Buttonholes seem to be one of the most scoured and studied aspects of a sewing machine when seasoned pros decide to get a new machine. Is the stitch quality good? Are they easy to make? Are they consistent? If you sew clothes, its these types of finishing touches that make all the difference. Many have asked me questions related to button holes on the Bernina 440 QE, and I’ve finally decided to put together a little button hole walkthrough for the curious! Hopefully this will answer some of the questions that have been put out there. If not, please let me know – I’m probably going to do a little Q & A post in the near future. Let’s hop to it, shall we?
First things first. Reach into your handy accessory cabinet and pull out the Button Hole Foot – # 3A. Can you find it in this picture? It’s like a little Where’s Waldo search:
Let’s take a quick look at the 3A foot. The basic anatomy is pretty simple. It’s got what I’ll call a clear shoe with a little red mark that slides back and forth within the surrounding metal frame when you stitch your button holes. The frame helps you determine the length you want your button hole.
Notice the black gear wheel that rides along the metal teeth of the foot. This is what moves the shoe back and forth as it creates a button hole.
There are two red bits you should be aware of:
Now that we’ve checked out the parts, place the foot on the machine.
It’ll look like this when you’re done:
Now it’s time to thread the bobbin and the thread. I was in the dark about this little feature until after I posted the initial version of this tutorial, but thanks to some great readers, I am now enlightened! You thread the top thread like normal. The bobbin, on the other hand, has a super secret little hole that you can thread for tighter thread tension throughout the button hole experience. Looky here:
So, you thread your bobbin like normal, but then once you’re done, slide that little thread through the microscopic hole on the finger (the bit that sticks out on the right). When it’s threaded properly, it’ll look like this:
The hole on the finger can be used for button holes and also for doing embroidery with the embroidery module. Essentially, you can thread through the finger any time that you’d like the tension to be tighter.
First thing I do once the foot is on the machine and the machine is threaded is to pull the thread down through the foot to get a nice clean start. To do this, I hit the needle up/down button twice (needle down, then up again). Then I grab the thread from underneath:
Now slide something – seam ripper, scissors (closed, not open!), or a pin – underneath the foot and slide the threads out and to the back:
Making a Button Hole
Now we’re ready to get started! Our trusty stitch card says that button holes can be done with stitches 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.
I’ll be using number 11 for this tutorial only. The rest of the button holes can be done just like the ones I do here! Enter stitch number 11 on the machine by pressing the # [triangle] key and then the one key twice (#-1-1)
Once this is done, your screen should look like this:
Notice that it’s telling us to use foot 3A. We’re done with that part already, so we’re ahead of the game! Next, notice that the stitch length (the vertical 0 – 5 scale on the left) shows three dashes and ends up at the little squiggly mark between 0 and 1. This is apparently the squiggly mark to indicate button hole stitch length. This little machine is so clever. Finally, it’ll actually show you the shape of the button hole we’ll be making.
The left vertical part of the button hole image will be blinking, indicating which part of the button hole it’s ready to sew (or in progress of sewing). We’ll come back to this diagram in a minute.
Now we’re ready to get the button in on the action after long last. Find your favorite button that you’d like to make a button hole for. The Bernina button hole foot only supports buttons that are 3 inches or less, since that’s the length of the foot. If you have a bigger button than that, I’m afraid you’re out of luck!
Place your button on top of the foot. The very top of your button should line up with the first red mark on the foot. Careful! If you have a small button, it’ll be easy for this to slide up past the red line. It’s best to hold the button in place while you measure. The little arrow on the bottom red slider should line up with the very bottom of the button.
Now that you’ve got the bottom slider set up properly, you can remove the button from the foot and place it aside. Its brief cameo appearance is this tutorial is officially over! From here on out, it’s all button holes, all the time.
It’s time to place your fabric underneath the presser foot and begin stitching. Begin and go slowly. Here’s how this will go down:
- Begin stitching. You’ll notice that it will begin making little zig-zag stitches that eventually make up the left side of the button hole.
- The metal frame will begin moving backward as you stitch, moving the top red line (attached to the shoe) toward the red plastic slider arrow.
- Once the plastic red arrow is lined up with the red mark on the shoe, quickly hit the reverse button. Go slowly! This part can sneak up on you and can leave you feeling a little harried.
- This tells the machine that you’ve reached the desired length of the button hole and it’s time to finish the other sides. Don’t worry. The machine takes care of everything else from here!
- The machine will begin backtracking up on the right side of the button-hole-to-be and will continue to finish all of the remaining sides.
- The final side that it fills in is the bottom. It will zig-zag in place for a while at the bottom and then come to a rest in the up position on its own. This is similar to the motion when you end a repeat of any other stitch on the machine.
Please note! You will know that the machine is done stitching when the graphic on the screen blinks the left vertical side again. If it’s still blinking the bottom part of the button hole, you’ve got more stitching to do.
You’re done! Your button hole is now complete! Marvel at your work:
One Last Step
To realize the full potential of your button hole, you’ll have to open it up to make room for the button! Take your trusty seam ripper, insert it carefully into the fabric, taking care to not get any of the thread, and gently run it up the length of the button hole to open it up.
The Auto Feature – How to Make More Identical Button Holes.
Once you finish your first button hole, take it out, snip the threads, make sure the button fits, and admire it. But not for long! We’ve got more work to do.
The Bernina 440 has the ability to make all subsequent button holes exactly the same length as the one you just created, using an auto-button hole feature. You would use this if you were making, say, a shirt that had 5 or 6 identical buttons. In theory, you could replicate the steps you just took, but there is room for error, specifically in terms of the timing in which you hit the reverse button to identify the length of the button hole as you are stitching. Even though I know you wouldn’t make any mistakes, Bernina makes sure you can’t when you do your next button holes. Here’s how it works.
You’ll notice that since you finished your first button hole, there is one key difference on the display. The inside of the button hole graphic on the display now shows the word “auto” where it was blank before. Check out the picture below to make sure yours does too!
The “auto” indication means that the Bernina is ready to make more button holes just like the one you just did – exactly the same! Little did you know it at the time, but when you did your first button hole, you were actually programming the machine, telling it just how big you wanted the current and future button holes to be. It remembered, and is ready to make more.
Now, when you place your fabric under the foot and begin stitching, it can be a hands-free affair, in which you just sit back and watch it create another identical button hole. Brilliant!
This will happen for as long as you’d like to make identical button holes. But what if you have a different vision, and all of the buttons on your shirt are different sizes? How do you get rid of the “auto” feature?
Resetting the button hole programming
If you’re ready to move on to other button hole sizes, then you need to clear out the programmed size that you told the Bernina about previously. To do this, simply hit the clear button (affectionately known as “clr” on the machine) to get rid of the auto designation and to start from scratch.
The “auto” will disappear, and you are free to start again with a brand new, differently-sized button and repeat all the steps from above.
Since I was in the dark for a while about the best threading technique for button holes, I decided to see if the threading through the bobbin finger really made any difference or not. Here’s my comparison shot:
I guess I don’t see a huge difference. But the one on the right – not threaded through the finger – does look a tad messier, especially on the left side of the button hole. For my novice eyes, I’m not sure I’d notice from far away! Anyway, I figure I’ll still thread through the finger, since it can’t hurt!
My machine doesn’t make very nice button holes!
Eek! I know how you feel. I’ve had several attempts that yielded bad button holes. Here’s what I changed to make it work:
- Try a different needle. Either sharper, or thinner, or just plain newer. I often sew with denim needles for sewing heavier layers of fabric (they are larger, thicker needles) and these seem to make pretty terrible button holes. See below:
- Thread type – try changing the type of thread that you make your button holes with. I use thread designated for machine embroidery, and you typically get nicer, fuller button holes this way.
- Use a stabilizer – Try placing interfacing or wash away stabilizer beneath the fabric when you do your button hole. More delicate fabrics need structure to be useful for housing button holes.
- Give the bobbin threading a look-see and see if you’re threading through the finger.
It won’t repeat my button hole!
- If you turn off your machine after your first button hole, it will forget about your programmed button hole size.
- Don’t hit the “clr” button in between button holes.
- Don’t punch in the #-1-1 combo again after you make your first button hole. The machine will stay on the button hole stitch for as long as you like.
Update: Some of you have experienced some issues making buttonholes. Specifically, several of you have said that you get through the first half of the buttonhole with no issues, but when you hit the reverse button, the buttonhole just keeps stitching backwards and never stops. While this hasn’t happened to me, I have found a few tips from here and there to remedy this behavior:
- Something’s dirty and preventing it from “seeing” what it needs to. Remove the throat plate, remove any fuzzies. Also, at the top of the buttonhole attachment, atop the clear cylinder, there are two round glass parts that look like mini magnifying glasses. Clean those off. Some have had success after performing these steps.
- The buttonhole attachment is out of calibration. Apparently, your dealer can calibrate the buttonhole attachments, but I don’t think that we customers are able to do this on our own on the 440QE (I think you can do this on the 800 series yourself, though. A good reason to upgrade! 🙂 ). I don’t know what the actual process of calibration entails, so I’m not even sure what to try at home.
- If calibration doesn’t do the trick, then I’ve read that it’s likely that the buttonhole attachment itself needs to be replaced. Having your dealer try another buttonhole attachment would help you know if that were the case.
- If replacing the foot doesn’t work, then it could be the sensor above the foot, cables between the sensor and the S-Print (main processor control board on the front panel), or the S-Print itself. Your dealer can help to troubleshoot this!
Handmade High Tech
I'm Robyn. Thanks for stopping by! This is my craft blog.
Contact me at robyn [at] dognamedbanjo [dot] com.