A Stitch In Time
The Milanese Buttonhole
There are two reasons why you won’t see many people with Milanese buttonholes adorning their suits; very few tailors can make them and even fewer are willing to. Beyond the challenge presented by an esoteric technique, the extra time required to create the tight, clean appearance of a Milanese buttonhole means an unnecessary cost.
Michael Browne at Chittleborough & Morgan is the exception:
“I care about every detail; to me the buttonhole is no less important than any other aspect of a garment I wear. It’s the reason I became a tailor. So, when I first saw a Milanese, I had to learn how to make one,” says Michael.
The method isn’t prohibitively difficult — the stitch is a simple loop around a gimp, secured to the cloth directly underneath. Having to compress the stitches requires precision, so that you have consistency, and securing the stitch blind, in virtue of the gimp obscuring the makers vision, requires experience.
The key to the technique here is that the silk thread is wound around the gimp, rather than knotted. All buttonholes use a gimp – a thicker piece of thread that lies along either side of the slit to give the buttonhole some body. But with a standard buttonhole each stitch involves passing through a loop of the same thread, creating a knot. That series of knots is easy to keep in a straight line, is robust and consistent. But they can only be so small.
With the Milanese, the thread is simply wound around the gimp, inserted through the cloth to anchor it, and then wound around again. Winding around might sound easier than knotting, but the tension in the Milanese has to be absolutely consistent throughout – otherwise the line of the buttonhole won’t be straight. If just one loop is over tightened, it makes it kink.
“The first time I tried this it took me about two hours,” says Michael. “And even then there were one or two kinks. Now it takes me about an hour. A regular buttonhole you can do in about 10 minutes if you’re fast.”
Look out for Michael in the upcoming issue 26 of The Rake (p56 & p174). And visit Chittleborough & Morgan (www.chittleboroughandmorgan.co.uk) if you find yourself itching for a stitching.