Menu
MN2001 Darling Ranges / MN2005 Matilda / MN2102 Banksia / MN2201 Kelly / MN2202 Cascade / MN2210 Flint / Sewalongs / Sewing Techniques / Tips & Tutorials

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Oh buttonholes! It’s amazing how something so small can cause so much stress. When i first started sewing, it was on a vintage Elna Lotus that had a very basic buttonhole method outlined in the manual that I used for many years before I upgraded to a machine with an automatic function. So today I am going to show you how you can sew buttonholes on your machine without an automatic function, using only the zig zag stitch. Yes you can!

This method is really handy if you have a sewing machine without a buttonhole function, or one that has a buttonhole function that results in really bad buttonholes (i’ve been there!). It’s also really handy to know how to do this incase you are in a situation where your automatic function can’t cope. My Bernina has an excellent automatic buttonhole function, but it simply can’t sew a good buttonhole using topstitch thread. Nope, not going to happen. Disaster. So times I have really wanted to sew buttonholes with topstitch thread i still use this method.

The key to sewing a buttonhole using on a zig zag stitch is tweaking until you figure out what settings work on your machine to acheive the buttonhole you would like. This is not a first time wins method, you will need to tweak and try different settings till you get what you like.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

All you need to learn to sew a buttonhole is some scrap fabric, a pencil, ruler, button and pins etc. I recommend practicing on a sturdy fabric in at least two layers. Here i am using a cotton calico/muslin fabric. There is no point learning a new technique on a fabric that brings it’s own challenges. It’s better to learn on a sturdy fabric, then once you have the hang of it you can adapt your method to whatever fabric your project requires.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

First up measure your button! My button is 1.5cm in diameter.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design DiaryNext up use your ruler and pencil to draw a line as long as you would like your buttonhole opening to be. I like to add 2mm to my button measurement to get my buttonhole opening. So here I have drawn a 1.7cm line.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Draw a perpendicular line at the top and bottom of your buttonhole opening, this will help you with your stitching to figure out where to start and stop.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

The order in which you are going to sew is this: Top bartack, right side, bottom bar tack, left side.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design DiaryHow to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

First place your fabric as above with the top bartack directly under the centre of the foot opening. Set your machine to sew a wide bartack. For example on my machine i set the stitch length to zero and the stitch width to 5.5 (which is the widest). You will also need to set your stitch length to zero, but will need to experiment to determine what width you prefer.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Next sew down the right side of the pencil mark using a narrow zig zag with a short stitch length. On my machine the settings that work well for me are a stitch length of 0.3 and a width of 2. You will need to experiment to find which settings work for you. When your machine sews a zig zag the needle moves from left to right over and over. You want to ensure that your left needle position is next to your pencil mark and the right needle position is in line with the outer edge of your bartack.

Sew down the right side of the buttonhole until you read the mark for the bottom bartack.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Sew the bottom bartack using your preferred bartack settings. As a reminder for me these settings were length zero and width of 5.5.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

To sew the left side of the buttonhole you will need to switch back to your side zig zag settings which should be a short zig zag. For me this was a length of 0.3 and a width of 2. You can now either sew backwards until you reach the top bartack (but personally i find this hard), or you can turn your work and sew the left side as you did the right (this is what i do).

Again sew down the side of the buttonhole making sure that the right needle position is inline with the outer edge of the bartack and the left needle position is next to the pencil mark.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Once you have finished sewing your buttonhole will look like this!

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

I like to pull the threads to the back/wrong side and knot them off then trim the excess thread.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

To cut your buttonhole open use either a button hole cutter or a seam ripper, making sure that you place a pin at the end of the buttonhole opening so you don’t slice too far through the buttonhole. Please make sure you don’t skip this step – i honestly just learnt this the hard way this week, it’s so heartbreaking to ruin your project at the last minute by carelessly slicing too much.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Finally make sure that you write down your preferred buttonhole settings so that you can remember them next time you need them. This will be your base setting. Next time you need to sew a buttonhole you will need to test these settings on the fabric used for your project and tweak from there if it’s not working as well.

How to sew buttonholes without an automatic function on your sewing machine! All you need is a pencil, ruler and zig zag function! Tutorial on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

There you go my dears! You now know how to sew a buttonhole without an automatic function and using only the zig zag stitch on your sewing machine! BOOM!

You can use this method on sewing pattern that needs buttonholes! I’ve included this tutorial as part of the  Matilda dress dress sewalong, but you will also find it helpful sewing many of my other patterns like the Darling Ranges dress, Flint pants and shorts, Kelly skirt, Cascade skirt and Banksia blouse.

// LOOKING FOR MORE MATILDA POSTS? //

Here’s the full list of Matilda posts and tutorials:

Introducing Matilda, the ultimate shirt dress sewing pattern // Megan Nielsen Design Diary

Don’t have the Matilda sewing pattern yet?! Order Matilda today! We absolutely love seeing what you make, so don’t forget to tag your creations with #MNmatilda and @megannielsenpatterns when sharing on social media, and check out what everyone else is up to!

Order Matilda!

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Griffin
Chris Griffin
4 years ago

I love that you wrote the final information on fabric with the buttonhole! I normally use sticky notes, but then I don’t have what the stitch looks like. Very smart :) I shall be stealing that ;)

Fabric Tragic
4 years ago

Great tutorial! My machine makes unpredictable button holes which gives me no end of angst – I must try this!

Debbie Brady
Debbie Brady
4 years ago

Fabulous. My machine is a bit old and grumpy and buttonholes seem to be where it causes me the most problems, this technique takes the stress out off it and means I don’t have to resort to popper fastenings !! Thank you .

Kieran
Kieran
4 years ago

This is so great! I have had a coat finished for 14 months with no buttons or buttonholes because my auto-buttonhole won’t make big enough buttonholes! I have been wearing it without buttons, feeling sad that I can’t do it up and avoiding thinking about making bound buttonholes…I think I’m going to try this!

trackback

[…] those buttonholes! If your machine doesn’t have an automatic buttonhole function, theres a post here to show you how to do it without […]

trackback

[…] or controls for buttonholes, you can sew a buttonhole. Here are a couple of photo tutorials : Megan Nielsen. Sew Mama Sew. Does need practice, especially if the reverse stitching control is not near the […]

Rhonda G Owens
Rhonda G Owens
3 years ago

I’ve watched several buttonhole tutorials this morning and this one is definitely the one I will use. Looks like not only the simplest, but the best looking and comes out like it is supposed to look. And looks like a real buttonhole, without skipping steps. Thanks, just what I was looking for. I’ll definitely be looking for your info again. Have a blessed day.