Buttonhole stitches catch a loop of the thread on the surface of the fabric and needle is returned to the back of the fabric at a right angle to the original start of the thread. The finished stitch in some ways resembles a letter "L" depending on the spacing of the stitches. For buttonholes the stitches are tightly packed together and for blanket edges they are more spaced out. The properties of this stitch make it ideal for preventing raveling of woven fabric.
Buttonhole stitches are structurally similar to featherstitches.
Traditionally, this stitch has been used to secure the edges of buttonholes. In addition to reinforcing buttonholes and preventing cut fabric from raveling, buttonhole stitches are used to make stems in crewel embroidery, to make sewn eyelets, to attach applique to ground fabric, and as couching stitches. It developed into a decorative surface-embroidery stitch with numerous variations by simply modifying the height, spacing, and angles of the legs and by adding additional stitches to and around the basic stitch. This stitch belongs to the large family of flat and looped stitches and is closely worked together with no background fabric visible between the stitches. Buttonhole stitch scallops, usually raised or padded by rows of straight or chain stitches, were a popular edging in the 19th century.
Buttonhole stitches are also used in cutwork, including Broderie Anglaise, and form the basis for many forms of needlelace. This stitch is well represented on 16th- and 17th-century whitework items (samplers, ruffs, and cuffs), Elizabethan-era clothing, and the colorful traditional band samplers. The buttonhole stitch appeared on the Jane Bostocke sampler (1598) which is the earliest, signed sampler known to date and is presently housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Examples of buttonhole or blanket stitches include:
- Blanket stitch
- Buttonhole stitch
- Closed buttonhole stitch, in which the tops of the stitch touch to form triangles
- Beeton, Isabella, Beeton's Book of Needlework, London, 1870
- Koll, Juby Aleyas (2019). Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials—Hand Embroidery Stitches for Everyone. Roxy Mathew Koll and Juby Aleyas Koll. p. 452. ISBN 978-93-5361-592-5.
- Sarah (2011-12-13). "Buttonhole Stitch". Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
- West, Deanna Hall (July 30, 2018). "A Stitch in Time: The Buttonhole Stitch and Blanket Stitch". Interweave.
- Virginia Churchill Bath, Needlework in America, Viking Press, 1979 ISBN 0-670-50575-7
- S.F.A. Caulfield and B.C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework, 1885.
- Mrs. Archibald Christie. Samplers and Stitches, a handbook of the embroiderer's art, London 1920, 1989 facsimile: Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-4796-6.
- Media related to Buttonhole stitch at Wikimedia Commons