Buttoning up

The long weekend we’ve just had has enabled me to get the mock-up almost finished, and I should be able to get the remainder done comfortably before I cart it off to the concert.  I will show it to you properly once it’s finished, but for now I’d just like to talk about the buttons and the buttonholes, because a lot of the work in this respect has been somewhat new to me.  Of course I’ve done plenty of ordinary buttons and buttonholes in my time, but this ended up being a little different.

First of all, I had a bit of trouble getting the right sized buttons on my favourite market stall; the ones I found in the end were made of wood.  They were very nice – too nice for a mock-up, really, although they weren’t expensive – and so the first idea I had was that I’d like the option to use them for the actual waistcoat too, which meant I would have to make them removable.  Well, not absolutely have to, since I could always cut them off, but it seemed sensible, since they would have to be removable if I did transfer them to the real thing, for the simple reason that wooden buttons don’t wash well.  I knew how to make removable buttons; you take a smaller button and sew it to the back of the button you want to use, making a shank in between, and then you attach the small button to the fabric using a suitably sized buttonhole.  The problem was how to get all the shanks the same length.

Well, this was the solution I came up with:

Home-made device for making removable buttons

Take four sheets of thin card (I cut mine from a chocolate box), fasten together on three sides with rubber bands to hold them in place, cut a narrow slot, then put rubber bands round the sides of the slot as shown.  You can then put the wooden button on top of the slot and the smaller button underneath, and when you stitch through you will automatically get a short shank of a consistent length.  You could also use this technique (and I expect I will, at some point) for sewing flat buttons onto thick fabric, where a definite shank is needed.  In this case, for the smaller button I used Prym 9mm shirt buttons.

You can see the results here, and also my first practice attempt at the style of buttonhole I wanted:

Removable button and practice buttonhole

You can’t really see the shank clearly because I couldn’t find a way to show it exactly side on, but it’s there.  For the buttonhole, I wanted a neat circular end, and I’d read somewhere that the best way to do that was to pierce the fabric with an awl.  I’m here to tell you that this may work beautifully for some people, but it didn’t for me.  As you can see, the sample buttonhole is not actually bad (it’s roughly stitched, but that’s because it’s just a practice attempt; if I’d done my usual standard of stitching, I’d have got a neat outline from it), but there were two things I didn’t like about using the awl.  The first was that it pulled the fabric, which you can’t really see in the photo, and the second was that there was no way of working out exactly where to place it on the buttonhole line, so I had to guess.  I prefer not to use guesswork for something that has to be placed as accurately as that.

So to do the actual buttonholes, I first marked the line on the fabric and then filled in a large dot at the outside end.  I then backstitched close to the edge of the resulting tadpole-shaped mark (I never make a buttonhole without backstitching round it first), cut open the slit, carefully nipped out the area of the dot with my embroidery scissors, and did the buttonhole stitching in heavy silk twist.  The results look like this:

Finished buttonholes on mock-up

OK.  That works.

Since the mock-up is now in a state to be tried on, I did.  I was quite amused to discover that it’s not a bad fit on me! 🙂


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