Friday, October 30, 2009

Bound Buttonholes (Ack.)

So, I have a confession: I've never made a bound buttonhole. And the bow-tied blouse (which I cut out last night! In the baby blue wool jersey) has five of 'em. Right smack down the middle of the back. I'm scared, people. I've been doing research on various methods, and here's what I've come up with.

Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing boasts about their method: "Speaking of buttonholes, we show you how to make Vogue's streamlined one-piece fabric buttonhole. We love it. It's quick and easy." It's funny that VoNBBS acts like they invented this method, because as far as I can tell, it's the standard "patch" method.

Now, I am not impressed with this method. I first attempted it while making my taffeta skirt, and the results were so sad that I ended up just making the buttonhole by machine. But not this time! I'm determined to make some pretty bound buttonholes if it's the last thing I do, damn it.

So I turned to Issue 140 of Threads Magazine, which has an article on bound buttonholes that promises "professional results with industry techniques." I admit I have a soft spot for this article because the author, Barbara Frangione, opens the piece with a charming story. Here's a little excerpt:
Once upon a time (actually, it was during the winter of 1949), I took a draping class in New York City. I rode Long Island Railroad to get to class, and I usually sat next to a fellow student whose father owned a clothing factory.

One night, I wore my new wool coat - a Vogue pattern with every plaid meticulously matched and not a thread out of place. The bound buttonholes were made the way the pattern instructions had always directed. Needless to say, I was more than pleased with my work.

I said to my fellow passenger, "I made this coat."

"I know you did," he said.

When I asked how he knew, he replied, "By the buttonholes. They're just not right."
Can you believe he said that, readers? What a cad! I don't like this young fellow one bit. But the story has a happy ending, in which Barbara learns an industry technique for making bound buttonholes. It involves using strips rather than patches, a technique that looks a little something like this:

You then turn the strips to the inside and secure them in place. So that's what I will be testing out tonight (on some scrap fabric first, of course). Wish me luck!

And please, anyone have any great tips on bound buttonholes? I need all the help I can get!


  1. What a timely piece. I have just bought some tweed to make a coat for this winter and am already fretting about the buttonholes. I know they'll have to be bound but this is venturing into new territory for me too. I own several vintage sewing books (including a Vogue one, although sadly not the mythical 'Better Sewing'!) and interestingly not one of them suggests the 'industrial' method. I'll be very curious to try them both out now (actually what I'll probably do is wait for you to report back from the front line!). I'm certainly curious to find out how the two differ, both in ease of use and in look.

    I'm sure I'd be miffed by such a comment as was made to the lady you mention, but I suppose this takes us back to the old 'home-sewn' vs. 'industrial' argument. So after my initial indignation, I guess I'd choose to interpret 'industrial' as cutting corners in order to make the process more profitable rather than it being a reflection on my sewing skills!

  2. I can certainly relate to the trepidation. Not only have I had to learn to do them well I've also had to teach them!

    I wonder if having an in-person demo is what might make the difference? When my students did them for the first time, they weren't perfect, but they were pretty decent.

    Have you made a welt or double welt pocket before? (I haven't gone all through the blog yet, so I don't know if there's one in here somewhere) Bound buttonholes are just small versions of double welts. If you haven't done either yet, maybe try a double welt first? The smaller you go the harder they get.

    I love Threads' techniques, but somehow that one looks fussier than the patch method (which is what I use and taught). But I could easily be wrong! I'm looking forward to your assessment of it.

    The only bit of advice I can give - which you've probably already gotten - is to be super SUPER anal about accuracy. Get your stitching right on the lines, and right on the dots. If it's off even a smidge, re-do it. Be equally careful about cutting. When cutting into the corners, get as close to the stitching you possibly can without cutting into it.

    Sorry if you've already heard/read this.

    And Good Luck!!!

  3. I use the vintage Dritz bound buttonhole helper tool. I HIGHLY recommend it! It works like a dream compared to my previous methods (like those detailed in patters and you recalled here).

    Also--work on it with scraps of the same fabric that your coat (or any other item) is made of. Different fabrics behave very differently for bound buttonholes.

    For finishing my wool 1950s coat, I'm finally, finally doing the buttonholes. I actually bought my vintage Singer and the buttonhole attachment just for this purpose. The wool of my coat is too thick to to do bound buttonholes on--so I'm using the keyhole plate to do it. Cross your fingers for me!

  4. No help here on tips, but on a similar note...when I started sewing seriously, the lady I asked the most questions said "I can always a tell a home made piece by the buttons! Instead of generic buttons, they MATCH the garment!" I took that as a good thing. Home sewers take time and pride in their work.

    Good luck with those buttonholes! ;)

  5. Kathleen Fasanella has a blog post on 'The fallacy of industry sewing shortcuts'

    And have you seen these triangle shaped bound buttonholes?

    I think they are pretty cool.
    I wish you luck!
    I've never tried bound buttonholes myself.
    They look so much nicer than the regular machine stitched type.

  6. [Here's a tip for patch style bound button holes, and welt pockets, which are done in the same way. Mark the front of the piece the pocket is going to be: two marks, 1/2 inch from the ends, where you're going to transition from cutting in a straight line to cutting to the corners. On the patch, drill (I use a 3/32 punch intended for gasket making; a screw punch, or in a pinch, an awl, will work, too) a pair of holes to match the marks on the garment. this eliminates the need to fiddle with placement, basting of the patch to garment, and the need to pin. Just make sure the marks match the holes. Much faster than any method in any sewing book. And it's easier and more accurate, to boot.]

  7. Shoot. I deleted a bunch of what I'd typed.

    industrial sewing doesn't cut corners on sewing, at least in good quality garments. What they do is move as much of the skill from the sewing machine operator to other places. A lot of that is things that home sewers don't like: pattern making, fabric layout and cutting out, etc. they also use proper tools: binders to fold hems, jigs to mark buttonholes, and specialized machines for special purposes.

  8. I actually love bound buttonholes! For me, I seem to get a cleaner look than with the regular machine stitched ones which never seem to stitch evenly for me. I have made the triangle ones Amy linked to and they really look sharp, especially when contrasting fabrics are used. I think the "patch" method would be easier than the stripe method but I'm looking forward to your report, Gertie!

  9. I've been meaning to try some bound buttonholes using this tutorial:

    Looking forward to hearing how yours go!

    (New commenter--have recently gotten back into sewing and I'm loving your blog!)

  10. Hello Gertie!

    Bound buttonholes definitely seem ominous at first. However, once you get the hang of them they are not so bad! :D

    I have always used the strip method, and have found it to work wonderfully. It is much easier to handle the little pieces that way. I also do the whole process by hand. That way I have more control, and usually come out with a more precisely stitched buttonhole. Hand-stitching adds a touch of class, I think.

    One thing you'll want to make sure to do--and I say this because I ALWAYS make this mistake--is measure the highth of your strips correctly. Otherwise some of your buttonholes will end up with little gap between the two strips.

    In the end, though, don't despair if your buttonholes are not practically perfect in every way! Once they are holding onto some darling buttons, you won't even be able to tell. :D

    Have fun, and good luck!

  11. I bookmarked this ages ago. Maybe you can find this tool.

  12. Yup, perfect timing Gertie! I'm working on a blouse right now that I hope to make with bound buttonholes. They really are so much nicer looking. I've never made one either. I'm making self covered buttons for the blouse, so a bound buttonhole will be a nice touch. Does anyone else swoon over self covered buttons? They're just so perfect, and fun to make too.

  13. *raises hand*

    I swoon over self-covered buttons! Especially in shimmering silks and rich velvets!

    I actually made a suit jacket once with velvet bound buttonholes and matching velvet buttons!

  14. I have a confession to make. I haven't either. I would be scared stiff.

    I do believe you will be able to do this. Just practice on the same fabric. Good luck.

  15. Love self covered buttons! you think a blouse really needs bound buttonholes? Don't you think that's more of a coat/jacket thing? Also, I don't think I understand the strip method.

  16. Good luck with the bound buttonholes. They're so beautiful!

    I can't believe that guy said that to her...but brava to her for using his ugliness for good.

    Sandra Betzina has a really great video out there called "Foolproof Buttonholes." I borrowed a copy from my library. In it she breaks down bound buttonholes step by step and also shows a faux bound buttonhole that also looks great.

  17. I have no doubt you will master the buttonholes and end up with a beautiful blouse!!

  18. If the fabric isn't too bulky, I prefer the patch method. The patch gives the buttonhole more lateral stability than the strips. But try a couple on scrap and see which works for you with your fabric

  19. Oh yes, Dritz bound buttonhole tool! I found this little copper colored gizmo at a flea market 20 years ago and was thrilled with the results. I later found the larger version for pockets and snapped it up.

  20. That article in Threads is how I originally learned to make bound buttonholes. It's def not an industry shortcut. Frankly, I've always thought of the patch way as the home sewing shortcut - as it's easier to get the square right. When you make cording and then sew them the traditional way you have to be very careful to keep your stitching lines parallel and the same length.
    Trick to keeping them even - count stitches.

  21. Hmmm... I might just have to purchase that issue of Threads to get hold of the article! I tend to follow the instructions in my various sewing manuals, always with mixed results. :p Anything to improve (and take away a bit of the trepidation and unknown result factor!)... hehe!

  22. I just love this blog. :)

    Speaking of saving time, I attended a lecture of Cynthia Guffey (who is my new sewing hero, BTW!) She said something along the lines of: If you want to save time, don't take shortcuts in your sewing. There aren't any. The best way to save time is to teach your husband to cook and your kids to clean, that way you'll have more time for sewing.

    I can say that the longer i have been sewing, the more patience I have for laying out and cutting patters, fussing with linings and interfacing. These things are tedious, but as you get more into it you realize how they impact the final outcome.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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