Did you know that the direction in which buttonhole stitch is stitched makes a difference in the finished look of the buttonhole stitch? You almost wouldn’t think it would – buttonhole stitch, after all, is buttonhole stitch.
There are two points that come to mind when speaking about stitch direction and buttonhole stitch: The downward stroke of the stitch, and the twisted rope-like edge that forms on the outside edge of the stitch.
In the photo above, you can see two rows of spaced buttonhole stitch, the top row worked from left to right, and the bottom row from right to left. Now, the shift of the vertical stroke in the stitch can be controlled a little bit with tension, and when working the stitch close together (for an edging or a solid, thick line) it’s much easier to keep the stitches looking vertical and parallel. When the stitches are worked farther apart, the pull from the corner of the stitch tends to slightly shift the vertical stroke of the stitch.
BUT – that’s not the part that I really wanted to write about today. I’ve noticed that sometimes beginners, when learning buttonhole stitch, assume that it doesn’t really matter in which direction the stitch is worked. However, in a piece of needlework that involves a lot of buttonhole stitch, it’s important to keep the stitch consistent. Working rows of buttonhole from left to right (which is the normal direction when using an s-twisted thread) and then switching and working from right to left changes the look of the stitch – most notably because of the direction of the twist of the stitch on the edge, as demonstrated in the diagram below:
This point comes back to the difference between s-twisted and z-twisted embroidery threads. The s-twisted thread looks best when stitched from left to right. The z-twisted thread looks best when stitched from right to left.
With cotton – whether perle or stranded – I’ve not found that much of a difference in the actual ease of making the stitch from one direction or the other. But with z-twisted threads (rayons and various silks), I’ve always found it more difficult to make the buttonhole stitch in the more natural direction for a right-handed stitcher (which would be from left to right). The thread twists up on itself and becomes cranky! Also, the z-twisted thread, worked from left to right, does not make as attractive an edge on the buttonhole stitch. The rope-like overlapping of the stitches twists together too much.
(Apologies for the poor photo!) The top line is a z-twisted silk, worked from left to right. See how tight the twist is kept in the stitch? The characteristic wavy overlapping of the stitches is not so easily discernible. The lower line of stitches is the same z-twisted silk, worked right to left. Though the lower line in the photo is a bit blurry, you can see that the stitches keep their overlapping definition better on the lower row of stitches.
If you take a look at a row of stem stitch (stitched from left to right with cotton thread)…
… and you take a look at a row of buttonhole stitch (stitched from left to right with cotton thread)…
… what do you notice? See the edge on the buttonhole stitch? It looks a lot like that line of stem stitch – and the twist in the stitch is the same. So everything that’s true about stem stitch stitched from left to right or from right to left with either s-twisted or z-twisted threads, applies as well to the buttonhole stitch. If you’d like to read about stem stitch direction with s-twisted or z-twisted threads, it will help demonstrate why it’s important to consider stitch direction when working the buttonhole stitch!
I know it can get confusing when I go on about left-to-right, right-to-left, z-twist, s-twist, and so forth! But don’t you think it’s interesting how the twist of the thread in manufacturing really does make a difference in the look of a stitch?
Have a terrific Tuesday!