One-Step Buttonholes in Five Easy Steps


Though buttons have been around since the beginning of civilization, they weren’t commonly used to fasten clothing until the Germans introduced the buttonhole in the 13th century. Buttons, even in their simplest form, add interest to a garment, but when it comes to functionality, even the most ornate button is only as good as the buttonhole that secures it.  Compared to buttons, buttonholes may seem inconsequential, but they can make or break the overall appearance of an outfit.  This doesn’t mean that buttonholes need to be complex, just well planned.

The idea of sewing buttonholes has always filled me with a certain amount of anxiety, but in all honesty, this is something I have brought on myself. Buttonholes really aren’t difficult to make to make, especially with the introduction of the “One-Step Button Hole” attachment, the problem is more in the planning.  The name “One-Step” is rather misleading, and has on more than one occasion beguiled me into approaching buttonholing with a rather lackadaisical attitude ~  something that has caused me to ruin more than one nearly finished project. By putting  “One-Step” out of your mind and taking just a few more steps, you’ll wonder why buttonholes were ever a cause for anxiety.

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Begin   

  • Most buttonholers are set up to make tightly spaced stitches. Unless you are using easily raveled fabrics, this is unnecessary and often the cause of botched buttonholes. The tight spacing makes for a bulkier buttonhole that has a tendency to bind up and knot. By setting a longer stitch length, the fabric runs more smoothly through the buttonholing process, especially on uneven surface ~  and heaven forbid you do have a problem, it will be much easier to remove the stitching without damaging the fabric.
  • Always sew your buttonholes from the bottom up, or in the case of horizontal buttons from the inside  to the outer edge.
  • Do not push or pull your fabric, let the machine do the work for you.
  • Cut the buttonhole with a seam ripper by inserting the point of the seam ripper at the bottom edge of the button, being careful not to cut any of the buttonhole threads then and then bring it back up through the center of the buttonhole. Cut through the fabric then repeat the process from the top end of the buttonhole. By cutting the hole in two steps instead of one, you are less likely to rip through the end of it.
  • When working on uneven or bulky fabric, even out the bulk so that your buttonhole attachment isn’t lopsided. You can do this by pounding your seamlines flat with a mallet (covering your fabric with a piece of scrap material so you don’t damage it) or by shimming up the foot with a folded scrap of cloth or paper.  Just be careful the shim doesn’t interfere with the stitching.


Step 1:  First Things First ~ Get to Know Your Buttonholer!

  • Set up your buttonhole foot with your choice of button as instructed by the manufacturer.
  • On a piece of scrap fabric, use a pen or pencil and a ruler to mark two parallel vertical lines the width of your buttonhole foot and a horizontal line that crosses them at the bottom.  Since this is a test buttonhole, we are only concerned about being able to clearly see your markings and aren’t worried about them being permanent.

  • Line up the horizontal guideline on your fabric with the guidelines inside your buttonhole foot.  Align the two parallel lines with the edges of the buttonhole foot.  Lower the buttonhole foot once everything is properly aligned.


  • Choose the buttonhole setting you want to use and sew your buttonhole.
  • Remove the test buttonhole from your machine and note where the ends of the buttonhole are in relation to your markings.  This will help you determine how to line up the guidelines on your fabric with the guidelines on the buttonhole foot.

My buttonholes end up 1/8-inch below the bottom guideline when I line it up with the guideline on my buttonhole foot. To compensate, I will make an additional guideline 1/8-inch higher to help place the buttonhole properly.

Step 2:  Choose Your Buttons.  

The size and placement of your buttonholes will be determined by the buttons you use.  Every time you use a new button, you will want to test it with your buttonhole foot.  Mark your fabric as in Step 1 and make a buttonhole.  Cut the buttonhole open and slide your button through to check the fit.  The hole should be just big enough for the button to pass through.  If it is too large, the button will tend to pull out, and if it is too small, it will be difficult to fasten.  Adjust the setting of your buttonhole foot until you are happy with the size of the buttonhole.

Step 3:  Determine The Placement And Position Of Your Buttons.

On Which Side Of The Garment Should Buttonholes Be Made?

Buttonholes are made on the proper right for women’s garments and the proper left for men’s garments.

Should They Be Vertical Or Horizontal?

Horizontal buttons allow for expansion in that they let buttons slide along the opening without distorting the buttonhole. Vertical buttonholes take up less room, but are more likely to pull out at stress points. Most vintage and historical patterns call for horizontal buttonholes, however, vertical buttonholes should be used when space is an issue (which is generally the case with doll clothes). When vertical buttonholes are used on shirt plackets, a horizontal buttonhole is usually used at the neckline and bottom edge as these are stress points that tend to pull out.

How Should Buttonholes Be Spaced? 

Buttonholes should be located near the points of the greatest strain to prevent gapping.  The three key placement points are at the neck, bustline, and waist.  Any additional buttonholes should be spaced evenly based on these three placement points with the lowest buttonhole being above the hem.

Step 4:  Mark your Guidelines!

The key to neat buttonholes is accurate marking.

What Should Be Used For Marking?

Tailor’s chalk, disappearing-ink markers, masking tape, and basting all work well, depending on the fabric.  The important thing is that you can see your markings clearly.  My favorite, and most reliable, way of marking buttonholes is with a Freezer Paper Template.  You can view the tutorial here!  Freezer paper irons on,  providing a stable working surface.  The white paper allows you to see your markings clearly no matter what color or type of fabric you are using.  When you are finished,  the freezer paper peels off leaving no residue behind.  As and added bonus, if you are careful when you remove it, the freezer paper template can be reused several times.

Using a Freezer Paper Template to mark your guidelines.

Where Should Buttonholes Be Placed? 

As a general rule, buttons should be about ½ the width of the button from the edge.  The easiest way to determine the placement line for your buttonholes is to draw a line the width of your button from the edge, this will be your center line.

How Do I Mark The Guidelines?

For Vertical Buttonholes

Mark the center line where you want your buttons to be.  Measure the length of your test buttonhole and mark the top and bottom of each buttonhole along the center line, spacing them accordingly.  To help keep vertical buttonholes straight, it is helpful to make guidelines for the outer edges of the presser foot as we did in Step 1.

For Horizontal Buttonholes: 

Mark the center line where you want your buttons.   Draw Horizontal lines to mark the center line of each buttonhole.  Measure the length of your test buttonhole and mark the inside and outer edges of the buttonholes along the horizontal lines.  The outer edge of the buttonhole should go past the center line by 1/8-inch to allow for the bar tack. To help keep horizontal buttons straight, it is helpful to make guidelines for the outer edges of the presser foot as we did in Step 1.

Step 5:  Sew Your Buttonholes!

  • Set up your buttonhole foot as instructed by the manufacturer for your machine.
  • Line up the markings for the bottom edge of the buttonhole (inside edge for horizontal buttonholes)  and the outer edges of the buttonhole foot
  • Choose the buttonhole settings you want to use and sew your buttonhole.
  • Repeat for each buttonhole.
  • Apply buttons so that they rest at the outside end of horizontal buttonholes and toward the top end of the buttonholes for vertical buttons.