How to recover from a buttonhole tragedy

Buttonholes seem to be a source of consternation for many sewers.  And it’s no wonder – by the time you get to making them, it would be pretty upsetting to ruin your new dress!  My Bernina makes ok buttonholes, when it decides to work.  No amount of futzing with the tension produces the even buttonholes of my dreams (unless I use embroidery floss, which I refuse to buy for every project.)  It will not make a buttonhole anywhere near a seam, leading to more than one garment that has a lone manual buttonhole (if you have a Bernina, one of these helps with that problem… but I don’t have one yet, as I’ve just been shoving fabric under there to make everything even.)  Sometimes it randomly loses its programming and sews a 3 inch long buttonhole.  In short – it’s not any fun.  But even worse than that is the cutting of the buttonhole – how I hold my breath that nothing extra gets cut!  I use a wood chisel backed by a wooden cutting board to open the holes now, and I have far fewer mishaps than with the seam rippers.  But even so… today this happened to my lovely new dress.

See where the threads on the sides have been clipped by the chisel?  That’s my fault, for paying more attention to the Ultralounge cd that was playing than to my chisel (Oh how I love to sew to cheesy lounge music!)   But – if this happens to you, don’t worry – it can be fixed!

Grab some stabilizer.  I’m using Solvy, but tearaway stabilizer or  possibly even tissue paper would work too.   This is to prevent your buttonhole from getting sucked down into the machine (my Bernina is terrible to do that for any edges.)  If my fabric were stretchy or super lightweight I would have put stabilizer down to sew all the buttonholes… that’s why I own this product.

Pin the stabilizer behind the buttonhole.

Now you need to figure out what setting on your machine will blend in the best with your buttonhole.

Luckily, I had the piece I had made sample buttonholes on, so I was able to compare and then sew over one leg.

These are the settings that worked for me, though of course every machine is different.  I’m not using the buttonhole stitch because it doesn’t give me enough control, plus if the fabric isn’t completely level and even my buttonhole foot won’t work.  A really tight zigzag works great!

Now place the buttonhole in the machine, using a plain zigzag foot.  Line up the needle with the top edge of the side you will be sewing.  Sew down to the bottom (be sure to secure your stitching.)

It’s a good match, and I haven’t accidentally sewn the buttonhole together again, since I knew what width I needed.  It’s not quite as pretty as the original buttonhole, but in my experience it will hold.

Now you can carefully tear away your stabilizer, and meet your new best friend.

Some people put fray check on every buttonhole, but since I started using the chisel I don’t find that they fray very much.  You will want to apply this with something other than the bottle, or you will get way too much (and a stiff buttonhole.)  I usually sacrifice a bent pin.  Be sure that you don’t have any markings where you are putting the fraycheck, or they will never come out (ask me how I know!)   Doesn’t the buttonhole look better?  The repair isn’t noticeable on the dress (and even if it were, it’s in the back where I can’t see it!)

And (for the curious) here are the back buttons.

I really love them – they’re from the new line Dritz is putting out, Belle buttons I think it is called.  They’re cobalt blue with clear centers.   Obviously they aren’t sewn on here.  The only disadvantage to a clear center is that you can see where I made shanks for the buttons, but oh well.

These are the buttons for the front straps.  I wanted something larger for these two, since they’re right in the front.  I’m probably going to just sew them on permanently – the dress comes off without unbuttoning the straps, and I already know that my machine is going to object to the concept of buttonholes on this piece.  Perhaps I should give up and buy the fabric feed aid, but I’m on a “no machine accessories” diet right now.

I hope this post was of some use – I know the first time this happened to me I was horrified, and convinced there was no coming back!  There are a lot of little tricks to buttonholes, like the chisel and the stabilizer.  I no longer fear them, but sometimes they do seem more trouble than they are worth!

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6 thoughts on “How to recover from a buttonhole tragedy

  1. Molly says:

    I use a special pair of scissors that are specifically designed for button holes, you just turn a screw and it opens or closes the blades to match the size of your button. They’re pretty awesome, I don’t think I’ve ever had issues with cutting open the button hole.

  2. I have an older Bernina, a PE150, I think, that is comparable to the moderate Berninas, but about 15 years back. Mine also messes up buttonholes at times with the auto setting or without. It will do one or two ok, but the remainder will vary. I will try some tissue or other stabilizer next time. I love the print you are using, beautiful for a sundress.

  3. Oooh…the horror you feel in the second after something like this happens…
    But you saved it pretty well! It would be a shame if such lovely fabric would be damaged beyond repair.

  4. The same thing has happened to me in the past. The seam ripper is one dangerous tool, at times. I have a pair of very small and very sharp scissors to cut open the hole.
    I’ll have to look for some stabilizer…never knew it existed. Good to know, thank you. 🙂

  5. This is an excellent tip! I haven’t yet invested in a buttonhole cutter, so I offer this tip: If you cut a buttonhole the low-tech way — with sharp scissors — you can pin a straight pin just inside each end (perpendicular to the buttonhole) to avoid cutting the threads at each end.

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