Thursday, July 3, 2014

Manual Buttonholes - not that tough!

Recently I was up at our cottage with my little Elna Lotus sewing machine doing some stitching for the new baby's arrival. This little machine has only straight & zigzag, multiple zigzag and a zigzag blind hem stitch. It was one of the first Lotus machine they made so it didn't have a built it buttonhole.

Not a problem as when I used to sell these machines back in the 'olden days' in Eaton's, part of our sales demo was to do manual buttonholes and free motion embroidery for monograming or darning (yes, they promoted darning back then!) It only took a moment for it all to come back.

I thought perhaps some people might find it helpful or at least interesting to see how to make manual buttonholes in this day of auto and computerized everything.

At home I have a Bernina 1530 (also an older but like my Elna machines, a true workhorse). My Bernina has many buttonholes to choose from, also a special butthole foot and a bobbin case with a 'stitch finger that allows you to tighten the bobbin tension slightly when making buttonholes.

Bobbin case with 'stitch finger'

So here is a buttonhole on lightweight batiste.  You can see how it puckers at either end and I haven't even cut it open yet! 

Many patterns for smocking and heirloom sewing do not require any interfacing and thus there is no support for the machine stitching as you can see in the photo above.

The first thing you need is medium to heavy weight tearaway stabilizer.
You should be able to purchase this at your favourite sewing store. It also comes in black for dark colours. You might want to pick up a tenth of a metre or an eight of a yard of both to have it on hand - this much should go a long way of you are using it only for buttonholes!

To make a manual buttonhole you need to set your needle to extreme left hand position. Your width should be set for 2 and the stitch length to near satin stitching. (If you have a machine that only lets you set at specific intervals such as 0.5, 1.0, 1.5 etc. you will not have as much flexibility as one that has a dial for the settings.) On some machines satin stitching is very tight so you may need to back off the stitch length a bit. On my Lotus I had to play a bit to find the right density and then recorded it.

Reduce your upper thread tension so the thread tension is uneven and the upper thread is pulled slightly to the wrong side. This results in a more satin appearance of your stitching.

Normal tension - reduce to 4 for a more satin appearance of the stitching

Lay a piece of  tearaway behind the fabric before starting and you can use a pencil to mark the buttonhole position on your fabric - you are going to stitch right over top of it and cut on it so no one will see it!

Begin at the top, needle position L and needle swinging into the mark on the right.

Stitch down the length of the pencil line. End with the needle on the right on, the pencil line. Lift the machine foot and pivot the fabric so there is space on the left side to run a second row of stitching. You are ready to stitch the bar.
Ready to make the buttonhole bar.

Now you need to drop the feed dogs while you make the buttonhole bar. If you are not sure how to do this refer to your machine manual.
Change the stitch width to 4 (double that of the buttonhole sides).
Stitch about four stitches for your buttonhole bar, ending with your needle on the left side.

Bar done!
Now it is imperative that you return the feed dogs back to normal or stitch position!!
If you forget you will end up stitching a big blob.
Next you must return the stitch width to 2 so you can stitch down the second side.
Go slow and stop when you are one stitch from even with the first side.
When you have reached this point, drop the feed dogs again and stitch the second bar using the same number of stitches as you used for the first end.
Buttonhole finished all but ending off. You can stitch up the side of the buttonhole with the shortest stitching and then snip off the threads.
See how perfect and satiny the stitching is!
Or you can leave long thread ends at this point. Take the threads to the back and thread them up with a needle to bury them along the side of the buttonhole. This leaves no bulky knots or thread tails. You will pull the threads a bit taut before snipping them off at the fabric surface.  You are nearly finished....
Now you need to turn the buttonhole over and remove the tear away stabilizer. The stitching will have perforated it along the buttonhole sides. With your scissors, cut it free at the ends.
Your next step is where Fraycheck, a liquid seam sealant, comes in. 
Apply a bead of this liquid to the stitching. Be careful to keep it as much as possible to the stitching. There may be some 'bleeding' into the fabric and this should not be a problem.
I prefer to do this on the back of the buttonhole as that is where all the action is - the bobbin thread as well as the top thread that has been unbalanced.
On the back with Fraycheck
When the Fraycheck is totally dried you can cut the buttonhole open. Everyone has their favourite tool for this job. I find that if I pierce a hole between the sides of the buttonhole with my seam ripper and position a pin across the end, I can use my fine scissors to cut it open safely.

Ready to cut
No Fraycheck - buttonhole fraying
Finished buttonhole treated with Fraycheck

You can see the difference in the finishing when the buttonhole is treated with the liquid seam sealant. It prevents the threads along the inside edges from fraying and seals the stitching and the stabilizer together for longer service and a stronger buttonhole.
Even if you continue with automatic (computer) buttonholes, you will find these little tricks with the tearaway and the seam sealant improve your end product.
The key with the manual buttonholes as with any is to first practise with all the same products as in your garment (including the same number of layers of fabric) and then record your settings. With a bit of practise you will find this type of buttonhole is not at all intimidating!!
 Good luck and keep on stitching.....

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these tips Judith. The sealant will be used on my next buttonholes. Cheers, Linda A, Pefferlaw, On