Sew-alongs · Sewing Techniques · Skirts · Tango Skirts

Wrap Skirt Sew-Along 5: Buttons & Buttonholes

Your waistband is done, its facing neatly slip-stitched on the inside, so all that’s left to be done is the buttons and buttonholes that fasten the skirt at the waist! In addition to the basic techniques, I’ll show you a few extra tricks that will help, since both the buttons and their corresponding holes are all on the inside of the skirt.

Wrap skirt with finished waistband
Now that the waistband is finished, I just need to make 2 buttonholes and sew on buttons!

Start with the right side (RS) of the skirt facing you:

Transfer buttonhole marks to skirt
1. With the RS of the skirt facing up, lay pattern piece 5 (left front waistband) over the waistband of your skirt; transfer the buttonhole marks (horizontal lines at pink arrows) from the pattern to your waistband, using pins, tailor’s chalk, or hand-sewn tailor’s tacks. Notice that marks are in different places for different sizes, and that the large Xs are for button placement.
Pin-marking buttonhole placement
I’ve transferred the pattern marks to my waistband with pins; the vertical pins mark the start/stop points for the buttonholes, and the horizontal pins mark the horizontal center of the buttonholes. I placed my buttons here to make sure the buttonholes would be long enough to accommodate them; they need some breathing room, maybe 1/8″ at each end.

Tip: I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Make sure the buttons you’re using are as thin and flat as possible (but not flimsy). They’ll be on the inside of the waistband, so any unnecessary thickness could create bumps that will show on the outside, not to mention that this would be uncomfortable to wear. This is a great use for those leftover plain buttons we always seem to have in our stashes!


Now I just need to set up my sewing machine. Mine does have an automatic buttonhole function, but I rarely use it, for the simple reason that the largest size it makes is too small for most of the buttons I like to use. So I do buttonholes with a tight zig-zag, and 2 different widths, as follows:

  • wide zig-zag (more or less in place) at 1st end;
  • narrow zig-zag down right-hand side
  • wide zig-zag (again more or less in place) at 2nd end;
  • move needle up to 1st end on left-hand side, and narrow zig-zag down left side
  • do a few wide zig-zag stitches at 2nd end to finish.

Don’t worry, I’ll show you what I mean!

Aside: I guess I should be used to this by now, but I’m still surprised, when I go to explain a procedure like this, how complex it can seem, when it’s something I do almost without thinking about it! Still, I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be doing it for the first time— I’ve taught myself everything I know about sewing, so you better believe I’ve learned primarily from making mistakes. Hopefully, you’ll benefit from that!  End of aside.

Set up machine for wide zig-zag
2. For the buttonhole ends, set your machine to do a wide, tight zig-zag; these are my settings (your numbers may vary, depending on your machine).
Start stitching buttonhole
At the intersection of the horizontal and vertical pins, get your needle into position to start your wide zig-zag (pink arrow). Working slowly, make several wide zig-zag stitches in the same spot (hold the fabric to keep it from moving); stop with your needle to the right. And please remember to take your pins out before you sew over them!


Now change your zig-zag setting to a much narrower one for the buttonhole sides:

Change to narrower zig-zag
3. For the sides of the buttonholes, change to a much narrower stitch; I changed mine from 5.0 to 1.5 (setting on right). Note that the stitch length (on left) stays the same.
Finishing the 1st side of the buttonhole
3. Stitch down the 1st side with the narrow zig-zag, and stop when you get to the pin at the 2nd end; leave the needle down, then change back to the wide setting.

Work the 2nd end as for the 1st, with the wide zig-zag:

Working the buttonhole
4. Here’s my buttonhole after the 1st end, 1st side, and 2nd end are done. This is a closer look at the procedure: Narrow zig-zag down the side (pink), wide zig-zag at the ends (white). 5. After you work the 2nd end, move the needle up to the left side of the wide zig-zag of the 1st end (top white arrow); now you’re in position to work the 2nd side, again changing to the narrower stitch setting.

Tip: When you move the needle back up to the 1st end, don’t cut the thread— it creates a guideline for you to stitch the 2nd side. Simply zig-zag over that thread as you stitch down that side.

Also, after I’ve stitched the 2nd side, I like to switch back (yet again) to the wide setting, then I make a few extra stitches over the 2nd end; I feel this helps anchor the thread, and reduces the possibility of the thread unraveling on the side.

Here are my buttonholes after stitching both:

Finished buttonholes
My finished buttonholes— clearly not perfect. (Makes me realize how seldom I actually make buttonholes anymore…) However, even the one that’s shorter than the other will still work with my buttons, plus these won’t show on the outside (thankfully). This is a great place to practice buttonholes!

Tip: You can make the narrow-zig-zag side stitches a little wide if you’d like, but keep in mind that you have to cut through the tiny space in between those side— if your stitches are too close together, you’ll cut them along with the fabric. I like to leave some room.

Now I’ll snip through those centers, being very careful not to cut either the side stitches or the wide end stitches:

Start to cut buttonholes
6. Take your time with this! Fold the buttonhole in half, then make a small snip at the fold, being careful not to cut any of the stitching.
Finish cutting buttonholes
After that initial snip, unfold the fabric and continue to snip carefully until you’re almost (but not quite) at the wide-stitched ends.

Buttonholes are done! Now I’ll just hand-sew my buttons on. Oh, first I have to mark where the buttons will go, don’t I?

Mark waistband for buttons
7. Wrap skirt around you, lining up the buttonhole end (under my fingers in photo) on top of the waistband; put a pin at this spot.

Lay the skirt flat, and bring the buttonhole end back in alignment with the pin you just put in the waistband. Next, stick a pin in the left-side ends of both buttonholes:

Mark button placement
8. To mark where the center of your buttons will go, line up the buttonholed end of the waistband with the pin you just stuck in the other part of the band (yellow-headed pin). Then carefully lift the buttonholed part up and over the (white-headed) pins— don’t dislodge these pins.
Sew buttons to WS of waistband at pin-marks.
9. Sew buttons in place. Red alert! Notice that, although you place your pin-marks on the RS of the skirt, you will actually sew them on the WS, as shown here.

Tip: The only really tricky thing about sewing the buttons on is that you have to keep your stitching from showing on the RS of the waistband— meaning you can’t put your needle all the way through all the waistband layers as you sew. But your buttons still need to be securely anchored. Try to feel when your needle has gone through everything but the outermost layer of fabric.

Note: I’m not including instructions here for hand-sewing on your buttons; there is such a variety available that I’d have to show several different techniques. If you’d like instructions for sewing on your buttons, please comment below with a photo of the buttons, and I’ll be happy to help!

Buttons are sewn on!
After sewing my buttons in place. (This is the WS, or inside, of my skirt.) Ugh, those uneven buttonholes are still bugging me. Must practice.

Here’s my finished skirt:

Finished wrap skirt

Coming up next: Yes, I know the skirt is finished, but I’ve thought of something else (as I am wont to do). Since these colors are not typical ones in my wardrobe, I’ve been staring at this skirt, trying to figure out what to wear with it— specifically, what colors. So next time, I’m going to show you how to create a color palette, starting with 2 colors, and expanding to a 5-color palette; this will become the starting point for creating ensembles.  I’ll base mine on the sage green and deep lavender in my skirt. Should be fun!


Want more sewing stuff from Colormusing? Check out myBratelier (lingerie sewing, including bras!), and Changing Your Clothes, which covers everything from repairs & alterations to dyeing and remaking thrift-shop finds.

And don’t miss all my color-palette-related excitement at the  A Musing blog! (Click on the dots above to visit my mother ship,

4 thoughts on “Wrap Skirt Sew-Along 5: Buttons & Buttonholes

    1. Thanks, Quincy! You bring up an interesting point– do buttonholes have to be zig-zagged? There are bound buttonholes, where no stitching shows on the outside at all, but they’re not appropriate for every type of garment or fabric. I’ll look into this!


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