How to Sew a Buttonhole (Bernina 3A Foot)

The Bernina 3A buttonhole foot is used to create buttonholes in garments, bags, and home furnishings.  This automatic buttonhole foot will create as many of the identically sized buttonholes as you need.

This buttonhole foot is for Bernina sewing machines.  I have a Bernina Activa line machine but it's compatible with all 5.5mm and 9mm machines.  This foot comes with a lens sensor to ensure each buttonhole is made the same size.

It also has a sliding guide to set the size of your buttonhole and a red guide mark to make it easy to be sure your buttonhole is created the correct length. This buttonhole foot can also create corded buttonholes.

With the touch of one button (reverse) it sets the length of the buttonhole.  After that, buttonholes will be made the same size until you reset the machine or turn it off. 

This automatic buttonhole feature makes it perfect to use to create buttonholes on a garment or other project that needs more than one of the same size buttonhole.  

Learn to sew a buttonhole - fb

Click the link below to watch our full video tutorial on YouTube, or keep reading this article for a step-by-step photo tutorial.

We have many other sewing tutorials to teach sewing topics.  Find some featured tutorials at the end of this article or find all of our Sewing Videos on the linked page.

COMPLETE VIDEO TUTORIAL AVAILABLE! The video below is a preview with no audio, to watch the whole video tutorial, click the link How to Sew a Buttonhole (Bernina 3A Foot) to watch in Youtube.

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  • Bernina Sewing Machine
  • Bernina 3A Buttonhole Foot
  • Button
  • Garment or project which needs a buttonhole
  • Sample Fabric to test buttonhole
  • Scissors
  • Thread and Bobbin

INSTRUCTIONS For making a buttonhole

STEP 1: Select the button

Before sewing a buttonhole, select the button to be sewn onto the garment or home decor item.  Your pattern will usually suggest a button size to purchase.

STEP 2: Prepare sample fabric

Whenever I need to sew a buttonhole, I always create a sample and sew a sample buttonhole (or two or three) first.  After working very hard on a garment or home decor item, you don't want to ruin it by making a buttonhole that is the wrong size. 

So, it's important to always sew a test buttonhole and test the button through the sample buttonhole to ensure it's the correct size.  If it's the wrong size, reset your machine by using the clear button or switch off the buttonhole stitch and back.  Turning your machine off will also reset the buttonhole length.

To create a sample, take a leftover swatch of your fabric and create the same layer(s) as in your garment or home decor project.  For example, most garments will have buttonholes sewn into the placket or the cuff.  This will be two layers of your fabric with lightweight fusible interfacing between.  Using your leftover fabric, create the same layers and use this to sew your sample.Buttonhole Tutorial Finished Samples

For the sample used in this demo, I have two layers of muslin fabric.  One layer has lightweight fusible interfacing fused to it.  I will sew my sample buttonholes onto this sample.

STEP 3: Install Bernina 3a buttonhole foot 

The buttonhole foot is placed on the Bernina machine in the same manner as the other feet.  It may be a little awkward to put in since it's a bulky foot.  Lean it to one side and slip it over the shank in the machine.Buttonhole Tutorial Foot Installed

Flip the toggle down to hold it in place.

STEP 4: Set up your bobbin

To create even and more tight buttonhole stitches, thread your bobbin thread through the hole on the bobbin case arm.  Below is a photo of the thread going through this hole.

Buttonhole Tutorial Thread through bobbin holder hole

The bobbin is installed into the bobbin holder in the same manner as usual and then the thread is threaded through the hole in the arm.  The bobbin is installed into your machine in the usual way using the bobbin thread cutter to trim the excess thread. Buttonhole Tutorial Thread through bobbin holder hole 2

STEP 5: Slide Guide

The side of the buttonhole foot has a red sliding guide.  This guide can be used to set the length of your buttonhole.

Determine the length of the buttonhole needed by measuring your button.  If the button is 5/8" then you will want to create your buttonhole a little larger than that size.  By using your sample fabric, you can ensure that the buttonhole is made the correct size for your button and adjust as necessary.

Set the slide guide to the size of the buttonhole needed.Buttonhole Tutorial red indicator slider

When sewing the first side of the buttonhole, the red mark guide will move down the buttonhole foot.  Look in the photo below and I'm pointing out the red guide marker. Buttonhole Tutorial red indicator

When the red guide marker lines up with the point on the sliding guide, it's time to set the buttonhole length.  This will be described more below.

STEP 6: buttonhole stitches

Depending on your machine, you can have one or more buttonhole stitches.  On my Activa 240, the standard buttonhole stitch is set by pressing the 0 button on the front of my machine.

My machine also has several other buttonhole stitches in positions 11 - 14.Bernina Activa 240 Stitch Card

The different buttonhole stitch options are:

  • 0 (or 10) - Standard Buttonhole - fine to medium weight fabrics.  Use on blouses, shirts, trousers and bedding.
  • 11 - Heirloom Buttonhole - lighter weight buttonhole for fine to medium weight fabrics.  Use on blouses, shirts, dresses, children and baby clothes.
  • 12 - Stretch Buttonhole - used for sewing buttonholes on stretch fabrics.
  • 13 - Keyhole Buttonhole - Usually used for heavyweight fabrics, jackets, coats, trousers.
  • 14 - Straight Stitch Buttonhole - used for pre-stitching buttonholes, bound buttonholes or welt pockets.
  • 15 - Button Sew-On stitch - used to sew a button onto the fabric.  See below.
  • 16 - Eyelet stitch - used to sew eyelets.

Select and set the type of buttonhole to be stitched.

STEP 7: Stitching the buttonhole

Using a marking pencil, mark the position of the buttonhole on your fabric. I have marked a line in the photo below as an example.

Place your fabric under the buttonhole foot with the marked buttonhole position centered in the foot.  The start of the buttonhole should be centered under the needle. Lower your needle to make sure the buttonhole is starting in the correct place.

Buttonhole Tutorial Checking Buttonhole placement

Hold the top and bobbin threads slightly to help keep the bobbin thread from tangling up underneath.Buttonhole Tutorial Test Button Hold threads

Start stitching the buttonhole by pressing the presser foot.  The buttonhole stitch begins by stitching the left side of the buttonhole with a tight zig-zag stitch.Buttonhole Tutorial Sewing Left Side

If you've set your buttonhole length using the sliding guide, watch the buttonhole and stop when the red mark lines up with the guide. 

To set the length of the buttonhole, press the reverse button once.  Start stitching again by pressing the presser foot.

The machine will continue onto the next section of the buttonhole by straight stitching across and then back to the starting point as shown in the photo below.Buttonhole Tutorial Sewing back to top

Next, it will sew the bar tack at the start of the buttonhole as shown in the photo below.Buttonhole Tutorial Sewing Top end

The buttonhole stitch continues with stitching the right side of the buttonhole and then will finish with a bar tack and then a few tacking stitches.  When the stitch is complete, the machine will stop sewing.Buttonhole Tutorial Sewing Right Side

Lift the presser foot and remove the fabric from the sewing machine and cut the threads.  The foot will automatically pop back to the starting position when the foot is lifted.  This is a convenient feature and ensures you always start your buttonholes in the correct position.Buttonhole Tutorial Finished Buttonholes

STEP 8: Clip open the buttonhole

When cutting open the buttonhole, be very careful to not clip the stitches.  I cut open buttonholes by folding them in half and making a very small snip in the center.Buttonhole Tutorial Snip Hole

Then, open up the fabric and stick the scissor point through the clipped hole. Now you will be able to clip the rest of the buttonhole open one half at a time. Using the scissors, clip small clips until reaching the bar tack.  Do not clip the bar tack.  Then, turn the buttonhole around and clip open the other half.Buttonhole Tutorial Snip Open buttonhole

Once the buttonhole is snipped open, it will look like the buttonhole below.  There are a few extra loose threads inside the buttonhole and these can be carefully clipped.

Buttonhole Tutorial Buttonhole cut open

STEP 9: Test the buttonhole

Place your button through the buttonhole to test it.  The button should be able to move through the hole and be a little tight the first time through.  After that, it usually will be easier to put the button through.Buttonhole Tutorial Test Button

If the button will not go through the hole, or if the buttonhole is too large, reset your machine and the slide guide and try sewing another one.  Keep adjusting until you get a sample buttonhole of the size you want.Buttonhole Tutorial Test Button2

How do I Sew a Corded Button?

To sew a corded button using this buttonhole foot, add your cord before placing the fabric under the foot.  There is a toe on the back of the foot to hold the cord.

Fold the cord in half and place the loop on the toe.  Extend the cord under the foot and hook the cord into the groves in the front of the buttonhole foot.  This will hold the cord in place while stitching the buttonhole.

Stitch the buttonhole as described in the previous steps.

Pull the ends of the cord through the buttonhole until the loop is under the bar tack.  Knot and trim the cord ends.

How do I attach buttons to my project?

On my Bernina machine, stitch #15 is for sewing a button to the garment or home decor item.  See our how-to machine sew a button tutorial for instructions to use your sewing machine to sew on a button.

Another way to attach buttons using a sewing machine is by using a zig zag stitch.  Click the link to watch the tutorial for this method.

The last way to sew on a button is to hand sew the button to the project. Our video tutorial will show you how!

I hope this tutorial has taught you how to create a buttonhole using the Bernina 3A buttonhole foot.  Please see some of our other sewing videos below.



If you have any questions about this project, contact us through the YouTube Video comments or our Contact Us page. We respond to questions in e-mails and YouTube comments regularly.

Here are some other sewing tutorials you may be interested in:

How to sew a buttonhole tutorial - pin

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