Tips for Selecting Buttons and Button Holes

When it comes to sewing a garment, buttons and button holes are usually some of the last things people think about. However, choosing the right ones can have a big outcome on how your finished project turns out.

First, let’s talk about buttons. It’s always a good idea to pick your buttons before you start adding button holes to your project. This way you will know what size and shape to make your button hole.

Buttons can be found in many different shapes and sizes, and while you may be tempted to use a button simply because of its look or color, you still want to make sure it fits with your fabric and project.

Types of Buttons

One type of button is a flat button. This type of button can be found with either two or four holes.

two hole button Two-hole flat buttons are great for light- or medium-weight fabrics and are usually attached with the holes lined up parallel to the fabric edge.

four hole button Four-hole flat buttons are better for heavy-weight fabrics, as the extra holes make for a stronger attachment.

shank button Shank buttons have a hole or loop at the back that is used to attach it to the fabric. A larger loop helps provide extra space between the button and the garment, making it a good choice for heavy-weight fabrics and projects like winter jackets. Shank buttons can also help a garment hang or drape better because of the smaller attachment area.

mandarin button Frogs, also known as Mandarin buttons, are made of string, plastic, or metal and have a loop on one side and some kind of knot on the other. These buttons are perfect if you don’t want to stitch a button hole because they don’t require one!

Types of Button Holes

Now let’s talk about button holes. Most machines these days have many different button hole settings to choose from that originate from basic shapes.

square buttonhole The first is the basic straight, square button hole. It is one of the more commonly used button holes, especially for beginners. It is a good button hole for medium- to heavy-weight fabrics and also areas of a garment that may be subject to strain.

Many machines have a sensor setting, an auto setting, or both that can create this button hole. The sensor setting uses a special foot that holds the button being used and stitches the correct size button hole for that button. The auto setting will stitch this button hole to whatever size you tell it.

Your machine may also have a setting that looks like the basic straight button hole but with zig-zag lines spaced further apart. This is the setting you would want to use if stitching this button hole onto a stretch or knit fabric.

rounded buttonhole The next button hole is similar to the first, but has either one or both rounded ends. This is a good button hole for light-weight fabrics and can have a more delicate look than the square button hole, making it a good choice for something like a blouse.

keyhole buttonhole A keyhole is another type of button hole. This button hole has one slightly larger rounded end to accommodate larger buttons and buttons with shanks. This button hole is perfect for heavy-weight fabrics and would be a good choice for a jacket.

bound buttonhole

A final type of button hole is a bound button hole. Bound button holes can add a beautiful, professional touch to your project, but they are a little more work than a machine stitched button hole.

Happy sewing!

Related Videos:

Bound Button Holes Made Easy

Using a Button Hole Cutter

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12 Responses to “Tips for Selecting Buttons and Button Holes”

  1. Ghislaine

    Thank you for this information.

    I’ve nearly finished knitting myself a cardigan, for which I need buttons. However, my pattern being a vintage 1930’s pattern, there is no indication of what size of button to use. Is there a general proportion recommended between the size of the button and that of the buttonhole?

    Thank you.

  2. Linda D Taranto

    How does one determine where the button hole will begin? I have a button hole foot but can never determine where the hole will begin …. please advise.

    • Customer Service

      Hello Linda!

      Unfortunately this is not a question with a definite answer- as many different brands/ models of buttonhole feet can be different. What I would recommend doing is getting a small scrap of fabric and test stitching a buttonhole. Let the machine start stitching the automatic buttonhole, but just one or two stitches. Stop the machine and then make a small mark on the buttonhole foot where the needle is. You can then use that mark in the future to position where your buttonholes will start.


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      • Deirdre

        I like to hand sew buttons. Just do. When I have a four hole button I will sew two straight seams, not a cross stitch. Does it matter?

        • Customer Service

          Hello Deirdre!

          Great question!

          Typically the criss-cross pattern on a four hole button is standard and holds the best. If you like to use the two straight seams and it works for you, I would do what you’re more comfortable with!


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  3. Nancy Blumberg

    The bound buttonhole you show is NOT a bound button. The bound buttonhole is done with matching fabric and mostly done by hand. Please put up a picture of a real bound buttonhole used in beautifully made clothes.

    • Beatrice Sims

      Th use of non matching fabrics and thread were done ( I believe) for demonstration purposes. You can of course do it if you wish. The full video is very good and shows all of the steps in detail.I suggest watching it.

  4. Wendy

    I found this explanation very helpful. i wondered why my idea of a four hole button did not quite suit this very light weight fabric button down skirt I am sewing. I saw that the two hole will match the delicate look. Thank you! Wendy

  5. Janet

    Thank you for offering these tutorials. I would like to suggest that when you make the first three, all machine sewn buttonholes, you will usually get a cleaner, more finished look if you sew around twice. Also, you might have shown a machine stitched bound buttonhole, without the hand sewn stitches showing.