Bound Buttonholes: My Favourite Method

Today’s topic: bound buttonholes! If you’re doing regular buttonholes, they’re often the last thing you do on your garment.  But if you’re doing bound buttonholes, they’re usually one of the first steps! They’re one of the first steps in sewing the O Dress, so that’s what I’m working on. Let me show you my favourite method of doing bound buttonholes!

My favourite method is a little different, but it’s always worked for me! Maybe it will become your favourite method too.

You’ll need:

  • The garment piece that requires buttonholes, marked with the buttonhole placement
  • Scraps of your garment fabric, at least one 4″ by 4″ piece for each buttonhole
  • A buttonhole cutter or small, sharp scissors
  • Pins
  • Marking pen

First, make sure the buttonhole placement is marked on your fabric piece. If you’re using a mysteriously labelled vintage pattern like mine, figure out which markings are meant to be the buttonhole opening.

On my piece, the buttonhole is placed between the two rectangles.

Measure the length of your buttonhole. We’ll need to know how long the finished buttonhole should be, so we can cut our bound buttonhole strips. For my dress, the buttonhole length is 1″ (2.5cm).

If your marking is on the inside of the garment, transfer your markings to the right side. Draw a line down the middle of the buttonhole, and mark the ends.

On your scrap of matching garment fabric, draw a straight line. This line should be either parallel to your selvages, or at a right angle. If you have a striped fabric, choose whether you want the stripes going across the buttonhole or along the length of the strip. (There’s no right or wrong, it’s up to you!)

Now, we’ll need to cut strips for each buttonhole. I have two buttonholes (as we learned last week!) so I’ll need two sets of strips.

Math time! We’ll need to calculate two measurements for each strip: the length and the width.

For the length: I add 1″ to the buttonhole length. So if my finished buttonhole should be 1″, then I’ll cut my strip 2″ long.

For the width: Decide how wide you want the buttonhole ‘lips’ to be when they’re finished. I like mine a bit thicker, 0.5cm wide. Just under 1/4″ on each side. Take that measurement, and multiply it by 4. So if I want my strips to be 1/4″ wide, then I’ll cut my strips 1″ wide.

Cut your rectangles 2″ by 1″ wide. You’ll need one strip for each half of the buttonhole, two strips per buttonhole. So I need 4 strips total.

Was that confusing? We’re done with the math now, now we can get back to the sewing!

Take each strip, and press it in half lengthwise. So your 2″ long strip is now only half an inch wide.

Now, line up the strip, centering it along the buttonhole placement line – RAW EDGES IN and FOLD OUT.

(Very important! If you do it the other way around, you’ll have some unpicking to do.)

Take the other strip and line it up along the buttonhole placement markings the same way – RAW EDGES INWARDS. The raw edges should meet along the buttonhole marking line.

Pin strips in place. Now, we’re going to stitch right down the middle of each little strip. If it helps, draw guidelines down the middle of each buttonhole strip. Mark the starting and ending points as well. (Once you get it under your machine, it’s a lot harder to see what’s going on!)

Stitch from starting point to ending point. Use a small stitch size for better accuracy. (I used 1.5 stitch length on my machine.) Basically, you want to stop at the exact same spot on each side.

Backstitch at both ends – if you can do it without going farther than your start point. If you’re worried you will backstitch too far, stitch in place for a few stitches instead, to secure the ends.Here’s what it looks like on the opposite side. It’s really clear to see because of my underlining! I’ve done a pretty good job of stopping and starting, so that both sides line up. If yours are a little off, go back in and make an extra stitch at the short end, so they match up.

This next picture shows you what’s going to happen when we finish off this buttonhole. The lips that we had facing outwards, are going to turn inwards and fill in the hole. They’ll meet in the middle, because we sewed each strip exactly in half. Can you picture how it’s going to end?

Brilliant, no? I’ve done bound buttonholes a few different ways, and this way always turns out the flattest and the most even.

Ok, so in order to turn the strips right-side out, we need to cut a hole. If you have a buttonhole knife and mini cutting mat, that’s the best! Alternately, you can fold the buttonhole in half and make a small snip, then use small scissors to cut the rest.

It was really hard to get a decent photo of cutting the buttonhole so I hope this gets the point across!

Even using the buttonhole slicer, I only use it to start the cutting, and make the rest of the cut with scissors. Here’s what the first cut looks like:

From this point, cut a ‘Y’ shape into the corners. Use small scissors if you have them! Be careful not to cut the lips on the opposite side. You just want to cut through the bottom layer (and in my case, the underlining too.)

Repeat the ‘Y’ shape (or V shape) cut into the other corners, too.

Now, let’s turn the buttonhole lips to the inside! One at a time, turn each side of the buttonhole through the hole.

And then the second one:

On the inside, arrange the buttonhole lips so they’re flat, and the little triangle from the ‘V’ cut is turned to line up with the buttonhole lips.

Here’s what it will look like, when everything is lined up:

And from the reverse side, showing the triangle of fabric:

Ok. A couple of important things happened in this step:

  • Our buttonhole lips (or welts) are lined up with each other, and don’t cross over each other.
  • They should meet in the middle of the opening
  • The triangle is turned to the inside as shown
  • The triangle is centered over the place where the welts meet
  • The triangle is turned out as far as it can go, so that it forms a nice, clean rectangle.

Now we’ll stitch down the triangles, forming the shape of our buttonhole.

This is the most important step in the bound buttonhole: sewing these little triangles. It makes all the difference, so take your time!

What I like to do is stitch it down once, without backstitching, to check my work. If it’s good, then I’ll go over it a few more times. But if it’s bad, at least I have less to unpick!

Stitch down across the triangles without backstitching. Be careful not to catch any of the garment fabric, just the triangle and the welt ends.

Now, check your work. Flip over your garment and check the right side of the buttonhole.

Success! It looks even, it’s square to the edges of the buttonhole, and there are no puckers at the corners. To really make it strong, I’m going to run it under the machine a few more times so it’s nice and secure.

Look at the photo – I’ve ran it under the machine back and forth about five times. That triangle’s never coming undone!

Repeat with the other side of the buttonhole, stitching down the triangle, checking its position, and stitching it securely.

Voila! A pretty little bound buttonhole. What do you think – that wasn’t too hard, was it?

Repeat with the rest of your buttonholes. Done and done! I love how professional they look. You rarely see bound buttonholes on ready-to-wear clothing, unless it’s a heavy coat.

Here’s a little checklist for successful buttonholes:

  • Buttonholes are straight, either parallel or at perfect right angles to nearby garment edges.
  • Buttonhole lips are even on both sides
  • The buttonhole mouth stays closed and doesn’t gape open
  • There are no puckers at the corners

One thing I didn’t do: apply fusible interfacing to the buttonhole area before starting. You may want to reinforce your fabric with a rectangle of fusible interfacing, for strength, and so the cut edges don’t fray and fall apart when you sew your triangles.

What do you think of this method? Do bound buttonholes intimidate you?

For me, I like the reliability. I like that you do bound buttonholes at the beginning of a project, so you have a chance to get them right mid-project instead of when it’s all finished. Like the hand-picked zipper, bound buttonholes are time-consuming, but add a professional touch to your projects, and have a great chance of success!

Have an awesome weekend everyone!

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62 Responses to Bound Buttonholes: My Favourite Method

  1. Lauren March 18, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    what a great tutorial! i actually have a pattern & fabric waiting in the wings to be done up, and it involves bound buttonholes… having tried gertie’s method in the past for my lady grey, i think i will try yours next. i love the way a good bound buttonhole makes a garment look 100x more special.

    thanks for posting this :)

  2. Suzie March 18, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Bound button holes really intimiate me, but I really want to try them since my machine is old and doesn’t do buttonholes very well. I like your tutorial; I’ve seen quite a few bound buttonhole tutorials on blogs lately and yours make the most sense to me.
    I am going to test this one out. Thanks!

  3. Christy March 18, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    I do a lot of sewing for the victorian period. A couple of years ago I had to make my hubby a full suit, (trousers, vest and frock coat) and back then every pocket was a welt pocket and every buttonhole was bound. I wish there had been this tutorial when I was doing that. It probably wouldn’t have taken me 4 hours per pocket and buttonhole to complete the pieces. I LOVE, LOVE LOVE your tutorials you nake it soooooooo simple! Thank you so much for the time you invest in this blog, It inspires me keep on sewing.

  4. Karin March 18, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Your bound button holes look very crisp and professional! Do bound button holes intimidate me? Yes! Thanks for the tutorial with all the great pics. I may just be tempted to try it someday.

  5. Elizabeth March 18, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    This is the clearest bound buttonhole tutorial I have ever read. I have never understood any of them before yours (I am reading directions challenged). Thank you so much!!! Now I no longer have FOBB (Fear of Bound Buttonholes). :)

  6. Mav March 18, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    You are so freaking talented! :)

  7. Portia March 18, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Oooh,great tutorial. One of the clearest explanations I’ve seen. Thankyou!!!
    Px

  8. Corinne March 18, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    What a great tutorial Tasia! Your photo’s are very clear. I admit to getting away from bound buttonholes because most of what I am sewing right now is casual wear. However, I like them on coats and jackets. Thanks for this, I will print this off as a reference.

  9. Sue March 18, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    I shall have to try this, for future use, what a beautiful tutorial, thank you so much :)

  10. Angela March 18, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    Wow!! I was feeling proud about my very first machine buttonhole yesterday. A new skill to practice and master. Can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks Tasia!

  11. Amanda S. March 18, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Great tutorial!!! I admit to being intimidated by welts and bound buttonholes and have never made any in all of my garment sewing. But this is such an easy method and your descriptions and pictures make it look so easy! I don’t think I’ll be intimidated again. Thanks!

  12. Ruth March 18, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    This is the best tutorial for bound buttonholes that I’ve seen – I actually feel like I could do it myself now!

  13. Esz March 18, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Oooh I really like this method!! Can’t wait to try it.
    Bound buttonholes was one of the first things I learnt sewing because they were needed for the first pattern I ever bought ( a wrap skirt).
    This is definitely a different way to do them and it looks much much tidier than all the other methods I’ve seen where you’re left with big squares of fabric that need trimming and folding and pressing. *yawn*

  14. Irene March 18, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    Agreed! This is the best way of doing bound buttonholes. The only thing that I do differently than you’ve shown – I stitch down the middle of the strip (the lips-to be) before cutting into lengths. This gives me the stitching line once I’m sewing onto the garment – no need to mark in chalk, except of course, the ends.

  15. AnnieV March 18, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    Wow! I was afaraid of bound buttonholes and never found a tutorial that makes me feel like I can do it correctly. But I will sure try your method on a blouse that i am sewing… I was blocked because of the buttonholes. Thank you for this superb tutorial!

  16. Alicia March 18, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Great tutorial! This is the first one that has convinced me I could actually do a good bound buttonhole.

  17. Maureen March 18, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I’ve mucked up more bound buttonholes than I care to remember! This method will be a definite improvement – Thanks Tasia.

  18. Catherine March 18, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Wait, are you telling me that… no… it can’t be. Bound Buttonholes can be easy? Get out! Even *I* could do that method!

  19. Lauren March 18, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    This is great! I’ve never tried bound buttonholes this way! Looks pretty easy. I’ll have to give it a go on a project soon. Thanks!

  20. Leah March 18, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I’ve tried them once and it was a huge struggle but this is unbearably clear! New chance I get, I’m doing them again!

  21. Amanda March 18, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Such a pretty bound buttonhole. I’ve only ever tried a welt pocket, but it’s similar! Will you be adding this to your Sewtionary? It’s such a handy reference tool, having all your helpful tutorials in one place! Thanks for being organized :)

  22. Tasia March 18, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    @Amanda: Yes, I WILL add it to the Sewtionary! Thanks for the reminder! Whenever I think of it, I go back and add all of the recent tutorials to the Sewtionary so it’s up-to-date. Organized, that’s me! :)

  23. Tasia March 18, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback on the tutorial – I’m pumped to see how many of you are inspired to give it a try now! The one thing I didn’t do yet is the facing part. I’ll cover that part when I get to it on the dress, and post a how-to as well!

  24. Matinee March 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Hi Tasia
    Brilliant tutorial (as usual) – question…do you have a photo of what the back of the bound button hole looks like? I’ve not much experience with them and am curious whether it is just the fabric bits lying (welts?) flat or not. And do you finish the edges of them or are they fine just as they are? I am planning a coat with bound button holes later in the year (southern hemisphere winter) and want to get my head around it all first.
    Thank you!

  25. Caro March 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    I like your method a lot! I had an instructor who taught me a single welt pocket and it is like this technique! She also graduated from Kwantlen so it’s probably the industry bent to sewing techniques you guys have. Nothing wrong with other techniques for bound buttonholes but your method is so intuitive to me.

  26. Tasia March 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    @Matinee: Hi! I’ll show you how to finish the other side when I get there on the dress project. On the inside, you’re right, it is just the welts/fabric bits/buttonhole lips lying flat. You’re almost always going to have a facing on your coat, dress or jacket, so what you do, is make a slit or hole in the facing, and slipstitch this hole around the buttonhole. Or, edgestitch around the bound buttonhole. I’ll show you, soon!

    @Caro: Yup! It’s the Kwantlen method, I’m pretty sure. It’s been a while since I graduated (2003) but that must be where I get it from. I’ve tried other methods, but this one gives me the flattest and most even results, so I’m going to stick to it! :)

  27. Helen March 19, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    Tasia,

    I find the internet to be a double-edged sword on many levels, but this tutorial (and your others) is a perfect example of what it does best. There is no way that a sewing book can spend the print space on the detailed instructions and photos you provide time and time again. You also know how to take photos perfect for your teaching.

    As a self-taught beginner with no one to work with, my sewing books leave so much out and so much can seem daunting. With your tutorials I think, “hey, I can do that.”

    Your website is such a gem and inspiration and besides my morning paper, I go to it every day to see what you are up to. I don’t know if there are any low days that you might get up thinking, “what on earth am I doing and is it worth it?” My answer is, “You make a difference to me and have helped nurture a new passion in my personal life.” Kudos to you!

  28. Michelle March 19, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Thanks so much for the tutorial!! I love your website. I am curious though, as I am still a beginning sewer, if you can use bound buttonholes for all button holes on shirts and so forth? I ask because my buttonholer on my machine is crap, I can never get it straight, and your method looks easy enough for me to try and do.
    Michelle

  29. Angela March 19, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    hi Tasia,
    I was wondering if bound buttonholes are better/worse depending upon the fabric? Do they lend themselves well to denim? Lighter weight fabrics? Thanks, as always!

  30. Faye Lewis March 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    I have a blog award for you posted on my blog. Accept only if you have time to participate.

  31. GermanGirl March 20, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    First of all – this is such a wonderful and inspirational blog! Your passion for sewing is downright infectious!
    I have a question, not on button holes, but one I’d love to see comments on: What do you do with cut-off pieces of fabric, that are too small to make anything out of them and kind of too big to throw them away (at least when it is high-quality fabric)?! Do you store them? And how? I have basically no storage space, and every time I finish a project the cut-offs lie on the floor for weeks, because I don’t know what to do with them…
    Any suggestions?

  32. kaitui-kiwi March 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    Wow, bound buttons holes freaked me out but they are really just like baby welt pockets aren’t they. I mastered them a little while a go (having to make 5 in a row helped!) You photos are so clear, I think I’ll give these a go on my next jacket, thanks!

  33. Krust March 21, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    Wow, your images and explanation are perfect. You make it look so easy, that I want to find a project to try these buttonholes out on. Thanks!

  34. The Slapdash Sewist March 22, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Great tutorial! I used a different method on my first bound buttonhole project, but this looks like it might be a little easier and more foolproof. Not sure when I’ll have the patience to tackle them again, though…

  35. Tasia March 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    @Michelle: Hi Michelle! Yes, you could use bound buttonholes on shirts and such. They might be a little more difficult, as you’d have to make them smaller for a shirt than for a jacket, but this tutorial would still work! Make a practice one, in the size you want to use, to make sure you like how it looks. This buttonhole is quite large, in my example here, and would be really big on a shirt!

  36. Tasia March 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    @Angela: Hi! I like bound buttonholes in sturdy fabrics, that won’t show the insides and seam allowances on the right side. Lighter weight fabrics, you might see all of the inside bits and the triangles through to the right side, which I wouldn’t really like. Denim would be just fine! I would avoid: sheer fabrics, really lightweight fabrics, or fabrics that fray a TON. If they fray a lot, you could try using fusible interfacing to stabilize the buttonhole area.
    Best way to know if they’re right for your project? Make a test buttonhole first! That way, if you don’t like how it looks, you haven’t wrecked your project.

  37. HipDroppedStitches April 4, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Thank you so much for this! Bound buttonholes have been a mystery to me until now!

  38. Lisa September 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Wow – fantastic tutorial, I had always put these in the “too hard” box but you make them look pretty straight forward so I will try them soon.

  39. mammafairy December 28, 2011 at 12:51 am #

    Hi, lovely tutorial, but, how can I make a bound buttonhole, that looks equally good on the inside? I am thinking jackets and coats that may be left open in wear.

    Thanks for the guide, it is excellent, and you explain the ‘why’ very well.

  40. Kay September 28, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Thank you for this tutorial. It is a quick and easy method for bound buttonholes.

  41. Emily S. October 13, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Just followed this tutorial to make bound buttonholes for a cape. No longer intimidated by them. That was easy-peasy!

  42. Jessica October 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Thank you for this fantastic “how-to”!

    I have book upon books of tailoring techniques, yet I always panic before doing a welt or bound button-hole.

    I am currently ‘assembling’ many Fuying Coats and your tutorial was a great way to simplify these finishes, and my interns and I were able to do them together.

    Thank you again!

    http://bbandida.com/?projects=fuying

  43. Trisha November 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Hi Tasia,

    I loved your bound buttonhole instructions…I’ve read several articles online, but none of them show you how to finish the lining on the underside of the buttonhole. I guess I could just mark the lining to match up with the buttonholes, then turn the hole area under and hand stitch around the edge of the buttonhole.

    If you know of a better way, would you mind letting me know? I’m desperate!

    Thanks!
    Trisha

    • Tasia November 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

      Hey Trisha! I’m glad you like the bound buttonhole instructions. I never finished that projects which is why there’s no end to the story!

      What I usually do on the facing or lining is to sew a scrap of lining to the area, sew a box shape, and turn the lining to the inside to form a ‘window’ – then slipstitch this window around the buttonhole.

      Gertie demonstrated how to finish the inside of bound buttonholes here – http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/2012/11/coat-sew-along-bound-buttonhole.html – but she uses the same method you described above.

      Basically, I’d get a square of lining fabric, mark the outer edges of the buttonhole, and create a window. Here’s a demo of how to do that on the Minoru Jacket, totally different project but the concept is close enough!
      http://sewaholic.net/minoru-sew-along-6-the-secret-hood-zipper/

      Hope this helps!

  44. jane January 27, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Wow, I just made 10 of these differeently for a dress I am making for my daughter. I give myself 4/10. Yes they will work and be strong and the buttons will hide them but they do gap open a bit. By the last one I got it perfect. I did and re-did them so many times I am passed caring. These dresses will look a bit handmade but great because of the cut and fabric.
    http://youtu.be/QOEhFFkxOdE

  45. Marysia Paling February 4, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Hi there,
    Lovely tutorial, I found this, after following this method, written about by Ann Vidovic………you both have excellent taste in your choice of how to make a bound buttonhole. Both of you make exceptional bound buttonholes and are so kind with your time in sharing pics of how we can achieve the same level as you lovely ladies.

    May I ask one question, which foot do you recommend for stitching each stage of the buttonhole??

    I made a fab practice buttonhole, it was spot on, then went on to make them on the dress front, and not so hot. I found it difficult at times to see the start and finish of my stitchlines as the thread was such a match that I couldn’t see it on the front to well. Can you offer any further advice on that score………..I would love to get to the stage where I can get them perfect time after time.

    Many thanks.
    Marysia.

    • Tasia February 5, 2014 at 9:03 am #

      Hello Marysia! I’m so glad you liked this tutorial, I do find this is the most consistent method for making bound buttonholes. I use my regular machine foot for all stages of the buttonhole, nothing fancy! The key to the buttonhole success is in the stitch lines you’re talking about. Mark the start and end points well, stop and lift the presser foot if you can’t see your work, and if you interface your fabric you’ll be able to see the stitch lines better on the inside. Hope this helps, and of course practice will help you get more comfortable with your buttonhole skills. Some will always turn out better than others! Another tip is to sew all the steps of the buttonhole at the same time, for example, sew all the straight lines if you have multiples, then all the triangles, etc etc. Happy sewing!

  46. Cheri June 14, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    Over 50 now, I first learned bound buttonholes in 9th grade when I took a Tailoring class. I really liked making them! For some reason they really clicked with me. But.. I haven’t done a bound button hole since then! But reading your tute… perfect instruction! I’m going “Oh, yeah, remember that, remember that. Yeah, that’s how it went” while reading. Funny the things that you never forget!
    I am making some men’s shirts and was thinking to make BBH’s..to make the shirt look really nice, as often button holes made on my machine just aren’t the neat. What are your takes on doing BBH’s on a shirt? There is a lining that can be cut and fixed around the hole on the backside and hand stitched around the hole, but still…any thoughts on doing them on a shirt?

  47. Novita Ekarini August 18, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Hi tasia,
    Inspirating tutorial,, like it so much. it’s very easy way to make a button hole and fancy too.. i just searching about what kind of button hole for women suit and i am really lucky found this blog ,, i will use this bounded button hole for my suit,, tasia can you give me tutorial how to sew a good lapel suit either kind of sharp lapel or rounded or seperate lapel,, Thank you so much its really helping me.

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