The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Direction for Buttonholes

This question comes from Andrea, a new student (who is very gifted).

She asks about the direction of buttonholes – horizontal or vertical.

There’s a simple rule here, one for shirts/blouses, and another for jackets.

The rule is this:

For Shirts:

  • The first buttonhole on the collar band, should be horizontal (parallel to the horizon) as well as the cuffs.
  • All others should be vertical.  I like to place them so that the middle of the buttonhole is where the button will “rest”.

For Jackets

  • All buttonholes should be horizontal.

The thinking is that the horizontal buttonhole allows for more expansion while keeping the button in an exact location on the Y axis (up and down axis), however most front blouse and shirt plackets do not have enough space for a horizontal buttonhole, therefore are done vertically, except for the cuffs & collar band which are done horizontally.

This isn’t that hard, and if this helps, this is how to think through to the right solution to this question:

The top button hole is placed center on the shirt placket, and the button is in the center.

The problem with this is that, in reality the button “rests” on the outside or right side (as you are looking at the shirt), of the button hole, thus the 2nd top button.


OK now we have a button that is clearly off the placket, not even centered on the placket, and that will look funny.




So let’s correct the location of the buttonhole and make it so that the “rest” point of the button is in the center.  That’s the 3rd buttonhole – and you can tell it’s off the placket to the left on the other side, and that looks funny.



So how do you solve this – with a vertical buttonhole.  Here if the button “rests” on the top or bottom of the buttonhole, it doesn’t matter, the button and buttonhole are both centered.


Granted this isn’t as stable as the horizontal buttonhole, but it’s much better looking, and in this case looks win out over stability.


I like to mark my buttonholes so that the button rests in the center of the buttonhole, which looks more pleasing and more correct (pardon the bad English).



This direction of the buttonhole does not take stress well, thus you can have a potential wardrobe malfunction if you’re not careful and fit the blouse/shirt incorrectly.

For a few years, this was very popular (don’t ask why – I do not know), and thank heavens this isn’t in vogue anymore.  But this picture does show the potential instability of the vertical direction of the buttonhole, therefore on jackets, they buttonholes are almost exclusively horizontal:


No matter if your jacket is tailored or avant guard, the buttonholes almost always are horizontal on a jacket.

That doesn’t mean that there is the exception to the rule:

Here’s the jacket I made for my sister.  The trim was the reverse of the jacket fabric, and made a gorgeous contrast binding for the jacket.  But there was not enough room for a horizontal buttonhole that would not go over the boundaries of the binding, hence the vertical buttonhole.

And this is the reason I adore questions, because as silly as it sounds, I’ve forgotten what I know.   I also play the piano, and to be honest, I have songs that I’ve played for so long they are “in my hands”.  If I try to think about the music or think too much about what the next progression in the piece is, I’ll loose it and have to start all over again and practice NOT thinking about the music and it just comes – it’s in my hands.  That’s what happens when I do a lot of sewing:  I just make the buttonholes and don’t even think about the direction, it’s in my hands.

So love questions and if you have any, just ask away!

  1. I think you placed the buttonhole’s verticaly on the jacket for your sister because the trim have te same look as the panel front of a mans shirt. May be.

    • Well, actually the buttonholes wouldn’t fit horizontally – that’s the main reason. On jackets even the French quilted ones, I like to put the buttonholes horizontally, but when they don’t fit, then vertical – or even another type of closure altogether – hooks, snaps and the like.

  2. Your answer is the first to come up when I entered buttonholes direction. I like that a vertical buttonhole seems right for the direction of fabric grain. In this case I want to make buttonholes for the bodice of a doll dress, so I will make five in a row. Fortunately, I have allowed sufficient fabric that this doll won’t bust her buttons!

    But I have had the problem with a purchased blouse as I gained weight, so your logic is important .

    It seems as if more durable fabric can take the horizontal direction better and that one wants the assurance of the buttonhole not letting button slip out on jackets, or a pair of jeans .

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