How to Make Buttonholes in Stretch Knit Fabric

by Christine Jonson

A buttonhole can ruin the most beautiful garment. Careful planning is the only way to make good buttonholes. Bottom line, most sewing machines make lousy buttonholes. Can I say that?! If your machine makes bad buttonholes replace it or find other creative ways to close your garments.

In keeping with my quick production techniques I use corded buttonholes on my Cotton/LYCRA and all 2-way stretch fabrics. This may not sound like the “quick” answer but the time I save not fussing with a “bad” buttonhole surely does make it the fast way. No interfacing, stabilizer, or voodoo alone has ever worked for me. Without cording my buttonholes stretch out of shape and look awful. Corded buttonholes, on the other hand, look and function beautifully.

With a little help my Phaff 1222 SE makes beautiful buttonholes. I’ve had the machine since 1980 and it is the only one I ever use for buttonholes. Even though it has an automatic buttonholer I control the amount of thread that zig zags over the cording by holding the buttonholer between my thumb and index finger from front to back. I watch the thread cover the cord and if it is going too fast and cord is showing through I hold the buttonholer back. If it not moving fast enough I move it along. Left on its own the thread may bunch up or not cover the cord sufficiently. I use kite string that I buy at the hardware store for cording and I cut a piece for each buttonhole extra long so I have plenty of length to work with.

Be sure to refer to your sewing machines manual for help on using your particular buttonholer. The cording in the buttonhole makes it very stable and sometimes you need to make the buttonhole a bit larger to accommodate your button. Determine the proper buttonhole length and hook the cord around the back of the buttonholer and begin zig zagging up the right side of the cord. When tacking across the ends of the buttonhole be very careful not to catch the cord with the needle and don’t over do it, a few back and forth stitches are all you need. Continue down the left side and bar tack the bottom and clip the threads.

Slowly and carefully pull each cord evenly just until the top loop is under the bar tack and the buttonhole looks straight and even. If you pull it too tight the fabric will buckle. If this happens just carefully pull the buttonhole until it straightens out. Then thread each cord separately though a large eye needle and tuck the point just under the bottom bar tack and pull it through to the other side. Tie the ends together with a double square knot and clip. I swear by X-ACTO knife blades to cut open buttonholes. I have tried many other ways and nothing beats a sharp point to give a straight and clean cut. After putting the button through the buttonhole a few times I clip any fabric threads.

A corded buttonhole should sit just above the fabric with no bobbin threads showing. It should feel secure and not stretch at all. The fabric around it should maintain grain and not be distorted at all. Practice makes perfect!

I sew all the buttonholes at one time then do the hand finishing all together. On jackets I almost always make horizontal buttonholes. Occasionally I make vertical buttonholes if the button I am using demands it or if I want a more casual look. I always start at the bottom and work my way up. I use the back of my buttonholer as my guide from the edge of the garment. I recommended making one or two sample buttonholes to check tension and size. I have been known to use a magic marker to cover any cord that may show through the stitching. I never mark button placement from a pattern. I determine any button placement and size after the garment is finished. Buttonholes and buttons can be used as design tools and should not be chosen until after the garment is finished. Corded buttonholes look wonderful on all kinds of fabrics and once you begin making them plain buttonholes just wont do!