Home » Sewing Techniques » How to make A Machine Buttonhole

How to make A Machine Buttonhole


Buttonholes are reinforced openings worked in a garment to match up with the buttons. A button on one side of the garment slips through a buttonhole on the other to form the closure. There are three main types of buttonholes: machine buttonholes, hand-worked buttonholes and bound buttonholes. Machine-sewn buttonholes are the fastest and easiest. Hand-worked buttonholes are the slowest and require the most practice to sew successfully. Bound buttonholes (page link) require a lot of sewing steps but are professional and durable. Buttonholes can be intimidating because they’re usually the last thing you sew on your project. With a little practice, you can conquer the fear of buttonholes and make beautiful buttoned closures on your projects.

Machine-sewn buttonhole on Robson Coat

Machine-sewn buttonhole on Robson Coat

Machine-sewn buttonhole

Machine-sewn buttonhole


Anytime you want to add functioning button and buttonhole closures to a garment, you’ll need to make buttonholes. Even if the button is nonfunctional, you may want to sew buttonholes underneath the button so it looks more authentic. Buttons and buttonholes are seen on blouses, down the front of the placket and on the cuffs of long sleeves. They’re used on the center front of coats, jackets and suits and at the waistband opening on skirts and trousers. They’re used to close and secure pockets, flaps, tabs and epaulets. Buttonholes are used when there is an overlap at the opening so that the layers can cross over. (For more on button overlap, see page link.)


How do you decide how big to make your buttonhole if the buttonholes are not marked or if you’re changing the size of the button? The buttonhole size is about the width of the button plus 1⁄8″ (3mm) for flat buttons. For rounded or textured buttons, it’s the width plus the height. Here’s an easy way to figure it out: Wrap a tape measure around the button and divide this measurement in half.


Horizontal buttonholes are the best as they are the most secure. The buttons are least likely to escape, and the buttonhole is strong on the grain of the fabric.

For narrow bands and plackets, position buttonholes vertically so they can fit on the band.

Diagonal buttonholes look neat, but they will stretch out on the bias. However, if you are sewing buttonholes on a bias garment (page link), positioning them diagonally is a good idea because they’ll be on the straight grain.


Once you’ve marked the buttonhole placement and determined the length of the buttonhole, it’s time to sew it. All machines are set up slightly different, so take a look at the section on buttonholes in the manual for your sewing machine. Many machines, like mine, have a one-step buttonhole that will sew down the length of the buttonhole, make a few long tacks at the end and then sew in reverse up the other side of the buttonhole. Once it’s set in place, all you need to do is keep your foot on the pedal!

How to make a machine button hole (1)

Change the foot and adjust the settings for sewing the buttonhole. Make a practice buttonhole on scrap fabric using the same material as your project. If the buttonhole area is interfaced, interface your scrap fabric as well. It will give you the most accurate test. Place your fabric under the presser foot, with the right side up, starting at the back of the buttonhole and moving forward.

Cut the buttonhole using one of the three methods. Test the size by pushing the button through the cut hole. If it’s too tight, adjust the length of the buttonhole and make another test. If the buttonhole is too loose, shorten the length of the buttonhole.

When the first buttonhole is finished, move on to the second buttonhole and so forth, if there are multiples. Make sure to position your presser foot the same distance from the edge for each buttonhole. Hold the thread tails as you sew the buttonhole so they don’t get caught in the buttonhole stitching.

Once you’re happy with the size of the test buttonhole, go ahead and sew the first buttonhole on the garment.

How to make a machine button hole (2)

Once all of the buttonholes are sewn, apply Fray-Check to the buttonholes. This is a liquid that stiffens the fabric and makes the buttonholes easier to cut. Test the Fray-Check on your fabric scrap to be sure it won’t stain or permanently darken your project. If it does, skip it.

How to make a machine button hole (3)

Let the Fray-Check dry. Cut open the buttonholes. Trim the threads.


There are three ways to cut open buttonholes depending on which tools you have available. Method 2 is my favorite, but Method 3 will work if you don’t have a buttonhole knife. Method 1 works only if you have a very sharp seam ripper.


How to cut buttonholes (Method 1)

This method uses a seam ripper, with pins at each end to ensure you don’t cut too far. Place a pin at a right angle through each end of the buttonhole, just before the bar tack. Poke the seam ripper through the middle and slide it toward one end and then the other.

How to cut buttonholes (Method 2)

This method requires a buttonhole knife and mat or wooden block. Place the mat or block underneath the buttonhole, and press hard with a buttonhole knife in the middle of the buttonhole. This will make a straight cut through the buttonhole. You can also use a sharp X-acto knife. Repeat the cutting step for larger buttonholes, moving the knife to get close to each end without cutting the bar tack stitching.

How to cut buttonholes (Method 3)

You can also use a sharp pair of scissors. Fold the buttonhole in half, and snip the fold in the middle of the buttonhole with scissors to start. Open out the fold and insert the tip of the scissors to make a small snip toward each end.

Tips + Notes

  • Make a few test buttonholes and push your button through the test holes. Once you’ve determined the right size and machine settings, get a few nice ones turned out before making the buttonholes in your actual garment.
  • Make sure your bobbin is full! There’s nothing more disappointing than sewing a buttonhole and running out of thread when it’s 90 percent sewn.
  • Sew at an even speed. Speeding up and slowing down can result in the ends of the buttonhole not lining up.
  • Too-small buttonholes are bad, but avoid the inclination to overcompensate and make them too big. If your buttonholes are too big, the buttons will slip out and the garment won’t stay closed.
  • You can sew buttonholes using contrast thread, but any mistakes or unevenness will be more obvious.

Source : The Sewtionary An A to Z Guide to 101 Sewing Techniques + Definitions
About the Author : Tasia ST. Germaine