Measuring for Buttonhole Length

The Donna Blouse is at last emerging from the long process of patternmaking, fitting, fabric selection and experimentation with construction techniques. It is so easy to rush through the final details in the excitement to finish a garment. However, the rush is just not worth the risk that the finer finishing details require.

Buttonholes are always tricky whether you are sewing them by hand or machine. I choose to make mine by hand because of the greater precision that results. I just have never done well with machine made ones and do not like the remaining shreds of fabric that sometimes result when the slit for the button is opened.

Instructions for marking buttonholes and calculating buttonhole length from “The Vogue Sewing Book” 1970 edition.

Of all the books in my Dressmaker’s Library, “The Vogue Sewing Book” (1970 edition) has the best instructions for determining the placement of buttons as well as calculating the buttonhole length.

Close-up of instructions for calculating buttonhole length.

According to “The Vogue Sewing Book” the length of a buttonhole is usually calculated by adding the width of the button and the height of the button. This results in the length of the buttonhole. An extra 1/8″ should be added if the button has a shank.

No matter how good the instructions are, it always pays to practice on a scrap of fabric before applying the construction technique to the garment. Here’s what happened to me when I followed the instructions as written…

1. I chose a black button with a swirl design because of the distinctive look they add to the Donna Blouse. The surface texture adds more interest than a black fabric covered button would.

2. I figured that this button qualifies as one with a shank so I used the instructions as given in “The Vogue Sewing Book”.

3. The button is 1/2″ wide and 1/8″ high. The shank is also almost 1/8″ high. Adding these up gave me a measurement of 3/4″ for the finished buttonhole length.

A scrap of fabric used for The Donna Blouse was folded in half to approximate the thickness of the blouse. I didn’t think until later that it would’ve been better to add a piece of the interfacing as well. The fabric was pinned and basted at each end and a line drawn vertically down the length of the scrap. This, too, was basted. The finished blouse will have buttonholes running down the center front line of the blouse.

4. A buttonhole cutter set by Meta was used to cut the buttonhole open before sewing.

5. Close-up of the 3/4″ buttonhole marked on the scrap.

6. The scrap is placed over the little cutting board that comes with the set. Then the blade is used to open the slit from top to bottom.

7. Buttonhole slit resulting from the use of the blade is neat and straight. To me it seemed a bit too big when placed next to the button. I decided to make the finished buttonhole anyway. I tried using silk buttonhole twist and figured the thickness required the extra length.

8. My initial feeling was right. 3/4″ was too big for the buttonhole length. Also, the silk buttonhole twist was difficult for me to work with. It was too thick for a smaller sized handsewing needle. The only needle I could use it with was an embroidery needle. The stitches were too clumsy.

9. I made another buttonhole this time using only the width and height of the button to calculate the length for 5/8″ total.

This time I used a double strand of poly/cotton thread and ran it through a dryer strip several times to condition it. I was satisfied by the results and encouraged to see that little by little my handmade buttonholes are improving.

Update: On the finished blouse, a double strand of poly/cotton thread did not prove strong enough to make a really sturdy buttonhole. As a rememdy, I had to stitch around the buttonhole making another round of buttonhole stitches. I plan to become more adept at handling buttonhole twist and finding the correct handsewing needle for it.

10. The 5/8″ long buttonhole works well with the button. Now that I have practiced and seen the results I have more confidence to make the buttonholes on The Donna Blouse.

In my next posting I will detail how to determine the exact placement of the buttons on a blouse with a waistline yoke. Some of the instructions will come from “The Vogue Sewing Book”, others from Claire Shaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques” and some from practice. When you start from your own drafted pattern finalizing all these details requires patience, practice and persistence.

You may refer to the posting “Determining Buttonhole Placement” when ready to make your buttonholes.


3 thoughts on “Measuring for Buttonhole Length

  1. This is so helpful – about to start to sew button holes on a wrap skirt – was making it up as I went but now I see I was doing it wrong – many thanks for sharing.


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