V312: My Attempt at 1740s Wrapped Buttonholes

Thanks to the fabulous Hallie Larkin, over at Sign of the Golden Scissors, I’ve worked up enough courage to try wrapped buttonholes for my Snowshill riding habit jacket.  The originals were pieces of vellum wrapped in metallic threads, then couched onto the garment, to decorate the buttonholes.  Sometimes those buttonholes were functional, sometimes not.  Check out Hallie’s articles on the subject here, here, and here.

Wrapped buttonholes on a similar riding habit at The Met

I used slices of a folder, just a typical cardstock folder that we used to have in school, measured out and cut into strips about 3 inches long, and 1/8 inch wide.  I notched the ends ever so slightly, and started the wrap by taping the end of the metallic thread to the backside.

Then I wrapped and wrapped, just pulling the metallic thread off the spool as I went, until I got to the end, then drew the thread through the tiny notch, and taped the end again to the backside.  This whole process takes time, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with arthritis or problems with their hands or wrists, because it does stress them. :-

To apply the wraps, I couched them onto the buttonholes.  The first attempt, I couched the wraps on, then tried to cut the buttonhole, but that was utter chaos, and didn’t work.  You have to make the buttonholes FIRST, then apply the decoration.  I used a Sulky brand shiny silver thread, very thin, to couch.

I haven’t dealt with the ends yet, and as Hallie points out in her post, they are problematic.  It will take some clever embroidery over the top, in the metallic threads.

They look very nice when done.  I seem to have issues getting buttonholes on straight, but the nice thing is that if need be, these can be easily taken off and re-applied.  They add some structure to the buttonholes as well as beauty, too, so you don’t have a floppy front edge.  I think they will be worth the work in the end (she says now, with, like, 17 more of these to go…)


  • Mistress of Disguise

    November 10, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    Ooo, those look very nice! Looking at the jacket from the Met, the ends almost look like they are short wrapped pieces that have been couched on over the ends. It's hard to tell, though.

  • Emily Kate

    November 10, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Those are magnificent! Now I want to try them as well… and I probably will, at the first opportunity. I guess this means I need a new project 🙂

  • Rachel

    November 11, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    How would you wash something like that, especially with the cardstock inside? Would they be easily removable for the washing, and then you reattach them (similar to frilly cuffs on a chemise that peak out)? And then with reattaching, do you have to go through a whole lot of trouble to blend the ends back in again? Would using something like vellum prevent the need to remove them if you needed to wash the garment?

    Sorry for all the qeustions, ha! 🙂 It's just very fascinating how that's done, and it does give a very polished effect. Something to keep in mind for future projects.

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 12, 2012 at 2:19 AM

      Hi Rachel,
      Hallie mentions below that this kind of garment would be spot cleaned, not submerged. I'd have it dry cleaned only, as you're right, the card inside would not hold up well when wet.

  • Hallie Larkin

    November 11, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Good work Lauren! The wrapped buttonholes are such a nice detail. And to answer, Rachel, this garment would be spot cleaned, not washed. Hallie

  • Unknown

    November 12, 2012 at 12:50 AM

    This is such a great detail!! I've been trying to figure out how to get this effect on garments without weakening the fabric around the buttonhole…..might have to experiment with this a little.

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 12, 2012 at 2:21 AM

      Indeed – I found it helpful to use the canvas stiffener inside, just under the buttonholes, then run them on the machine, then cover them, and they stabilize with all those layers. Go for it!

  • AuntieNan

    November 12, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    I'm totally new to this look, so pardon my naivete… but could you use double cording? or cord the buttonhole with narrow flat gimp? That you could pre-wash, for those vests and coats that you're planning to wash anyway…

    Or, if using the cardstock, why not cut in one piece that has a rounded end and is slashed lengthwise, instead of trying to line up two rectangles and put a looped embroidery at the business end?

    All hypothetical, I know, as I won't have time for this kind of EXCELLENT handwork until 2020…



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