Buttonhole Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial

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Buttonhole stitch has been handed down from the days of tailors and dressmakers dependant on their own skills to complete garments. Nowadays, it has become a piece of decorative embroidery used for ‘cut work’ like Hardanger and for edging in some embroidery designs. It can also create lovely flower wheels like those pictured below.

buttonhole stitchPinButtonhole Stitch


Buttonhole StitchSuppliesButtonhole Stitch vs Blanket StitchHow to do Buttonhole StitchStep 1 – Mark Guides & EnterStep 2 – First StitchStep 3 – PurlStep 4 – Next StitchStep 5 – RepeatButtonhole Stitch FlowersStep 1 – Mark CirclesStep 2: First StitchStep 3 – PurlStep 4 – RepeatButtonhole Stitch for ButtonholesButtonhole Stitch – In ConclusionMore Embroidery Articles

Buttonhole Stitch

Buttonhole stitch has a knot created at the end of each stitch, known as ‘purling’. It has a very firm edge and is perfect for fabric embroidery and stitching around the shapes in applique to prevent fraying.


Whether you need a hoop to do buttonhole stitch depends on your purpose. If you are sewing buttonholes or using it as edging, then you would normally sew it freehand. For embroidery and buttonhole stitch flowers, a hoop will hold the fabric tight and prevent any puckering.

Buttonhole stitch embroidery is traditionally done with embroidery floss and an embroidery needle.

To read more about the basic supplies and stitches, read how to embroider.

Buttonhole Stitch vs Blanket Stitch

Buttonhole stitch and blanket stitch are often confused because they are similar but not the same.

The easiest way to differentiate between buttonhole and blanket stitch is the entrance and exit points of the needle.  If the needle exits at the edge of the fabric you are creating a blanket stitch. 

PinBlanket Stitch

When the needle goes in towards the center of the fabric then you are creating a buttonhole stitch and should see the knot or purl stitch on the edge of the stitch line.

Buttonhole StitchButtonhole StitchPinButtonhole Stitch

How to do Buttonhole Stitch

Step 1 – Mark Guides & Enter

Draw 2 lines along which to sew your stitch. Once you have practiced a few times you will probably not need these lines.

Bring the thread to the top of the fabric on the bottom right at (1).

buttonhole stitch step 1buttonhole stitch step 1PinStep 1

Step 2 – First Stitch

Insert the needle along the same line as (1) at (2) and exit the needle straight up on the second line at (3).

Make a loop with the thread passing under the needle both at points (3) and (2). This is the important part that differentiates buttonhole stitch from blanket stitch.

buttonhole stitch step 2buttonhole stitch step 2Pin Step 2

Step 3 – Purl

Pull the needle through and pull the thread down to form the purl. If you pull the thread up you get a strange double loop.

Remember: PULL DOWN

buttonhole stitch step 2buttonhole stitch step 2Pin Step 3

Step 4 – Next Stitch

Move the needle across to (4) and exit at (5). Once again, loop the thread under the needle at both points (4) and (5).

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Step 5 – Repeat

Continue to repeat the stitch and you will see the reinforced edge appearing.

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Buttonhole Stitch Flowers

You can use this stitch to make lovely round wheels.

Step 1 – Mark Circles

Draw 2 circles like a donut.  Bring the thread to the top on the edge of the outside ring at (1).

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Step 2: First Stitch

Insert the needle at (2) which is a short distance across from (1) and exit the needle horizontally on the edge of the smaller inner circle.

Loop the thread underneath the needle at the tip and back.

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Step 3 – Purl

Pull the needle through and then pull the thread down to form the purl.

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Step 4 – Repeat

Repeat in a circle.

buttonhole stitchbuttonhole stitchPinButtonhole Stitch Close Up

Buttonhole Stitch for Buttonholes

Buttonhole stitch can be used on the edge of a slit on hand sewn buttonholes.

Read my article on how to hand sew a buttonhole for more photos and instructions.

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Buttonhole Stitch – In Conclusion

Buttonhole stitch is a winner for a decorative stitch and a professional look as an edging stitch in embroidery and applique.

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