For me, making a bound buttonhole is a little like making a souffle. They’re both out of the ordinary, and require preparation and care. And every time I make either a bound buttonhole or a souffle I feel a small sense of accomplishment.
This 1959 jacket calls for bound buttonholes. But it didn’t even occur to me to follow the pattern instructions.
Maybe this method does work, but probably not for my bulky, ravelly fabric.
Just as I have favorite souffle recipes, I have a favorite “recipe” for bound buttonholes. It comes from the book Jackets for Real People by Marta Alto, Susan Neall, and Pati Palmer and is also demonstrated by Marta on the Jackets for Real People DVD. I appreciate demos because there are never enough words or still pictures in a book to show every step.
I get good results when I follow the Organza Patch Method, but I always wonder whether I can pull this off again, in the particular fabric I’m working with. So yesterday afternoon I made some samples.
This button is shaped like a deep dish pie pan. I learned that it doesn’t need quite as wide a buttonhole as a thick button with straight sides.
I underlined my fashion fabric scrap the same as I will with the jacket front. Then I basted two vertical guidelines to show the end points of the buttonholes and horizontal guidelines for where the fabric will be slashed to create the buttonhole.
I cut a rectangle of organza on the bias a little wider and longer than the buttonhole, and centered it over the guidelines. Then I basted the rectangle in place.
The vertical guidelines represent the width of the buttonholes. The organza is basted in place. I stitched 1/8 inch on each side of the basted center line to form a box.
Seen from the wrong side, the stitched box. ( I fell short of the right guideline.)
I like to use a rotary cutter to start the slash in the very center. Then I switch to very sharp tailors’ scissors to cut the triangles right up to the corners.
The “window” seen from the right side. I always like this moment.
Make the lips for the buttonhole. Jackets for Real People recommends cutting them on the bias for plaids. I like to see a plaid through a window I’ve cut in stiff paper or an old business card to preview choices in color and pattern. Also, it’s just fun.
The diagonal lines on my preview window/template are aligned with the grain.
Rectangles cut for lips. I didn’t try to match to the window for this sample.
Baste two rectangles together, right sides together, through the center lengthwise. Press open.
Position the lips under the window. I find it tricky to do this perfectly evenly. You can see the organza sticking out slightly at this point.
Pinned and ready to be stitched.
Quoting from Jackets for Real People, “Fold back fashion fabric, exposing long sides. Stitch long sides, then ends.” I couldn’t capture this in a photograph. The demo on the DVD shows just what to do. Just know that the precision will pay off.
The third sample I tried looks nice. You have to look hard to see a tiny bit of organza on the right short end. I’m giving myself a passing grade.
Will it fit comfortably?
This is a little snug. It could work, but better to make the jacket buttonholes very slightly longer.
There may still be snow in the yard, but I’m one step closer to summer in this linen jacket.
I finished my linen jacket today. Overall I’m really satisfied with how it turned out, especially since this was the first time I’d made up this pattern.
What worked well?
The fit. This jacket really does feel like it was made for me. I like the length, the sleeve length, the fit in the shoulders, the high underarm allowing great range of movement, and the close fit without binding. Being a student of Edith, I made a muslin.
This 1930s jacket is period, yet modern. It’s not a museum piece.
She checked it for fit and made some minor adjustments. When I put together the wearable test I thought there was a little too much fabric creating a hollow between the lapel and shoulder seam. Michele at Treadle Yard Goods pinched out the excess and showed me how to adjust the front pattern piece. So before I cut into my beautiful linen, I had a fair chance at a good fit.
Art Deco-era buttons on a summer linen inspire the making of a 1930s jacket.
This blue and white cross-dye linen is such a perfect partner for the muted blue of my vintage buttons. It’s also a wonderful weight for the garment. I bought this linen in 2012 at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.
The silk organza underlining. It weighs almost nothing but gives body to the linen. Several Threads magazine articles and Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide recommend using silk organza to reduce linen’s wrinkling. I’ll be sure to let you know if that turns out to be true for this jacket. I will also underline the matching skirt I’ll make.
The silk organza underlining with the fusible woven interfacing for additional support at shoulder and down center front. It was going to be hand-basted to the front (right). The other front (left) has already been underlined.
The patch pockets and flaps.
The red flat piping inserted between the facing and lining.
Just as I had hoped, the red flat piping is a snappy addition.
It took practice to stitch it in very evenly, but was worth the effort. It’s one of those touches I’ll enjoy every time I put on my jacket (–or take it off ostentatiously).
The notched-lapel sewing went well. Notched lapels used to intimidate me. Now I’m alert yet relaxed when I sew them.
What would I like to improve on next time?
The bound buttonholes. I’m not dissatisfied with these; they’re just tricky little busters to get consistently right. I was especially concerned about making them durable.
Bound buttonhole seen from the facing side. The goal is to make windowpane openings that center over the buttonholes in the fronts. I was off by 1/8 inch here. Quite difficult to get five all centered.
The linen is ravelly, and any loose stitching could eventually come out and the buttonholes would come apart. I went to possibly extreme lengths to use a finishing method on the facing side that would stand up to a couple hundred wearings over the years. I may advocate slow sewing, but making windowpanes in the facings that align with the buttonholes in the fronts would test many a slow sewer’s patience. The results were mixed at best. I’ll research other bound buttonhole methods for next time.
The positioning of the top buttonhole.
The buttonhole is not positioned correctly, a defect in the original pattern piece, I think.
I used the location on the original pattern piece, but the pattern seems to be wrong. The lapel doesn’t sit quite right. I may end up leaving the top button unbuttoned.
What’s next? Follow-through:
Reading all the notes I made, and summarizing the lessons I learned and best sources to consult so I can slash my cutting and construction times in half.
Sew a simple, contemporary skirt from the remaining yardage.
Plan ensembles around this garment. Too often I’ve sewn garments without enough thought to making complete outfits. More on this subject coming soon.
Have good photos taken in June when I’ll see my photographer, my sister Cynthia.
Wear it and enjoy it!
These delightful buttons came from the same shop in Edinburgh. They deserve their own jacket, don’t they?
I volunteer one morning a week for the Goldstein Museum of Design, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Not at the museum itself, mind you, but backstage, in the offices. I’m working my way gradually through 2700 donor files, and am in the F’s now.
Seymour Fox suit, 1955-’59. (Photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)
Readers, don’t tell the Goldstein staff, but I’m in no hurry to finish this project.
Because as long as I have this little job, I can count on seeing, up close, marvelous hats pulled from storage for a student to study, or a wedding dress waiting to be steamed and fluffed out for its photo session, or suits by Christian Dior, Adrian, or Chanel pulled for class study, or housedresses from the 1940s, or a homemade, little girl’s bright red double-breasted coat awaiting the accession process. Or shoes. Or handbags. Or textiles.
I never know what I’ll see from week to week, and that’s part of the fun. Another part is being around the staff, who evaluate, organize, photograph, document, repair, and style the collection, and who obviously enjoy what they do.
Last week at the Goldstein I mentioned my intensifying interest in how bound buttonholes were made. I made bound buttonholes in my 1930s Butterick jacket but still had to finish them on the facing side. I wanted a finish that wasn’t only neat, but durable.
Seymour Fox suit, 19550’59. (photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)
I couldn’t believe my luck when Assistant Curator Jean McElvain insisted that it would be no trouble for her to pull garments with bound buttonholes for me to examine on my next volunteer day. This morning I arrived to find about a dozen garments for my inspection.
Among them, this mid-to late 1950s suit by Seymour Fox.
Wearing cotton gloves, I unbuttoned the jacket and looked at the buttonholes up close. Unlike the closed lips I’ve seen in every set of sewing instructions, these lips are parted, you might say.
“Parted” bound buttonhole lips. (my photo)
I was also very much taken by the curved welt pockets. The bottom pockets are real, working pockets; the top ones are just pretend.
The curved welt pockets echo the curves in the suit. (photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)
Readers, curved welt pockets may be my next frontier. They’re so beautiful. I bet they’re also tricky to get consistently right.
As I returned to my files project I was thinking, those pockets are so beautiful and so worth trying to get right. I’m going to start doing samples of these details I love. Then, if I do justice to them, I will have that design in my repertoire to put into a garment with confidence.
If this strategy sounds obvious to you, it wasn’t to me till today. If I considered sample-making at all, it was as a boring activity. But now I see it as one more way of breaking down a very challenging project into manageable pieces–and getting things sewn.
I’ve visited wonderful fashion exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Chicago History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
But none of those exhibits, however fascinating, has enticed me and motivated me to sew. Working backstage at the Goldstein has.
Seeing clothes close-up, regularly, not only by the best-known designers but also by home sewers whose names are unknown outside their families, is really having an effect on me I couldn’t have predicted.
My old normal on seeing a curved welt pocket was thinking, “I wish I could do that.” Now I think, “How is that done? and “How could I do that?” and figuring out a way. Eventually I’ll say “I am doing that.”
And, to quote from Coats & Clark’s Sewing Book, (copyright 1967), which helped me beautifully finish my bound buttonholes in my 1930s Butterick jacket,
“…just follow through, and you will be all right.”
My newly finished coat, with big pockets, big buttons, big cuffs.
I finished this coat this morning and took it out for its maiden voyage this afternoon. It performed admirably. I’m happy with the way it turned out, especially since this was only the first time I’d sewn this pattern.
I’ll eventually post professionally taken photos of the coat itself and of me wearing it as part of an ensemble. In the meantime, here are a few snaps.
Here’s a little wrapup of techniques I used:
Bound buttonholes. For the front I got very good results using the instructions for the windowpane technique from the Jackets for Real People DVD with Marta Alto. But I disagree with the commonly given advice to simply slash the facing and turn under the fabric to finish the buttonholes. With ravelly fabric, the result would be disastrous. I was happy to turn to a new book in my sewing library, Vintage Couture Tailoring, by Thomas von Nordheim. He recommends using the windowpane technique in the facing, too.
Windowpane method for finishing bound buttonholes in the facing.
This was labor-intensive, for reasons I could go into if ever anyone wants the blow-by-blow description. I was determined to have sturdy buttonholes on this coat and not fear that the facing fabric would unravel on me. Von Nordheim’s instructions were easy to understand, and I was eventually successful.
Lining. Vintage patterns often instruct you to hand-sew in the lining when it’s not necessary. I used the machine “quick-lining” technique in the book Jackets for Real People by Marta Alto and Pati Palmer.
Closeup: connect the reference points from the right side of the bound buttonholes to stitch a box to make a windowpane in the facing.
Notched collar. Jackets and coats with notched collars have always been a bugaboo for me. I had excellent results following Jackets for Real People. Marta and Pati instruct you to stitch away from the crucial lapel dot. I understood the reason they have you do that: so that you don’t run the risk of stitching through the dot and creating a pucker. But it was easier in some instances to stitch–with care–toward the dot. This worked fine.
The windowpane in the facing aligned with bound buttonhole in the front. Next: slipstitch the windowpane to the buttonhole lips.
Interfacings: My fabric was lighter than a coating. On the advice of Edith, my sewing teacher, I underlined all the pieces with a cotton-poly broadcloth. I also used a fusible knit in the fronts and in the upper back and under collar. The effect was more stability but preserving softness. I interfaced the hem with 2-inch bias-cut strips of hair canvas. I’m pretty happy with the interfacing choices.
Topstitching. The pattern illustration doesn’t show topstitched pockets, but the instructions say to topstitch the pockets to the fronts. The topstitching looked good on the pockets, and it made sense to topstitch the cuffs, fronts and collar as an additional detail and for a little more definition. I wish I’d tried a double thread to make the effect more prominent against the mottled, textured fabric.
The pattern instructions say to hand-sew the sleeve lining to the cuff. I machine-sewed the lining to the cuff for greater strength, using instructions in Sew, Serge, Press by Jan Saunders (first edition).
Sleeves. The front sleeve cap is ever so slightly wavy–not the fault of the pattern. The sleeves were easy to sew in.
Original pattern instructions. I overruled them a lot as being too labor-intensive. This coat adapts very well to contemporary techniques. Again, Jackets for Real People gets my vote as the first source to consult.
I enjoyed wearing my coat this afternoon. It has a generous cut without being overwhelming on me. I love the capacious pockets and the collar I can wear down or turned up just like in the illustration.
Top button closed.
What doesn’t work so well is the closure ending barely halfway down the coat, leaving the fronts to flap open in the wind. I’ll probably install an inconspicuous covered hook and eye.
I’ll probably make this coat again. I have a tightly woven double-faced cotton-poly fabric that would probably make a good raincoat. It would be tricky to sew in that I couldn’t conceal stitching mistakes as I did with this coat. I’ll just take precautions and test, test, test: stitch length, tension, easing in the sleeves, etc.
Top button unbuttoned.
I really felt my technical knowledge and grasp of sewing principles coming together in this coat project. I could tell I wasn’t just following instructions. My fingers felt–smarter. Does that make sense?