Button Up, Buttercup!

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Products mentioned in this episode

Buttonhole knife

Buttonhole scissors

Fray Check

Fray Block

Frixion Pens

Glue Pen (for sewing)

Iron-Off Stabilizer

Simflex Expanding Sewing Gauge

Tearaway Stabilizer

Water Soluble Stabilizer

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork 0:16

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please. The official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast. With more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

Lisa Woolfork 0:55

Hello everyone and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm Lisa Woolfork, your host joining us from Charlottesville, Virginia today. And we are talking today about button. That's right, button up buttercup, we are talking about buttons, types of buttons, marking buttonholes, making your buttonholes and all of the fun things in between. So to begin, I wanted to organize this episode by talking about the types of buttons, many of us are familiar with buttons, buttons are actually one of the first closures garments had. It's easy to forget with all the varieties of choices that we have right now that buttons are something that was a new technology. Before people would use islets to string through garments to tie them up. So the button is a cool intervention as resource or, as I said before, technology for apparel. Now we can take that for granted because we have so many types of buttons that we can use. And so I'm going to talk a bit about that. Then we'll shift to talking about how one is going to choose a button for a project, how to mark the buttons in the right place after you've made the buttonholes, so this is just going to be a really fun episode talking about buttons, and Patreon supporters get a special bonus video that goes with this episode. In it, I demonstrate my technique for making sure that my buttons are located exactly where I want them. So if you are a Patreon subscriber, that video has already been emailed to you. So go check it out now or after the episode. And thank you so much for your support. To begin, many of us have the mason jar full of buttons that we inherited from someone, I have one from my grandmother, I also got one as as a bonus gift. When I was at a sewing event, someone passed out little tiny jars full of buttons, which I think might have come from her grandmother stash of buttons, but we tend to collect these things. And they do have a variety of functions. Of course, the main one is to put on a garment and to close it up. But there's many ways that you can do this and different techniques. I wanted to talk first about the types of buttons. We have the flat button, that we're most familiar with. The kind that has two eyes in the button that let you sew through them so that you can attach the button to the garment, and there is the shank button, which unlike the flat button has a protrusion at the bottom. So that requires you to stitch it by hand. It has two eyes, one on either side of the shank. In order to attach a shank button, you take your threaded needle, and you pull it parallel through the shank through the two eyes that it has on either side. I've used those with a curved needle in order to attach it to a coat. The shank is a stronger button, I believe, than a flat button. And that's why you see them a lot in coats and outerwear because you want the type of elasticity or some movement in that button. You want it to have some space behind it. If you imagine yourself having a lovely cashmere or wool coat that you've made, that's going to be really thick at the button placket area. And so you want to be able to open that buttonhole up, stretch it around the button, and then the buttonhole rests on the shank that is built into the button. And it's possible of course to use a flat button on a coat or a jacket; it just has to be pretty large. And when you're stitching your button on you'll probably want to build in a thread shank that you want it to be you don't want it to be so tightly flatly attached to your garment that it breaks rather than stretches or bins when you need to you know close your coat up. We also have jeans buttons. And these are not attached by thread, they are attached by hardware. So if you imagine the jeans button is like a flat on the top, and then it has a little cylinder at the bottom. That cylinder is designed to respond to the nail when the nail is inserted into it. And it's also designed to respond well to layers of fabric being between the shaft or the shank of the jeans button, and the nail that's used to hold it together. So it's like you putting together a weird sandwich. You have your jeans button, then you have the waistband that you've made that of course, it's going to be very sturdy, you will have interface that is two layers of denim at least. And it's looking really nice. It's been top stitched impressed, you puncture a hole in that garment, you fix the button top on the outside, and then behind it, that's when you shove the nail in and just gently hammer at home. Those are also useful for bag making as well. I've seen some nice installations of jeans buttons on handbags and other bags and backpacks. Because it's such a strong button and the nail allow it to hold while also giving a while also providing the space, for the garment, for the flap, for the front of the jeans to move and stretch as you're going throughout the day. When I first started sewing, I thought that the best thing to do was to put your button on especially a flat button on as tightly as possible. I didn't want it to move, I wanted to be so tight on there like it was applicate on. But what I learned there was that it made it really difficult to button anything I ever made. Because the buttons didn't move, they have to move a little bit. It says if your buttons need to have ease, your buttons need to have some ease in order to be actually functional. But when I first started, I thought oh no, I don't my buttons to pop off. I got to make sure I stitched this on good. And I stitched it on really good. So well that it was practically unusable. So, that was something that I realized too late, not too late, I realized it and good enough time, that you have your buttons need to have a little bit of ease and a little bit of movement. And we can see how that works for flat buttons because as you attach them, you're often leaving a little bit of ease, a little bit of wiggle room, you don't want it to fall off or be hanging off, but you also don't want it to be sewn on so tightly that it doesn't do the job it's supposed to do, which is to accommodate a button hole, working around it and holding it together and doing that job. If it's too flat on there, it will simply not work. And you'll be frustrated that you did such a beautiful job stitching it on by hand. And you have to take it all out and start over. We know that there's lots of different types of materials from which buttons are made. There's bone, wood, leather, resin, plastic, pearl, and more, like way more. But one of the things that I always look for is a way to make my garments look special. And I'm going to tell you just a short story about a time that I was looking at some buttons. I had gone to a shop in New York City in the fashion district. And there's lots of shops that specialize in nothing but buttons or nothing but zippers. It's very exciting to walk through those shops. I went to the shop where all they sold was zippers and I had never seen such a variety of zippers and all my days. The same was true for the button shops. And I remember this vividly it was just a few years ago, I had made a black and white coat that I loved, I still do it, had red trim around the collar and cuffs. It was this like really interesting sleeve detail that was pleated at the wrist. And it was just adorable. It's still cute. And I wanted to switch out the buttons for it. I had one set of buttons that I bought both of the buttons were red, I had one set of buttons, that was fine, but I think some of them started to fall off, or I just started to not like them as much. I said let me try a different set of buttons. And so I found this perfect button. When I tell you it was perfect, it was perfect. It was leather and red. And it was, I'm not sure the finish, but the reason I wanted it was because it looked exactly like a pair of Tory Burch flats that I had in red, almost like a, not crocodile, but it's some type of animal type print not made from actual animal, but animal style print on the shoe. And the buttons looked identical. And so I said, I am interested in these buttons. I want to get some of these for my coat. And I added up how many I needed. I think it was maybe seven, seven buttons for this coat. And then I asked how much they were.

Lisa Woolfork 9:58

And these buttons, y'all, We're like $7 each. And I needed seven. So I was like, I don't know. I don't think so let me go. We would visit my family in Manhattan, like maybe once or twice a year, more if we could drive up. Things, of course, are different now in 2021, when I'm telling this story, but it was a time when sometimes if I had a long weekend, I could just get on the train, the tickets weren't very expensive, to take the Amtrak and so I really enjoy doing that as a bit of a break. So one year passes. And I say, I wonder if those buttons are still in that shop. But sure enough, there they were. And I said, oh, okay. I'm just gonna continue to think about it. Another year passes. And I was like, Lisa, you are going to have to make a decision, are you going to get these buttons or not. And after two years of deliberation, I finally bought the buttons. Because it took me that long, it took me two years, to convince myself that it was worth it to spend $7 per button for this coat that I made and loved. And so I bought them. Eventually, I feel like between all the time I spent thinking about it in the years that passed, and driving back and forth, and all of that, I think that it had mortised over time that it's fine, just get the doggon buttons for now. And in the fact that they were still there. It was like they were waiting for me. So it all worked out in perfect timing. But it was pretty funny at the moment when I was deliberating which, I said, was a two year process. Another way you can think about making a button really special and unique to your garment is covered buttons. Now I've used several companies products for this. I know Dritz makes a covered buttons. I believe I've had the most success with Maxilant brand. Again, no endorsement, I don't work for these people, but I'm just telling you my experience of the products that I have used. And one of the reasons that I love covered buttons, is that it makes your garment utterly, completely unique. And I know we say this often in sewing that even if Person A, B, and C by the same pattern and make the same garment they will look different. And even if they use the same fabric and make it they will still look different. But covering your buttons for a shirt or a dress is a really good way to make sure that your garment is irreproducible by someone else. And I say that because I really enjoy the process of the details that are involved in sewing. I really love good clean sewing. I love this question of how particular can you make it? How do you put your signature on it? I was making a shirt for my husband, and I was working on his sleeve placket. And there was a detail in the fabric that I wanted to make sure was visible in the placket. And I was able to do that. And then I made a covered button for him to button the placket. And it replicated a small detail from the fabric design. And I think that's just so cool. Now again, who's going to notice such a thing, it's just a nice little detail that is really fun to include in the in your garments. Another thing that I did recently was add made myself a dress, and I wanted to use a covered button for it. But I noticed that the way that the pattern was directionally oriented, I was not going to be able to get the look that I wanted from a small piece of the fabric. So what I did was I took two pieces of the fabric, made sure I fussy cut them, so that when I sewed them they would they would join together at a miter. And I made basically a covered button that was comprised of two pieces of fabric, pressed flat in the middle, and then wrapped around like the normal procedure for a covered button. And it just added again, another layer of detail and richness to the project that might not be visible from the outset, but it doesn't need to be because what it's doing is contributing to an overall look. And then the closer you get the more detail. And just a tip for those who are using cover buttons. The instructions that they provide are quite good. They're totally fine. It's not a difficult process. But one thing I will recommend is that you use two layers of fabric. They say just to use one. I'm suggesting that you use two and have them be an outside layer and an inside layer. The outside layer is the thing you're going to see from the outside. When you look at the button face on you'll see that. But I'll also suggest that you cut another piece the exact same size as the button itself. And this is why because most of the cover buttons are silver and rather shiny, that shine will glow through your fabric. You might not think it does, but you can absolutely see it because the fabric on the outside is stretched taut in order to be attached, and so it's stretching it out. And when you stretch those fibers in many fabrics that I've used, because the weave of the fabric is distorted, it just allows for more of the weft of the fabric to be visible. And through that weft, you can see the button underneath. So to avoid that just use two layers. Or of white interfacing or dark interfacing. And I think that is such a really special feature to have in a garment. There is one downside that I've discovered for cover buttons, especially on men's wear, is that when I would take my my husband's shirts to the dry cleaners, and when he would take them to the dry cleaners, they would charge him the blouse price. Because the buttons are special, they have to be treated differently in the dry cleaning process. So this is what the dry cleaners told us. We also have to acknowledge that it's incredibly sexist that men can get their shirts cleaned for the flat rate of two to four dollars maybe, but women it takes longer and it costs more. So that's just a little bit of a social justice issue for us to consider as we move into a brighter 2021. We're gonna take a quick break when we get back we're going to talk about moving through the buttonhole installation process. Marking your button holes and making your button holes. That's our next step coming up after the break. Stay tuned.

Lisa Woolfork 16:51

The Stitch Please podcast is really growing. I want to thank you for listening to the podcast and ask a favor. If you are listening to this podcast on a medium that allows you to rate it or review it, for example Apple Podcasts or iTunes, please do so if you're enjoying the podcast, if you could drop me a five star rating, if you have something to say about the podcast, and you wanted to include that a couple sentences in the review box of Apple makes a really big difference in how the podcast is evaluated by Apple, how it becomes more visible. It really is a way to lean into the algorithm that helps to rank podcasts. So if you had time to do that, to drop a little line in the review feature of the podcast, that would be really appreciated and would help us to grow even further and faster.

Lisa Woolfork 17:59

Hello, everybody. Welcome back. You are listening to the Stitch Please podcast. We are the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. And the Stitch Please podcast centers, Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. So we are going to pivot now to talk about marking buttonholes and making buttonholes. And we're going to talk through the entire process that also happens on a few other machines in a different way. So we'll do our best to talk about what we're talking about. And then we also have a wonderful guest speaking with us today. I'm joined later today by Quanora Rene, of Quanora Rene Fabrics, and she is going to tell us how to install a buttonhole on any machine. Please stay tuned for that part. Let's turn to the point in our conversation where we discuss marking buttonholes. How do you get the buttonholes on your garment? How do you know where it's supposed to go on the bag that you are making. And so there's several ways to do that. One, you can use the pattern. The pattern is always an option. One of the things that you'll want to do, as you are using a pattern of any sort, is you want to transfer any markings that the pattern has. So it'll tell you where to place the pockets. For example, it tells you this is where your collar should be installed. It tells you this is where you supposed to stop stitching and backstitch and then proceed four inches and do the same thing, then clip. It has all the instructions. It has a map and it has instructions on where you're supposed to do certain steps. So that's a totally viable option. Another way and what I'm going to speak about now is how to mark buttons on a shirt, or a dress, or something that has a column of buttons. If you aren't interested in using the pattern, you could also use a quilting ruler, you take the quilting ruler, and you line it up against the fold of your placket. And then you just take a note or make a mark on your fabric where you want that buttonhole to go. The important thing to remember about buttonholes is symmetry. You want symmetry. You want them to be the same distance apart. And you also want to know where your center front is, especially around the bust. So I mentioned this because if, for example, you have your button in the wrong place, you can sometimes get a gap. Right? If it's not, if it's not even if it's not symmetrical if it's pulled over too far, one way or too far another way when you put it on it will gap. Now the gapping can also be an issue of the shirt being a little too tight or a little too small. but it could also be about where it is placed. So of course, you want to pay attention to where you are putting your buttonholes. And a ruler helps with that, because, of course, the marks on a ruler are evenly spaced out. And that's something that the pattern company sometimes includes when you're doing a dress, or a shirt, or something that has again a column of buttons, something that has between five and ten buttons. You want to make sure that they're all evenly spaced because it's pretty easy to tell when they are not evenly spaced. The favorite way that I use to mark my buttonholes and where I know I want them to go, is using the Simflex Expanding Sewing Gauge. This thing is amazing. It is a very simple tool that opens and closes like an accordion. With Xs. There's a photo of it in the cover art, you can see my Simflex Expanding Sweing Gauge. And I will put links to all the resources that I'm going to mention in the show notes. So if you wanted to secure one for yourself, there'll be a link in at the end of the episode in order to find it. I'll probably use the products from Amazon because the Stitch Please podcast gets like a penny from every dollar that people use to buy products from the Black Woman Stitch/Stitch Please podcast list. For those of you all who don't mess with Amazon at all, I respect that. You could take the same name of the item and just put it in Google and see if you can find it somewhere else. The Simflex ruler or the Simflex Expanding Sewing Gauge is a tool that generates symmetrical

Lisa Woolfork 22:48

distances. The Simplex, when you lay it down and you expand the gauge, you can determine how many buttons you want to use, and how much distance you want between them. And you can do that very easily. just eyeballing it, you expand the gauge, and they have these little fingers with grooves in them that you can then take your marker and put a dot exactly where you want the buttonhole to start. You'll want to keep in mind a few things as you do this. One, you'll want to decide if you want the dot to be the beginning of your buttonhole or the end of your buttonhole. Some sewing machines so the buttonholes starting away from you. Other machines sew the buttonhole so that the direction of the sewing is toward you. So you want to think about the direction of your buttonhole when you're putting your mark down. Another thing you want to make sure you can do is when you put a mark down, you want to be able to see it but then when you're finished, you want to be able to unsee it. So I want to recommend, of course, I like the Frixion markers. I love Frixion tools. I have many types of Frixion. I have the highlighters. I have the fine lighters. I have the felt tip markers. I have the retractable ballpoint. I have all the different types that I could find. And actually I did an episode this on the podcast, that's Episode 19, and it's part of the series on marking tools, and I did a marking tool series early in the podcast that talked about using chalk and using wax and using Frixion and using all these different types of marking tools. And Frixion on, I believe, in my opinion has been the best one for putting something on and taking something off. Again, be sure to test it before you use it on your actual garment, test it to make sure you're not going to get any ghosting. Test it to make sure it really comes off as you hope these are the. Things you absolutely want to be able to do before you put it on your garment. But I have had very good success using this method to determine where my buttonholes are going to go. Chalk is also a possibility because you want this mark to be visible through your buttonhole foot. When you put the buttonhole foot on your sewing machine, you want to be able to see what you're doing. And you want to be sure that your needle begins in the spot that you marked. I'm gonna say that again because it's important. When you start sewing your buttonhole and you turn the hand wheel of the machine towards you to lower the needle, you want to make sure that needle is in the exact position where you have put your dot. That's going to determine the symmetry of your buttonholes. It's also going to determine how evenly they are placed from the folded edge of your garment. So pay attention to that because otherwise they just look a little wonky. And that's frustrating and one thing we want to all avoid, is the complete and utter frustration of having to unsew a buttonhole

Lisa Woolfork 26:13

Unsewing a buttonhole and picking it out is so time consuming. And, for me, very frustrating. One of the good things about unsewing a buttonhole is that you learn, at least I learned, to hate it so much that I never wanted to do it again in life, and that encouraged me to be more precise when I was beginning. You also learn that buttonholes are actually nice, tidy, elaborate works of embroidery. Because when you start to look at a buttonhole from the part of the deconstructive part, when you're taking it apart, you realize that there are foundational stitches that they put down first. And then there's the fill stitches that they put on top, that they're locked in, that they're sturdy, and that they are very difficult to unravel by themselves. The understitching in the buttonhole, that helped the rest of the stitches reside on top in a very strong fashion. So that's the thing that I learned when I was unsewing my buttonholes. I am generously passing this lesson on to you so that you do not have to unsew a buttonhole just to find out that there's some really difficult understitching underneath it. Another thing about unschooling a buttonhole is that even once you've taken it apart, depending on the fabric that you are using, you're still going to have a mess. I have done this on more than one occasion. That of course, it's something that I love, it's really special, or whatever. And because the fabric is so great, or it's so unique. When you go to unsew, the buttonholes, the holes are still there. Now this is not that much of a problem for a solid cotton fabric, or something that's a bit more sturdy. You can usually press it or steam it out in such a way that the holes close, and if you're going to put a button hole near it, you won't see it as much. But there are some times when you're sewing like, I was making a raincoat out of laminated cotton. It is quite fun if you have a Teflon foot, and if you never make any mistakes. I of course, am a person. So I made mistakes. And I wore that mistake, I wore it everywhere. I still wear that coat, mistakes and all. But when you put holes in it, the holes stay there. Leather is the same when you put a hole in it, it stays there. If you're making leather jeans. If you're making leather pants. If you're making a leather top, or something where you have to put a button hole in it, you want to be extra careful to make sure that you get it right the first time because the correction for that error is pretty elaborate. I think I ended up changing the whole way the front of the jacket looked because I had to put other fabric to cover it and make it an accent piece. So of course, in sewing, we say there are no mistakes, only design opportunities. And I had quite a few design opportunities with all those button holes I messed up back in the day before I started to become more confident at them and more sure of myself to say hey, I want it to go here and that's where it's going to go and it won't go anywhere else. And then it's fine. But you have to get started with that practice by making a few errors.

Lisa Woolfork 29:50

Before we turn to actually making our buttonholes by machine, I'm grateful for Quanora Rene, from Quanora Rene Fabrics, coming to speak with us about how you can make a buttonhole using any sewing machine. This is how you can do this manually without using a buttonhole foot, or a buttonhole attachment, or anything like that. I really appreciate Quanora speaking with us about this because, it's true that there are so many different ways that different machines sew buttonholes. And if you happen to have a machine right now that does not have a buttonhole foot on it, you can still make machine buttonholes. So Quanora is going to tell us about how to do that.

Queenora 30:43

Here is how I do a manual buttonhole. I started doing it on my Brother, and I haven't done it on my new machine, but on my Brother, this is how it would go. You will make your buttonhole markings same as usual starting point ending point with your centerline, I would change to a clear foot, so that way I could see what was going on underneath the foot. So the first thing I'll do is change to a zigzag stitch. I will put my width to about two maybe two and a half, depending on the top I was making or what I was making, and then I would lower my width down to point five, that was as low as my machine will go. But you want to make it greater than zero, but as low as you can go, that's no more than one. Then I would move my needle to the left of the center line, and I put my needle down at the top horizontal line. That starting top line. Go ahead and stitch all the way down to the bottom horizontal line. So which is stitching is the left side of your buttonhole. And it should be a zigzag stitch slowly going towards the bottom horizontal line. Once you get to the bottom horizontal line, you're going to change your width to four, five, something around that range. But you're going to put your length at zero. So your fabric should not be moving. I would also change, depending on the machine to a lightning stitch, I just wanted that security that comes with the lightning sitch, so I would actually change it to a lightning zigzag stitch with the width of about four or five and my length at zero. I would do about three, maybe four stitches. But the important thing is to stop on the right side of the centerline. Once you stop on the right side, slip your fabric around, so then now you're going to come up the right side of the buttonhole. Depending on how wide I made the bottom horizontal line, sometimes I would have to move my fabric a little bit. It just depends on how big the button is. That whole sort of thing. But when you change your fabric around, come back up towards the starting horizontal line. Make sure you change your settings back to the width of two, two and a half, whatever you had, and my length was point five, and then I would sew back to the starting line. Once I got to the starting line, I would do the same thing that I did at the bottom. I would change my wife to about a four or five with my length at zero. With a lightning stitch, that's what I did for me. The triple stitch. Triple zigzag stitch. And I would do the top part of my buttonhole, and then once I did that for about three or four stitches, I would then lower my width. So instead of it being around that four to five, I would lower it to maybe a twoish. And I would do that about three times as secure as like a fake back stitch to secure my buttonhole stitches. I hope that helps.

Lisa Woolfork 34:04

Thanks so much Queenora. That was Queenora Irvin of Queenora Renee Fabrics telling us how she would make buttonholes without an automated buttonhole feature. That is the way you can do it manually using the directions of your sewing machine, going front and back. We're going to turn now to looking at how to make the machine buttonholes and what options are available, and why they might be useful for different reasons. So some of the top buttonholes that I use are the keyhole buttonhole. I also use the rectangular one which is sometimes called a standard buttonhole. Also another favorite buttonhole of mine is the bound buttonhole. Bound buttonholes are so wonderful. They're like little teeny tiny welt pockets for buttons. How cute is that? Don't you want your button to have a little teeny tiny welt pocket? I can't tell you how to make that with this process, or on this podcast episode because this one is about the automated buttonhole function of your machine. And this is the one where if you have this feature on your machine, you also have a variety of choices or options for your buttonholes. Even this if your machine has embroidery capability, there are ways to either purchase buttonhole designs, or your machine again, depending on the kind of sewing slash embroidery or just embroidery machine that you have might, already come with some buttonhole designs built in. Those are so cute. And it's the same principle as a regular buttonhole, you want to make sure you have enough distance and that your spacing is correct before you start stitching. So when you sit down to the machine, or I'm going to tell you what I do when I sit down at the machine, these are the things I ask myself. I ask myself, What size buttonhole do I need? What size? That's always the first step. I always want to make sure that I'm making it the right size. Now, I know that there's a variety of ways to do this based on the machine that you have. But you get some really good information on the card. The card that the button comes on. If you bought a button that is on the cards like they sell at the fabric stores, when you flip it over, it'll give you some important information. It'll tell you if it's washable or not. I love washable buttons because I love throwing things into my washing machine, instead of paying for dry cleaning. So it'll tell you if it's washable. It'll tell you what the materials are. And it'll tell you the size. So you don't have to measure your buttons if you've bought them with a card attached because they're organized by size. And so the size is written there, so you don't have to deduce it. Now, if you have "boughten". If you have "boughten". If you have bought, I'm trying to say bought and buttons and I got "boughten. I don't know I might use that for something. I Might keep this in. I think it's funny anyway. So if you've bought some buttons that do not have a card attached, say you have inherited your grandmother's button mason jar, or whatever you need to determine the size of those buttons. And there's lots of ways to do that. You can just use a seam gauge or a sliding gauge, and just use that to tell the size. That's one way to do it. Another way is if you have a quilting ruler that has really small measurement sizes on it, you can just lay your button on top of that ruler and look at the eighth markings because buttons tend to be measured in eighths. Though also that can be measured in quarters as well, because quarters are just eighth doubled over anywho you can find the button size that way. If you have a machine that's a little on the higher end, or maybe even not higher end I don't know, you can use your machine to tell you the button size. So I have a friend who has a Bernina and you can pick up the button and press it to the front of the machine, and the machine will scan the button, or measure the button, to see what size it needs to make the buttonhole. So that's pretty cool. For my machine, the buttonhole foot itself has a gauge, you put the button in the buttonhole foot. And then it measures that based on how wide or how narrow the button is held in the foot. And it'll sew a buttonhole that appropriate size because it's measuring it. Because the buttonhole foot itself is also a ruler. That's how I measure buttonholes. But again, you can use a ruler or just read the back of the package and it'll tell you what size. Because the buttonhole function on the machine needs to know how big your buttonhole can be. The second thing I always do, even now after over twenty-five years of sewing, I always practice buttonholes. I always practice them. Now sometimes I practice them and they come out great in practice, and then they mess up when it's time to do it for real. But honestly, that's true of all the sewing I've ever done. If I was like, I want to make sure I get this stitch just right, I want to use the fresh needle I'll practice and it'll be perfect. And I'll do it again and it messes up. So that's just the whims of the sewing fates. That's no reason to not practice. There's every reason to practice buttonholes. I practice at least once before I do it on my actual garmet. And I practice because the practice ditch gives me important information. First, it tells me if once I've sewn it if it will actually fit. So I always do a practice, open it up and slide the button off and on. And again because the buttons come on a card, they're attached pretty firmly to the card. That is so that you can actually put your buttonhole around the button to see how well it fits. If it's too narrow, if it's too tight. If you like how the fabric looks actually on the garment. So that's one of the reasons I believe that the buttons become attached on a card in such a way that you could actually use them as practice to see how well you're going to like it. Another thing that a practice buttonhole gives you, is it lets you know if you need stabilizer or not. If you're working with fabric that might be a little delicate, you will want some kind of stabilization. And this goes back to what I was saying before about buttonholes being like little tiny embroidery designs. Because they are very dense, they are very concentrated. And as a result, all of that weight and tension from the thread pulling, from the understitching, from the satin stitches, the small tight satin stitches that comprise a buttonhole. These are the reasons that you want to practice because in some fabrics, they could be overwhelming. And because the buttonhole is overwhelmed, which sounds like it's a harried mother, but because the buttonhole is overwhelmed, it's not going to be able to do what you need it to do. It will pull, it will snag, and your fabric won't look great. But there's a way to do that. And that's one of the reasons that embroiderers use stabiliser. Because the fabric sometimes, the fabric pretty often is never enough. The fabric is not enough on its own. It's very difficult, for example, to hoop some fabric and not put any stabilizer on the back or on the front. And sure it's possible. But you can get distortion and other things that can happen with machine embroidery, if the fabric is not properly stabilized. So you want to properly stabilize your buttonholes to. The good news is if you are using your buttons and buttonholes on a garment, such as a plaque at a sleeve pocket, or a shirt center front placket or dress pocket for a column of buttons, you already have stabilizer in there. Because you've interface that placket, and that's two layers of the pocket, plus probably two layers of interfacing at a minimum, you should be in great shape to go ahead and sew the buttonholes. But the only way this is if you practice. Now, what if you practice and you discover that your buttonholes absolutely need stabilizer? All you need to do is go stabilize them. So again, as I mentioned earlier, when you think about these little tiny embroidery designs, you can understand now why when you look at some of your buttonholes, if you've used them on fabrics that haven't been stabilized, why they look messed up. So you've practiced and you're like, ugh, this is not what I like, let me fix this. So here's a couple ways that you can stabilize, you can use tearaway or you can use fusible. So sometimes if I need to stabilize the buttonhole at the bottom because I feel as though it's just grabbing, they're in a really because that's where a lot of the tension is at the bottom of the stitch, it's underneath. And if you want to keep it from puckering, you can put something underneath it that you can then tear away easily. So they sell tearaway stabilizers at the fabric store. They're designed for embroidery. You can get them in small amounts. There's other things that people use to stabilize buttonholes that I have not tried. For example, I've not done this, I've heard that folks sometimes use paper towels, they use parchment paper, and someone else mentioned something else.

Lisa Woolfork 43:32

Oh, the Glad Press'n Seal, which is an alternative to regular clingfilm, and so I've heard of people using those products as embroidery and buttonhole stabilizers. I've not done it, so I can't recommend it. I'm just reporting what I've heard in case you wanted to try that. I have not. One thing I also wanted to add was there is another type of stabilizer, and I said fusible before but it's not fusible, it actually disappears with heat. So in embroidery you could have cutaway stabilizers, tearaway stabilizers, washaway, stabilizers, and iron-on or heat removable stabilizers. I forget what the exact phrase is, but you essentially you iron it and the stabilizer dissolves. So, those are other options that you can turn to embroidery stabilizers to help stabilize your buttonholes. If you aren't too concerned about how it's going to look on the back, you can also use other pieces of fabric you can take pieces of interfacing and cover it that way. But I'm offering suggestions that, like the stabilizers that I know remove by tearing, by ironing and, by water, as an alternative, so that you could have the back of your stitches look just as good as the front. Okay, so you have decided whether or not you need stabilizer either you've put it stabilizer underneath, or you put it on top depending on the issues you're trying to compensate for in your test stitch. And now you are ready to sew. The first thing I do is to ensure that when I'm putting the buttonholes on, not only are they evenly spaced according to the marks that I've made, but also that they are evenly parallel to the folded placket of the buttonhole placket. When you put your presser foot down, there is a margin between where the presser foot ends on the right and where the fabric continues toward the right. Some of the problems that I've had in the past is that I might have my buttonholes in the proper place in my markings, but I will lower the presser foot too far to the right of the mark that I made or too far to the left. You want to make sure that you are always putting that in the exact same place where you've put your marks because your marks should also be not just evenly symmetrical at the vertical, you also want them to be evenly symmetrical to the horizontal. You don't want your buttonholes to look like an assortment of Windows lit up in a tall building, you want them to be an even column like Tetris, you want it to be an even column and not like some two spaces to the right some two spaces to the left. And one way that I do that is to either put a mark on my sewing machine, as I mentioned before, in an episode on sewing with stickers, I use stacks of painters tape as a seam guide. I will take my seam guide out, and I will affix it to the bed of the sewing machine. And that way I know I will always put the fold of the fabric right there. And I'm able to follow from one place to the other at the vertical. And I also know that the horizontal is evenly spaced because of the marks that I made. Another way that I do it is if I don't add the same gauge to the bed of the machine, I'll just make sure that my foot is positioned in the same place every time. And that can sometimes be accomplished by just looking at the seem guides that are already on the machine. So if you don't want to go through the extra step of building the seem guide, made with tape that I mentioned in a previous episode that, I think I forgot the number but it's the sewing with stickers episode, I'll put it in the show notes. So in case you want to look at it. That could be another example of how to keep the symmetry going. For me when working with buttonholes and buttons, the thing that makes a garment look not quite as polished as it could be is the haphazard placement of buttons and buttonholes. So you're ready to go, you've got your marks, you've put your presser foot in the right place, you have lowered your presser foot, you have turned the hand wheel towards you, and now you're ready. You know what direction to watch. And all you need to do is just keep your fingers feeding the fabric, you don't have to do anything, All you're doing is monitoring it and making sure it doesn't veer off its lane, you don't have to do anything. All you have to do is just keep it in place and watch the feed dogs and the sewing machine foot do its job. That's one of the benefits of an automatic buttonhole foot is that it will do it for you. And all you have to do is watch. Ideally, if you're either doing the method that I'm describing here, using whatever built in capacity your machine has, you're doing that and it's going fine. You're either pressing the button, or lowering the presser foot, or however you got to do it. Or you're using Quanora Rene's method of the manual buttonhole so you have complete control over it. And that is something that I think is important. There have been a few times when I've had buttons that were far too large to be used in an automatic buttonhole. If I have a button that's two or three inches across. There's no way the machine is going to be able to stitch that buttonhole automatically. I had to do it manually, and it was exactly as Quanora described. And the benefit of it is that I could it could be exactly what I needed, and that I had complete control over how the stitches went. Now before I turn to the last step in our buttonhole process, which is cutting the buttonholes, I want to give a shout out to The Tipsy Pin Cushion who, in Episode 40 of the Stitch Please podcast, that episode is called Buy all the Machines, because she likes to buy all the machines and she has a designated buttonhole machine. And this thing not only sews the buttonhole a

Lisa Woolfork 49:44

ten seconds flat, it also cuts it. It's fantastic. So if you go back and listen to the Stitch Please podcast episode 40 you will hear Tipsy Pin Cushion talking about her machine. You can find her on Instagram. See the buttonhole machine in action. The final step, you've got your buttonholes, now you're ready to go to the next step which is cutting the buttonholes. That's the next and final step. And you want to take caution with this because you don't want to cut through the buttonhole. Before I cut any buttonholes, I put free check on the back, I sometimes do it on the front, but free check, although it is washable, it'll wash out stains quote unquote, a verse application. If the person I'm giving it to wants to wear the shirt right away, I wouldn't want the little residue from the free check showing on the front of the shirt. So I use for a check or for a block, I think is the actual one that I have. It's a liquid that keeps fabrics from traveling, I put a bit of fray check on the back of the garment, run it along the entire buttonhole. I like this because when I cut my buttonholes, I don't want the loose strings to be dangling from the cut. If you put free check down, it keeps it from fraying, the buttonholes are not gonna fall apart. But there are times depending on how wide the vertical lines of your buttonhole are. There is a lot of fabric remaining in that allowance that can unravel and so that's why I always use free check or free block or whatever your favorite brand of that product. Next thing I want to talk about is cutting the buttonhole. So we got the free check on you're ready to cut. There are several ways to do this. The way I learned is the way that I absolutely do not recommend using your seam ripper. You can use your seam ripper to cut buttonholes. That's why I believe it has that little blade in the middle of the seam ripper, but I urge caution because it can be tough to put the needle of the seam ripper into the buttonhole. Sometimes people force it or sometimes I can stick it myself I have forced it and when I force it, it rips so fast through the buttonhole that it cuts the bar tacks at the end. Now there is a way to prevent this. If you take two sewing pins, tie pins to sewing pins, and you place them just before the bartek at the end of the buttonhole. So you could imagine your buttonhole and it looks like the capital letter I because although it's a straight thing going up and down the two horizontal placements of the pin, alright, the top and the bottom. The reason you do this is so that when you do push really hard to push the seam ripper through the fabrics of the Sun buttonhole. That pin will stop it from over cutting. So if you do use the same Ripper and lots of people do, be sure to use pins to keep you from accidentally over cutting it. The second thing is the thing that I use the most. It's a buttonhole knife. And these come in different lengths. I have a couple of them. And essentially, you just push down in one single motion and the sharp razor blade of the buttonhole knife will press really hard and cut right through it. And I like that because it leaves a very tidy and neat set of cuts. I have a teeny tiny mat just for the buttonhole cutter. And I very carefully lay down my garment on top of tiny cutting mat. Position the knife right in the middle of the buttonhole and then just press down very quick. I am always careful with it because it does feel like oh my gosh, if this thing slips, I'm going to stab myself in the leg. And that would be terrible. So it is quite dangerous it can be but if you're careful and touchwood I'm trying to find someone to touch. I have been careful. That's my favorite method of cutting buttonholes. There's one other method that's rather unusual buttonhole scissors.

Lisa Woolfork 54:07

There are scissors that you can use to cut your buttonholes, I bought a set of those scissors at an expo. And the way you use it is it has a screw at the side that controls how how far open the scissors open, and how far the scissors shut. You can choose to cut certain very short lengths of fabric with these little scissors. So if you're buttonholes, half an inch or three quarters of an inch, you can set the buttonhole, you can set the buttonhole knife to that setting and it will make a cut that size. That's another tool that I like because it's that same really sharp incision. And especially if you have used fray check on the back, that sharp incision will stay sharp and the threads on the inside will not chafe or unravel. I want to give you a list of the products that I use when I'm making my buttonholes, I use a buttonhole knife. Even though there are buttonhole scissors, I use a Simflex Expanding Seam Gauge. I use Frixion pins and markers. And I use fray check. I also use stabilizers when that is necessary, but most of the garments that I saw that require buttons already have interfacing a stabilization. So the buttonholes are set up for success when sewing on that fabric. Now Patreon supporters get a special bonus treat with this episode. And that is learning the method that I use for making sure my buttons are in the exact right place, always. So you've made your buttonholes, you've got your buttons already picked out. Now you need to know how to put them on that want to share this tip, you can put your buttons on by machine. You can sew your buttons to your garments, if they are the flat buttons with the two eyes or four eyes, you can sew those on by machine. My machine has a foot, it's called the letter M foot though I guess it could be any letter. But this foot is for the express purpose of sewing on buttons. You put your garment down, you put the button on top of the garment, you lower your foot, you crank your hand wheel, so that you can make sure that your zigzag stitch is clearing both the left eye and the right eye back and forth easily without anything breaking. And then you just sew your button on and then look if your machine automatically knots off, then it'll knot it off. But if it doesn't, you can just reduce your stitch length to zero and it'll make a knot. Now what do you do if you don't have a machine that has a button foot? That ain't no problem. That ain't no problem either because all you need to do is take off your sewing machine foot, lower the shank of the sewing machine, just as I just described, putting your fabric down putting, your button down, you lower your presser foot with no foot on it, just the shank lower, that down and that will hold your button in place. Then you use your zigzag stitch set at zero, after you've tested it to make sure that the zigzag clears both sides, and you can do it the same way. Just set your width to whatever the width of the eyes of the button are. And when you're finished and want to tie it off, just sew in place with a stitch length of zero and that will make a knot. And one last bonus tip to tell you. If you want to make sure your buttons don't move, sometimes you put a button on and you get ready to sew it either by hand or by machine and it shifts around. That ain't no problem because you can use the glue stick. I have a glue stick that's designed for sewing, it's a Sewling or something like that, I can just stick the buttons on with that glue stick and then come back later. And they'll still be on there. Once you've sewn it, the buttons aren't permanently stuck on there. They're just holding on temporarily. And then the glue washes out. That product has worked well for me. Now, if you don't want to go that trouble, I know that people have had good success using other glue sticks like the kind you can get for school. I just wanted to tell you about the one that I had success with. Try and see what works for you. Okay, I think I got through all the topics on my list who knew that I could talk so long about doggon buttons. But thank you all so much for listening and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together. Bye bye.

Lisa Woolfork 58:55

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch the sewing group where, Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at blackwomenstitch@gmail.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P A T R E O N, and you can find Black Woman Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us in the Stitch Please podcast that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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