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Ask Roz: How do you keep the buttonhole edge from unraveling?

Dear Roz,

How opportune this is! I’ve been wracking my brains as to how to fix this problem and would love some help.

I worked the Peach Doily on page 24 of a booklet you compiled with Sue called Charlotte’s Hardanger Embroidery Designs III by Charlotte O. Gibson. I worked it white on white 22ct Zweigart Hardanger fabric. I loved the design and ended up giving it to a friend who also absolutely loved it. She is very careful with hand worked pieces and I had given her a few before this. Sometime afterwards she showed me that the buttonhole edge stitching had unraveled in a few places. The fabric had actually frayed. The edge is in peaks and valleys and the unraveling had happened at the edges of some of the peaks. It is worked over 2 squares of fabric.

In reality I feel that it’s not going to be possible to fix this problem, and I don’t object to reworking it, but I would like to know if there is anything I should do to stop it happening again. I hope I have provided enough information as I cannot provide a picture.

Looking forward to any advice you can give me as this is the first Hardanger piece I’ve done that I’ve had any problems with.

Many thanks


Dagnija McAuliffe


Roz Answers:

I know exactly what you mean and have experienced that myself. Early in my stitching experience I stitched a tablecloth for someone. Unfortunately, she did not know how to care for it and actually washed it in the washing machine and then hung it out to dry on a windy day…………..aarrggghhhh! She brought it back to me and I almost cried. It was beyond repair and use. Here are a few helpful hints but I don’t know if these would have even made a difference with the tablecloth incident! Hopefully, they will help you!

A. When working the traditional buttonhole edge, it is always best to "stitch in the ditch" around the entire finished buttonhole edge. This means you use your sewing machine to sew in the ridge just inside the outer edge of the buttonhole stitch. This is not always easy to do but go slow, use the same color sewing thread as you stitched with, and try to match the machine stitch length to your hand stitches. This is especially necessary when a buttonhole stitch goes over only two fabric threads.

B. If using a sewing machine to "stitch in the ditch" is out of the question for you, the next best thing, but not as safe, is to use a good quality fabric glue like Miracle Muck (which I have used numerous times) or at least a fray stop product after you have cut around the buttonhole edge. We have three products in this category, Fray Stop, Fray Check, and Fray Block.

C. A few years ago (in 2000 and earlier) we published three Hardanger books by Elaine Holm and Marion Keebough. These books are no longer in print, but what Elaine and Marion brought to us besides the many beautiful designs, was the "Tailored Buttonhole Stitch". This is one of the stitches we give instructions for on our site. I use this method exclusively now on everything I stitch with a buttonhole edge. It locks the stitches much better and I have not seen the fabric fray beneath the stitches when using this technique. If you are still going over only two fabric threads, I think I would still use one of the Fray or glue products as a back-up.

D. One last thought on this subject; when you need to start a new thread, be sure you end an old thread and start a new thread correctly. The new thread you are coming in with has to loop through the old thread so they connect. If they don’t, when you trim the edge, it will unravel. Begin the first step of the stitch with the old thread, keep a loop of it on top of the fabric but pull the end out on the back. Run the new thread beneath some of the stitches on the back and bring it to the front, going through the loop of the old thread. Pull the end of the old thread on the back until it is tight and adjust the top new stitch so it is in place before you take the next stitch. Make the next few new stitches, holding the old thread tail in place on back so the new stitches cover it and keep it in place. Trim off extra thread ends on back.

If you have a Hardanger question, just ask Roz!

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