Join me in my adventures as I write romance novels and sew vintage and contemporary fashion.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Return of the Bound Buttonhole

I am not a coat-making novice. I enjoy making coats and jackets and last year I tailored two wool frock coats for the Great Dicken's Fair in San Francisco.

Neither of these frock coats (one is hanging in the background) had bound buttonholes. The directions did fantasize about me hand binding slashed buttonholes, but I ignored that part...just as I considered ignoring the buttonhole directions for my 60s coat, once I found out about them.

I'm notorious for forgetting to buy at least one key component of my current project, so last weekend I carefully read the directions before starting my coat. In step 5, I was startled to discover instructions for making seven--count them, seven--bound buttonholes. Oh, happy day.

Again I was tempted by my 1955 Singer buttonholer, but the reason I'm sewing retro is to learn and practice new techniques, so even though I was smacked around by a bound buttonhole while making the Sew for Victory jacket, I decided that I needed to suck it up and try again.

I followed the pattern directions--I was pleased that this pattern actually gave directions, unlike the 40s jacket which tersely commanded "Make bound buttonholes"--and made a practice buttonhole. It came out cute as a, well, button. Perfect.

But I'd fallen for this before--being lulled into a sense of false security by a perfect practice buttonhole--so I made a second.

Scary little dude, eh? Let me explain that I made a couple errors on this one (no kidding--right?) I wasn't as careful with my grain lines, but the big mistake was that I didn't tie off the thread ends by hand on the back. Instead I back stitched, and the stitching on the scary side started to come undone. No more back stitching.

Fraying was also a problem with this silk linen fabric.

And when I tried to stitch the little triangle to the welt ends, there was no triangle. It had frayed away.

To deal with the fraying, I reinforced both the welt strips and buttonhole area on the coat front with knit fusible interfacing. It was light enough not to add bulk to the narrow welts, but kept the fraying to a minimum. I had a triangle to stitch!

I marked the buttonhole placement with thread as the pattern said to do.

 The fabric strips for the welts are very narrow:

To make certain that my grain lines were perfect, I carefully placed the strips and then taped them into place instead of pinning or basting. The tape worked excellently.

I drew the stitching line on the welts--which were only 1/4 inch wide when folded--then  tied off the thread ends on the back (three knots and snipped 1/8 from the knot). I can thank the scary second practice buttonhole for this grain-line/thread-end vigilance, so as frighteningly as it turned out, it was worthwhile.

By employing a great deal of sweat and anxiety, I ended up with seven nearly perfect bound buttonholes, four of which are shown above prior to being sewn shut. They're very delicate looking and I'm quite pleased.

The big lessons:
1) Never give up, never surrender.
2) Make more than one practice buttonhole, just in case.
3) Don't hurry.
4) Experiment with tape.
5) Don't turn your back on the cat.


  1. Wow! I'm glad that you kept with it. Your button holes look great! :)

  2. Hehehe, love the cat :) I can't sew a straight line, so nope, you'd never find me doing buttonholes! But then again I haven't sewn anything in over 30 yrs, so I guess you wouldn't find me sewing anything!