I got a lot of comments on my hand-finished buttonholes on my two recent sewing projects, the WAAF blouse and Cherry blouse.
Most modern sewing machines have a buttonhole attachment, but if, like me, you're using a basic machine - or if you just prefer the hand-finished look - hand-worked buttonholes add a nice vintage touch. I learned from a recent charity shop find, "Senior Needle Craft" (that's senior school - high school - not senior citizens!), a 1930s teaching manual covering sewing skills for 11-15 year olds.
First, mark the size of your buttonhole by placing your chosen button on the fabric and marking off each end of the buttonhole with pins. You want the hole to be slightly wider than the button, especially if the button is quite thick, as mine is.
Slash between the pins (I place the garment on a cutting board and use a stanley knife). If the material frays easily, overcast the raw edges.
Double check the size of your buttonhole by passing the button through it - the button should slip through quite easily, but the hole shouldn't be so big that there's a risk it won't stay closed. If you need to adjust the size of the hole, extend the cut to make it larger or stitch over the ends to make it smaller.
Then it's needle and thread time. The true buttonhole stitch has a knotted edge, as opposed to the rolled edge of blanket stitch (which in embroidery is sometimes referred to as buttonhole stitch). The knotted edge is very strong and is formed as in the diagram:
Starting near the bottom left corner, make the buttonhole stitch along the edge. Your stitches should be quite close together (not spaced out like the diagram), but because of the knotting you might find you need a thread-width gap between each one.
When you get near the corner work a simple satin-stitch, curving round until you've gone 180 degrees.
Then repeat the process to take you back to where you started. Previously I've given both ends a rounded edge, but for this one I experimented with a bar end, where you make long stitches across the end of the slash, then buttonhole stitch over them.
And there you have it, a beautiful hand-finished buttonhole, authentically vintage looking for your retro sewing projects.
Note: I just used regular sewing thread. I'm told that using proper buttonhole thread will give a smoother finish, as you don't get the gaps between stitches, but exactly what the difference is and where to get some, I couldn't tell you.