Sewing Machine Feet: The Buttonhole Foot

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Inside: Sewing Machine Feet: The Buttonhole Foot

The scariest, in my opinion, of all Sewing Machine Feet is the Buttonhole Foot. The sewing machine foot that strikes fear into the hearts of both novice and experienced sewists.

I am here to tell you there is nothing to fear. On most machines, the buttonhole foot is easy to use and somewhat idiot proof. The real secret to getting great buttonholes isn’t in the buttonhole foot, it’s in the way you prepare your fabric.

All About the Buttonhole Foot

My buttonhole history

In my sewing history, I have used a variety of buttonhole attachments. For years I sewed on a Kenmore machine and it had this antiquated buttonhole system that had a plastic cog and gear plus a couple of cams. I calculate I’ve made well over 200 buttonholes with this attachment. I was sewing dresses and school uniforms for my two daughters. Many of the dresses buttoned at the shoulder or down the back. Some of the teeth that move the attachment were a little worn down, but the last time I used it I had great buttonholes.

Then, I purchased a Babylock Ellure which used this type of buttonhole attachment. This was a giant leap in buttonhole making and I could have stopped here and been a happy buttonhole maker. I have not done a scientific counting, but I think that this is the most common type of buttonhole attachment. I see something like it included in almost all new machines.

All About the Buttonhole Foot


It’s easier than you think

Simply insert the button in a slot on the foot and then attach the foot to your sewing machine. There is a stop-bar that drops down; when you are sewing the buttonhole, the machine can stop (or be stopped by you) and reverse to sew the other side of the buttonhole. Some machines will even memorize the buttonhole size, making all of your buttonholes the same.

Older machines will have something that can only be called a contraption which will require some sort of manual to operate. After a lengthy search, I gave up on trying to find a photo to show you. If you learned sewing from a grandmother, you probably have some memory of this devise. These were not very consistent and are likely the source of most cases of buttonhole-a-phobia.

Both of my Bernina’s use this foot. I tell my machine what size buttonhole I want it to make (15 mm, 17.5 mm, etc.) and the machine programs the correct size and then remembers it with a memory chip. Once programmed, it will make the exact same size buttonhole until reprogrammed.

All About the Buttonhole Foot

However, at its core the foot still has a cog, gears, and teeth to move the buttonhole foot while making a buttonhole. This is common on almost all buttonhole feet ~ even scary, antique contraptions.

All About the Buttonhole Foot

The Secret to Perfect Buttonholes

The real secret to making a great buttonhole does not rely on fancy equipment or the latest technology. While these simplify the process of making a buttonhole and are nice to have, the key to buttonhole success is found in how you prepare your fabric before making the buttonhole.

Yep, you don’t need a fancy~schmancy machine to make beautiful buttonholes. All you need to do is properly prepare the fabric before making a buttonhole.

I’ve made a short video to see it all in action. (Sorry about my hand blocking some of the view.)

For those of you who like photos and written instructions, I’ve included them below.

Step #1:  Interface Fabric

Interface your fabric prior to making a buttonhole. Use a woven interfacing for woven fabrics or a stretchy tricot interfacing for knits. (I’m working with a woven, here).

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #2:  Mark Buttonhole(s)

Using a removable marker, create a mark at the top, bottom, and center of the buttonhole location(s).

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #3:  Set Up Machine for Buttonholes

Attach the buttonhole foot and set the size for your buttonhole.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

My machine has an electronic setting ~ I tell it the correct size and it sets it. If your machine doesn’t have this feature you can easily find the size by measuring the button and then following guidelines on your buttonhole foot.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot
How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #4:  Stabilizing the Fabric

Cut a piece of Tear Away Stabilizer  (affiliate) large enough to cover the buttonhole area and place it on the back of the fabric.

Cut a piece of Wash Away Stabilizer (affiliate) large enough to cover the buttonhole area and place it on top of the fabric.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #5:  Making the Buttonhole

Following your manual, set the sewing machine to the buttonhole setting. {Always make a test buttonhole on a piece of scrap fabric.} Line up the markings on the fabric with the guideline markings on the buttonhole foot.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Begin making the buttonhole. My machine will start with a zigzag down the left side of the buttonhole. It stops and straight stitches back to the top, makes a bar tack, and zigzags back down the right side. It ends with a bar tack at the bottom of the buttonhole.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #6:  Finishing the Buttonhole

Remove the Tear Away Stabilizer from the back by tearing it away. Remove the Wash-Away Stabilizer on the front by tearing away. Remove any markings {mine will disappear with heat from the iron}. Any remaining stabilizer residue will dissolve with the first washing.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot
How to Use a Buttonhole Foot
How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Step #7:  Cutting Open the Buttonhole

I had to learn this step the hard way. To avoid cutting through the buttonhole(s) you’ve just made, slide a pin through the top and bottom covering both of the bar tacks. You do not want to cut into the bar tack when opening the buttonhole.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

To cut open buttonholes, I use an inexpensive buttonhole cutter  (affiliate), but sharp scissors or a seam ripper will work, too. The key is patience.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

It’s really that easy.

How to Use a Buttonhole Foot

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a complete listing of this series on Sewing Machine Feet.

Search here for a buttonhole foot (affiliate) that works with your machine.

Click this link to learn about other sewing machine feet!

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  1. Love this series of blogs. Have bought the clear sole all purpose foot and agree it makes sewing around corners accurately very easy. Thanks for the hard work.

  2. I’m self teaching how to use my sewing machine so this is helpful information for me. Thank you! I just came across your blog from a link party and I’m so glad I did. Thanks again.

  3. Awesome! I have tried several times to do buttons and fail. This makes so much sense and I can follow along! thank you thank you! Off to follow these instructions and start sewing button holes!!

  4. Oh my goodness, I have had the Bernina buttonholer for thirteen years and I never knew that you could measure the buttons on the foot! I also did not know that the little orange pointer on the foot would tell you where the end of the button is for sewing! Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Please could someone tell me where I could buy a detachable buttonhole machine online? Thank you and Merry Christmas

    1. This will depend on what type of sewing machine you own. Check online for a local dealer for your specific machine. They will be able to help you find the correct buttonhole attachment.

    2. I have a domestic buttonholer for low shank machine I bought on ebay .and I also have a slant shank professional buttonholer for my singer slant o matic I also bought that on ebay .I think they are so easy to use and make a very nice button hole so I dont feel Ill ever buy a new plastic machine.

  6. Hi great tutorial! Buttonholes can be fearsome but practice helps a lot. My machine bernina 1230 requires me to thread the bobbin thread through the arm in the bobbin casing as well for a great looking buttonhole. Amazing what you find out when you read the instruction book!

  7. Thank you for this tutorial. I plan to refer to it often when making buttonholes. You are right , they can be intimidating.

  8. Thanks for your tutorial. I like the idea of the disappearing stabiliser on the top side, but I have tried using tear away on the back of buttonholes down the front of a cardigan in a dark colour. I couldn’t get all of the tear away off and it looks unsightly when the cardigan hangs open.

  9. When making buttonholes on thicker fabrics like denim, my Babylock always gets gets stuck on one spot. Will the stabilizers help this problem?

    1. I suggest changing the presser foot pressure (you’ll need to experiment) and use a stabilizer topper in addition to the stabilizer on the back.

    1. Yes, I put in two buttonholes and thread through. That way the elastic can be loose and the ties can help cinch the pants.

  10. I’ve used the four step buttonhole stitch on older machines and the first buttonhole foot pictured – you can put a button in the back and it will then make the correct one – but NOTHING will ever surpass the buttonholes made by the trusty old buttonholer marketed by Singer that grandma sewed with.
    But the tips you have here will certainly help the modern sewist.

  11. Glad I managed to do button holing with my trusty Elna 6003. So easy if you follow instructions carefully. Women tend to attach the foot and rush in, guilty of that myself. Husband usually reads instructions first. There is the difference hahaha

  12. I’m always nervous about buttonholes. This way makes perfect sense. I made a cardigan for my grand daughter and had to make 4 buttonholes, the pattern didn’t call for interfacing and this was my first time, I had so much trouble. I did get them done but the material is puckered.

    Thanks for the video, I’ll follow these instructions for all future buttonholes.

  13. Remember the button holes that you sew zig zag on one side, turn, lock stitch, turn again zig zag back up the other side and lock stitch at the top. I hated those! Then my parents got me a Kenmore with the buttonhole maker like you mentioned-EUREKA! I was in heaven. That was a great old machine.

  14. This is a very good instruction for making strong and consistent strongholds! I have been sewing for about 65 years and I have learned something new! Thanks!!

  15. Thanks for the tutorial!! I have a Bernina too and the same buttonhole foot; but sometimes, expecially with heavy fabrics, the sewing machine doesnt’go on !!!! Now i’d like to use the stabilizers. Could you tell me the commercial name of the water stabilizer and of paper stabilizer? Thanks!!!

  16. Thank you so much for this article! I’m a sewing newbie and was a little nervous about trying buttonholes, but this worked so well! Beautiful buttonholes on the first try. The stabilization gave such a neat and tidy result. Thanks again!

  17. My NEW sewing machine refuses to stitch buttonholes on heavy fabric like loden; moreover, its foot can carry only small buttons and not coat-big ones…so I luckily did not give away my oldie…

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