Hand sewn buttonhole

A buttonhole needs to stand up to wear.

Buttonhole stitch is tougher than blanket stitch, and tailor’s buttonhole stitch is tougher yet.
Here’s how to sew these stitches.

Here are buttonhole sewing instructions from the days before zigzag sewing machines were available, from a school book called Clothing and Health.

Every schoolgirl had to learn this. Much practice needed to get the stitching regular and even !

Here’s a modern tutorial for hand made buttonholes in a tailored jacket.

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Basic and 4-step buttonholes

Sections with links on :
– marking buttonholes,
– buttonholes on a basic zigzag machine,
– 4-step buttonhole.

Check which direction your machine sews in.
My previous machine sewed buttonholes forwards, towards the sewer.
So the marked starting point for a buttonhole needed to be the end away from the sewer.

My newest machine sews buttonholes away from the sewer.
So the marked starting point needs to be the end nearest the sewer.

4-step buttonholes don’t have an automatic way of setting the length of the buttonhole. You have to stop the sewing. So the ends need to be marked clearly. It’s best to make marks longer and wider than the presser foot, so you can always see them.

Also it’s helpful to have a sliding buttonhole presser foot, with markings you can use for reference when controlling the length.

Some general guides on marking and sewing machine buttonholes :
Placing and sewing buttonholes, pdf from the University of Kentucky.
Sarah Veblen’s class at Pattern Review (Not free).

Machine made buttonholes

The simplest machine-made buttonhole has 4 parts – the 2 sides, and the 2 end bar tacks.
As sewing machines have added more controls, so various ways of making the process easier have been devised.
So any particular tutorial may be nothing like what your machine does. I’m trying to cover the possibilities here.

Machine has no specific help with making buttonholes

If your machine has zigzag stitch but has no specific buttons or controls for buttonholes, you can sew a buttonhole.
Here’s a tutorial on making a buttonhole without special controls.
Does need practice, especially if the reverse stitching control is not near the stitching area, but it is possible !

4-step buttonhole

The machine automatically sets the position and width of the zigzag stitching, and sews each of the 4 sides of a buttonhole as a separate step. The machine operator chooses the step, and controls the start and stop of each step.
Modern mechanical sewing machines usually have this sort of buttonhole.

This video about a Brother machine is a good general introduction which works for many machines.

Though there are many variations on this process.

On some machines you choose the steps on a selector dial.

(Janome made machine from John Lewis)

On some machines you choose the steps using push buttons.

(Pfaff Select machine)

The sequence of steps may be named by pictures, numbers or letters, see the machine manual.

Some machines, like the Brother in the video, start sewing with an end bar tack.

Some machines start by sewing one of the sides.
Here’s an video from Janome of starting by sewing a side.
And here’s a written with photos tutorial from Tilly and the Buttons showing a machine which sews one of the long sides first.

As well as sewing ends or sides first, some machines start sewing buttonholes forward, some backward.

Different companies use different designs of presser foot. Here’s a different presser foot from Singer.

With 4-step buttonholes you control the length of the buttonhole by starting and stopping the stitching. It is a good idea to practice stopping accurately. If your machine does not sew one stitch at a time, finish the stitching manually by ‘walking’ the stitching – turn the hand-wheel (top towards you) to make the final accurately placed stitches.

On some machines you can control :
– the width of the buttonhole.
– the distance apart of the zigzags,
by using the controls for the width and length of the zigzag.

Buttonholes are easy to make, once you’ve got your head round how your machine does it. But definitely sew test buttonholes on the same fabric layers you plan to make buttonholes on, before doing it ‘for real’.

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The Dummy from Hell

This entertaining story originally came from
but that site no longer exists, and it would be sad to lose so much fun.
Apologies if re-posting this infringes lots of copyrights.

Of course most dress forms (including Uniquely You) aren’t like this, but most of them aren’t much help with fit either, unless you’re close to average. Most only allow you to alter bust, waist, hip, back length. But it’s my lumps and bumps which differ from average – slope of shoulders, cup size, high hips, flat rear, saddle bags. . .

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Note with original post

For the sewing-impaired, a Uniquely You dress form consists of a foam core shaped like a well-endowed woman, and a cloth cover which you sew to fit your own dimensions, then stuff the foam core inside, yielding a dressmaker’s form with your own measurements.

Peter Leppik

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From: Diane Barlow Close [e-mail deleted]
Newsgroups: alt.sewing
Subject: Re: Problems fitting Uniquely You

Mirabelle Severn & Thames writes:

“I recently bought the Uniquely You dressform, and my mother agreed to fit the cover for me. Well, about 1/3 of the way through the fitting, she is running into problems she didn’t expect, and doesn’t feel secure trying to finish the project. Can anyone give advice?”

Reply :

Okay, I think I’m brave enough now to tell everyone about my experiences with “Uniquely You”. I ordered mine from National Thread and Supply Company (in Atlanta, Georgia) who, in turn, get their supply directly from the UY folks but are able to discount it quite a bit. I ordered the “extra small” form and from the measurement range given it should’ve been just fine.

Unfortunately for me, I ordered at the time that the U.Y. folks were trying out a new foam extrusion mix. Somehow I got one of the “test” dummies instead of the real thing. The problem with the new mix was that it discoloured and expanded (greatly) when faced with humidity. I didn’t know that when I got my dummy; I just knew it looked a bit mottled and way too big to “squish” down to my size.

In fact, the dummy had a 44 DD bust! I called the UY company about this but they assured me that I must be wrong, that the bust couldn’t be that big and that even if it was it would shrink once the cover was applied. They explained that the foam was much bigger than the cover, but that the foam would compress greatly and that I should just go ahead and make my cover and all would become clear soon. They explained that a lot of force was needed to compress their foam, but compress it would and I should just try it and see.

After I got off the phone, I remeasured the bust and it was, indeed, 44DD (it was HUGE). It looked like some bizarre, life-sized headless Barbie. Encouraged by the phone conversation with the UY people, I started sewing up my cover. I fitted the top half, on me, just fine. I zipped it off and tried to zip it on the dummy. It wouldn’t go; it wouldn’t squish.

I asked my husband for help. Eventually we had the dummy on the floor with my husband kneeling on top of the breasts and me pushing from underneath the cover trying to compress everything into place. Then we started wondering what this must look like to our neighbours, so I got up and closed the curtains! 🙂 Continuing our wrestling match, we managed to stuff MOST of the breasts into the cover, but we couldn’t, for the life of us, compress them so they all fit into the cover.

We managed to get the cover zipped into place but there was “breasts” popping out all over the place! We decided to see if we could squish the breasts into place any further. My husband pushed from above while I pushed from below. Whammo, side seams gave away and we had breast “leaking” out the side. We tried again. And again.
It was a hot and humid summer day and we were not enjoying this strenuous activity very much.

Finally we achieved some measure of success, with the cover “centered” over massive “breasts” peering around all sides. We stood back. BLAMMMO! The cover seams all gave way at once and blew off the dummy, leaving “Barbie” once again standing naked before us. Not only that, but the “breasts” appeared to have grown! They certainly looked bigger to me, and a check with the measuring tape now clocked them at 50 DD!! Help, it’s Barbie from Hell! 😀

We called UY and complained strenuously this time. I pointed out that my dummy was “growing”. They put the owner/creator on the phone and he realized that we had gotten a “bad” dummy, that is, one made with the bad experimental foam. The discolouration was the key to recognition. He asked me to send it back to him for inspection and replacement.

You’d think that would be the end of it, wouldn’t you? Well, think again! 🙂 I packaged the dummy up, in the original box, and sent it off UPS-insured. I got a call a couple days later because UY had *refused* my shipment! I couldn’t believe it! After they had asked me to send it back directly to them! I couldn’t figure out what must’ve gone wrong so called them back, immediately. The told me they didn’t take damaged goods. What?! What did they mean “damaged” goods? I sent back an intact product! It was a defective product, but then they knew that as they were the ones who had asked me to send it to them for inspection. Unfortunately the person who handled the shipment was away and all the woman on the phone knew was that the shipment had been refused due to “damage”, so I would have to wait a few days for the original person to return to explain why she refused my shipment.

I got my answer a couple days later when a “hit and run” UPS driver lobbed a grotesquely-deformed (previously-a-box) shape over my fence and ran for the truck. It seems that somewhere along the line the package must’ve fallen off the truck and been backed over several times by a truck. The rectangular box was now a triangle and the remains of the dummy had tire tracks on it. Not only that, but it seems it had expanded some more, in transit, and one breast had blown a hole in the box and was now sitting there “staring” at the world rather ominously. The other breast had been ripped off, mostly, and was attached to the dummy by only a wee bit of foam. Numerous other cuts and scrapes told tales of some type of weird raging battle that had been fought between this dummy and who-knows-what! 🙂

I called up UPS wondering how the heck they managed to turn my package into the deformity before me and they offered to send another driver out to pick it up for inspection. By this time I wasn’t about to trust another “ride” on the truck, so I insisted that they send out an inspector directly to inspect the damage here. Under the circumstances, and considering the amount of money involved, they agreed.

When the UPS claims person came out to inspect the damage she asked me what on earth this “thing” was used for. She treated it like she thought she could get Bubonic Plague from it. She started shaking her head and complaining about all the weird sex toys she was forced to inspect now that she was based out here in San Francisco and not back in good old Illinois… I tried to explain that it was a manequin for sewing and fitting clothes, not some “sex toy”. She didn’t believe me. She wrote it up as “inflatable foam doll” and treated it like it had some disease she didn’t want to catch.

She had to remove the dummy from the box, and in order to do that you had to compress the one “escaped” breast to get it back through the hole so the rest of the dummy could come out of the box. She didn’t want to touch the breast. No sirree! She was NOT going to touch another breast, not even a foam one! It was very amusing to watch. She honestly believed it was some kind of sex toy and I was some kind of pervert… 😀 I finally got the dummy out of the box for her, but even then she wouldn’t touch it to inspect the damage. 🙂 It was very embarrassing! She quickly agreed that UPS would give me a full refund and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone leave my house so quickly… 😀

Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and I got my money back in full from UPS. I didn’t have the nerve to try another “Uniquely You”. I bought a Dritz Double. I don’t really need the “fits your shape” capability of UY, as I’m pretty well the industry standard shape anyway. Yes, I’m one of the rare few who can use patterns directly from the envelope and have them fit perfectly. So the Dritz Double turned out to be just fine for me.

I hope this helps someone! 🙂

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