Late Medieval Fashion Redressed

How to Sew a Medieval Buttonhole Left-Handed

These instructions are for left-handers. Click here if you are right-handed, to see the images in reverse.


  1. Cut a straight slit through the fabric to the intended width of the final buttonhole.

Slit fabric

  1. Draw your knotted floss up through the fabric from the bottom side to the top, about 1/4 inch away from the slit, directly even with one end of the slit.

First stitch


  1.  Insert your needle through the slit and stitch from the bottom to the top in the same location on the other side of the slit.

Second stitch

Second stitch completed

  1.  Lay the thread in a spiral so that your needle can pass through the slit and stitch up from the bottom as follows. Draw the thread taut until a knot forms on the edge of the slit.

First knot

First knot completed


  1.  Repeat this knotting technique again, placing your next stitch directly next to the one just completed. Note: you may need to draw the needle up a little further beyond the end of the previous stitch so that when this current stitch is completed, it is the same length. Some shrinking will occur when the thread is pulled tight.

Beginning second knot

Second knot completed

  1.  Continue this stitching and knotting technique, known as buttonhole stitch, down the slit along one side. Notice the pattern of the knots that emerges.

Continue buttonhole stitch

Almost finished one side


  1.  When you reach the end of one side, turn the fabric around so that the finished side in on the opposite side it was on, and begin to sew the new side using the same knotting technique.

Beginning the second side

First knot on second side completed


  1.  Work your way up the second side of the slit as you did the first side.

Continuing second side

Almost finished second side


  1. When you reach the end of the second side, you will need to anchor your thread to the existing first stitch which was made when you began. In addition, you will need to anchor the thread to the row of stitches on the other side. This will provide some strength against strain and button friction. Turn your fabric around again so that the end with the needle and thread is closer to you. Insert your needle under the first stitch from the outside inward, and then slip it under the first knot on the right side of stitches.

Anchoring to the first stitch

Anchoring one side to the other


  1.  The thread is now ready to be finished off. Tuck the needle through the slit from the top to underneath.

Thread tucked underneath

  1. Turn the fabric over to look at the back side of the buttonhole. Insert your needle underneath the stitches on one side of the opening, drawing your thread through.

Securing the thread


  1. When the thread has been drawn through from one side of a row of stitching to the other, you may wish to continue this process on the other line of stitching. This is another way to strengthen the edge of the opening.

Securing the thread on the other side


  1.  When finished, it is your choice whether to cut the thread (no need for a knot), or to run the thread up to the next opening to start sewing another buttonhole. Turn the fabric over and admire your lovely medieval buttonhole.

Finished buttonhole

Note that the buttonhole is rectangular in its finished form. The more you practice, the faster you will get. I can sew a buttonhole in about 3–4 minutes. I don’t want to count how many hundreds of them I had to labor over to get to that time.

Challenging parts to practice:

  • Placing stitches close enough together at an even distance from each other
  • Making each stitch the same length
  • Pulling the thread for a perfect knot and not a tangled mess

Happy buttonholing!

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