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Buttonhole edging stitch icon
Buttonhole edging stitch

This version of buttonhole stitch, as its name suggests, is used to edge fabric.  It involves trimming the fabric to the desired shape and then stitching the buttonhole stitch over the edge.  It can be used to edge eyelets or small areas.

For an introduction to the basic stitch, see buttonhole stitch.

For an alternative method of working this stitch where the stitch is completed before the fabric is trimmed (suitable for hems and larger areas), see buttonhole edging stitch variation.

Dedicated to Margot McIntyre


Both this method of buttonhole edging stitch and the variation can be used to create a pretty hem for your work, for example a scalloped border (although the other method is more suitable for a large area).  If creating a border, work the stitches the reverse way round so that the corded edge faces outwards.
This method must be worked after all other stitching on the piece is complete.  It should be worked on a still-tight frame, so you must be very careful with your tension (pulling too tightly on the stitches can cause the fabric fibres to pull through the running stitch, ruining the shape). This method is best suited to very close woven fabrics.
When changing thread while working, finish the last stitch by making a tiny stitch over the loop. Start a new thread and bring the needle up between the last two stitches to form the next loop.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 1 photograph

Work two lines of double running stitch around the shape and then begin to trim away the fabric by first cutting from the middle to each end, and then from the middle to each side.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 2 photograph

Carefully trim each tab away and gently remove any fluff.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 3 photograph

Cast on between the two running stitch lines. Bring the needle up through the hole and down just outside the outer line, leaving a loop.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 4 photograph

Bring the needle up through the hole again, inside the loop.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 5 photograph

Pull through to complete the stitch.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 6 photograph

Repeat all around the shape, making sure that the two ends match up neatly. Cast off by running the needle under a few stitches on the back.

Buttonhole edging stitch method stage 7 photograph

The finished example of cutwork with buttonhole stitch.

Structure of stitch

Cutwork removes part of the fabric, allowing any backing material to show through. Buttonhole stitch is a traditional stitch used for cutwork, and is the easiest way to get a neat finish because the stitch forms a corded edge. Stranded cotton and coton à broder work well for cutwork stitches.

Common uses

This method of buttonhole edging stitch trims the fabric first and fully encases the edge, so works well for small, simple shapes such as circles, ovals or teardrops.  The alternative method trims the fabric after completing the buttonhole stitch around the shape, so works well for larger and more complex shapes.

Embroidery Techniques

Related Stitches


  • Various Authors, The Royal School of Needlework Book of Embroidery (2018) , p.344–5