Sewing a buttonhole: This is how it’s done

When making a garment, sewing the buttonhole can become a real challenge. With the following tips, we show you what preparations you need to make for sewing buttonholes and how you can make buttonholes by hand and with the sewing machine as easy as pie!


  1. Preparations for sewing buttonholes
    1.1 Horizontal / Vertical Buttonhole
    1.2 Set buttonhole length
    1.3 Which buttonhole thread to use?
    1.4 Setting the thread tension for buttonhole
  2. Sewing buttonhole by hand
  3. Sew buttonhole with sewing machine
    3.1 Sewing buttonhole manually with sewing machine
    3.2 Sewing buttonhole automatically with sewing machine
  4. Sew piped buttonhole

Preparations for sewing buttonholes

You have three different ways to sew a buttonhole. Here, the choice of the look you want to create plays a crucial role.

  • Sewing buttonhole by hand
  • Sewing buttonhole with sewing machine (automatic / manual)
  • Sew piped buttonhole

In the chapters below we will go into detail about the types of buttonholes. Once you know what kind of buttonhole you want to sew, the first preparations can be made:

Horizontal / Vertical Buttonhole

Most buttonholes are worked horizontally, as this is the best way to absorb the pull of the button.

Horizontal buttonhole: The buttonhole must protrude approx. 3mm (1/8in) above the center front so that the button is centered.

Vertical buttonhole: This is only made on facings or narrow edges and would then sit on the center of the facing. Make sure that the button later sits at the upper end of the buttonhole. Vertical buttonholes, for example, are processed in this custom blouse pattern.

Note: Keyhole buttonholes are worked horizontally only.

Set buttonhole length

To transfer the correct buttonhole length to your pattern piece, you need the diameter and height of the button. Add the two measurements together to transfer the correct length of your buttonhole to your pattern piece.

Which buttonhole thread to use?

We recommend using a special buttonhole thread, jeans thread or quilting thread as the top thread. This is because buttonholes are the most stressed on a garment and are difficult to repair.

Use an all-purpose sewing machine for the bobbin thread.

Setting the thread tension for buttonhole

The thread tension determines the appearance of your buttonhole. Before sewing your drawn buttonholes, you should test the buttonhole settings on a fabric test piece. For example, you sew a more voluminous buttonhole you with a low thread tension.

If the buttonhole is sewn on a plain fabric layer, it is recommended to use a fleece interfacing on the reverse side.

Sewing buttonhole by hand: sewing buttonhole without sewing machine

Sewing buttonholes by hand takes a little patience and accuracy, but gives beautiful and noble results. Also, this way you can sew a buttonhole without a sewing machine.

How to sew the hand buttonhole

Step 1: Prepare buttonhole position

1.1) Mark the position of the buttonhole on the fabric with a washable pen. Mark the length and width (approx. 0.4 mm (1/8in)) of the buttonhole. Care must be taken to ensure that the buttonhole is exactly centered.

1.2) Topstitch the marked buttonhole once with a stitch length of 1. Then cut the buttonhole in the middle.

Drawn buttonhole
Drawn buttonhole
Cut buttonhole
Cut buttonhole

Step 2: Cutting out the buttonhole long sides

Using a double-threaded buttonhole thread, cut out both long buttonhole sides. Step by step, as shown in the picture.

Sewing buttonhole by hand
Sewing buttonhole by hand: cut out long sides

Step 3: Make buttonhole stitches

3.1) Stitch the needle from the wrong side into the lower left corner of the buttonhole and pass it through the fabric from the bottom up to the right side.
3.2) Thread the needle through the buttonhole opening and pierce through the fabric in the same place as before, from bottom to top. Do not tighten yet, but leave a loop.
3.3) From left to right or back to front, pierce through the loop and tighten.
3.4) This is repeated the whole way at even intervals.

Sew buttonholes by hand
Sewing buttonholes by hand: buttonhole stitch introduction

Step 4: Make bars

4.1) Provide the ends with latches. To do this, pierce through the fabric from the top down and come out from the bottom up along the other edge. Bar-tack multiple times.
4.2) Prick one of the corners with the needle.
4.3) Guide the needle upwards out of the slot.
4.4) Sew thread and guide needle to the wrong side of the fabric and cut thread short on the wrong side side.

Embroider buttonhole
Embroider buttonhole by hand: embroider buttonhole stitch

Sew buttonhole with sewing machine

Sewing buttonhole manually with sewing machine

In the following steps you will learn to sew buttonhole without buttonhole presser foot. You can read how to determine the buttonhole length in the chapter “Buttonhole length” at the beginning of this chapter.

1.1) A box is drawn at the desired location. The mark should be drawn on the fabric with a washable chalk pencil. Here, the width plus the desired length must be used as the length. How to determine the length is described at the top of the article.
We have drawn in the following dimensions:
– for the zigzag seams on both sides: 2,3mm (13/16in) each
– for the interior: 2mm (1/8in)

1.2) We sew with a 2,3cm (13/16in) wide zigzag stitch and a thread tension of 1. Here it is recommended to test the appropriate thread tension. This varies depending on the fabric. It is sewn with this buttonhole stitch to the end of the buttonhole. When the needle pokes out of the outside of the fabric, the stitch length must be changed.

1.3) The zig zag stitch length is set to a width of 6.6. Now sew 4 to 6 times across the entire buttonhole width. To make a bar tack, you need to sew back and forth.

1.4) Turn the fabric 180 degrees and set the stitch length to 2.3 (13/16in) again. Sew along the mark. The second bartack is sewn as described in point 3.

Sewing buttonhole on the sewing machine
Sewing buttonhole with sewing machine: manual sewing

Sewing buttonhole automatically with sewing machine

In the following steps you will learn to sew buttonhole automatically. You can read how to determine the buttonhole length in the chapter “Buttonhole length” at the beginning of this article.

What is needed for automatic buttonhole sewing:

  • Sewing machine with buttonhole automatics
  • Buttonhole presser foot
  • Button
  • Ripper / Scissors
  • Fabric
  • If necessary fusible interfacing
Buttonhole presser foot
Utensils for automatic buttonhole

How to operate and use the automatic buttonhole foot should refer to the instructions of the corresponding sewing machine.

A convenient feature of the buttonhole presser foot is that the length of the buttonhole can be easily determined by sliding a slider (red) to the length of the button. However, this function also depends on your sewing machine model and should be read in the corresponding manual.

Insert buttonhole presser foot
Automatic buttonhole presser foot

This is how buttonhole sewing works automatically:

Step 1: Prepare buttonhole position

1.1) Once the correct length has been determined, it is only necessary to determine the type of buttonhole. Whether the buttonhole should become horizontal or vertical, and which buttonhole is suitable for this purpose, is described above in the article.
1.2) Afterwards, the buttonhole should be test sewn again. Almost all sewing machines save the setting of the selected buttonhole for the following buttonholes.

Buttonhole types
Buttonhole types automatic buttonhole

Step 2: Buttonhole slit

Once the buttonhole is sewn in, all that remains is to open the slit inside with a seam ripper. For this purpose, it may be helpful to limit the slit with two pins in front of the bar tacks.

Sew piped buttonhole

Sew piping buttonhole with sewing machine

In the following cuts you will learn to sew a piped buttonhole

You can read how to determine the buttonhole length in the chapter “Buttonhole length” at the beginning of this article. For coats and jackets, the piped buttonhole is a nice detail and is also easy to make with a few tricks.

Step 1: Draw in piped buttonhole

Make a template that indicates how wide you want the piped buttonhole to be at the end. The important thing here is to determine the center line, because this will be your buttonhole slit. Now mark on your buttonhole border, with a chalk pencil, the rectangle that you determined with the template.

Then you need to cut two pieces of fabric in a straight thread, which will later make the piping. The fabric pieces should later be doubled, with a fold-over edge.
The fabric piece should be approximately 13/16in (2cm) longer and 13/16in (2cm) wider than the piping that will be sewn on later. After cutting, the two pieces of fabric are ironed in half.

Piped buttonhole template
Piped buttonhole template

Step 2: Topstitching piping

Place the fabric pieces with the fold-over edge facing outward and topstitch along the previously marked line. The seam allowance should be in the previously drawn rectangle.

Sew piped buttonhole
Piped buttonhole: topstitch piping pattern pieces

Step 3: Cut piping

The fabric is turned inside out and the cutting line is drawn. Shown here with an orange line. It looks like two small triangles connected with a line. Cut this line with scissors.

Mark piped buttonhole
Piped buttonhole: drawn cutting line

Step 4: Turn piping right side out

Turn the piping inward so that the fold-over edges face each other and the seam allowance is on the wrong side of the fabric facing outward. Pin and topstitch the small triangle as shown. Iron the piping again from the right side.

Topstitch piped buttonhole
Piped buttonhole: topstitch seam allowance

Step 5: Make buttonhole facing

5.1) Buttonhole facing: Draw the piping opening on the cover with the template as described in point 4. Make sure that the opening has exactly the same opposite position as the piping buttonhole.
5.2) Cut the marked line.
5.3) Press the cut seam allowance inside out.

Piped buttonhole
Piped buttonhole: buttonhole facing

Step 6: Interface buttonhole facing

Take a rectangular interfacing (slightly larger than the piped buttonhole) and draw the opening of the template. Cut out the marked rectangle and iron the interfacing onto the wrong side of the fabric and onto the cut seam allowance.

Buttonhole facing
Piped buttonhole: Buttonhole facing covered with interlining

Step 7: Trim buttonhole facing and piped buttonhole

The counter buttonhole is sewn inside, by hand, with an invisible stitch. Done!

Sew piped buttonhole
Piped buttonhole: Stitch buttonhole facing and piped buttonhole all around with invisible seam

Have fun sewing buttonholes!

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