Friday, December 4, 2015

My Victorian Christmas Caroling Costume: Buttonholes of Despair, and Buttonholes of Deliverance

Victorian Christmas Caroling Dress Debut!
My Victorian Christmas caroling costume made from Simplicity pattern #1818 is finally finished, and now I need to catch up with my blog posts in fits and snatches as time permits.  Today I'll share the saga of the buttonholes.

Bernina Automatic Buttonhole Foot 3A with Leveler Accessory
My Bernina 750QE only came with one buttonhole foot, presser foot #3A, shown in the photo above.  I'm also using an optional accessory in that photo, the Buttonhole Leveler, because I'm stitching buttonholes perpendicular to the garment edge over a seam allowance and the automatic buttonhole foot needs to be perfectly flat and level to work properly.  So the Automatic Buttonhole foot for the computerized Berninas really is totally automatic on computerized machines like mine.  You select the buttonhole style you want on-screen, enter the size buttonhole you want and make any desired changes to the buttonhole width and/or the spacing of the stitches, step on your presser foot, and then the entire buttonhole is sewn in one step from beginning to end without you having to do anything else.  Subsequent buttonholes come out exactly identical to the first one.  Sounds great, right?  It is great, BUT...  Notice how BIG that buttonhole foot is?  My dress bodice has boning sewn into a dart that is right near where the buttonholes need to go.  Since the boning was angled rather than parallel to the front garment edge, I was able to sew the first few buttonholes at the top of the bodice with this presser foot.  But then when I got near the boning the foot started to get hung up.  I ripped three buttonholes out of my silk shantung dress bodice, sweating bullets with every flick of my seam ripper... 

I tried the Buttonhole Leveler.  I tried a different accessory, the Buttonhole Compensation Plates (designed more for sewing buttonholes on thick terry cloth or fleece, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway).  Nothing worked.  Finally, I read in my Bernina Feetures book that the manual buttonhole foot 3C was recommended for sewing buttonholes that were either larger than the maximum size of foot 3A -- or for sewing buttonholes "in tight places such as collar stands."  Eureka!

Manual Buttonhole Foot 3C for 9 mm Berninas
I had to wait a day to get the 3C Buttonhole foot, but that was exactly what I needed for this project.  See how much smaller that foot is?  Stitching out the buttonhole was almost as easy with manual foot 3C as it was with the automatic foot 3A. 

Manual Buttonhole on Bernina 750QE
I just had to mark the length of the buttonhole beforehand and sew the buttonhole in 7 steps instead of one.  I selected the same style of buttonhole that I had used for the others, but could not input the length ahead of time.  Then the machine stitched out the buttonhole the same way as before, except that I had to sew down to the end of the buttonhole, then tell the machine it could go to the next step by pressing the arrow on the screen, etc.  It still stitched out the same buttonhole the same way, and the resulting buttonhole would be identical to the others if the stitching on the last automatic buttonhole hadn't gotten denser when the foot ran into the boning.  The two buttonholes on the left in that photo were stitched with the automatic buttonhole foot, and the buttonhole on the right was stitched with the manual buttonhole foot.  I had no trouble with the manual foot whatsoever, even on the last buttonhole that had to fit at the pointy end of the bodice right between the seam allowances and the blasted boning. 
Buttonhole Success!
The moral of this story is not that the automatic buttonhole foot is no good; just that it has limitations.  With the manual buttonhole foot, there is a chance of operator error if I don't draw the buttonholes exactly the same length or I don't stop the machine at exactly the same length with each buttonhole.  If I was doing buttonholes down the front of a normal blouse, the automatic buttonhole would be a godsend.  However, the drawbacks are that the automatic buttonhole foot has to be perfectly flat and level (which is where those optional accessories come in handy), and it simply will not work at all in situations where a buttonhole has to fit into a tight space, like what I encountered with this project.

I'm glad that I ultimately decided to stitch my buttonholes with the same 50/3 Gutermann cotton construction thread, because it's a perfect color match to my dress fabric and my buttonholes ended up looking pretty invisible.

Finished Buttonholes, Awaiting Buttons!
They look pretty good, right?  So then I sewed on my buttons.  I did fabric-covered buttons in Bridal size 20, using the same black silk shantung as I used for the contrasting ruffles on my dress.  I sewed stabilizer buttons on the back of each covered buttons for greater stability and longevity.  This was a pain in the butt, and may contribute to my difficulty buttoning and unbuttoning the bodice with my broken thumb, but whatever -- what's done is done.  I didn't want my buttons to rip through the silk after repeated wearings.

Stabilizer Buttons for Greater Support
That's all you get for today.  Next time I'll tell you how I did the rows of scalloped knife pleated ruffle trim on the bottom of my skirt.  Have a great weekend, everyone!


colleen said...

Oh man what a pain. My mother made buttonholes all the time with her straight stitch Singer sewing machine and a buttonhole attachment that was way bigger than the Bernina automatic foot. My buttonholes are scary things to me. In your place I would have sewn on snaps with buttons on top so it looked like the dress was buttoned but was really snapped together so your dress is "real" and mine would have been fake
Your dress is gorgeous I hope you are able to sing to your hearts content and make a bit of money out of the deal.....

SJSM said...

You found a solution for your buttonholes. Congrats! They look wonderful.

Lani said...

You did a fabulous job!!! Your dress is gorgeous! !! I do admire those that can garment sew, let alone a difficult one like you made.

Barbara Sindlinger said...

Wow - the dress is beautiful. Sorry it gave you some fits though.

Kay Greene said...

The dress looks beautiful on you. Thanks for all of the information about the buttonholes. I look forward to your posts.

Unknown said...

Your dress is absolutely gorgeous! I have followed your "journey" on the 7 Series group and cannot believe what a beautiful dress you have created. Oh my, this and all of your other work is too pretty for words!

Jenny K. Lyon said...

We need more photos of the finished dress! It looks spectacular. I am so impressed at how you have worked through all kinds of things to make this dress. Wow!

Lara B. said...

So much effort and so worth it! You look gorgeous in your dress Rebecca!
Sometimes modern time savers aren't really time savers. As I read through your buttonhole woes, I couldn't help thinking about how un-fussy my vintage automatic buttonholer is. I use it with my old straight stitch machines. But then I thought about what a racket it makes and thought I'd be scared silly with every buttonhole, using it on that silk.

Patsy said...

You totally rocked this project! I am so amazed and impressed that you know how to do all the techniques to make such an intricate dress. You are one very determined sewist-way to go!

Rebecca Grace said...

Colleen and Patsy -- Yes, I've read great things about the vintage Singer buttonhole attachments on the Featherweight groups, but I don't have one for my machines. In the end, I was really pleased with the quality and ease of my modern Bernina's buttonholes, but I agree that sometimes it's better to go old school!

deb @ frugal little bungalow said...

I am amazed by this project...couldn't wait to see your next post and if you were able to finish! WOW; congratulations!

Chris said...

What an absolutely stunning dress! Kudo's to you!!! Looking forward to more posts and pictures. And...Merry Christmas!

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