As a sewing teen, bound buttonholes were considered the mark of an advanced seamstress. Where I grew up, one didn’t do them until they got to the 4-H wool unit, which of course was preceded by mutiple units of basic skills, which took several years. I did my first bound buttonholes as a freshman in college, but I haven’t done so many that I feel like an expert…they have been spaced far apart across my life, usually reserved for suit jackets and coats.
I have discovered from reading fifty dresses, that bound buttonholes were the norm back in the patterns of the 50’s and 60’s. Nearly every pattern instruction sheet that she shares as a picture has bound buttonholes on the garment! I think it is unfortunate that in our quest for fast and easy sewing that we have let this skill go by the way side. Truthfully, I think I could quickly get to the point where I prefer doing bound buttonholes to sewing them in with my Necchi, because it is quite temperamental in that category!
My go-to guide for sewing is the Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing (1978). It is an amazing resource for everything from sewing techniques to sewing equipment, even needle types and sizes. I love the clear drawings and the ability to compare multiple methods.
I use the two-piece piped method for my buttonholes. It starts with a white or black organza patch sewn on the print side of the garment using a stitch setting of 1 or 20
stitches/inch, depending on your machine. Having applied silk organza as underlining, it was incredibly easy to stitch the organza. I marked the black just to make it simpler to center it on the fabric, but sewed from the white side. A critical piece of advice here is to count the stitches on the short sides. You want to make sure you have exactly the same number of stitches for each lip, for EVERY buttonhole. This will ensure they are even. Once you cut the patch and turn there is no turning back unless you have more fabric.
If you haven’t done these before practice on a piece of scrap so you can see how things work! I always start with the smallest piece and work my way up. Since I have a martingale on the back of my coat, I started there, as my warm up, then moved on to the collar band, and finally the front of my coat. And of course, double check to be sure you put the buttonholes on the correct side of your coat! My 4-H leader gave me this little saying….”Girls are right over left, and boys are leftover!” Silly, but it works.
Cutting is always scary to me, but it has to be done. I use embroidery scissors to do the job. They have such a sharp point I can poke the fabric easily, and make very precise cuts. I have learned that I prefer the cutting option seen above, but I make sure that my triangles are quite long enough for sewing across. After flipping the organza to the back and a good press it’s time to add the lips.
Take care when basting these together, because you’ll want to plan whether they be on the straight grain lengthwise, or crosswise, possibly even on the bias, depending on how you want them to look. Whatever you choose, they need to be the same. If your fabric has a definite pattern, you will also want to consider how to handle that…will you match the plaid exactly, choose the same part of the pattern for all the lips, choose a contrasting color or even a different fabric all together? I once constructed a tweed jacket that I had to count the threads on the lips to make certain that my buttonholes looked even! I have also determined NOT to match on my plaid dress coat, and instead used ultrasuede scraps leftover from the collar. You can do whatever you want, just make sure you consider before you cut.
The trickiest part of bound buttonholes is the sewing of the lips into the patch. They are fairly easy to center, the trick is keeping them in place while you sew them onto the tiny tabs created during cutting. My sewing book suggests using needles instead of pins because they cause less disturbance in the fabric. I also find that I have to do a machine baste (at stitch length 3) before doing the final sewing using stitch length 2. It is possible to rip, but it can be quite difficult, and you can really mess up your fabric if you miss! Once the lips are sewn in, you are finished until the facings are added, when you have to decide which method of finishing you will use.