If you’ve never explored buttonhole stitch embroidery, you are in for a treat. Use this one stitch movement in many different ways for various effects. This is Lesson Four in the Beginning Embroidery Lessons series from 1927-28. If this is your introduction to the series, after reading this you may want to start at the beginning with Lesson One.
Although we know this stitch as the Buttonhole Stitch, it isn’t the stitch we use to actually work buttonholes. Very close, but not the same. This stitch — which you are probably familiar with if you’ve done any embroidery at all — is worked left to right, with the finished edge closest to you. You hold the loop still with your left thumb while passing the needle over it, and pulling it tight you get a nice little purl along the edge.
Made very close together and firm, this stitch serves well as a finished edge, with the rest of the fabric cut away (Hardanger embroidery and linen embroidery both use this technique). This way the finished edge doesn’t fray.
When you work the regular buttonhole over a turned hem, the stitches can be further apart. They still need to be even and regular.
Long and short buttonhole
Make this variation by alternating long stitches with short ones. If you like, you can change it further by taking two or three stepped stitches up to a long stitch and then two or three steps down. This creates more of a pyramid shape, and it goes in and out of popularity.
This version of the buttonhole stitch got its name from its use for thick fabrics like blankets. Too thick to hem normally, the blanket stitch held everything in place.
For this stitch, make regularly spaced buttonholes whose length is about the same as the space between them. One variation of this stitch is shown below. Complete the blanket stitch first, and then insert back stitches between the stitches. You can use the same color for both passes, or different ones.
Grouped buttonhole stitches
This variation actually begins with a chain stitch. Work the chain stitch line first, on one side of the space to be embroidered. Then work the buttonhole stitches into the lower loop of the chain stitch and into the fabric below. Leaving a little space between every two or three stitches makes a lacy effect.
If you like, you can work back stitch over each group of stitches close to the purl. Done in one color, this emphasizes the texture of the stitch. Done in two colors, it emphasizes the color changes. Making the chains and back stitches in one color and the buttonhole stitches in another can be very effective.
Circular buttonhole stitch
When filling in a circle or working a flower, the buttonhole stitch is worked around a center point. Take almost all the stitches in the same place, letting the buttonholes surround the edge of the circle. When doing circular buttonhole stitch, occasionally take a short stitch as you move around the circle so the stitches don’t crowd one another and pile up in the center.
This filling stitch is based on the buttonhole stitch, but the purl comes in the center rather than at the edge. It’s also sometimes called the New England Stitch. These leaves appear often in the blue and white Deerfield embroidery as well as folk embroidery from central Europe.
To make this stitch, the needle goes in at the line, first on one side and then the other, and it comes out beyond the center line on a slant. Taking a stitch to the right and then to the left makes both the leaf shape and the center purl.
While you may be familiar with these to hold buttons in place on the back of a dress, they also function to heighten interest within an art needlework piece.
Little buttonholed loops are a happy addition to a flower. They provide good filler for narrow spaces, one loop after the other.
To make it, carry two or three threads across the fabric and then covered closely with buttonhole stitches.
Fish hook stitch
This stitch gets its name from its appearance. A vertical buttonhole stitch works well for thin lines and flower stems.
To make this stitch, put the needle into the fabric and bring it out on the line, keeping the thread always on one side. For a different effect, throw it first to the right and then to the left like the illustration below.
Fagoting buttonhole stitches
For wide stems or lines, work two rows of blanket stitches close together. Then join them with a fagoting stitch, work from side to side, passing the needle under the loop between the blanket stitches to unite them. This is also good for filling long, narrow leaves. Edge the leaves with chain stitch first to give them a finished look.
Brussels net stitch
Brussels net is also a variation of the buttonhole stitch. Made almost entirely on the surface of the fabric, work a row of stitches into those of the previous row. Work back and forth across the space, catching only the end stitches into the fabric.
This is actually a needle lace stitch rather than embroidery, but it’s useful for filling open spaces in embroidery.
Here little groups of buttonholes gather like flowers. They sit completely detached from one another, sprinkled on the fabric.
Or you can set them in a row for a dainty edging. This works well to cover a narrow hem with embroidery. Possible uses include handkerchiefs, dinner napkins, or underlinen like slips.
The next time I’ll give you a couple options for using these new stitches, drawn from the original article.