Buttons and Buttonholes

Buttons and buttonholes can be used for closures as well as styling. They have been used for a very long time and are still a popular choice in modern clothing styles. There are varying levels of intricacy for this type of closure, so I have only included the basics of what it takes to get started below.


There are many sizes and shapes of buttons out there, ranging from pearl to plastic. Below, I’ve explained how to find the button size, and where to space them on a garment.

How to determine button size

Button sizes are typically given when you purchase them, and often come in 1/8″ increments; however, you may have to measure it yourself. For a flat button, simply take the diameter—that is your button size. For a round button, take a piece of ribbon (or something similar), and wrap it around the circumference. Take this measurement and divide it by 2—this is your button size.

7/8″ button
Front of a set of buttons
Back of buttons with given size

Button placement and spacing

The first place to start on women’s wear is at the bust line; this is the fullest part of the top, and placing a button there will prevent gaps when you move your arms.

The next place important placement is the top. This depends on the style of your neckline, as a lower neckline will mean there are fewer buttons between the start point of the buttons and the bust line. Once you determine where you want that top button placed, you can decide how many buttons to place in between, and use that same placing for below the bust line to the bottom of the garment.


Although there are other ways to keep a button in place, buttonholes are still a very popular choice. I have explained to how determine how big a buttonhole should be given the size of the button, and how to decide which buttonhole to use on a garment.

Determining size of buttonhole

There are two methods to determine what size buttonhole you need for any given button:

  1. Use the buttonhole foot on your machine
    • This is the easiest way, as it does all the work for you. Simply place the button you plan to use securely in the buttonhole foot, and the machine will do the rest of the work.
Buttonhole foot with 7/8″ button

Determine using button size

Whatever your button size, add 1/8″. This will be your buttonhole length. *Note: this is the size of the opening, it does not include any bar tacking at the end.

Horizontal vs. vertical buttonholes

This can be a style choice, but most outerwear I’ve seen (eg. coats and jackets) use horizontal buttonholes, whereas most blouses and button up shirts use vertical.

Jacket with horizontal buttonholes
Button up shirt with vertical buttonholes

Types of buttonholes

My machine allows for 13 different styles of buttonholes, and gives a description for when to use each one:

Singer 9960 buttonholes

Placement of buttonhole on garment

For a regularly styled jacket or coat, I place my buttonhole starting point 1/4″ away from the edge. Remember, this has to be drafted into the pattern beforehand to ensure the garment fits properly. It can always be adjusted for different looks, but this is where I typically start.

More button and buttonhole resources

Below are some articles I found helpful when first learning about adding buttons and buttonholes to a garment:

Leave a Reply