How to Sew On a Button

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!

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33 Responses to How to Sew On a Button

  1. Louise March 2, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    brilliant, just about to sew some buttons onto my first ever buttoned garment so very good timing! Must admit I haven’t been brave enough to cut the buttonholes yet though!

  2. TanitIsis March 2, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Nice! I have to admit I always sew mine through both sides… it doesn’t look nice but it’s got to be much stronger (and put less strain on the fabric).

    I love the trick in “http://tuttofattoamano.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-sew-button-on-suit.html”>this post for hiding your starting thread end. (in case the HTML doesn’t work, the post is located at: http://tuttofattoamano.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-sew-button-on-suit.html )

  3. Patty March 2, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    Buttons are the bane of my existence – or more properly – MULTIPLE buttons – I frequently admit to not being the most precise of sewists on the planet, but i have a terrible time making sure that I sew the buttons on PRECISELY where I pin marked (the X is a helpful idea!) I slightly offset them, vertically, creating slight ripples on the finished garment. My recent negroni has a bit of that going on and my one (as-yet-unveiled) beignet looks like a crazytown skirt due to poor button placement. Boo. The X will hopefully help me out – I have been just marking with chalk dots…

  4. manecoarse March 2, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Do you use this method every time you sew on a button, or only for heavier fabrics?

  5. What-I-found March 2, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    I am so impressed! I got caught up in your instructions, they were so clear and well presented. I didn’t think that there could be so much to sewing on a button, but each step made sense and I understood the reason behind it. The mark of a true teacher.

  6. Kate March 2, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Thanks for this! Even though I would have thought, of course I know how to put on a button, It’s really nice to have such a clear presentation of the process, and a good reminder for being thorough!

    The cape looks gorgeous!! I love it!

    One other “simple” task that causes me major headaches is hemming. For whatever reason (despite my best efforts at consistent cutting and seam allowances) I frequently have pieces that end up being different lengths (this happened with my pendrell: I did something that resulted in the bottom edge of the front side and back side being different lengths). So when I went to hem, I couldn’t measure up from the bottom of the pieces easily because they were uneven! Hopefully this problem will be less frequent as I build up my sewing experience!

  7. Mia March 2, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Thanks! The detail of your tutorials is fantastic and gives me the confidence that I can follow along and have my finish product look the same as yours.

  8. Laurie March 2, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    You don’t say how you “end” your stitching before you cut the thread. I always use the hand quilting method of hiding the knot by “poping” between the layers of fabric. Ever since I learned to hand quilt, I’ve use that trick in a lot of my sewing and found it so helpful.

  9. Laurie March 2, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Oops. Popping the knot between the layers!

  10. Corinne March 2, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    Tasia, this is one of the best button tutorials I have seen. The cape is absolutely adorable and you will look great in it. Sewing, tailoring and all needle crafts are always a learning experience because fabrics are all different. Each project is a learning experience. I recently had the wonderful experience of attending a fashion show (of knitted and felted garments) with one of the designers. She studied every garment, made comments, notes and asked the models to turn, bend and move. Her passion and creativity is fueled by seeing other work, by always growing in her craft. While this is … (not) just a button tutorial, we can all learn re-learn and grow in our skills. Thank you.

  11. Caroline March 2, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    Yay! Buttons again! I still think about your button giveaway, and how much I coveted those buttons even though in my heart I knew I’d never get around to using them. This reminds me of yesterdays project. A friend brought over a vibrant old Pendleton plaid shirt and since it had a hole in the sleeve, donated it to my fabric stash. Last time he did this, I made one snip into the shirt (one snip too late) before I realized “Doh! I could have hemmed the sleeves and made a short sleeve — giving the shirt a second life!” So this time, I hemmed the sleeves, and you’d be proud: I took the buttons off the cuffs and moved them into the side seams, where, if the fellow ever looses a button down the front, he’ll find spares. I felt like this might have made up for not giving the other shirt a second chance. I gave this one three chances!

    I’m curious, where did you learn/hear about ironing wax into thread?

  12. Caroline March 2, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    PS – I would seriously recommend using button thread on this particular garment. I know Coats & Clark makes a specific button thread, and G√ºtermann does, too (they call it topstitching thread, but it’s also for buttonholes & buttons). IMO it’s just not right to sew a button on a heavy garment with standard-weight thread.

  13. Jenna March 2, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    And to think I almost skipped this post…thinking I knew how to do buttons. Thank you Tasia! Your thoroughness is greatly appreciated! :)

  14. Clare March 2, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    I have to admit – for most things I use the machine to sew on buttons. I like having the button attached to both layers and the machine stitches look neater than my hand stitching on the reverse (as well as being much faster)! This method is more professional though!

  15. gina March 2, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    really cute love this cape. I want one!

  16. Amanda S. March 2, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Great tip for making a shank! I am going to file that away for later. I always learn fun things on your blog.

  17. Robin March 2, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    great tutorial – and I will sew my buttons just a little better now, thanks to you :)

  18. AnnieV March 2, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for the beewax tip! I usually do it when I baste or hem clothes, but I never try it to sew buttons. By the way, your cape is amazing! I think I will order the pattern I found to make me one.

  19. Lizzy March 2, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Well….even if you say it might be people who dosn’t know how to sew a button…well, shame on me, I say I am a novice sewing and I have sewed lots of buttons…….BUT not the way you did, from now I am gonna do it this way .
    About the wax thing I have never seen such thing in mexico….I know there must be in the correct store, just I need to look for it harder.

  20. Shannon March 2, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Great tutorial Tasia! But I am more excited about how cute this cape is. I love the print and color you chose and can’t wait to see it on you. PS: I finally found the perfect fabric for your Pendrell blouse. Yay! I put in my order for the pattern today.

  21. Shalyn March 2, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Hello!

    I’m sure you’ve already gotten these before, but just letting you know that I tagged you for a Stylish Blogger award here:
    http://arsgratiaartis-shalyn.blogspot.com/2011/03/stylish-blogger-awards.html

  22. Claire (aka Seemane) March 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Hi Tasia!
    I’ve just awarded you a ‘Stylish Blogger Award’
    Clairex

  23. Sarahj March 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    This is such a great tutorial. I love how detailed your instructions are. Buttons haven’t really ever posed too much of a problem for me, but it’s nice to see how to do it right. I try to steer away from buttons on garments because of those pesky button holes. I have yet to get neat, professional looking holes. Could you do a tutorial on how you do those?

  24. AllisonC March 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    A great tutorial as always! One thing I do differently if I am handsewing buttons is to double or even quadruple the thread (you need a long piece of thread!) so I can sew with either 2 or 4 strands at once. The cape is looking fantastic!

  25. Tasia March 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Hey everyone! Thought I’d pop in and answer some of your questions. I’m glad you found this helpful! I know a lot of you probably thought ‘of course I know how to sew buttons!’ but it’s still great to read a refresher now and then.

    @Patty: I like the chalk X for accuracy, after lots of tries with chalk ‘dots’ that seem to spread or move. It really helped on this project!

    @TanitIsis: Great trick about hiding the starter end! Thanks!

    @manecoarse: I use this method for shirt buttons, too. (I think? Hard to remember what I did on Mr Sewaholic’s shirt.) I took a look at his shirt and it looks like I did, although I think I used a pin instead of a toothpick.

    @Laurie: After taking six or eight stitches at the base of the button, I just trim it off real close to the fabric! But I like Tanit-isis’s link on how to hide the end, and I know what you’re describing too. Probably I should do that instead :)

    @Caroline: Ah nice! Great save of a shirt! I read about ironing the wax into the thread in my tailoring book, also on Casey’s blog (elegantmusings.com). Around the fall and winter, when lots of bloggers were making coats or sewing along with Lady Grey, I read it quite a few times and when I tried it, it makes the thread a little stronger and stiffer. Like hair gel, you know? The thread can almost stand up with the wax, whereas normally it lays limp.

    @Caroline: I never thought of using buttonhole thread to sew on the buttons, but it makes sense doesn’t it? My buttons are already sewn on, but I’ll keep that in mind for future coat projects. Even though this is a medium weight wool, maybe even heavy like flannel, because it’s sort of a ‘fun’ wardrobe piece I didn’t think of making really strong buttonholes and button stitching. Thanks for the suggestion, though! I can see how it would make a difference but totally don’t want to un-do and re-do mine! :)

    @Shalyn: @Claire (aka Seemane): Woohoo, double awards! Thanks guys! Although I feel like you all know everything about me already, and I won’t be able to play along with the Q&A part…

    @Sarahj: About buttonholes – whenever I do them by machine, I hope and pray that they turn out right, and sometimes they do! But there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. I’ll put something together for my next machine-buttonhole project, for sure.

    @AllisonC: Great tip! I find that 2-4 strands of thread tend to get more tangled when I’ve done it that way. But it does build up the stitches, nice and fast!

  26. Tilly March 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    OMG! I never knew so much could go into sewing on a button. Will definitely try this to make my rather slapdash efforts look more professional. Thanks for the tutorial!

  27. Ali March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks so much for this tute. Though I’ve seen similar info in my books, I’ve honestly been too lazy, but there’s nothing like a little inspiration to get me on the straight and narrow.

  28. aleah March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    What great timing for this post! A button fell off my husband’s pants the other night, and though I intended to reattach it right away, I didn’t get around to it. Then today, I opened your blog and saw this post – great refresher course. I tried the trick with the pin to get a nice shank (I’d never seen that before, it’s a great idea) and it worked perfectly, that button’s staying put now for sure!

  29. Cee March 4, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    This is pretty much how I sew buttons, but I always knot my end tail to the start tail then trim. Whenever I read button sewing instructions in sewing books though, they never tell you to knot button thread…which blows my mind. Any idea why this is or why you don’t knot it either…? (Sounds like you don’t anyway.)

    Good instructions and lovely cape!

    • M.W. March 5, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      I do that too – I sew a button with double thread, leaving about 6 inches when I start on the inside of the garment. Then when done creating the thread shank I take the thread back to the inside of the garment and tie the two ends together with a double knot. My grandmother was a pageant/prom/wedding gown seamstress and made most of our nice clothes as well, and this is the way she taught me.

  30. Kristina Violette June 12, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Hello Tasia,

    First, let me say I think you are THE BEST sewing instructor I have ever found on the internet or in “real life”! Your instructions are always very clear and you add tidbits that I really need to fully understand. Moreover, your photographs are superb! I am interested in knowing what type of camera you use. (However, that‚Äôs not my question.)

    My question isn’t about buttons either but I couldn’t find a better place to ask so…I’m currently working on a jacket (McCall’s pattern M6293 view B). As I have been working with the materials I have noticed that the material I have chosen for the sleeves wrinkles quite easily. Do you know of any technique that might keep that from happening? The pattern calls for underlining (thank you for teaching me what underlining is, and how to do it). I was wondering if you had ever used underlining for this problem.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Kristina

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Jacket – Finished! Finally! | sydthewyd.com - December 22, 2011

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  2. 2-in-1 Sewalong: Finishing » A Fashionable Stitch - December 2, 2012

    […] Here’s a tutorial from Tasia for how to mark your buttonholes. She’s also got a clever tutorial for how to attach your buttons […]

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