Notions to Know: How to Sew a Buttonhole

In this post, I covered how to sew on a button by hand. But we all know a button is not very useful without a hole for it! So how do you sew a buttonhole?

Many sewing machines come equipped with a buttonhole stitch and foot. If your machine has this function, sewing a buttonhole is as easy as a little set up and pushing the pedal according to your machine’s instructions. If not, there’s still hope for you!

This post will teach you how to sew a buttonhole using a simple zigzag stitch.

First, mark your fabric where the buttonhole will go. The length of the hole should be just slightly longer than the width of the button. I’m using a 5/8″ button, so my hole will be just longer than 5/8″. When you do this on a real craft, you’ll want to use something easily washable like tailor’s chalk, because buttonholes usually show on the finished product. For this demonstration I’m just using a fabric marker.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, set up your fabric in your machine with the regular presser foot. It’s wise to use interfacing before you sew a buttonhole to stabilize the fabric, but for this demonstration I’m just using two layers of cotton fabric. Start with the top of the hole below the needle.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Set your machine to a wide zigzag stitch, with a stitch length of 0. Sew a few stitches and then stop.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Adjust your fabric so that the needle is just to the right of the mark. Set your machine to a narrower zigzag stitch with a short stitch length (but longer than 0) and sew the length of the mark.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

When you reach the bottom, repeat the wide zigzag stitch used at the top.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your StuffWorking with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now position your fabric so that the needle is to the left of the mark. Stitch in reverse with a narrow zigzag stitch and a short stitch length.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now cut your thread and pull the fabric out of the machine. Using a seam ripper and/or small scissors, cut the fabric on the mark. Be careful not to cut the stitches!

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your StuffWorking with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now your buttonhole is ready to go!

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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How to Baste When Sewing By Hand

Typically when you want to attach two pieces of fabric together to stitch either by hand or machine, you use pins to attach them to each other. This is useful in most cases, but there are times when you want to use a technique known as basting.

Basting is simply a very long, easily removed placeholder stitch. Don’t secure the ends when using a basting stitch, because they will be removed at the end of your project. You can use it in a lot of situations when pins may add too much bulk or not completely hold the pieces together, for example:

  • Attaching certain notions like zippers and bias tape
  • When trying a technique for the first time, to make sure you’re piecing your fabric together correctly
  • When fabric is likely to shift
  • When using a lot of layers of fabric, which pins may cause to bubble or pile up

For a basic demonstration of hand basting, check out this short video:

Now let me show you some of the ways you can use basting on a project by making a zipper pouch.

First, I used basting on one of the sides and the zipper to make sure I was putting it together correctly.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
Here are the basting stitches when the bag is inside out.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here are the same stitches from the outside. When you sew basting, the stitches will most likely be a little loose as you can see in this picture, so be sure to leave long ends so that they don’t get pulled out of place!

I then used basting to keep the zipper in place before I stitched it.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

I left the basting in as I stitched, and that held the zipper and fabric together more evenly than pins typically do.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

After this I removed the basting and repeated on the other side.

Then I used basting to attach the bottom of the bag because I was going to stitch the seam from the outside and use bias tape around the edges.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next after cutting the edges to be even, I hand basted the bias tape onto the edges to keep that in place for stitching too.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

After this I just stitched the bias tape and it was done!

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here’s the bag after removing some of the basting. Note: Usually you use a thread that matches the bias tape, but I used materials that sharply contrasted on purpose for this demonstration!

Now some basic tips to make your basting easier:

  • Use a contrasting thread with your fabric so that you remember to remove it at the end!
  • Try to baste near your seamline rather than near the raw edge to mimic the real thing as closely as possible
  • Save your basting thread once you remove it so that you can reuse it later
  • Like I mentioned before, leave long ends free so that you don’t accidentally pull it through the fabric and lose the stitch
  • Find a way to store your excess thread by color. I use plastic bags and the thread does get tangled occasionally, but storing it by color makes it much easier to get what I need rather than going through a big knot of different colored threads.

Sewing basting stitches comes in handy for a beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here are a couple of my basting bags!

Now go forth and baste away, opening doors to all kinds of sewing opportunities.

Happy sewing!
Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

September/October 2012 Summary

Hello sewists! It’s November, which means it’s time to put the shorts away and stay warm inside while you get started on some Christmas crafts! If you’ve fallen behind on Sew Me Your Stuff posts, here’s a recap of what’s been covered the last couple of months.

Need to go back further? Past recaps:

Sewing Patterns:

Sewing Machine Help:

Notions and other Tools:

A Bag’s Life:

Remember, if you ever would like to see a topic covered by Sew Me Your Stuff, just submit it here!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Machine Stitches to Know

Hello sewists! I hope you’re getting comfortable pushing fabric through your sewing machine and are ready to get more creative with your stitches, because now it’s time to look at the different stitches your machine can do and when to use them. There are approximately billions of different stitches you can do (estimation rounded up), but here are some of the basic stitches that will come in handy on your machine.

Straight stitch – I hope you’ve already been using this stitch by now as it is the most basic, simple stitch that a machine can do. It can hold together most basic seams and is totally sufficient for a beginner sewist working on early projects and crafts. If you choose not to finish your raw edges and seams, an entire project can be completed using only a straight stitch.

Straight stitches are also used for embellishments like topstitching. Topstitching is simply a straight stitch done on the right side of the fabric that is visible on the completed project. Usually, topstitching will be used to secure a seam allowance in a certain direction, but it can also be used purely for decoration. As covered in this post, you should use a longer stitch length for topstitching.

If your pattern calls for staystitching, this is simply a straight stitch done in the seam allowance that forces a pattern piece to hold its shape during construction. This is often used when a pattern piece cut in one direction will be attached to a piece that was cut in another direction. Use a normal stitch length if you need to staystitch a piece.

If you need to gather some fabric, simply stitch a straight stitch with a long stitch length and pull the ends to cause the fabric to bunch. For an illustration, see this post on stitch length.

Zigzag stitch – A zigzag stitch is exactly what it sounds like, a stitch that directs the thread in zigzag lines rather than straight lines. The primary purpose of a zigzag stitch when stitching a seam is to provide the fabric with more stretch than a straight stitch will allow. Remember these stitches from last week’s stitch length post?

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Well here is the same fabric, stitched this time with a zigzag stitch instead of a straight stitch.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Notice that the fabric not only does not pucker as it did with the straight stitch, but it is much more free to stretch.

Zigzag stitches are also used in finishing edges after stitching and pressing a seam. To achieve this, simply stitch a zigzag stitch right on the edge of a seam allowance.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Zigzag stitches are also used to sew the edges of buttonholes. If your sewing machine is equipped for buttonholes, you simply sew a zigzag stitch with an extremely short stitch length to create the buttonhole edges. Be on the lookout for a future tutorial on buttonholes!

Finally, you’ll want to use a zigzag stitch when attaching elastic directly to fabric. Using a zigzag will allow the elastic to stretch and will ensure that the entire elastic strip is attached if you adjust the width or your stitch to cover the entire band.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Blind hem stitch – This is actually a stitch I typically skip and do by hand, but it can come in very handy if you master it. If you look at a dress skirt or dress pants very closely, you can find a faint line of stitches on the outside of the garment where the hem has been attached. This was achieved using a blind hem stitch. The process of performing this stitch is slightly more complicated than a straight stitch or zigzag stitch, so I will have to write a full post on it in the near future.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here is a picture of a blind hem stitch in progress and a completed blind hem stitch.

When I say that I do this by hand, I mean I use the stitch demonstrated in this post.

These three stitches combined are truly all you’ll need as a beginner to complete a plethora of different crafts and projects. Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Stitch Length & How to Use It

Now that you know what all (or at least most) of the knobs on your sewing machine do and how to get your machine started, it’s time to start looking at machine stitching itself.

To make a stitch, you place the fabric under the needle, slide down the presser foot, and hit the pedal. Easy enough! But to really get advanced with your sewing, you’ll have to learn different techniques in stitching to achieve different effects.

First, let’s talk about stitch length.

Part of this is probably intuitive: shorter stitches are more durable and tighter, while longer stitches are looser. So when do you need each?

  • As a beginner, there are pros and cons to each. A long stitch may be favorable because it uses less thread than a short stitch. Short stitches are generally more durable, but for your earlier projects you may be willing to sacrifice durability for resourcefulness. On the flip side, setting your machine to a longer stitch means that the feeder dogs will move more quickly. If you don’t yet feel comfortable using your machine at high speeds, you may want to stick with shorter stitch lengths until you have better control over your fabric as you feed it into the machine.
  • If you’re using a stretchy fabric, you’ll want to use a longer stitch. Shorter stitch lengths can pull and pucker your fabric. If you find that your stitches are puckering on a certain fabric, try adjusting the stitch length to allow for longer stitches.
    Knowing how to use different lengths of stitches is important as a beginner learning how to sew
    Notice in the above picture that the stitch on the left is significantly more puckered than the fabric on the right. The stitch on the left was done using the shortest stitch on my machine, while the stitch on the right was done using the longest stitch.
    Knowing how to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    The fabric in this picture is a non-stretchy fabric. Notice that there is no significant difference in puckering between the short stitch length and the long stitch length.
  • For decorative stitches such as topstitching, which is visible on the finished project, a long stitch length is usually more favorable. Long stitches are generally more attractive than short stitches.
    Knowing how to use stitch length is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    In the above picture, the seam has been sewn and the seam allowance pressed to one side and then topstitched. More on this process later, but notice that the stitch is a long stitch length. For durability use short stitch lengths; for decor use long stitch lengths.
  • Another function of long stitch lengths is gathering. If a pattern calls for you to gather a seam, you stitch with a long stitch length and then pull the ends of the thread to cause the fabric to bunch.
    Knowing when and how to change your stitch length is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the same non stretchy, long stitch length seam from the second picture. Because the long stitch length makes the seam looser, I can pull on the ends of the thread and gather the fabric.
  • So how do you change your stitch length? It depends on your machine. There are generally two types of stitch length dials: stitches per inch and millimeters.
    Knowing how and when to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the stitch selector and stitch length knob (top) on my machine. Mine uses a millimeter scale, as evidenced by the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. These numbers simply indicate how many millimeters long each stitch will be with 1 being the shortest and 4 being the longest. If your stitch length knob has numbers ranging from 4 to 60, yours is a stitches per inch machine. This is the reverse from a millimeter machine because a higher number, 60 stitches per inch, indicates a shorter stitch because there are more stitches in a single inch than, say, 4 stitches per inch. For basic everyday sewing, a stitch length of 10-12 stitches per inch is typical. On a millimeter machine, this is about a 2.5 millimeter stitch.
  • To adjust your stitch length, simply rotate the knob to select the length you need!

I hope you found this helpful! Soon I will cover basic stitches and techniques with a sewing machine.

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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The Pressing Issue

Hello sewists! I apologize if it seems there’s been a lack of activity on Sew Me Your Stuff. My dino laptop decided to no longer connect to the internet, so I’ve been using a public computer to update my blog and Learnist when I can. But this is a pretty important post for beginners as you learn to sew so I wanted to be sure I shared it with you!

When you buy your first sewing patterns, you may find that the pattern instructs you to press the craft or garment in certain ways during the construction process. Also, it is necessary during all sewing projects to press your seams as you go to give the product a more professional-looking finish.

So what is pressing exactly?

Well, on the surface, it may look a lot like ironing. But there are a few key differences!

1. Unlike ironing, you don’t typically move the iron back and forth across the fabric in swift motions. When pressing, you use the tip of the iron to manipulate fabric, and you use repeated pressure rather than wide sweeps.
2. The goal of ironing is to remove wrinkles, which is why you use the back and forth motions to force the fabric flat. When pressing, your goal is to set a piece of fabric into a particular position, such as pressing up a hem or pressing open a seam. Sweeping back and forth would distort the grain of the fabric when doing this, so you only press the specific point you’re working on with the tip of the iron.

So what is pressing used for?

Typically, you’ll use pressing after sewing a seam. Stitch the seam, then separate the seam allowances to press it flat until it seems to become one with the rest of the fabric. At this point, it’s a good idea to finish the raw edges as well, but make sure the seams lie flat. Sometimes your pattern instructions will tell you to press the seam in a particular direction, but otherwise assume it’s to be pressed flat.

Also, pressing is used when tucking a raw edge in towards the craft or garment, like when you’re completing a hem. In these situations, your pattern will often call for you to press the edge up (or down) once or more and them stitch it in place.

So how do you press?

You may want to find a pressing cloth before you start. A pressing cloth can be anything as long as it’s 100% cotton. Most often recommended are old bed sheets and T-shirts. It’s helpful if you have something transparent so that you can still see what you’re pressing.

Once you have your pressing cloth, place your fabric in position according to the directions and the pressing cloth on top. Then press the tip of the iron to set the fabric into position inch by inch.

One thing I’ve learned from styling hair (random, I know) is that you get your best results if you hold the fabric in place with your fingertips after you lift the iron until the fabric cools. This will keep the new fold or seam in place better than pressing it over and over without holding it.

If you need a demonstration, here’s a short video where I demonstrate how to press a simple seam open and flat.

When you press your seams, you’ll probably want to repeat the motion more than I do in this video. This is just a quick demonstration of the technique.

Right now in the beginner stage, pressing seams flat is probably the best choice as you learn to sew from patterns and more complicated projects. As you become more advanced, you’ll find many ways to finish your edges and give your hand-made projects a more professional look and feel.

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Happy sewing!

July 2012 Summary

If you’ve just recently started reading the Sew Me Your Stuff blog, you might have missed some earlier posts that have really useful information for any beginner who’s just learning to sew. Since it’s the end of the month, here’s a look back at this month’s posts so you can jump to any that you might have missed and want to read.

Stitches:

Fabrics:

Tools and Supplies:

Next month I’ll start tutorial videos and project guides once I finally get home from China. Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to a very crafty August with you!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff