Beautifully Buttoned: A How-To of Button Placing and Spacing

Posted by on Jul 6, 2014 in Sewing |


Whether they are practical or ornamental, buttons have been fastening our clothes for hundred of years. Sewing the humble button may be the last step in creating a wearable garment. But, have you given some thought to their partner in the process, the buttonhole? Where is the best place for buttonholes on your coat or blouse? And which way should they go? Horizontal or vertical? How long should the buttonhole be?

Here are a few tips on creating buttonholes that do their job and please the eye as well!

Origami Buttonholes

Origami Buttonholes via the Craftsy class Creative Closures: 8 Unique Techniques

Button direction: vertical vs. horizontal

When it comes to sewing your buttonholes, you are not restricted to what is marked on the pattern. In fact, for fit or design it could be better to change and customize the buttonhole placement. One of the first items you might make that features buttonholes is a blouse. On shirts and blouses the buttonholes traditionally go in a vertical placement.

green button front blouse

Craftsy member Alix B made this blouse in the Craftsy class The Sassy Librarian Blouse

If there is a front placket, such as the one found on a classic button-up shirt with a collar stand, the buttonholes run vertically down the placket, yet the buttonhole on the collar stand is sewn in the horizontal direction. Vertical buttonholes take up less room on the garment, so they fit nicely in the placket area.

gingham shirt with placket

Image via SunnyGal Studio

On a jacket, coat or other outerwear, the buttonholes usually go in the horizontal direction. This allows the button to slide along the opening without distortion.

red embellished jacket

Image via Craftsy member jmn111

Making your own rules — deciding on placement and spacing

When making something with buttonholes, you can use the guide that comes with the pattern, or you can start by marking the important buttons and then create your own spacing.

vintage style blouse

On this striped blouse there critical junctures are the top, the bust point and the waist. The remaining buttonholes are evenly spaced between those points. Note that the blouse is not yet hemmed: It works well to sew the buttons on, close the center front, then pin and mark the hem last, preventing the side underneath from peeking out.

example of buttonhole marking

For the distance from the edge, most buttonholes generally start about 1/8″ from the center front or the overlap. They should be far enough in from the seam edge, so the button you have used doesn’t extend over the edge of the garment when closed. The thread trace above  is on the center-front line and shows how the end of the buttonhole crosses over that line by 1/8″.

Calculating size: Button measurement guide

Test size on scrap fabric

The size of the buttonhole matters too. I like to make a test buttonhole on a scrap just to make sure the fit is right. It’s no fun when you make a garment, only to find that buttonholes are either too loose and it won’t stay closed or too small and you can’t get the button through them.

thick purple button

Taking measurements and calculating size

Measure the length and if it is a thick button also measure the height. Then add about 1/8” to the combination of length and height and that is your buttonhole length. This works well for medium weight fabrics, if your fabric is very thick you may need to adjust. Another reason for making a buttonhole sample!

measureing round button

Tackling tricky raised & rounded buttons

Wrap a piece of paper around your button and mark where it meets. Then fold in half and meausure, that is your buttonhole length. Based on your test buttonhole you can adjust the size to make sure it looks perfect with your particular buttons. I tend to like a buttonhole that is not too big, so I made the smallest possible, which will still allow the button to get through without stretching or distorting the fabric.

glass jar with buttons

Buy a bonus button!

My last piece of advice – always buy at least one extra button. It can be so frustrating to make a lovely coat or jacket and then one day you look down and see some threads where your perfect button used to be. But, if you have a spare in your button jar then you are set, no worries!

red coat with button

Craftsy member VeroSewStuff placed her buttonholes perfectly on her Origami Coat

Discover new techniques for button closures for standout style and flawless fit in the Craftsy sewing class Creative Closures: 8 Unique Techniques.

How have you changed the placement of buttons and buttonholes? Do you make a test buttonhole before doing the real thing?