Using the Tartan Plaid Cape as an example, let me show you how to sew on a button!
It’s the ‘joke’ task, when people talk about not knowing how to sew, they say they can’t even sew on a button. It’s amazing that people will throw out perfectly good suits, coats, and trousers, all because of a missing button! Makes me mad to think about the waste.. but then again, it’s a great opportunity to pick up perfectly good coats at second-hand shops. While someone else thinks it’s ruined, we can easily fix a missing button or two! In fact, it’s almost better. We can go pick out our own, nicer buttons!
Well, that was a ramble. Let me show you the Tailoring way to sew on a button!
Buttons go on when the whole garment is finished and pressed. Buttonholes are already done, in fact the buttons are the very last thing to go on your garment. There are two steps – marking the button placement, and then sewing them on.
Marking the button placement:
Take your garment, and line up the centre fronts with the facing sides together, right sides outwards.
The book suggests that you line up the bottom edges, making the buttonhole side slightly longer than the button side. I’m not doing that, as it’s more important to me that the plaid lines match up. It’s a good piece of advice though, as it will make sure that your top layer is longer than the bottom layer at centre front. (Imagine how it would look the other way around, with the bottom layer hanging lower? That would look sloppy.)
Now, pin your edges together. The reason we’re doing this, is so the edges stay aligned while we mark the button placement. We’ll unpin these edges before sewing on the buttons. You might have a hard time pinning through all of these layers, so you could try using binder-clips if that makes it easier.
Let’s mark the button placement. Stick a pin through the buttonhole, through all layers of fabric, about 3mm from the edge of the buttonhole at the front edge.
Repeat with all of your buttonholes.
Here’s what it looks like from the wrong side:
These pins are marking our button placement! Because the pins might fall out as we work, let’s mark where the pins come out with chalk or tailor’s tacks. I picked chalk because it’s faster than tailor’s tacks, but it all depends on your fabric. If your fabric is light coloured, you might want to use tailor’s tacks.
That circle-thing in my hand is the lid for my chalk marker, in case you’re wondering! Mark an X over the pin spot. You’ll find it easier to locate the exact right spot for the button if you use an X, instead of a dot or circle.
Marking is done! Now, we get to move on to the second step, sewing on our buttons.
Sewing on Buttons:
Grab a hand-sewing needle and thread. If you like, you can wax the thread to make it stronger and reduce tangles. Run the thread through the beeswax, pulling it through one of the slots from end to end. I like to press the waxed thread, it makes it way stronger and thicker. It’s recommended that you use a press cloth so you don’t get wax on your iron or ironing board. (I admit, I just ran it under the iron quickly sans press cloth.)
Now, take your needle and thread and make a few stitches in the button placement spot, right through the X. The goal is to go just through the top layer, not through to the facing. It gives you a more professional look not to have little stitch-marks on the inside of your jacket.
Here’s a close-up of the stitches. It’s hard to photograph fuzzy fabrics but I think you’ll get the idea of how to make your stitches.
After you make two or three small stitches, poke your needle upwards through the hole in the button. It doesn’t matter what hole you start with here!
Now, we aren’t going to sew the button down, completely flat to the garment. We need to leave space for the layer with the buttonholes to fit between the button and the bottom layer. Does that make sense? Picture a button with a shank, like on your jeans. You need to have that shank there, so your jeans can button up, with a layer of waistband between the jeans button and the base of the button. So we’re going to make a shank out of thread, so the cape buttons nicely without squishing that top layer.
In order to do that, we can’t pull our stitches too tightly. We’re going to stick something in our button stitches, to keep the stitches loose. The book recommends using a toothpick, but I didn’t have any at home. I poked through my boxes of craft supplies and found these corsage pins. (Who knows why I even bought these to begin with!) They’ll work as our toothpick substitute today.
Back to our button – let’s finish the first stitch. Take the thread, and poke it back into the button’s next hole. I like to make an ‘X’ with my stitching on four-hole buttons, so I’m poking my needle into the corresponding hole.
Before we pull the stitch tight, add the ‘toothpick.’ Now, when we pull the thread tight, the toothpick will keep an even amount of extra space.
Make four more stitches through the same holes in the button.
Now, turn the toothpick, so you can make four more stitches through the opposite two holes.
Remove the toothpick. Push the button to the end of the stitches, so any extra space is under the button not above the button.
Push up the button, so you’re looking at the underside of the button and the stitch loops. We’re now going to make our thread shank! If you’ve never done this, it’s much easier than it sounds.
Wrap your thread around the button threads, underneath the button, about twenty or thirty times. If you can, try and remember how many times you wrapped the thread on your first button, so you can be consistent and do the same on all of your buttons.
Look at the nice, tidy thread shank we’ve created! This will be a hundred times stronger than buttons in ready-to-wear clothing. Finish off your button by making a few small stitches at the base of your thread shank. I made about six or eight stitches, just to be extra-sure it would stay put!
Trim your thread, and we’re done! Here’s what the button will look like from the front:
And here’s a view from the facing side. If we’ve done it right, we won’t see anything from the facing side.
Button up your garment, and admire the results.
Look at the padstitched collar! It rolls so nicely around the neck. In the comments on the padstitching post, Rachel asked when the techniques are worth it and when they can be left out. While a lot of that is personal opinion, and perhaps the amount of time you have to spend sewing, I think my padstitching is totally worth it here!
Well, I’m off to sew the other two buttons on. Any questions, tips or suggestions on sewing on buttons? Leave a comment below!