Updates on my cut out back dress: how to machine sew a buttonhole

I bought a vintage pattern for making a cut out back dress a while ago but I never had the chance to really use it. I hadn’t found the right fabric for the dress I had in mind (see my previous post with inspirations here).

When I did finally find fabric that I really liked, I didn’t hesitate to buy it online. The only issue was it was in quite see through printed chiffon fabric. With the cut out back dress, I would definitely need a lining, but I would also need to work out the logistics on how to hide the sewing on the seams.


This was the first project I started working on this year since I did all the sewing for our wedding last year, so it was a bit daunting to try and start a project when so much time has lapsed. I did manage to eventually get into cutting the printed chiffon material, but when it came to cutting the lining, I lost my motivation again.

After a short break though, I realised that it was quite simple as there weren’t very many pieces to this design so I got into the hang of sewing the darts in, assembling the pieces together and before I knew it, I had the chiffon dress shell put together in a couple hours.


View from the back

I really liked the design of the dress because it’s a vintage pattern. As I mentioned in my previous post about this dress, I’m not a big fan of having no support underneath. Knowing it’s vintage, the style of the dress won’t be as risqué as more modern styles. I knew the overlap on the back would be at the right height and wide enough to hide a strap, but just to be on the safe side, I plan on wearing a skin tone coloured bra underneath.

If you were like me, you’ll probably be a bit confused about how the buttonhole setting on your machine works. At first glance, it looks pretty straight forward, but it took me some time to get used to getting the tension setting just right for the buttonhole to look right.


My trial and error buttonholes on a scrap piece of fabric

Each machine might be slightly different, but they all work in similar ways. Depending on the accessories that came with your machine and whether you have a buttonhole setting on your machine, you should be given a buttonhole foot (mine came with 2 feet, one of which was the buttonhole foot). If you got it second hand or you weren’t given a buttonhole foot, you should be able to get one easily from any sewing machine shop using your brand and model number for your machine.


Buttonhole foot: check your sewing machine manual to determine which goes to the back of the machine and which goes in the front. On the Brother SL17, the back has been marked A and this should be should be facing you the right way up (not upside down) when it’s attached to the machine.

If you have a got a buttonhole setting on your machine, it might look something like this:


#1 stitch setting encompasses 4 separate stitch modes that you need to turn manually, depending on which side you’re working on.

If you’re using a digital or embroidery machine, your machine should stitch all 4 sides itself (I found this video from Burley Sew quite useful for getting started).

Here’s my tutorial on how to sew a buttonhole on your fabric if you’re using a manual machine like my Brother LS17.

Sewing a buttonhole with a sewing machine

Note: Whether or not you’ve used the buttonhole setting before, I would strongly recommend that, to make sure your buttonhole is exactly how you want it, you test the setting on scrap material similar to what you’re sewing first to make sure your tension is right and until you’ve got a hang of how the setting works.

1. First measure your button against the foot (this should be put on the inside and in the front of the moving slider which will be attached to your needle). There is a red line on the slider and wherever it stops alongside the red lines on the side of the foot, this is where you need to stop for modes (b) and (d). This will give you an idea of which red line on the foot you should stop at for the length of your button.


The cente slider should always start from the front. With the button in place, the length (or sides) of the button hole should be no longer than notch #3.

2. To mark how long your buttonhole will need to be on your fabric, measure your button.


I couldn’t find a nice wide 3/4 inch button (that the pattern asked for) that suited the dress, so instead I opted to use 2 smaller 1.3cm mother of pearl buttons that I already had in my supply of sewing materials.

3. Once you’ve worked out where the buttonholes are to go, mark the length (1.3cm) on the fabric using tailor’s chalk.


The buttons are to be fitted on the back, so I had to ask the OH to line up the buttons and buttonhole positions for me.

4. If you haven’t already done so, fit the buttonhole foot to your needle. This should be a simple snap on, snap off fixing (with 2 small U-shaped clamps on the need that hold onto a horizontal metal bar on your foot).

There’s no gap to pull your thread under the foot, so you’ll need to thread this through the gap manually.

5. Now that you’re ready to sew, make sure your setting is on 1ac if your machine doesn’t do all 4 sides automatically.

6. Put the fabric under the foot, making sure the chalk line is centre and the needle is to the left side of the foot. Let the machine slowly stitch about 5-6 times to form a strong short edge.

7. Now switch the dial to 1b.

Let the machine stitch the required length up until the point on the side you’ve noted in step 1 (mine was until line #3).

8. Once you’ve reached the marker on the side, making sure the needle is back to the left, turn the dial back to 1ac to do the top short side.

Now let the machine stitch about 5 or 6 lines as you’ve done in step 6.

9. To finish the last side, turn the dial to 1d and keep stitching until you get back to the first side you stitched in step 6, then snip the loose threads to tidy it up.

Now your button hole is done.

Repeat until you’ve sewn all the buttonholes you need.

10. To open the hole, carefully put pins on either short end (or all 4 sides) of your buttonhole. The pins prevent you from cutting too far and snipping the carefully made stitches you just finished.

11. Fold the buttonhole in half until you can feel the overlap of both short ends.

12. Then carefully avoiding the stitching, cut a small straight hole in the centre.


As you can see, I cut a little too close to the stitching. It can be repaired by hand though using close top stitches, so don’t worry!

Once you’ve got a hole wide enough to get your scissor blade in, extend the length of the hole until you reach the pins.

After 10 hours worth of manual labour in total, the dress is finally complete.


The finished dress

Unfortunately the mannequin is not exactly my size (my torso is one size smaller than my bottom half) so I can’t show you a proper fit of the back of the dress. For the lining, I decided to go with satin to give it a more luxurious feel. I know usually the matte side is used facing out, but I thought the shimmer of the glossy satin side looked very pretty under the chiffon, it gives the dress an almost iridiscent shine under certain light, so I turned it around. It’s not as easy to see the glimmer without seeing it in person, but I was getting too much backlight from the windows (it was a really sunny day in Edinburgh when I took the photo!) so I had to take it with the curtains closed.

What do you think of my finished cut out back dress? Would this be something you would consider wearing?

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