Imaginative Hand Sewing with the Buttonhole Stitch

As you read this, picture me curled up on a comfortable chair by the fire, hand sewing. Although that's probably not the case, it's certainly what I would like to be doing on a cold, snowy day, wouldn't you?

buttonhole stitch hand sewing by Julia Caprara
A field of buttonhole stitch flowers,
by the late Julia Caprara.

I love to hand sew: the feel of the fibers, the rhythmic in-and-out of the needle, the patterns I create with embroidery threads and other fibers.

The late Julia Caprara was an expert at creating unusual and highly textural patterns with needlework. Although I have known the basics of how to hand sew since I was a child, Julia's articles on hand stitching and embroidery in Quilting Arts Magazine really inspired me to experiment with hand sewing techniques.

For example, look at how Julia creates a field of flowers from the buttonhole stitch in the image at left. By varying the fibers and the size of the stitches–and by overlapping the stitches–she creates art from this embroidery stitch originally used to edge blankets.

Here is Julia's take on the buttonhole, or blanket, stitch:

"The buttonhole stitch is one of those unexpected stitches that in more conventional circumstances was used as a way to create a firm edging to blankets or handmade buttonholes. Now this versatile stitch is used to dance and shift in unexpected ways, creating channels and movements of patterns and lacelike surfaces that offer an amazing array of organic qualities.

"Turned in circles, this stitch will become large, flower-like forms. Worked in lines- first upside down, then interlocking or overlapping the stitch-it will begin to give a rich organic-like surface quality. Another secret is to work with the thicker or heavier weight threads first, then overlay finer yarns and mohairs to enhance or "lift" the richer qualities beneath," she wrote.

buttonhole stitch
Hand sewing the buttonhole
stitch as a wheel.

Julia's techniques and her "What if?" approach remind me that you don't need to work embroidery on special hand sewing projects as a means to an end. There is art-and joy-in the simple act of hand sewing and seeing where the stitches and the fibers take you.

We've collected 10 articles on hand sewing, including two of Julia's, in our new eBook, Hand Sewing: Projects and Techniques with Embroidery, Felt, and Embellishments. Download it now, and you can experiment with hand stitching to your heart's content.

P.S. What's your favorite hand sewing stitch or technique? Share with us below!

Other topics you may enjoy:


Hand Embroidery, Quilting Daily Blog, Sewing Techniques

2 thoughts on “Imaginative Hand Sewing with the Buttonhole Stitch

  1. Ooooooh, that is hard to choose. Put me in the category: needle and thread, any. Applique, embroidery, knitting, beading…. anything with needle and thread.