In Sewing

The Cursed Auto Buttonholer

If you would have asked me last week how I felt about the automatic buttonhole setting for modern sewing machines, I would have said they’re a modern marvel, a real time saver, and a blessing for seamstresses everywhere. If you ask me right now how I feel about them, I will tell you I hope they burn slowly in a fiery purgatory along with all the other sewing related things that have wronged me over the years. (Say hi to my first four sloper muslins, Butterick B5708, and the Colette Peony for me, Mr. Buttonhole Foot.)


So with that said, allow me to share with you a mostly finished, but still seriously unfinished, sewing project (complete with cat hair).


Did I mention it was 25 degrees outside when Wil and I took these photos? The lighting in my sewing room was crap so I was forced to try and get some shots outside in the frigid air. And honestly, freezing outside sounded more appealing than ripping out three buttonholes and then attempting six by hand. I’ve never had a problem with the auto buttonholes on my sewing machine so I have no idea why it decided to just stop working. Maybe it was divine intervention from the Vintage Sewing Gods telling me I need to start doing them by hand and stop being such a baby about it. The WWII woman does not fear buttonholes!


Here you can see where all was well initially until the stitches just conked out and stopped looping correctly. After this happened three times, I gave up trying and decided to rip them out. Yes this twill fabric is a little thicker, but I’ve sewn buttonholes through this exact fabric (and thicker) with no problems in the past.


(This is my “I hate buttonholes right now” face.)

I considered foregoing the side buttons all together and using those heavy duty hook closures instead, but the buttons would look so cute! Tasha has a great tutorial for hand-worked buttonholes that I really need to sit down and work through so I can finish this jumper!


Other than the buttonhole fiasco, this 1943 DuBarry Jumper came together easily and is one of my favorite sewing projects! I especially like the skirt so I’ll definitely be sharing more photos as soon as I get brave and tackle that button closure!


Lucille says “Don’t be sad, Mom. Step away from the sewing machine and come pet me instead.”

I’d love to make this jumper a second time in some nice wool fabric, but again, those buttonholes are kind of ruining it for me right now. I could really use a break from any garment sewing with buttons, which is too bad because my next sewing project in queue has a whole lot of them haha! I’m foreseeing an Archer with snaps…

What’s your stance on automatic machine-made buttonholes?




  • Jean

    I have a fairly new Singer symphonie VI, with a one step button holer. Just coming to the end of making a summer suit only to find the button holer is not returning. No idea what has gone wrong. I have used it before with brilliant success.

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  • Before I got my machine I hand sewed EVERYTHING…and I mean everything. My pet hate was hand sewing buttonholes. They never came out nice and were so fiddly. I originally bought the sewing machine purely for the auto buttonhole. lol!
    Now I’d rather have buttons than zippers as I don’t have a zipper foot. πŸ˜‰

  • I work at a sewing machine repair shop that services all brands. I’m not as familiar with the layout of yours, but usually you have a dial/plastic screw/knob somewhere on your machine that is for balancing your buttonhole. It looks like maybe that accidentally got messed with? If you have something like that, you might try fiddling with it to see if you get better results. If you’re not already, also try using a ballpoint size 14 needle. You are getting a lot of other advice worth trying. If something ends up working, let us know!

  • jody salahub

    wow! I have never had any problems with my Brother Pacesetter PC-6000. It’s a touchscreen computerized machine with I think about 6 different buttonhole shapes. I’ve had it about 10 years, never a stitch out of place. It was pricey when I bought it., but worth every penny. I think they’re pretty cheap on ebay now.

  • The relationship between my automatic buttonholer and me is fine…. for now. I’m sure it’s gonna hear all these horror stories and decide to revolt against me.
    But I’ve used a 4-step button hole on the Bernina machines at my school, and actually preferred those. I think it’s a matter of having to physically do each step? Though I’m sure if I have to use it on a regular basis, I would grown tired of it.

  • An automatic buttonholer is one of the things that makes me want a new sewing machine (although that’s probably not going to happen for a long long time… and I feel marginally better about that knowing that not everyone loves them, lol). I have a 4-step on my machine and it’s so persnickety to get it Just So. Ugh. I hate it! I can’t say I’ve ever made a buttonhole with it that I thought looked great. Fine? Decent? Serviceable? Yes. Lovely? Not a chance… I have buttonholes, but love things that button. Meh! πŸ˜›

  • My machine’s buttonhole absolutely hates my guts, and rightly so after how many times I’ve thrown the “B” word at her. It would go on making the buttonhole perfect, then all of a sudden it would just stop or start making teeny tiny stitches. I finally smarted up and bought some tear away stabilizer and boy was that a life saver. I haven’t had any problems with it since. I just put some stabilizer underneath my fabric and talk ever so sweetly to it.

  • Having never used one, I’m afraid that I have no stance to offer up. Instead I will tel you how immensely cute you and Lucille both look in the photos here.

    Big hugs,
    β™₯ Jessica

  • One of my requirements for a new sewing machine was automatic buttonhole feature. Finally I bougth a Husqvarna Eden Rose, with this feature. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I always first make a tryal buttonhole on a scrap of the same fabric I’m working with, to check if I picked the right settings. Most times it takes a few trials before I get it right, but I always use the feature for makeing a buttonhole, as I refuse to do something by hand, when a automated solution can be used. πŸ˜‰

  • knitbunnie

    I used to have a Kenmore, a model from about 1970, that had a buttonhole gizmo that used metal inserts in different sized for an assortment of buttonholes. Damn, it worked perfectly every time. The machine finally croaked and I upgraded to an expensive (my mother bought it for me) Babylock Ellegante. It makes buttonholes for shit! I have found one thing that helps. If I’m sewing a buttonhole that is not on a completely flat area, like along an edge with a facing so that there is a thicker part that will wind up under the buttonhole gizmo, if I start on the completely flat part so the first side of the buttonhole sews toward the thick part, I get more consistent results.

    • Ruby

      I have one of those gizmos for my old Singer! I think it’s called the Buttonholer and oh my goodness what a wonderful thing to have! Perfect, every single time.
      It is noisy, but makes absolutely gorgeous, sturdy buttonholes. Worth trying to find.

  • Ha, my cat looks at me like that sometimes when I start yelling at the machine. Machined buttonholes have been the bane of my sewing existence from day one. I haven’t done one in… a year? More? Snaps and hooks it is until I upgrade from my workhorse $80 Brother (which is totally amazing, I’ve put in thousands of hours of sewing on it these last few years and it really does a great job on most things).

  • Aw man! I hate when you’re going along on a sewing project and everything is turning out super fly and then something decides to just bite the big one, especially when it’s, like, literally your very last step!! I’ve had some trial and error with my auto buttonholer on my machine, but I’d have to say that for the most part, our dark days have been behind us and it’s been smooth sailing pretty recently. Of course I’d love to upgrade my machine and get one with some fancier options…. shhhh! Don’t tell my Singer! I will give you the gold star of vintage sewing if you start working your own buttonholes! But anyway, your jumper looks super cute, even when it’s held together by pins!

  • Oh my gosh, I have such a love/hate relationship with my automatic buttonhole feature. I’m terrified of sewing buttonholes by hand, so I love it, but it sews perfectly maybe one in ten buttonholes which is so disheartening when you’ve spent all that time and effort on a make only to have it ruined by the buttonholes

  • My machine is bad at auto button holes – I keep thinking one day when I upgrade my machine my button hole world will be nirvana. Mmmm, We’ll see.

  • I love how the jumper is coming along. I have a digital sewing machine and an automatic buttonholer and sometimes the problem is as simple as restarting the machine. It could also be that the needle needs to be changed or the bobbin case needs to be cleaned. Most of the time the problem is simply in my head and I mark one of the button holes in the wrong spot πŸ˜€

  • Don’t talk to me about it πŸ˜‰ My husband got me this amazing new machine a few Christmas ago and boy do I struggle with the automatic buttonhole setting. I am actually thinking of going back to my four step Singer just for reliable buttonholes, but that would mean threading up two machines and I may be too lazy! Good luck with getting yours sorted. When you do that pinafore is going to be lovely.

  • I sew on a Singer 500A, it has a button hole attachment that I’ve never used. Instead I make a chalk mark line to follow with my zig-zag width set to 2ish and length in the Fine area. After reading Tasha’s tutorial, I REALLY want to give it a try!

  • I feel your pain. I break into a cold sweat every time I go to put in a machine buttonhole. It’s so finnicky and will decide to stop working after no provokation. I need to learn how to do them manually with the zigzag, I think it would save stress in the long run.
    That jumper is really cute. It might lend itself well to bound buttonholes. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  • I’ve used a manual 4 step buttonhole up until recently when I started using the singer buttonholer. I love the singer attachment–it really does make lovely button holes. But the 4step has generally worked well for me too, so you could always try manually controlling your zigzag width to get the buttonholes done. Not nearly as quick of a process I’m sure, but maybe worth a try??

  • Lili

    When did you last have the machine in for maintenance. Because bad buttonholes are always my cue to take the machine in for service.

  • Right there with ya! I avoid button holes like the plague, after a frustrating experience earlier this fall. I’ve been using snap closures with buttons sewed on top to look functional. That way I get the button look without the frustration.

    Super cute jumper, though!!

  • I have an automatic buttonhole maker on my machine, but I don’t use it…it drives me crazy! I use my mom’s twenty-five year old singer for button holes, and they always come out beautifully! πŸ™‚
    Lucille looks precious in that photo!

  • I have only had good luck with the automatic buttonhole when I slow down the speed of the machine. If I don’t they get all wonky. Every time something wasn’t working right on my machine I have found if I rethread it, the machine starts working again. Your dress looks great.

  • I’m not a fan of automatic buttonholers either, but I have an AMAZING buttonholer for my ’34 Singer Featherweight that works like a dream. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

  • My machine does decent buttonholes, but it can definitely get moody sometimes. It will be working fine and then it kind of gets stuck and builds up a big lump on the bobbin side… which is a pain to rip out and can do some serious damage to the fabric. I just finished my first ever garment with buttonholes (the Colette Ceylon dress), and in retrospect it would have been a better idea to start with something with less than 16 of them. Oh well, they turned out okay. There are a couple I’m not 100% happy with but they serve their purpose.

    That being said, I’m really tempted to try doing buttonholes by hand (or bound buttonholes, which I’ve never done before either). Maybe I won’t try them when I have to do 16 of them, though…

  • Oh, no! Nothing worse than ripping out buttonholes! I actually love my automatic buttonholer but I have run into a couple of times when it didn’t work. I managed to get it working again by winding a fresh bobbin and really cleaning out the bobbin area. Worked like a charm.

  • Pat

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the more important the garment, the more unreliable my buttonhole feature becomes. I’ve tried one of those snap making gizmos. A fate even worse than the buttonhole maker. I ruined something really important when the snap kind of slid sideways and the prongy teeth destroyed the fabric. I didn’t care how much the thing cost, at that point I threw it out. I feel a bit better knowing that I’m not the only one who has problems with my “timesaving” buttonhole maker. BTW, your dress is really cute and dogs (and cats) make any bad day better.

  • I can manually adjust the automatic buttonhole on my Pfaff 2170, so usually I do not have problems. HOWEVER, the keyhole buttonhole doesn’t look good AT ALL, and there is no way that I can see to make an adjustment. Maybe my machine needs to go to the spa…? I have a wonderful buttonhole attachment with 13 cams ( like the Singer) for my old Viking 6000 series machine, but the machine no longer works and the repair tech says that it is only worth using as a “boat anchor”. I think I need to approach him again about servicing as I really would like to have guaranteed good quality keyhole buttonholes. BTW, this service tech is not the one who services my Pfaff- that is a different dealer.

  • I would gladly send my automatic buttonhole feature to fiery purgatory! I can’t think of a better place for it, and they could keep each other company as they wallow in their evil misery!! The thing that really gets me is that it always works perfectly on a fabric scrap, then goes to hell in a handbag on the actual garment. Mine always decides to put the second bar tack somewhere randomly in the middle of the buttonhole. One of the reasons I bought the machine I have is because of the auto buttonhole feature, and it really, really bothers me when I’m forced to make a buttonhole with a zig zag stitch. Grrr…

    Oh boy! Thank for the opportunity to rant about that – I’m feeling better already! Hope it helps you that someone else feels your pain! And Lucille’s advice is perfect, she’s a very clever dog. Your dress looks lovely, good luck with finishing it. Lynne πŸ˜‰