Buttonhole stitch is a good one to learn as there are all sorts of fun ways you can use it to create different effects in your embroidery. You might also know it as blanket stitch.
Given the name, it’s obviously got some functional uses. I’ve come to realise it’s also got quite a lot of potential for using it creatively.
Let’s start with the basics of how to stitch it. Then I’ll cover some tips and ideas for using it.
How to stitch buttonhole stitch
When stitching buttonhole, one side of your stitching will look closed and the other open. Start by bringing your thread up at one end of the closed side.
Take your thread down onto the open side. Not directly below where you started, but a little way along, as if you’re stitching a slightly diagonal stitch. How far along you go will determine how open your buttonhole stitch is.
Leave a loop of thread on the front of your work instead of pulling your thread all the way through.
Bring your thread back up on the closed side, directly above where your thread is sitting on the open side. Your needle should come up on the inside of your loop of thread.
Pull your thread all the way through so that your loop forms an L shape that’s anchored in place by your working thread.
Keep working stitches in this way to complete your line of buttonhole stitch.
When you get to the end, work a straight stitch to secure your last stitch.
Keep the distance between your stitches consistent for a nice looking finish.
If I want a neat edge on the open side of my stitches, I’ll create myself a temporary guideline to stitch towards. I usually do this by either stitching a line of running stitch with regular sewing thread that I then remove when I’m done. Or I’ll use a water erasable pen.
If my open edge is going to be outlined, this isn’t necessary as I can just use the design outline as my guide.
To assess my stitch alignment I find it helpful to hold my loop thread along my fabric at the desired angle. Then I can see where my needle needs to come up to complete the stitch.
Switching from buttonhole to stem stitch
You may have noticed that the closed edge of buttonhole stitch looks similar to stem stitch.
This means that you can smoothly switch between the two stitches.
Here’s where I use my trusty “follow the compass” rule again to make sure the slant of all my stitches is consistent. See my stem stitch tutorial for how I use the rule with that stitch.
As always, my stitching direction is North. Then for buttonhole stitch, like raised stem band, I start stitching on the East.
Here’s an example of stem stitch flowing to buttonhole stitch then back to stem stitch.
Buttonhole stitch examples
I used buttonhole stitch in these flowers in my RSN Certificate Jacobean crewelwork piece and switched to stem stitch to continue outlining them.
My favourite use of buttonhole stitch so far is in the wings of my hummingbird pattern:
Another, quite practical, use of buttonhole stitch is in stumpwork – to cover and attach the wire to your fabric. For this, you work a closed buttonhole. Meaning that your stitches are so close, there’s no fabric (or wire) visible between them.
Here’s an example of this from the lovely flamingo kit by Zina Kazban. This stitching was done with a single strand of cotton, so it took me a while!!
There are lots of other fun ways to stitch buttonhole stitch. From filling circular or curved shapes, to using it to depict grass on a hillock. Here’s a few examples to get your creative juices flowing.
So what do you think of buttonhole stitch? Are there any other ways that you’ve used it?
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