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Sewing Basics
Fixing Sewing Accidents
by Barbara Deckert
Sewing the Perfect Seam
by Kristina Harris
Darts & Pleats
by Laurie Baker
Bound Buttonholes
by Thelma Horton
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Sewing Basics
Whether you’re a sewing expert, dabbler or anything in
between, everyone can use a refresher course from time
to time. Find out how to repair common sewing mistakes
(without having to start over) in “Fixing Sewing Accidents”;
discover professional seam finishes, tips and techniques
in “Sewing the Perfect Seam”; learn about shaping and
customizing garments in “Darts & Pleats”; and create
polished functional and decorative buttonhole applications with “Bound Buttonholes.” These practical sewing
guides will motivate you to get into the sewing room
and stitch up a storm.
Happy sewing!
Kari Bjordahl
Assistant Editor, Sew News
Fixing Sewing Accidents .................................PAGE 3
Sewing the Perfect Seam ...........................PAGE 7
Darts & Pleats ...........................................PAGE 10
Bound Buttonholes ....................................PAGE 14
to get you started
Sewing accidents are
inevitable no matter how
careful or skilled the sewer.
Irons malfunction and melt
or scorch fabric, scissors
slip and snip in the wrong
place, pins leave unwanted
holes and seam rippers
rip more than stitches.
Fortunately, there are ways
to fix or mask common
sewing accidents.
Tear Repair
1 Reinforce and stitch tear
Unlike holes that need to be covered
with a patch or darning, tears can be
fixed with a narrow seam.
Reinforce the torn edges by placing
½”-wide strips of fusible interfacing
as close as possible to both edges on
the wrong side. Fuse in place following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Fold the fabric to bring the tear edges
right sides together; pin.
With a short straight stitch, sew a scant
¼” away from the raw edge. Stitch
parallel to the tear, beginning and
ending on the fold to form a point
¼” beyond each tear end as for a
dart point. Backstitch at each end to
secure, and then zigzag the raw edges
to prevent raveling.
Press the seam to one side, pressing
the points as flat as possible (1).
Disguise the mend by stitching a
mirror-image tuck on the opposite
side of the garment as if it were a
planned design element. Decorate the
mend with beading, appliqué or other
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2 Decorate mend with beadwork or trim
tip: Be meticulous about keeping your iron’s soleplate clean.
A buildup of fibers, detergent and fabric-softener residues, fusible
resins or starch can scorch or rub off on fabric.
trim. For example, if you accidentally
cut the foldline on the center-front
fold, mend the cut and cover it with
a row of beading (2). If the cut is
near gathers or pleats, adjust them so
the mend is hidden in the fabric folds.
Clips & Snips
Enclosed seams need to be graded,
the curves clipped, and the corners
trimmed and turned.
If you clipped through the stitching,
3 Restitch collar point inside clip
reinforce the clipped area with a small
circle of fusible interfacing. Overstitch with a short stitch length, starting
½” from the clipped area. Stitch ⅛”
inside the original seamline, stitching
past the clip and blending into the
original stitching line.
For symmetry, such as on collars,
over-stitch the opposite collar end to
match. If you poke through one of
the collar points, restitch both points
so they look the same on the finished
garment (3).
For fuzzy, thick woolens, use fine-grit
sandpaper to carefully remove the upper layer of scorched fibers and reveal
undamaged fibers. If all else fails,
cover the scorch with a patch
or appliqué.
Revive smashed pile with a steam treatment. Put the garment on a hanger,
hang it on the bathroom shower rod,
fill the tub with the hottest water
available, and then close the bathroom door for about an hour. The
pile will bloom and the wrinkles will
Unwanted pressmarks don’t always go
away with re-pressing since fibers can
be smashed and damaged.
Ironing Accidents
To remove a pressmark, hold the iron
Good seamstresses know that pressing
is a key sewing component, but irons
can cause scorches, smashed pile, press
marks, and bubbled interfacing, and
spitting soleplates can cause water spots.
above the mark and steam generously.
Rub the mark with your fingers or a
clothes brush, and then re-press. For
fabrics that don’t water spot, spray the
area lightly with water, rub the mark,
and re-press. For delicate fabrics and
woolens, always use a press cloth to
prevent and treat the problem.
If the iron was set at too high a temperature, held down too long or the
thermostat malfunctioned and left a
scorch mark, spot-clean, launder or
dry-clean the fabric.
If laundering, pretreat the scorched
area with stain remover, and then use
bleach that’s appropriate for the fiber
content and color. For woolens, spotclean the scorch with a solution of
one-half hydrogen peroxide and onehalf water. Spot-rinse with water, and
then blot with a dry cloth. Repeat the
application as needed.
If water doesn’t work, spray the mark
with a one-half water, one-half white
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AVOID bubbled interfacing
Even if you followed the manufacturer’s instructions,
fusible interfacing can look bubbled or blistered especially
after a few launderings.
Topstitch over bubbled interfacing
To undo the damage, first try re-pressing. Often a little
more heat, steam and pressure will force the fusible’s
resins into the fabric and eliminate the bubbles.
If re-pressing doesn’t work, try pulling the layers
apart. Press the interfacing to soften the resins, and
then quickly and carefully pull the layers apart. Allow to
cool and don’t re-press; the interfacing will now behave
like a sew-in.
Bubbled interfacing wrong side
If the blistered look persists, try quilting or topstitching
the area with decorative thread. Rows or grids of straight
or simple utility stitches, scattered embroidered motifs or
free-motion swirls sewn with a darning foot will make the
problem look like it was planned.
More tips for resolving the bubbled-interfacing dilemma:
7 Preshrink the fabric by laundering or by steam pressing
dry-clean-only fabric. Preshrink all fusible interfacing by
immersing in warm water, soaking for 30 minutes, and
then hanging to dry. Don’t twist or wring the interfacing,
as the twisting can remove the fusible resin.
7 Use an ironing press if you have one. They produce
approximately 10 times the amount of pressure as a
hand iron. Allow the press or iron to heat up to the
recommended setting. If the fusible requires a higher
temperature than is appropriate for the fiber content of
your fabric, use a sew-in interfacing instead.
7 Allow fused fabric to cool and dry completely before
moving. Fuse fabric the day prior to cutting and
7 Since fabrics and fusible interfacings may have different
fiber contents, they can shrink different amounts. If
possible, launder garments in cool water and hang to
dry to help prevent bubbling as the garment ages.
If fusible resin ends up where
7 Use a plain cotton ironing board cover. Aluminum-type
covers reflect too much heat, fusing at a too-high
you don’t want it, use rubbing
7 Press the area to be interfaced, and then immediately
lay the interfacing resin side down on the hot fabric.
Blow steam over the area; the interfacing may ripple or
curl up as it shrinks. Lift and reposition the interfacing,
cover with a press cloth and fuse.
swabs in foil packets are handy
alcohol to remove it. Alcohol
Test on a
fabric scrap first.
for this purpose.
7 Use a firm up and down motion when fusing with a
hand iron.
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4 Draw snag to wrong side
tip: If pressing
doesn’t remove pin
holes, try the spitand-scratch maneuver—moisten your
finger tip, and then
rub the holes gently
with your fingernail.
For dry-clean-only
fabric, use a small
paintbrush to dab
the hole sparingly
with water. Carefully
scratch at the holes,
and then cover with a
press cloth; press.
5 Reinforce and repair seam slippage
vinegar solution; rub and re-press. Test
the vinegar solution on a fabric scrap.
If your iron spits and drips leaving
water spots on your fabric, don’t
panic. Place an absorbent, white press
cloth under the water spot. Place
another press cloth over the spot.
Spray lightly with water; press. Often
this will disburse the ring. Test on a
scrap first.
Fabrics sold folded on bolts have a
crease mark down the center. The
crease can be difficult to remove
even after washing the fabric. Try a
one-half vinegar and one-half water
solution, or use spray starch when
pressing the crease. The starch bolsters
smashed fibers, and the slight shine
distracts from the crease making it
less visible.
Snags & Seam
Whether on wovens or knits, resist the
urge to simply clip off a snag since a
hole could form as a result. Instead,
use a tiny crochet hook to pull the
loop to the wrong side.
Alternately, use a needle and thread.
From the garment wrong side, insert
the eye end of a threaded needle
through the fabric as close as possible
to the snag. Wrap the thread around
the snag, and then grasp the needle
and thread together underneath, using
them to pull the snag to the wrong
side (4).
Seam slippage occurs when a garment
is too tight or should’ve been underlined because the fabric is loosely
woven or slippery. To fix a slipped
seam, first perform the spit and
scratch maneuver as you would for
pinholes to realign the fabric weave
where it has slipped.
Fuse two narrow strips of fusible
interfacing over the stitching line on
the seam wrong side. Over-stitch
the seam (5). Z
Barbara Deckert, a custom dressmaker in
Elkridge, MD, writes more about
trauma in the sewing room in Sewing 911:
Practical and Creative Rescues
for Sewing Emergencies from The
Taunton Press.
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to get you started
Sewing the
“Perfect” Seam
HEART of all sewing—yet there
are many sewers who take them for
granted, hurrying over the details. But
a bad seam can make an entire
project look hopelessly frumpy and
homemade, while a well-sewn seam
results in a polished and professionallooking project.
mind your tools
The first step to creating great seams
is to service your sewing machine.
Like a vehicle, sewing machines run
better and last longer if they’re “tuned
up” regularly. If you don’t know how
to do this yourself, take your machine
to a neighborhood sewing machine
center; a tune-up is generally inexpensive, but can make a world of
difference to your sewing.
Dust the machine between projects; if
you’re sewing for hours each day, you
may need to clean your machine
a couple times a day.
Oil the machine. First, check the
machine manual; if your machine
is not self-lubricating, lubricate the
machine frequently with sewing
machine oil (found at fabric stores in
the notions section). Oil every place
that moves and comes into contact
with another part—consult your
machine manual to be sure you find
every place. A single, small drop is all
that’s needed. Machines should be
oiled about every four to six hours of
use. Failure to oil and clean machines
can quickly lead to sloppy stitches.
Change the sewing machine needle
frequently. Machine needles dull
quickly, resulting in skipped and
sloppy stitches. The average home
sewer should change needles for
every project. Those who sew for
many hours a day should change
their needle every four to six hours.
Also make sure you’re using the
correct needle for the project. The
basic rule of thumb is to use a sharp
needle for woven fabrics, a ball-point
for knits, and a universal for either.
Also consider using specialty needles
designed for particular fabrics (such
as leather and denim) and particular
tasks (like topstitching).
cut a straight seam
One of the keys to beautiful seams
is accurate cutting. Many sewers find
they can cut more efficiently with a
rotary cutter and mat. Others prefer
standard dressmaking shears. Still
others prefer a combination of the
two. A little experimentation with
cutting tools is the best way to find
what works most effectively for you.
Remember, too, that if you haven’t
preshrunk your fabric or straightened
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its grain, even the most accurate
cutting won’t save the garment.
Never use ordinary household
scissors, dull shears, or any tool not
designed for cutting fabric; you’ll only
end up frustrated, with inaccurate
edges. To keep your cutting tools
sharp, use them only to cut fabric.
Paper (including tissue paper) dulls
shears quickly.
A good cutting table will also help
you to cut more accurately and easily.
It should be big enough to spread
out your fabric, and high enough that
your back doesn’t ache when cutting.
If you must cut on the floor, it’s best
to use a hard floor, rather than a carpeted one. If you only have carpeted
space, put something hard down first
(like cardboard).
Take your time when cutting out
patterns and follow the cutting lines
carefully. For the most accuracy when
using shears, use long, even strokes,
instead of short, choppy ones.
sew a straight
Fortunately, actually sewing seams isn’t
difficult. The pattern directions will
indicate how wide the seam allowance should be; line up the fabric
edge with the corresponding seam
guideline on the sewing machine. If
for some reason your machine doesn’t
have the correct markings, make a
seam guide by measuring to the right
of the needle position and indicating
the width with masking tape. There
are also a variety of seam guides
available at notion counters.
Before you sew a single seam, teststitch on scraps from the project to
make sure your stitches are balanced
and the machine is properly adjusted
for the chosen fabric. Read your
sewing machine manual for specifics
on how best to do this. When the
tensions are properly balanced, the
upper and lower threads interlock
halfway between the fabric layers (1).
Needle Thread
Bobbin Thread
seam finishes
Every seam needs a good finish. There are a wide
variety of finishes to choose from (some more appropriate for one fabric than for another), so when you begin
a new project, it’s a good idea to test a few different
seam finishes on a scrap of the project fabric.
The correct seam finish prevents the fabric from
raveling and helps the seam stand up to wear and
cleaning. A good seam finish should be smooth and
without puckers. It shouldn’t add much bulk to the seam
or show on the project right side.
Below are several of the most popular seam finishes.
If you’re not familiar with them all, why not try one on
your next project?
Pinked Edges:
Pinking is one of the
oldest forms of finishing a seam, and
works best on closely
woven cloth. This
attractive seam finish
is accomplished with
pinking shears. Never
use pinking shears to
cut out a garment. Instead, cut out the pattern with
dressmaking shears or a rotary cutter, and once a seam
is sewn, use the pinking shears to finish the seam
With lightweight fabrics, place the seam allowances
together and pink both edges at the same time. For
medium- to heavyweight fabric, pink each edge separately. Don’t cut deeply into the allowance; snip off just
enough to get a clean cut. For added assurance that the
allowance won’t fray, straight stitch 1⁄4” from the seam
allowance cut edge before you pink.
Serging: Perhaps
the most common
seam finish used
today, serged
seams are quick
and easy. Use a
three-thread balanced stitch, and
allow the serger to
trim and overcast
the raw edges at
the same time.
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The easiest way to mess up a seam
is to sew too quickly. Take your time
and make sure the fabric edges stay
even with the seam guideline on
your machine. Watch the fabric edge,
not the needle.
Be sure to sew “directionally”—
with the fabric grain, not against it.
This will help keep the seam from
stretching or puckering. The stitching
direction is sometimes indicated on
the pattern. As a basic rule of thumb,
stitch from the widest part of a piece
to the narrowest (for example, from
the hem to the waistline on a skirt).
When in doubt, run your finger
along the cut edge of the cloth; running your finger against the grain will
make the edge start to fray, while
running your finger with the grain
will smooth the threads.
Remember that old sewing adage
“press as you sew”? It may be tempting to dismiss it, but your seams will
suffer if you do. You can sew multiple
seams without moving to the ironing
board, but never sew connecting
seams without pressing first. Also be
sure to press seams directionally with
the grain, to preserve the shape of the
If you’re still dissatisfied with your
seams, consider using a walking foot;
it will feed fabric more evenly into
the machine, and may be particularly
helpful for slippery or thick fabrics.
Whatever your skill level, you’ll
find it isn’t difficult to stitch a great
French Seam: This
classic seam finish
works well with lightto mediumweight
fabrics. With wrong
sides together, stitch
the seam 1⁄4” from
the raw edge. Press
the seam allowances
to one side. Fold the
seam with right sides together, then press so the
previously stitched line is on the edge of the fold.
Sew a second seam 3⁄8”
from the fold, enclosing
the first seam allowances.
The following techniques
encase the seam
allowance and are best
used for bulky fabrics or
fabrics that ravel easily.
Hong Kong Finish: First
press open a length of
double-fold bias tape or
Hong Kong
seam. And with a professional-looking
seam, you’ll be well on your way to
creating a professional and beautiful
project as well. Z
Learn more about seams and seam finishes in these books, available from your
local bookstore, library or fabric store.
Vogue Sewing by the editors of Butterick
and Vogue patterns, The Butterick
Publishing Co., 2000.
New Complete Guide to Sewing by the
editors of Reader’s Digest, The Reader’s
Digest Assoc., 2002.
Kristina Harris is the author of a dozen
books on historical fashion, including
The Collector’s Guide To Vintage Fashions.
She lives and sews in Oregon.
use 1”-wide bias fabric strips. With right sides together
and raw edges matching, stitch the bias to the seam
allowance using a 1⁄4” seam. Fold the bias over the
seam allowance, completely encasing the raw edge.
Press and stitch “in the ditch”—in the small groove
created by the first row of stitching. Trim the bias strip
if necessary.
Bound Seam: Finger-press double-fold bias tape open,
then lay the raw edge of the seam allowance against
the tape’s fold so the slightly wider side of the tape is
beneath the allowance. Fold the other edge of the tape
over, enclosing the
seam allowance. Pin
in place. (The slightly
narrower side of the
tape should be laying
on top of the seam
allowance.) With the
narrower tape edge
facing up, stitch the
binding to the
allowance catching
the wider binding
edge underneath.
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to get you started
darts & pleats
piece of fabric conform to the contours of a three-dimensional body?
The answer is to fold out excess
material. In garments, this is accomplished with darts and pleats.
A dart is a fold of fabric stitched
down on the wrong side of a garment to create a closer fit. You’ll find
darts used most often to shape the
bust, back, waist and hips. There are
three basic types of darts: singlepointed, double-pointed and curved.
Each type has a different shape in
order to achieve different results. As
a rule, the more curved the dart, the
closer it will fit to the body.
Darts appear on commercial patterns as triangles, diamonds or football
shapes, depending on their type.
Before cutting out a darted garment,
be sure that each dart points toward
the fullest part (or parts) of the body
to which it is conforming. Redraw
the dart to make it longer or shorter,
if necessary, to achieve the desired
amount of fullness.
Transfer all dart markings to the
fabric wrong sides before removing
the pattern tissue. Mark delicate or
lofty fabrics with tailor tacks for
accuracy and to prevent damage. For
more stable fabrics, use dressmaker’s
tracing paper and wheel, or pins and
chalk to transfer the markings (see
“Back to Basics: Marking Methods”
in the April ’03 Sew News).
1 Single-pointed, Straight Dart
straight dart
This is the most common dart. On
a pattern it looks like a triangle with
a line through the center (1).
on the pattern by small dots) on the
fabric wrong side.
To sew a single-pointed, straight
dart, mark the dart lines and any
matching points (usually indicated
With right sides together, fold the dart
on the center line. Make sure the
outer lines and matching points align;
Darts and pleats add shape to a
garment and can customize the fit.
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2 Fold
matchFold on
lines. lines.
3 Double-pointed,
4 Fold
Fold and
5 Single-pointed,
Curved Dart
pin at right angles to the stitching
line, placing one pin at the dart
point (2).
Stitch from the wide end to the point,
making the last two or three stitches
as close to the foldline as possible;
don’t backstitch. Remove the garment
piece from the machine, leaving
thread tails approximately 4” long.
With the thread ends together, tie
a knot as close to the dart point
as possible.
straight dart
This dart has a point at each end,
appearing as an elongated diamond
(3). The double-pointed, straight dart
can take the place of two singlepointed darts when placed at the
waistline. The widest part sits at the
waist, with the points toward the
bust and hip.
For accuracy, stitch double-pointed
darts in two separate steps and directions. Mark the dart lines and all
matching points on the garment
wrong side.
With right sides together, fold the
dart on the center line. Match and
pin the dart outer lines together, pinning first at the waist point and then
at the end points. Add additional pins
as needed (4).
Beginning at the center dot, stitch toward one end point, making the last
two or three stitches as close to the
foldline as possible; don’t backstitch.
Remove the garment from the
machine, leaving thread tails approximately 4” long.
Stitch in the opposite direction. Start
again from the dart center, and work
toward the remaining point, overlapping two or three stitches of the
previous stitch line. Leave 4” thread
tails. Tie the thread tails into knots
at each dart end.
Curved Dart
Clip into the dart fold at the waistline,
ending ⅛” from the stitching; press
toward the garment center. Clipping
the dart alleviates strain at the waistline by eliminating bulk and allows
the dart to lie smooth.
Mark the dart lines and all matching
points on the garment wrong side.
curved darts
Stitch the dart and secure the thread
tails, following the instructions above
for either a single- or doublepointed dart.
Curved darts are stitched very much
like straight ones, but because of their
shape curved darts fit closer to the
body. On a pattern, a curved dart
looks similar to a straight dart, except
the stitching lines are curved rather
than straight (5).
With right sides together, fold the
dart through the center so the outer
stitching lines and match points align;
pin in place.
Clip the fold edge, perpendicular to
the stitching, in several places along
the curve to prevent puckering.
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tip: If you prefer not to tie off threads, decrease the stitch length to 20 stitches per
inch as you approach the dart point and stitch off the fold; leave 1⁄ 4”-long thread tails.
pressing darts
The steps for pressing darts are simple. Begin by pressing the dart flat as
stitched. Lay the dart over a tailor’s
ham, and press the dart to one side.
For horizontal darts, such as bust
darts, press the fold downward; for
vertical darts, press the fold toward
the garment center (6). See “Best
Pressed” on page 64.
If the dart is wide or the fabric is
heavy, slash the dart to within 1” of
the point, and trim the seam allowances to ½” from the stitching line.
Press the slashed allowance open
and the point flat (7).
the need for any additional stitching.
Tucks are usually marked on patterns
as broken lines. Tuck lines are usually
straight, but they can be curved to
create a small amount of shaping.
using the best marking method for
the fabric. For tucks on the garment
outside, mark the lines on the fabric
right side; for tucks on the garment
inside, mark the wrong side.
To make a released tuck, mark the
tuck lines on the garment piece,
Bring the marked lines together; pin
in place. Stitch as indicated in the
6 Press horizontal darts down and
vertical darts toward garment
7 Slash dart and press allowance
open and point flat.
dart tucks
Also known as released tucks, these
folds are used to take in fabric at a
specific area and release it at another
point (8). You will most often find
this method for controlling fullness
used at the bust and hips. Unlike
darts, the tuck portion can be on the
inside or outside of the garment.
Only part of the fold is stitched,
releasing the fabric’s full width where
the stitching ends. The tuck may be
secured across the top or bottom, or
with a short line of stitching through
the center (9). The upper or lower
portion of the tuck also can be
enclosed in a seamline, eliminating
9 Tucks can be secured at top,
bottom, or center.
8 Dart or Released Tucks
one-thread dart stitching method
This technique eliminates the need to secure a dart by knotting the thread ends. It works for any dart type but is
especially useful if the knots might show through a sheer fabric.
Set up your machine as you normally would, but don’t pass the upper thread through the needle. Bring the bobbin
thread up through the throatplate, passing it through the needle eye from back to front.
Tie the upper thread and bobbin thread together in a small knot. Wind the upper thread back onto the spool, pulling
the bobbin thread up through the tension disks and thread guides. Wind enough thread to stitch one dart.
Mark the dart as previously described, but stitch from the point to the widest end.
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pattern instructions. Secure by backstitching at the beginning and end
of the stitching line or by knotting
the thread ends.
Press the folds in the direction indicated in the pattern instructions.
These fabric folds are wider than
tucks, and they’re always formed by
stitching straight lines. Pleats can be
stitched or pressed into place and
used either singly or as a group to
control fullness. They can be formed
from the fabric right or wrong side,
depending on the type of pleat. A
pattern will indicate where the fabric
is to be folded and where the fold is
to be aligned to form the pleat.
Generally these lines are labeled foldline and placement line, but patterns
P Knife Pleats
vary, so be sure to read the instructions carefully.
Use tailor’s tacks or a chalk marker
and ruler to mark the lines on the
fabric wrong side, making sure the
lines are straight. Use a different color
thread or chalk for each of the two
types of lines. Transfer the markings
to the right side, if necessary.
By folding the fabric in different
ways you can achieve several pleat
variations. The most common are
knife pleats, box pleats and inverted pleats.
inverted pleats
knife pleats
pressing pleats
Knife pleats, also called straight pleats,
have folds that all lie in the same
direction (10). The pattern will be
marked with one foldline and one
placement line per pleat.
Proper pressing is the key to the bestlooking pleats. Pleats can be lightly
pressed to create soft folds, or they
can be pressed sharp for more distinct
folds. Because you will be pressing
through several fabric layers, use a
steam iron for best results, and always
use a press cloth. To eliminate ridges
on the garment right side, place
strips of brown paper between the
pleat folds and the outer garment
when pressing.
To make a knife pleat, fold the fabric
on the foldline and bring the fold to
the placement line, following the
arrow on the pattern.
Hand-baste or pin each pleat along
the folded edge to temporarily secure
in place.
Baste across the pleat upper edges.
Q Box Pleat
Refer to “Pressing Pleats” (at right)
for how to press the pleat edges
before attaching the pleated section to
the rest of the garment.
Follow the pattern instructions if
edgestitching or topstitching is
required for the desired look.
box pleats
W Inverted Pleat
Box pleats have two folds that face
away from each other on the right
side and toward each on the wrong
side (11). The pattern will show two
foldlines and two placement lines per
pleat. Follow the pattern instructions
to fold the pleats; baste as you would
a knife pleat; and refer to “Pressing
Pleats” (at right) for the correct
pressing technique.
Inverted pleats have folds that turn
toward each other on the right side
and away from each other on the
wrong side (12). The pleat inner
portion can be a separate section
stitched to the garment piece to
add an accent that is seen when the
pleat flips open. The pattern will
show two foldlines and one placement line per pleat if the pleat is
formed from one fabric piece.
For soft pleats, lay a dry press cloth
over the pleat fold on the garment
right side. Lightly steam the pleat by
holding the iron about 2” above the
area. Allow the fabric to cool and
dry before moving the garment.
For crisp pleats, lay a damp press
cloth over the pleat fold and apply
the full pressure of the iron. Press
both the right and wrong sides of the
pleat, again letting it cool and dry
before moving. Z
Laurie Baker has more than 35 years of
sewing experience and is a former Sew
News editor. She lives in central Illinois
with her husband, two children and two
cats. She enjoys working as a freelance
writer, editor and designer for the sewing,
quilting and crafting industries.
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to get you started
for man-tailored and casual garments.
From tailored bound buttonholes to
delicate thread loops, decorative buttons
to inconspicuous snaps, there’s a wide
variety of closures to choose from.
But a criterion of fine tailoring is
bound buttonholes.
Quality Counts
Bound buttonholes are fancier buttonholes that are surrounded by fabric
instead of thread. They give a polished
look to coats and jackets, tops, blouses
and even jeans.
Sewing any type of buttonhole can be
nerve-wracking and time-consuming,
but a well-placed buttonhole makes all
the difference in finished projects. The
making of perfect buttonholes demands
practice and the use of proper tools
and materials.
A bound buttonhole is made slightly
larger than a standard buttonhole. Make
several test samples to check the finished
buttonhole length. Before attempting
bound buttonholes on the garment,
master the technique in the fabric type
you’re planning to use.
Size Matters
ESSENTIAL PART of wearing apparel
and fashion for decades—both for
functional fastening applications and
for elaborate decorative applications.
Certain buttonholes are only
considered and applied by couturiers
and tailors, not the typical home
sewer. Persons in the trade take great
pride in the buttonholes they make,
and many of them judge the other’s
skill by their buttonholes alone.
Couturiers use bound buttonholes
for a tailored, professional look; handworked buttonholes for soft or delicate
fabrics; and machine-worked buttonholes
The toughest part about sewing
buttonholes is knowing what size to
make them.
If you’re working with a pattern, the
pattern markings usually include
exact placement, button size and
recommended buttonhole types, unless
you’ve altered the pattern. If so, adjust
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Use a contrasting fabric for
an inset bound buttonhole to add
an unexpected detail to a buttonfront blouse, dress or jeans.
the buttonholes by evenly spacing them
between the top and bottom buttonholes. Or mark the sewing lines for all
the buttonholes with whatever spacing,
length, and distance from the edge you
choose. Make sure to allow enough
overlap for proper garment closing.
If you’re not sure what size to make the
buttonhole, there are several ways to
determine the length. Measure the
button’s diameter plus the thickness,
and then add the two. Another option
is to cut a slash in scrap fabric until the
button slides through, and then measure
the cut to find the buttonhole length.
If the button is an unusual shape, pin a
strip of paper around the fullest part
of the button, and then measure the
paper between the pin marks.
Bound buttonholes are made from a
rectangular window or frame and two
approximately ¼”-wide insets or lips.
The lips are an even width and meet
exactly at the center of the opening.
There are several methods for making
this kind of buttonhole. Your choice
should depend on the fabric, the
desired decorative effect and, of course,
your personal preference. This timesaving
bound-buttonhole technique will help
you create an eye-catching garment
quickly without the difficulty of tailoring.
Bound for Glory
7 Garment fabric (amount indicated
by pattern)
7 Garment pattern suitable for boundbuttonhole application
7 Disappearing ink pen or marking pencil
7 Clear ruler or sewing gauge with 1⁄ 8”
and 1⁄4” markings
7 Embroidery scissors
7 Press cloth
7 Fusible interfacing
(amount indicated by pattern)
Cut 3” squares from the garment
fabric, cutting one for each buttonhole. Adjust the square size if larger
buttonholes are desired. The square
should be at least 2” wider and 1”
longer than the buttonhole. The
fabric squares will become the
buttonhole “lips,” so use a contrasting fabric for the squares for a
unique design element if desired.
Mark the buttonhole positions using
the pattern markings as a guide (1).
Draw a line through the dots, forming a
Using a clear ruler or sewing gauge
and marking pen, draw small dots
parallel to and ⅛” away from either
side of the drawn lines (2). The span
between dots should only be ¼”.
small rectangular box around the line
(3). Repeat for each buttonhole.
Place a pin through the line on the
garment wrong side (4).
women vs men
On women’s clothes, buttonholes are made on the garment’s right-hand side, closing from
right to left. On men’s clothing, buttonholes are on the garment’s left-hand side, closing from
left to right.
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to get you started
Contrasting thread was used on the featured
samples for readability. When you stitch in the
ditch, the stitches won’t be visible.
Fold one fabric square in half with right
sides facing; press. Position the square
over the buttonhole on the garment
right side; align the foldline with the
pin and unfold the square. Pin the
square in place along the outer edges.
Set the machine for a very short straight
stitch. Stitch along the outer lines of
the drawn box, pivoting at the corners.
Fold the buttonhole in half lengthwise with
the fabric right sides facing. Using a pair
of very sharp embroidery scissors or a
small rotary cutter, cut open the buttonhole. Begin cutting midway through the
buttonhole, and end about ¼” from the
edges. Then cut up to, but not through,
each corner, forming small triangles (5).
Pull the fabric square through the buttonhole opening to the garment wrong
side (6). Work the fabric square so the
corners lay flat on the right side.
Repeat to fold the patch lower edge (7).
Turn the garment piece so the right side
is facing up. Check that each buttonhole lip is balanced and the folds align
in the center. Baste the buttonhole lips
together (8).
Fold one patch short edge away from
the garment fabric to expose one
triangular buttonhole end. Stitch across
the triangle through the fabric square,
stitching back and forth several times
and using a very short stitch (9).
Repeat to stitch the triangle piece
to the other patch side.
Stitch in the ditch of the upper and
lower buttonhole seams on the garment
right side (10).
Remove the basting stitches.
Repeat the process to create the
remaining buttonholes. Z
Press carefully on the garment wrong
side, placing a press cloth between the
fabric and patch so the patch outline
doesn’t show on the right side.
Fold the patch upper edge toward the
patch lower edge, aligning the edges.
Unfold the upper edge so it overlaps
the previous fold by ¼” and encases
the buttonhole upper edge; press.
Thelma Horton lives in Houston, Texas.
She has a degree in Home Economics and
has taught hundreds of high school students and adults how to sew. Thelma offers
free sewing tips and techniques on her
Web site at She also
authored two e-books: Sew-It Like a Pro
and Hem-It Yourself, Hem Finishes.
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