. Measure and mark the first buttonhole, drawing a horizontal line at the top and bottom of the buttonhole. Select the desired buttonhole stitch. Begin sewing at the top vertical line and down the first side. At the bottom vertical line, tap the machine’s reverse sewing button and continue sewing.
The machine’s memory will retain this buttonhole length for each consecutive button. Always let the sewing machine sew the last securing stitches. They both secure and begin the next buttonhole at the proper spot.

janome sewing machine
Computerized sewing machines like the Janome CXL301 have amazing buttonhole capability built-in.

Cutting buttonholes
Cut the buttonhole with a seam ripper. Carefully cut from one end of the buttonhole to the middle. Then cut from the other end to the middle. Placing pins horizontally across the ends of the buttonhole is a precaution against slicing through the entire buttonhole.

how to sew buttonholes
Place pins horizontally across the end of the buttonhole when opening with a seam ripper.

Buttonhole sewing tips

  • To sew consistently sized buttonholes, use the buttonhole foot with the machine’s built-in buttonhole stitch. Some machine models have a buttonhole foot with a sensor that actually detects the size and shape of the first buttonhole, and repeats for each buttonhole. The machine’s quick reverse function is utilized for this. Other machines have built-in buttonhole stitches, but the buttonhole size is controlled manually using the size of the button.
  • Stabilize and interface adequately. The finished buttonhole should be firm but not too stiff.
  • If the fabric is thick (and washable), place wash-away stabilizer on top of the fabric. This prevents the buttonhole from becoming lost in the fabric. Rinse away the stabilizer when finished.
  • If the fabric is thick (and non-washable), use a thicker thread to avoid losing the buttonhole in the fabric.
  • Mark the buttonhole accurately. Place it 5/8in (15.9mm) from the garment edge. Use a commercial buttonhole guide or make your own.
  • Increase the upper tension to give the sides of the buttonhole a slightly rounded and more attractive appearance.
  • Practice! Always test-sew using fabric, thread, needle and stabilizer similar to that used in the finished project. Test all variables. Check the stitch length, width and tension. What interfacing works best? Should your buttonholes be placed vertically or horizontally? Try various types of thread – different weights can change the buttonhole appearance. Also match thread weight to fabric type.
  • Always start with a new needle to avoid any snag lines in the fabric.


How to Sew Buttonholes was excerpted from The Sewing Machine Classroom by Charlene Phillips, which was given a five star review by Fiona in our bookstore!

The Sewing Machine Classroom


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About Ame

Ame Verso is the daughter of legendary cross stitch designer Jo Verso and has been cross stitching since the age of 10. She also sews and crochets and is the face of the SewandSo YouTube channel.