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How to sew a buttonhole with zigzag stitch (no buttonhole foot)

Buttonholes make me a little nervous with the pressure of getting them right. They work perfectly on the practice goes, but somehow my machine can sense my nervousness when it comes to the actual fabric and decides to do its own thing, sometimes leaving me to finish it off manually with a zigzag stitch but not quite blending it in very well.


I was working on my Saguaro Set trousers by The Friday Pattern Company (my full review here) which requires two buttonholes for the drawstring. For some reason I just couldn’t get my automatic setting to work properly. I decided to try a normal zigzag stitch and found that it actually worked really nicely, in some ways better than the automatic setting as I felt more in control.


Here is a video along with step-by-step-instructions below on how I did it:


Step 1

Mark the buttonhole

Merchant & Mills 185 linen in Calamine with a buttonhole marked with turquoise Prym Aqua Trick Marker

I like to use the Prym Aqua Trick Markers for this which come in turquoise and white, which just need a dab of water to remove the marks.

Prym Aqua Trick Marker in turquoise

Step 2

Select zigzag stitch settings for the bartack

Choose a wide stitch and short length. I chose width 6 and length 0.2 as this is the shortest my machine can go to. If you can get to 0, that’s even better.


Step 3

Sew the top bartack

Sew a few stitches at the top of the bartack (as opposed to the bottom where a buttonhole foot would start). Leave the needle down on the left side of the stitch.


Step 4

Select zigzag stitch settings for the buttonhole side

Choose a narrow stitch and slightly longer length. I chose width 2 and length 0.4.


Step 5

Sew right side

Turning the handwheel towards you, move towards the next stitch until you see the needle starting to come down on the right side but not yet into the fabric.


Raise the presser foot and gently move the fabric so that the needle is in line with the right side of the stitch you’ve just sewn. Lower the presser foot and then the needle which should now be on the right side of the buttonhole.


Now sew down the side of your buttonhole until you get to the bottom. Once you’re there, leave the needle down on the left side of the stitch.


Step 6

Sew the lower bartack

Change your settings back to those you chose for the top bartack, in my case stitch width 6 and length 0.2.


Again turn the handwheel towards you until you see the needle coming down on the right side but not yet into the fabric. Raise the presser foot and gently move the fabric so the needle is in line with the right side of the stitch you’ve just sewn. Lower the presser foot and then the needle which should be on the right side of the buttonhole.


Sew a few stitches for the lower bartack, and then leave the needle down on the left side of the stitch.


Step 7

Sew last side

Change your settings back to those you chose for the right side, in my case stitch width 2 and length 0.4. Leaving your needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot and turn your fabric around to sew the last side.


Turn the handwheel towards you until the needle starts to come down on the right side of the stitch but not yet into the fabric. Raise the presser foot and move your fabric again so the needle lines up with the right side of the bartack. Lower the presser foot and the needle.


Now sew down the last side, trying not to get too close to the stitches on the other side, backstitching at the end.


All finished. If you’ve used an Aqua Trick Marker, remove the marks with a dab of water before applying any Fray Stop or Fray Check in case it makes it more difficult to remove the marks.

Finished buttonhole sewn with zigzag stitch


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I have no affiliations, I'm just a keen buyer and user. A UK supplier may be linked, please try to source items from your favourite independent stores.

Saguaro Set by The Friday Pattern Company

Prym Aqua Trick Markers


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I'm Kay, and welcome to my blog where I share tales of my sewing journey, complete with mishaps, mistakes and solutions to help make your journey a smoother one.

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