Buttonhole Resources for Learning and Teaching

There are many methods to choose from when making a buttonhole by hand. I’ve learned it’s not necessary to purchase tailoring or dressmaking books to learn how to make buttonholes. Although I love the books I’ve been able to accumulate over the years and enjoy being able to refer to them as I study dressmaking and tailoring, it is wonderful to find related material online that is free to view and always accessible.

I’ve tried to find .edu and .org sources to limit advertising and I’ve included .com sources if it is information I’ve not been able to find elsewhere. Just keep your wallet in your pocket while viewing and you’ll be fine.

Below is a list of books, videos, and other online sources I’ve recently accessed on the subject of hand-worked buttonholes and hand sewing along with a few notes on the material of interest to me.


Essential Stitches and Seams, 1922 .Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,  archive.org

Blanket and Buttonhole Stitches begins on page 33 and continues for 7 pages. A list of needles and thread to use for different types of  fabric. (Table I, pg. 4). Using this book I learn that for a close fitting waist that opens in front, buttonholes should be horizontal and buttons placed no further than 2” apart.

Embroidery and Decorative Stitches, , 1934.  Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,  hathitrust.org

Couching: Heavy thread is applied or couched to the fabric using “small stitches with finer thread”. Shows S twist being couched down with small stitches straight across rather than slanted, and worked left to right. Of interest because the stranding thread that is covered with buttonhole stitches will have either an S or a Z twist, as will the thread being used, whether the Z twist of silk buttonhole thread or the S twist of most cotton embroidery thread. You want to work with the lay of the twist, not against it, just as you would if using rope.

Educational Needlecraft, 1911, by Margaret Swanson and Ann Macbeth, hathitrust.org

” Cord-making”, pages 6-7. Important if you want to make your own stranding thread. Shows how the twist will undergo a change in direction during the process of cord-making. Important to plan ahead for the result you desire. “Buttonhole stitch” pages 22-23. Shows several ways to make one. Diag. 38 and 39 are my dependable favorites. Diag 37, “Double button-hole stitch” or “tailor’s twist” shows how this develops from the blanket stitch and it is how my sister prefers to make her buttonholes. Pages 44-45  More on buttonholes.

Tailored Garments copyright 1925, 1923, 1916, Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,  hathitrust.org  Includes tailored buttonholes, tailored pockets and plackets. Not my preferred method for making buttonholes, however a very interesting book.

The Cult of the Needle , 1915,  Flora Klickmann,  hathitrust.org  “For the Home Dressmaker”, page 112. Many helpful tips I’ve not seen elsewhere, including the use of  French knots for turning hems on light weight material.


Found using the search term “tailors buttonholes” on youtube.com.

“Button hole stitching”, posted by Aluminumfish. Watch his tailor, Mr. Pasquale, work the buttonhole on this man’s jacket. If he was stitching to music, the tempo would be non troppo presto so there is ample opportunity to see how he does it very clearly.

Many thanks to Vitale Barberis Canonico of Italy who recently posted 12 separate short videos, “Tailors Tips”, each on a different of aspect of tailoring. In #12 the tailor presents his grandfather’s sample books from 1914 and discusses the quality of materials available at that time, both for outer fashion fabric and the inside padding and reinforcing materials. Throughout the episodes, references to buttonholes abound. He shows a box of detachable collars then fashionable and explains how they were attached to the neck band. The segment on trousers shows a buttonhole being used to hold up the cuff, presumably to be let down for cleaning. In the buttonhole and buttons video it appears to me that the stitch is performed in an identical manner to Mr. Pasquale’s.

“Ease, Gathering, and drawing-in stitches” by Sten Martin. The Drawing-in Stitch very much resembles my sister’s buttonhole stitch if the needle is held perpendicular to the line being worked.

“Buttonhole Construction”, Fort Ticonderoga, showing reproduction buttonhole chisel and block

I’ve purchased a set of wood chisels in various sizes, had the edges professionally smoothed to avoid snags and wiped off with alcohol to remove any oil. I have used the chisel and mallet with a thick hardwood plank underneath and I get a very clean cut edge. I’ve seen this method recommended also in a favorite book: The Victorian Tailor, An Introduction to Period Tailoring by Jason Maclochlainn.

Museum Exhibit

New exhibit at Kent State University Museum, “Inside Out: Revealing Clothing’s Hidden Secrets” showing the interior construction of  historic garments. Of interest to me were the 20th century yellow suit jacket hem finished with a lightweight band rather than the usual turning up of a bulky hem and the whip stitched edges “both decorative and functional”. I also liked the 19th century dress of green taffeta, underlined, the outside fabric turned under and hemmed to the underlining rather than catch-stitched.

I’ll continue to seek out books, videos and exhibits about dressmaking, millinery, and tailoring that can be viewed for free on the World Wide Web. I’ve also developed an interest in my family history over the last few months and discovered that we have two dressmakers in the family in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, one in Ireland and one in Philadelphia, so I will be doing research to learn what type of projects they might have worked on and how they may have made their buttonholes.


2 thoughts on “Buttonhole Resources for Learning and Teaching

  1. Thanks, Carol! I’m still betwixt and between on this subject. I’ve learned how to use my machine’s 4 step buttonholer. I can’t stand the bits of thread that show once that kind of buttonhole is slit. My handmade buttonholes never have that problem. I just have to learn how to make them more uniform and experience different thread types. Thanks for these resources. I’ll check them out whenever I have time.


  2. Happy Spring, EmilyAnn! I loved the solution you decided on for the secretary blouse of your last post and marveled over your tiny stitches. I’ve also read that a very fine zigzag stitch close to the edge to be cut works, too. (Later to be covered with hand stitches.) I haven’t read all of the resources yet myself. I sometimes feel I am teaching my “inner child” to sew and it’s nice to know there are so many options, so many ways, to make a buttonhole. I hope to post a diagram soon showing the stitch direction for the buttonhole depending on whether the garment buttons right over left or left over right.


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