Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bound buttonholes, a comparison

Oh, me and my big mouth! Last weekend, The Dreamstress posted that she was busy working on her piece for the current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, green, and asked if anyone else was having a ‘green weekend’. Well, the pattern alterations of Vogue 8686 were coming along nicely, I had the (green) fabric ready, and I expected to have some time to make up the dress during the week. So, like a complete idiot, I posted that I hoped to actually get a challenge done on time.

Well, you can guess what happened. All sorts of things turned up to take up my time. Worst of all (from a Challenge point of view), some work on the house which we had been talking about for ages is finally going to happen, and some of it is going to happen in my studio. So not only have I had to relocate to the dining room (I have to put things away when we want to eat, horror!), but I also had to move out everything which wouldn’t take kindly to a lot of dust: rolls of fabric, sewing machines, more rolls of fabric etc. etc.

Just some of the stuff I had to move

The result? I’m a long way behind on yet another challenge. I’ve made a start on the dress bodice, but I’ve only got as far as the buttonholes.

The dress has three buttons at the back of the neck, and these fasten with bound buttonholes.

Vogue 8686, back view

It’s a very long time since I’ve done bound buttonholes. The pattern instructions give the method which I’ve used in the past, but I vaguely remembered reading about a different approach, which uses patches of silk organza. I found details of the organza patch method in Vogue Sewing, and also in Gertie’s blog, so I decided to make up samples of both techniques, and see which one I preferred.

I worked two buttonholes by each method, so that I could refine the process as I went along. To start off, I basted sew-in interfacing to the back of each sample piece, to match the construction of the bodice.

The method in the pattern instructions
The pattern includes a single piece for cutting out the fabric for all three buttonholes; I shortened this to two. Once I'd cut the fabric out, I tacked through the pattern to mark the corners of each buttonhole. The fabric is woven from quite thick threads, which give a clearly defined warp and weft, so it will be very obvious if the buttonholes aren't exactly on the grain. With this in mind, I clearly marked the corners of each buttonhole with tacking along the gaps between the threads.

The buttonhole piece and the pattern. This is also the only photo which shows the fabric in the correct colour!

Then I laid the buttonhole piece onto the fabric, right sides together, making sure that the grains were properly aligned.

Buttonhole piece tacked into place

Next I sewed the rectangles marked on the pattern. This needs a very short stitch length; whereas I usually have the stitch length dial on my machine set to around 2.5, for this I set it to 1. The stitching needs to start partway along one of the long sides, and be overlapped by a few stitches at the end. It's particularly important that the long edges of the rectangle are perfectly parallel: I sewed the short edges by hand-turning the balance wheel of the machine, and counting the stitches.

The stitching shows up better on the wrong side

The buttonhole was cut according to the diagram below. The stitching is shown in black, and the cutting lines in red. Cut right into the corners, but be careful not to cut the stitching.

The buttonhole piece was cut in two, following the broken line on the pattern piece in the first photograph above. Then all the tacking threads were removed, and each square was pushed through the hole cut in its centre.

One buttonhole turned through, the other partway

The fabric has to be pulled firmly on the wrong side to make it lie flat. This is where I discovered that I hadn't snipped right into the corners in a couple of places, and had to cut through a couple more threads. Next I pinned the buttonhole piece to the main fabric at the centres of the short sides of the rectangle. Then I pleated the top and bottom sections so that they met in the middle of the cut-out rectangle.

One buttonhole pinned flat, the other with the fabric pleated and pinned into place

I overcast the folds together at either end of the buttonhole. I used contrasting thread for the example, so that the stitches would show. I also sewed down the raw edges, although this wasn't necessary.

Completed buttonhole from the wrong side

This was the finished article. Not very good. The buttonhole lips are not equally sized, and fabric is showing at the short edges. On the plus side, the buttonhole is exactly on the grain.

Could do better

For my second attempt, I trimmed a tiny amount off the raw edge of the long side of the seam allowance. This left a little gap between the two edges, which accommodated the thickness of the pleats meeting in the centre. I was also a lot firmer in pulling the short ends out.

The long edge trimmed

I tacked across the buttonhole piece an equal number of threads above and below the centre point. This made it much easier to check if the pleats were even.

The tacking line just visible on the lower section

The end result looked much better.

Perfectly even tacking lines, and the extra fabric trimmed away

And much better from the front as well.

Even lips, no side sections showing, and still on the grain

Definitely an improvement on the first attempt. And the two buttonholes are in line!

No contest

The organza patch method
I made a few alterations to the instructions I found online. These recommended marking the buttonhole on the interfacing on the wrong side of the garment. However, partly because the interfacing is black, but mostly because of the importance of having the buttonhole follow the fabric grain, I stuck with my tacking lines. However this time they are on the fabric/bodice itself. The organza patches are cut 2.5cm / 1" larger than the buttonhole all round.

The prepared fabric and the organza patches

I had marked the buttonhole shape on the organza, but it turned out that it wasn't really necessary, as the tacking stitches showed through clearly. As before, the outline is sewn with a short stitch length.

One patch pinned in place, and one patch sewn on

The buttonhole is then cut as before, and the organza pushed through to the back and pressed in place. It's important that none of the organza shows on the right side.

The organza is slightly visible, and the 'windows' aren't entirely rectangular

The next step was the lips of the buttonhole. For each buttonhole I cut two rectangles of fabric, each 2.5cm / 1" larger than the buttonhole all round. These were placed right sides together, and sewn across the middle. I sewed one by machine and one by hand, because I wasn't sure that the machining was following the grain exactly.

Important! These stitches will be removed eventually, so if they are sewn by machine, remember to increase the stitch length first!

Next 'butterfly' the pieces by folding along the stitching line so that the wrong sides are together. Press firmly.

One set of lips hand sewn together, the other set pressed flat

Pin this piece behind the window in the fabric, with the lips even.

This is where it gets tricky. Turn over to the wrong side, and fold the fabric back, so that the long seam allowance of the window is visible. Sew this to the buttonhole lip, sewing over the existing line of stitching. Gertie does this by machine, using a zipper foot to get right into the stitching line. I was a wimp, and sewed mine by hand.

Sew along the line of machine stitches visible in the centre of this photograph

This was where the problem with hand sewing the lips together became apparent.

The lips are coming apart, and the main piece is puckering towards the centre

The machine sewn lips stayed together, but as well as being uneven, the puckering persisted.

Still not right

The two completed buttonholes

And the back view

The verdict
Although it's not that obvious in the photograph below, the organza patch method produced what looked like a 'deeper' buttonhole, as the lips were set back from the window. Also, despite my best efforts, the grain of the fabric still curves in to the lips, both above and below the second buttonhole. For this fabric, I think that the method given in the pattern works best.

All four samples.

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