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.

Buttoning-Up Three (The Button's Revenge!)

Mea Culpa... during a discussion on the Elizabethan Costuming Facebook group, I realized that I prepared this demo on cutting and sewing buttonholes by hand but never posted it!  Well here it is. Better late than never, I suppose...
- Scott


In the previous posts, called "Buttoning-Up 1 & 2" I discussed making your own buttons out of beads and thread. Rest assured that at the end of the day, the pain pays off, as we sew them onto the doublet and undertake the tedious and often nerve-wracking task of cutting and sewing the button holes...

The buttons in situ.

The first step in the process is figuring out what size they need to be. You can just measure the button with a pair of calipers if you have them, or you can do what I do and grab a strip of paper.

Remember, cloth stretches. Ideally, a button hole will be just the size or even a hair smaller than the button that it's supposed to accommodate.  Make a loop with your strip of paper and wrap it around the button until you're certain that the loop you've made is just the right size for the button to pass through, but only just.

The length of button hole you need is the length of the 1/2 of your loop.

Measure the button.
Flatten the loop and measure
Transfer your measurement to the garment using a fabric pencil.
I've seen a number of people discuss a number of ways to cut buttonholes. I've heard passionate arguments about whether you should cut them before you sew them or after. Likewise, I've heard the same for how to cut your pinks and slashes and whatnot.

So you should know that there are many ways to go about this,and as always this is how I do it.

I cut them first because it's easier to work with if you are sewing them by hand. Your mileage may vary.

The period method of cutting button holes (as well and pinks and slashes for that matter) appears to be the chisel.  I've tried various ways of going about it and keep coming back to using a chisel. It's easier to cut a straight line than when using a razor, it's faster and less finicky than scissors, and it's the period method of doing it anyway.

When I'm pinking or slashing, I use a woodworking tool that I've sharped to razor sharpness. For button holes, especially those which need to accommodate homemade (non-standard size) buttons, I can rarely find just the right size of chisel in my toolchest.  So for button holes, the 'chisel' I use is a chisel-tip Exacto blade.
The blade.
The blade in the holder.
Because it's an Exacto blade it is razor sharp, so no need to get out the mallet. Just lay it along the line you just drew and press down hard.  Note that there's a cutting mat under my fabric as I am doing this.

Then make your button hole stitches all around the hole you made until you're done.

It's a good idea to check your size to make sure you're  still on track.