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All Buttoned Up: How to Sew Buttonholes

Do you avoid sewing projects that require buttonholes? Is it a fear of the unknown? Many sewing machines come with an automatic buttonhole feature that makes the process a breeze, so there’s no excuse for not learning how to make buttonholes.

There are a few different styles of buttonholes, and the one that’s right for your project will be determined by your choice of fabric and buttons. The square buttonhole is used on medium to heavy fabrics, and it’s a bit of a misnomer since it’s actually rectangular. There’s also the keyhole buttonhole, which does actually look like a keyhole. It’s also used on medium to heavy fabrics and can better accommodate larger or thicker buttons. The round-end buttonhole is best for fine to medium weight fabrics.

This tutorial will show you how to make buttonholes using the automatic buttonhole feature on your machine.

Step 1: Mark the placement of the buttons on your garment using your favorite marking method (tailor’s tacks, tailor’s chalk, or a water-soluble pen).

Step 2: Set your machine. On my sewing machine (a Janome), the square buttonhole is setting 5.

Step 3: To get started, attach the automatic buttonhole foot.

Step 4: Next, place the button in the button holder at the back of the foot. Push the button holder together tightly around the button. This measures the size of the button and determines the size of the buttonhole.

make buttonhole
Step 5: Then, pull the buttonhole lever down as far as it will go.

place fabric
Step 6: Place your fabric under the buttonhole foot. Move the needle up and down a couple of times. Remove the fabric from the left-hand side of the sewing machine. This draws the thread through the foot.

Step 7: Place your fabric under the buttonhole foot, lowering the needle at the starting point of the buttonhole mark. Make sure you are starting at the bottom edge, not the top, of the buttonhole.

Step 8: Start the machine to sew the buttonhole. This will be done automatically, starting with the left row first.

Step 9: The machine will sew the back bartack, then the right row, and finish with the front bartack.

remove fabric
Step 10: Remove your fabric and place a pin just below the bartack at each end for every buttonhole. Cut the opening with a seam ripper or a pair of small scissors. The pins will prevent you from cutting through the bartacks (which would be extremely unfortunate).


As with most sewing techniques, it’s important to test your settings first before sewing. This is especially true if you are working with thick buttons. If you find it’s difficult to push the button through your test buttonhole, you can lengthen the buttonhole by pulling back on the button holder slightly.

And there you have it! That’s how to make buttonholes using the automatic buttonhole feature on your sewing machine.

Tell me in the comments: do you love or loathe buttonholes?



I have a buttonhole attachment for my old mechanical machine that works wonders and you don’t have to “fiddle” with it. You just put in the correct cam for the desired size, attach to sewing machine and Wha-la. I always do a test buttonhole before I do it on my garment. While the size of the cams limit the size of the buttonhole, I suppose I could use your method for larger ones, but I am very satisfied with my attachment. I do like you tip about using pins at the ends of the buttonhole so you don’t accidentally slip and cut through the end of the buttonhole, which I have done!

Eleanor Meagher

I enjoyed reading through your Tutorial. I no longer have a sewing machine but was curious as to how you would cut the opening for the button. Reason being that I have two button hole scissors. These scissors have a bit of a knob that let you determine the size of the button hole. Just thought that you might be interested in that little bit of lore before sewing machines had any attachments. Although not really sure when they date from, they are more than 100 years old.

Janie Marks

I do not love them nor do I loathe them and I for sure think that if your machine makes this type of buttonhole it is easier than a zipper. I am considering making some buttonholes by hand the old fashioned way and I was wondering if there was a right and a wront way? I was thinking that I should cut the slits first. Do you have an opinion on this? I was also considering using something pretty like a topstitching thread but perhaps this is not strong enough ? Perhaps even DMC? Thanks


From what I’ve read, yes, you DO cut the slit first when hand sewing a buttonhole. Hand or machine baste a straight line on both sides of the slit the distance you want your hand stitches to be wide (does that make sense?). Be sure to use a buttonhole stitch, not a blanket stitch: the needle should go in through the slit & come out at your thread guideline to begin each stitch: this leaves a purl at the edge of the hole which wears better than the blanket stitch. I wish I could refer you to an online tutorial with pictures, but I don’t know one — although Threads magazine website would probably have one. As far as thread, I’ve only ever used this technique to mend an unravelled buttonhole on pjs, and for that I used regular sewing thread — use something that you like the look of, that will stand up to the wear you expect for the garment/project.


Thanks for the tutorial on how to use the button hole sewing machine. This is really helpful 🙂 I should now try to do the same with my buttonholes sewing machine. Really need a proper button attachment on my selfmade trousers 🙂


REF Buttonholes………..The stages in making a hand buttonhole are as follows……….. 1/ Mark B/hole position with a line……2/ Baste all around B/hole mark, no more than 1cm away from the line,to ensure all fabric remains stable whilst cutting hole, also ensure you stitch through all fabric plies…… 3/ Use VERY sharp sissors( ensure that they cut to the very points) cut along the B/hole line and just before the end is reached cut 2 small opposing angles, the cut will then look like a letter “Y”,next snip the fabric across the top of the “Y”you will be left with a triangular hole.(Under no account be tempted to cut this hole round, leave it has a triangle)…… 4/ Serge the button hole in matching thread to hold all raw edges together.(Tip: if making up a loose woven fabric to avoid fray appearing whilst B/hole is being worked try (Wait for it) Hard to hold hair spray, just spray on a shiny paper to turn the spray into liquid and use a childs paint brush to coat the raw edges…… 5/ To give strength to the B/hole a 4cord (or Gimp) is worked into the B/hole whilst the B/hole stitch is being formed..(4cord is made by taking a large darning needle, threading it with 2 pieces of thick thread giving 4cords,. then pulling them through Beeswax whilst twisting them). …..6/Next knot the 4cord off and insert the needle containing the 4cord approx 3cm away from the B/hole, …….7/ Start to make your button hole using B/hole silk forming the pearl whilst inserting the 4cord ,by keeping the 4cord away from the B/hole edge with your left hand. The silk needle point should come up to the outside edge of the 4cord form the stitch pulling the pearl towards the B/hole edge enclosing the 4cord and pulling it into position (pull using horizontal motion) continue all the way up the B/hole (pulling horizontal) until reaching the start of the eye.8/ Up to this point the pearl will be along the straight edge of the hole. We now have to take the pearl away from the edge, to the surface of hole to go around the eye. …..9/ The horizontal pulling motion now stops. When going around the eye the pearl is formed by using a circular motion with the silk whilst pulling it in an upward direction…….. 10/ This continues all the way around the eye until the straight part of the B/hole is reached…..11/ Then its back to pulling the pearl to the edge with an horizontal motion…………12/ To form the bar tack, cut off the
surplus 4cord and put 4 or 5 long stitches across the bottom of the B/hole and stitch across using a button hole stitch….13/When B/hole is finished sharpen a pencil with a pencil sharpener and roll it around in the eye of the B/hole The forgoing is not for light clothing LAST BUT NOT LEAST THE MOST DIFFICULT PART IS GAINING THE SKILL TO PULL THE SILK THE SAME PRESURE ALL THE TIME….ALSO ONCE YOU START DONT PUT IT DOWN UNTIL IT IS FINISHED YOU MUST KEEP TO THE SAME RYTHM If you can not get Beeswax don’t worry, Do what the Victorians did……What do you think the minute scoop was for in their sewing kits ? Thanks for reading . Hope it has been of help…….RETIRED TAILOR ERIC


I have a query about making button holes. My old machine had a four step non automatic process. It made really perfect button holes. You had to mark on the fabric how long you wanted it to be, so could make it any length. My new machine is automatic and you use a button to gauge the buttonhole length. My question is this: I have completed a wrap skirt which needs a button hole. It doesn’t have a button though, just ties – one of which you pull through a buttonhole which is made to the width marked on the pattern, how do I do this? I don’t know if the automatic buttonholer will measure the exact diameter of the button or presumably allow some leeway for ease of use, and if so how much this leeway is, so this excludes using a button to the measurement on the pattern. If I do it too big it will go onto the waistband as it is situated very near to it, so there is no margin for error. What would the solution be to this problem please?


Hi, Thank you for this tutorial. Can anyone tell me how to make a hole in some fabric and make a button hole type stitching around the edge? I have these old curtains I love that had ovals along the top edge that the cafe rod weaves in an out of, so the rod peeks through every other hole. The holes are about 1 1/4″ long and the opening is about 1/4″ wide. I have a sewing machine but it doesn’t do surged edges. Is there another way to make this? My first choice was to buy them but the company went out of business. (Rue de France)


I lothe Buttonholes but hopefully with this Amazing item maybe just maybe one day I will get the hang of it fingers n toes crossed andmy eyes crossed oh you silly thing now how are you going too do ya Buttonholes now with all of those things Haaaaa Haaaaa


OOps with all them things crossed lol lol lol


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