How To Sew Buttonholes By Hand or Without a Buttonhole Foot

There is nothing wrong with old-school sewing. Even with all the modern technological upgrades sewing by hand has not lost its luster. While it is nice to use a computerized sewing machine, one of those modern marvels just can’t compete with the peace you get when you hand sew.

There is just something about hand stitching that makes buttonholes look unique. All you need is a good needle, thread, a blanket stitch, and a little time to yourself. Don’t forget to make all the locations even so the shirt, etc., looks good.

To learn how to do a buttonhole by hand, just continue to read our article. it has the information you want to know about. In a few minutes, you may want to try to do one yourself. A little practice makes the process a lot easier to get done.

Can You Sew a Buttonhole?

Any experienced sewer who was born before the modern age of sewing machines can tell you that it is possible to sew a buttonhole by hand. It takes a little work and the process can be a bit frustrating and difficult but with a little practice, everything comes easier.

The key to making good buttonholes is found in the measuring. You have to measure accurately and precisely to make sure the holes all end up evenly spaced and not bunched up at one end.

Then you just need some private time, a good block of it, and just sit down and do it. That is the way it goes. If you are an experienced hand sewer you should know many different stitch patterns you can do by hand to make those buttonholes look great.

The other key is, you have to make sure the holes themselves are not too large or too small.

How to Sew Buttonholes by Hand


There are several steps involved and several stages to go through before the hole is ready for use. The first stage involves gathering your supplies and measuring. You will need, needle, thread, scissors, buttons, two pins, chalk or some sort of marker, and something to make the measurements.

For thread, you can use a buttonhole or a pearl cotton thread but make it thick if you are working on a jacket. Step two will be marking where the holes go and measure accurately.

For measuring, mark where your top and bottom buttons will go and measure the distance and subtract 1. Then decide how many buttons you want and divide the first total by the second and that will be the space between your buttonholes.

After that place a button on one of the marks and pin the top and bottom of the button giving yourself 1/8 of an inch for some ease. Remove the button and mark a straight line connecting the two pins. Add some iron-on interfacing on the back and then cut the hole along the line.

Coming as close to the hole as you can stitch two parallel lines of stitches on either side of the length of the hole. Thread another needle with your buttonhole thread, using about 25”, and start your buttonhole stitching. As you stitch, you will want to do some back stitches to lock the thread in place.

When you get to the left corner, you can make a fan stitch or a bar tack stitch then go down the other side with the blanket stitch. When you get to the other end you can make a keyhole stitch or a straight bar stitch. When you are done weave the needle through the other stitches to anchor them.

That is just one way to get the buttonhole done without using a machine.

How to Sew Buttonholes by Machine

This is a very simple way of creating a buttonhole. But if you do not have a one-step or a 4 step feature on your sewing machine then you are still going to do some of the same work as you do when you make one of these holes by hand.

You still have to measure, pin and cut the hole and the pins prevent mistakes like cutting too much fabric. But you do not have to sew. Pick a thread that is either the same color as the fabric or a little darker. The thread can either be embroidery or regular cotton.

Then you sew using the machine and watching your work very carefully. Those instructions are for those machines that are older and do not come with a buttonhole function. With the 4 step sewing machines, you will have to permit the sewing machine every time it stops at a corner. It won’t proceed until you do.

The 1 step machines will just create the hole and not stop until the hole is complete. Both machines should come with a buttonhole foot and you slip the button inside the holder on the foot before you start sewing.

You have more control with the 4 step than you do with the 1 step sewing machines.

How to Sew a Buttonhole Without a Buttonhole Foot

Just so you know, some of the newer sewing machines will not work if you do not use the buttonhole foot. You will have to check your owner’s manual to see if your model is one of those machines. If it is, then skip this section.

The first step you have to do is measure the buttons you are going to be placing on the shirt, etc. Then add about 1/8th of an inch for the ease. Then mark your lines top, bottom, and connector or cut line.

Next, you will have to pick your stitch pattern and this will depend on if your sewing machine has special patterns for buttonholes or it doesn’t. Again, depending on your machine, the bar tack stitch is the top and bottom pattern and the side stitches look like a cross between the lightning and zig-zag stitch.

You can do this in 4 steps or 2 steps depending on your machine and your experience. You will want a short stitch length because that size holds the fabric better than a long one does. Then you want a narrow stitch width.

Set the zig-zag presser foot where you want to start your buttonhole and begin sewing your first section. Change your pattern to the next pattern and keep alternating until you are done.

Once you have completed the buttonhole, lift the needle out of the fabric, move the material to where you can cut the excess thread, and trim the excess off. When that is done, use an embroidery scissor to cut the hole opening.

Repeat for all the buttonholes you have to do for the shirt, dress, and so on. Do not forget to do some practice buttonholes before doing the real thing and make sure to test the buttons to see if the hole is the right size.

Which Direction to Sew Buttonholes


Generally, you start on the left-hand side of the buttonhole and go up to the first corner. Then you go across to the second corner and then back down to the third and finally, across to the original corner.

At least that is the way it works when you are sewing without a machine, buttonhole foot, or an automatic function. The buttonhole features on the 1 and 4 step may be different but you would have to check with your owner’s manual to make sure.

Some sewers go up the left side first, across the bottom second, up the right side third, and across the top for the last direction. A lot will depend on how your machine is set up to work as the buttonhole stitches may be programmed to run differently.

For one sewer stitch, 8 came first, stitch 6 came 2nd and stitch pattern 7 came third. It all depends on your machine.

How to Sew a Buttonhole On An Old Machine

The good news is that there are buttonhole foot attachments for older machines. If you can get one or already have one this will make measuring a lot easier. Or if you don’t a regular presser foot will work as well.

Make sure to set your stitch length to almost 0 for the right stitch style. If your older machine can sew a zig-zag stitch, then you are also fine and can make a buttonhole on it.

Once you have made your marks and lined up the fabric, you start sewing. Do the left side first, go back to the bottom and go across next, then up the right side, and finally, close the to of. Those end caps do not need a lot of stitches. Some people stop at 3 and your amount will depend on the size of the button.

Make a Buttonhole in Knitting


There are at least 5 different ways to make a knit buttonhole. Some of the instructions will be in knitting shorthand and the first option is the yarn over which is the easiest one to make. You work your knitting till you get to the spot where you want your button to be then you ‘ k2tog, YO’.

This is s combination style that makes sure you do not lose your stitch count and your hole will be neat and round. It will also be a bit small. Then there is the double yarn over style and the way to do that is to k2tog, YO two times, SSK.

You will also either do a knit 1 and purl 1 or a purl 1 and a knit 1 which will maintain the integrity of the buttonhole. We will stop with these two options and as you can see it is not that hard to create a knit buttonhole.

The other options are the single row buttonhole, the no buttonhole buttonhole, and the afterthought buttonhole, and this last one is sued when you forgot to put a buttonhole in the first place. To create this style you just snip a stitch or two then sew up the ends and you have it.

Make a Bound Buttonhole

Like with other buttonholes, you need to do some practice first before trying your technique out on the real thing. Mistakes can happen easily and you can always see where you went wrong and make the right changes so the end result is perfect.

  • Step 1: Draw and baste the buttonhole box. Add in 3/8 for your ease.
  • Step 2: Cut your patch and this can be 4 by 4 inches in size but the measurement will vary depending on any number of factors. Then pin over your basted boxes with right sides together.
  • Step 3: Do your stitching. Starting on the long side you stitch around the box and use a short stitch length. Make sure to count the stitches on the end to make sure both ends have the same amount.
  • Step 4: Cut the opening making sure you cut a V on both ends of the hole line. Make sure to go through both layers with the cut. Also, cut as close to the stitches as you can without cutting them.
  • Step 5: Bring the patch through the opening and lay it flat before pressing it. Make sure it lies flat or you have to do more cutting of the fabric and get even closer to the stitches.
  • Step 6: Make the lips by folding the patch in half, then do the same for the bottom of the patch.
  • Step 7: Stitch the two triangles at each end of the box and just underneath the patch.
  • Step 8: Remove the basting thread and get ready to repeat the process for the rest of the buttons.

Make Two Stitch Buttonhole

If you are a knitter, this may be simple and easy for you to do. The first step will be to work to where you want the button to go and then pull the yarn to the front, slip a purl and then return the yarn to the back.

You may have to repeat the step slip one purl then pass the first slipped stitch over the second and this step may need to be repeated between 1 to 4 times. Then place the last stitch on the needle, turn, then cast on 3 to 6 stitches with the right needle inserted between the first and second stitch which are on the left needle.

Now draw up a loop and then put that loop on the left needle. Repeat between 2 and 5 times. Finally, bring yarn to the back, slip the first stitch from the left needle over to the right and pass the last cast stitch over. Now work to the end of the row.

Sew Buttonholes in Fleece


To start you can use any needle size between an 11 to 16 and the needle can be a universal one. One drawback to making a buttonhole in fleece material is that a lettuce effect can appear if you do not make the stitches the right size. You want a long and wide stitch design.

Then you should add a stabilizer to help keep the fabric still when making these holes. This can be accomplished on 2 layers of fleece by slipping some interfacing between the two layers.

If you have it use a bit of solvy material to draw your buttonhole pattern and make your marks. This will keep the stitches from disappearing in the fleece. You can use temporary fabric glue or pin it in place.

If you want to be creative you can use a contrasting color from another piece of fleece or fake suede around the buttonhole area. Next, sew 1/8 of an inch away and around the marked buttonhole.

Then make your cut. There are variations to this style of making a buttonhole but this gives you an idea of what to do. The solvy can be sewn in place if you want it there.

Sewing Buttonholes in Knit Fabric

When dealing with this type of fabric, keep in mind that a buttonhole makes or breaks the sewing project. You will have to plan carefully and then leave the marking for the buttonhole to the very end.

One way to jazz up a knit fabric is to make a corded buttonhole but the style is really up to you and the pattern you are using. The buttonhole style is also up to you, it can be vertical or horizontal depending on the design of the sewing project.

Some questions to ask yourself before you get started, does the item need a great button? Should you place the focus on the buttons? What spacing is needed and should the buttons be used to add in some design?

Answer those questions and you should be able to pick the right buttons to use on your knit fabrics. Then there are different questions concerning the look of the button you should ask yourself.

One is, should those buttons match the color of the clothing item? Then, should the button be matte, shiny, plastic, bone, and so on? Finally, how does the button need to be sewn on? That last one will either add work or lessen your workload.

Sewing Buttonholes in Velvet

When working with velvet, you want to cut down on the number of seams the sewing project will have in the end. Seams add bulk and velvet is already bulky so you want to plan carefully before adding in any buttons.

When the velvet sewing project comes down to the buttons, you may want to skip doing buttonholes. Those can be very challenging to do with this material. Sewing buttons that require loops maybe the better way to go.

If you go with the buttonholes, try to do a pick stitch if possible. It disappears into the pile of material keeping your buttonholes looking nice. That is unless you are using an odd color of thread.

Hand stitching may also be the best way to create those buttonholes. You will have more control over the material but this option is up to you.

Sewing Large Buttonholes

Sewing Large Buttonholes

One of the drawbacks to those sewing machines with the automatic 1 or 4 step buttonhole makers is that they are not designed to handle oversized buttons. So you will have to make some adjustments when you want to go oversized.

Plus, you will need some stabilizing especially if you are using them on knit fabrics. Then when you are ready you measure, mark, and pin like you would any smaller-sized button.

Your machine will need some adjustments as well and those adjustments depend on the type of machine you own. Then stitch like you would a normal-sized buttonhole. Going up one side, across, and back up the other before closing the box off.

Once you get the stitches done, and they can be a zig-zag pattern or you can use your buttonhole stitch patterns, you need to make your cut. Some machines may have a buttonhole sensor so you will have to manipulate that to help you get the job done.

Some final words

Buttonholes are best left to the last and there is good reason for it. They can be difficult to do depending on their size, the fabrics used, and if your machine has a good buttonhole feature or not.

Sewing by hand is not a bad thing and it may be the best way to go in some situations.

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