How To Sew Buttons

If your home sewer decided to set off on a countryside jaunt on her bicycle like the burnt-out seamstress in the picture, would you know how to sew a button on properly? A button can be as much of a bejeweled fashion statement costing many, many dollars as a utilitarian item for which you pay only a few pennies. Whichever you use, here are a few tips to help you attach it with care so that it stays put and looks professional.

Where Does The Button Go?

Design conventions place a button on a woman’s garment on the left front and on the right front on a man’s garment. Reverse this, of course, for the buttonholes.

Most buttons are sewn by hand, but some machines have attachments that allow you to attach a button with a zigzag feature. The guidelines in this article are for handsewn buttons.

If you are replacing a loose button, simply sew in the same spot as the previous attachment. Usually you can see the outline of the previous button.

If you are placing buttons on a new garment, measure carefully and mark the spot with tailors chalk so that button and buttonhole (which should be made first) line up properly.

What Kind Of Thread To Use?

When sewing on buttons, you generally use the same thread you used for the garment. Or, if replacing a button that has come loose, use the thread previously used. However, you can add sparkle to a garment by using contrasting thread, colorful metallic or other novelty thread. Just don’t use heavy-duty thread on a delicate buttons or fine thread on heavier fabrics.

What Kind Of Button To Use?

Button types generally go unnoticed until it is time to sew one, the most common being a flat button found on men’s shirts. Shank buttons (see photo) work best on thick layers of fabric where a flat button wouldn’t catch and hold the garment closed. You mostly find shanks buttons used for heavy coats and suits. Some decorative buttons, though, such as those that resemble pearls and such, use small, delicate shanks to complete the illusion of a jewel on a silk blouse.

Be creative with your button choice. When you can, use it as a design element to make your garment stand out. Think about stacking two or three buttons for a decorative effect, or using buttons in contrasting colors or unusual shapes. You can cover buttons in a contrasting fabric or the same fabric as your item if you wish to hide it. The choice is yours. Personally, I find searching through boxes of buttons in my fabric store or online site a little like a treasure hunt.

How To Sew Buttons

Be mindful of a few button-sewing hazards and you will have success with this easy task. Don’t oversew flat buttons or you will have trouble getting the button through the buttonhole. Use a single strand of thread to avoid it bunching up or tangling and causing an unattractive loop on the button. With a single strand you also have more loops through the fabric and button for a more secure attachment. With double strands, you have the thread taking up room in the hole without fully anchoring the button.

Take a strand of thread three times longer than you think you need—but no longer or your thread will get tangled. Knot one end and pull it through your needle so that one end is twice as long as the other. If they are the same length it will be the same as using double thread—too thick. For a two-hole button, center your button on the marked spot and begin on the underside of the fabric, pulling the needle through the fabric. Slide one hole onto the needle and carefully pull the thread all the way through. Give it a little tug so that there is no loop on the underside. Insert the needle directly down into the second hole and pull the needle through the underside again. Your button is now anchored. Make five or six loops, ending on the wrong side of the fabric. Catch the underneath threads back and forth several times, knot and cut the thread.

For a four-hole button, follow the same instructions but sew in an “x” or a square, whichever you wish.

How To Sew A Shank Button

Choose a shank for heavy duty wear or thick layers of fabric. Follow the above instructions for threading a single strand and button placement. Do NOT wrap the thread around the shank in an attempt to secure it tightly. You want the shank to flop around when it is unbuttoned. When you button the garment, the shank will stand up straight in the bulky fabric. However, even though it may flop, you want it tightly sewn. Insert the needle from the underside of the fabric and into one side of the shank. Pull the needle through the underside and repeat for 5 or 6 loops. Catch the threads on the underside, know and cut the thread.

How To Make A Shank On A Flat Button

Sometimes you want to use a flat button a thicker fabric but not so thick that you need a button with a shank. Place a fat toothpick or a fat needle (upholstery needles work well here) between the button and the fabric. Sew as described. Notice that the thread is quite loose. Before you cut the thread, gently wind thread around the loose underside of the button 5 or 6 times to make a shank. Insert the needle through to the underside, anchor the thread as above and knot and cut the thread and you’re done.

Happy sewing.