How to mark buttons and buttonholes

So, I FINALLY added the buttons to my unfinished Beignet skirt. Yay!

While I was marking the buttonhole placement, it took me a while to get started. It had been so long since I’d made buttonholes! As I was marking I thought ‘This is a pretty quick way to mark buttonholes – does everyone do it this way? If not maybe I should do a quick write-up…’

So, here’s what I do. You’ll need the finished skirt – or finished to the point where you need to mark buttonhole placement – and the pattern piece. Also, pins and chalk or marking pencil.

Step 1 – Align the pattern piece over the buttonhole area. Remember, your finished skirt will be slightly smaller than the pattern piece, as the pattern piece has seam allowances.

Step 2 – Pin the pattern piece to the skirt in between the buttonhole markings. I used one pin in between each buttonhole.

Step 3 – Now, remove one pin and fold tissue back along buttonhole line. Mark along placement line with chalk or marking pencil.

Step 4 – Take out the next pin, and repeat!

See – easy!

Ok, after the buttonholes are done, you have to mark the button placement. Now, when sewing this skirt, I have to admit I went quickly and didn’t make a muslin or check the fit first. No worries, I overlapped the skirt more where it needs it, and placed the buttons accordingly.

This is very tricky to do by yourself! I can usually sweet-talk Mr. Sewaholic into helping me but this time I was alone. And I really, really wanted to finish this skirt! So, let me share with you how to mark button placement on this skirt alone. (Caution: strange-looking photos ahead taken from my point of view looking down!)

First, try on the skirt. Wrap the button side on top of the non-button side and pin closed at the waist.

Now, pin the skirt closed all the way down the front. Remember, when you bend over to pin the skirt closed, it will pull open. Stand back up and check the skirt in a mirror. Does it hang straight?

If not, release the skirt to get rid of pulling, or tighten the skirt to get rid of humpy-ness. It took me a few tries to get this right on myself. Small waist plus wide hips plus I made the same size pattern at the waist and hip means a very uneven overlap!

Next, take a pin and pin 1/8″ into the buttonhole. This is approximately where the button will sit when it’s sewn. When you pin, try to avoid catching the buttonhole fabric or stitching.

Then, undo the buttonhole, slipping it carefully around the pin. The pin should be in the perfect spot to place a button!

Repeat for each button. Once the skirt is open below the hips, you should be able to take it off and continue the rest of the marking on a table.

Open out the skirt and sew buttons where the pin markings are. Trim loose threads and you’re done!

Other buttonhole tips:

  • Make a few test buttonholes. Test to be sure you have the right size buttonhole, by pushing your button through the test hole. Get a few nice ones turned out before making the buttonholes in your actual garment.
  • Make sure your bobbin is full! There’s nothing more disappointing that sewing a perfect buttonhole and running out of thread when it’s ninety percent sewn.
  • Sew at an even speed. Don’t hammer on the pedal when it goes forward and slow it down going backwards. This can end up in your ends of the buttonhole not lining up.
  • Use a buttonhole knife to cut open your buttonholes – quicker and more accurate than scissors!

Do you have any buttonhole tips? Do you have a slight buttonhole phobia, too? Share your tips & tricks in the comments so we can all conquer our buttonhole fears for good!


23 Responses to How to mark buttons and buttonholes

  1. Hillary September 5, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    I usually trace a buttonhole template on tissue paper from the pattern. Then I pin the template on the garment and sew the buttonholes directly on the tissue paper. Remove the tissue paper and there are the perfectly placed buttonholes.

  2. The Cupcake Goddess September 5, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Oh this is fabulous! I’m definitely bookmarking this for future reference. I can’t wait to see that skirt too! I tried this skirt and was so unhappy with the fit, it went right into the trash. I was so mad at myself too. Did you find that the skirt overlaps too much in the front? Did you cut your exact size? My problem was that I cut my exact measurement size and found it was way too big. I thought this was strange because all of the other people’s creations I had looked at said they cut their size and was able to make the skirt without any alterations. I know its silly to assume I wouldn’t need any alterations, but I was really hoping. Aarrgh! I can’t wait to hear about your experience with this.

  3. Jessica September 5, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    Ugh. Buttonholes drive me crazy. I’m not sure what half-assed approach I use but it changes each time and certainly isn’t as methodical as this tutorial!

    That looks like a really great Beignet. Do model it soon!!!

  4. Tasia September 5, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    Great idea Hillary! I’ll have to try that. Do you ever have problems with bits of tissue getting stuck in the buttonhole stitching…or does it all wash away?

    @The Cupcake Goddess: Yeah, the fit wasn’t perfect right out of the envelope for me either. I cut it months and months ago, and didn’t even do my usual adjustment of larger hip, smaller waist. I don’t know why!
    If you look at the last picture, you can see how much I had to overlap the skirt around the waist area, and then the pins go back to normal after the hip line. So in theory, if I didn’t have wide hips, then yes it would have been too large all over. I also thought I wouldn’t need any alterations! Funny how we both thought that. Anyways, I quite like it now. You’ll see in tomorrow’s outfit pictures though, how the seamlines aren’t perfectly straight anymore since I pulled it so much tighter over the waist.
    I’d make it again, but I’d definitely muslin it first to correct the waist fit on me. I’d imagine it being super cute on you as well… if you’re up for it, try it again!

    @Jessica: I know! I was shocked to be able to turn out 11 decent buttonholes. I’ve just had my machine serviced which gave me more confidence. I will model it soon, you’ll see it in tomorrow’s outfit post!

  5. B @ Sweet Limes September 5, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Any tips on where to get the healing mat that small for your buttonhole knife? I’ve got the knife and have been looking for the mat everywhere I can think of and no one seems to carry them that small around here.

  6. Tasia September 5, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    @B @ Sweet Limes: Gosh, I’ve had that little mat forever – at least 10 years! I’ll look around and see. I believe that the mat and knife came together in a set but I could be wrong…

  7. Celkalee September 5, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Dear B@Sweet Limes two options I have found for the buttonhole cutter. 1.) #142615. Cutter with wooden block for $9.98. 2.) http://www.nancysnotions, item #BHCK2 features a straight and a keyhole cutter with self healing mat…on sale today (beyond today I have no idea) for … wait for it…$6.99! I have no association with either of these merchants but have purchased items from both and never had a problem.

  8. Tasia September 5, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Thanks so much Celkalee! I looked online but all I found was the mats only, and not quite as small:
    It’s at but it’s a 6×8 mat. Cheap though, only $3.69!

  9. Hillary September 5, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    @Tasia: All the tissue paper dissappears with tweezers or with cleaning.

  10. Tasia September 5, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Ah, makes sense! Thanks Hillary :) I’ll try that next time!

  11. Susannah September 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    I am buttonhole-challenged. I find an accordion-style gauge is the only way for me to get evenly spaced buttonholes. Mine’s called a Simflex gauge.–i-X-8

    When making buttonholes in a shirt front I mark one buttonhole on the bust line as a starting point, then use the gauge to mark the others at even distances. Also works well for tucks, pleats etc.

  12. Shannon September 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    I’ve always used a seam ripper to open my buttonholes. I poke the pointed part in at the end of the buttonhole and carefully slice the fabric to the the other end, stopping just shy of it. Then I poke the seam ripper in that end and slide it to where I left off slicing. Works great, but I know it is hard on my seam ripper and I replace it at least every six months. Amazingly, I’ve never sliced through the ends of my buttonhole stitching.

  13. CGCouture September 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    After you cut open your buttonholes, line your shirt/skirt/whatever up as it would be when it’s closed, take your handy-dandy marking device (I like to use a purple marker whenever possible) and draw through your buttonhole–that’s where you sew the button on at. I may not be explaining that the best, but it works for me every time. It’s sewing the buttonholes that present a challenge! And yeah, I have a serious phobia about sewing them…I’m always afraid that after all that work I’ll mutilate it by ripping out the buttonhole stitching like 6 times!

  14. Maureen September 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    I used to have a buttonhole phobia – until I made uniforms for a girl’s choir – 50 lovely jackets with 5 buttonholes each! After a couple of jackets, I lost my fear! I don’t usually do the chalk, I measure the spacing of the top and bottom button hole( the length and the width from the edges and then equally space the remaining buttons. I use pins to mark the placement. It’s a matter of practice, practice, practice.

  15. Abi Casey September 6, 2010 at 7:06 am #

    I just recently had to do 18 button holes + buttons on a Victorian bodice, so I totally feel your pain! (there’s photos on my blog if you’re interested!) I didn’t have a pattern to work from in marking my buttonholes as it was judged by the size of the buttons (in my case, pearls), so I individually measured and marked them all! It was quite a job, I’ll tell you! But for marking the buttons, I came up with quite a nifty solution, if I do say so myself! Usually I would mark the buttons through the holes with pins or chalk, but as I was going to be sewing on the bus, I didn’t want to worry about pins falling out, and it was a very light pink fabric so I didn’t want to worry about visible markings. So I pinned the overlap closed (should have tried it on, as the top two buttons needed to be tighter! Oh well) then I made tailors tacks through the buttonholes to mark where the buttons would go. I found it worked so well, as the knotted tacks stayed in place until I was ready to sew the button on, at which time I just clipped the tack off! It was so simple and so quick!

    I also use my seam ripper to cut my buttonholes, but I put a pin along the end of the buttonhole to stop it from going past the stitching. But that cutter sure does look nifty!

  16. Sewing Princess September 6, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    @Shannon: I also use the seam ripper since I read it somewhere… and it works just fine and you don’t even need the cutting map… at least I avoid buying yet another tool.

  17. Elizabeth September 9, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Great tutorial. I learned a lot. Seems obvious, but I never thought of doing it that way. Thank you so much!

  18. Nothy March 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I know I am late to the game with this blog post, but I have to tell you how smart this trick is…I’ve learned so much from this blog Tasia!


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