At some point, everyone loses a button—but not everyone knows how to put it back on! Whether you’re re-attaching a button to existing garment or putting one on a new sewing project, sewing on buttons is easy, once you get the hang of it. In this guide, you’ll learn how to attach buttons by hand and by machine. Here’s how you do it.
There are two main button types: sew-through and shank. Sew-through buttons have holes going all the way through the button. A shank button has a loop on the back to hold the button above the fabric surface. The extra space provided by the shank makes it easier to button coats or jackets made of bulky fabrics.
Traditionally, men’s and women’s fashions button in different directions. Women’s garments button right over left, while men’s button left over right. However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule; most jeans button in the same direction, regardless of gender.
Keep fabric and function in mind when selecting buttons. Don’t weigh down delicate fabric with large, heavy buttons or expect tiny baby buttons to hold heavyweight weaves in place. It’s all right to stray slightly from recommended sizes; just be sure the size you select is compatible with your project. For example, substituting ¾-inch buttons for ½-inch buttons on a shirt front leaves too little fabric for the placket to overlap properly, but ⅝-inch buttons may work as a substitute.
Hand stitch a sew-through button in place using a needle and thread. Be sure the needle is small enough to pass easily through the button’s holes. Double the thread for stronger stitches. Knot thread ends, and trim the thread tails close to the knot.
Working from the right side of the fabric, take one or two small stitches where you want the button to be. Thread the button onto the needle through one of the button’s holes. Hold the button in place, hiding the knot and the stitch beneath the button, and stitch through the next button hole and back through the fabric. Bring the needle and thread back up through the fabric and the first hole. Slip a pin or toothpick under the thread on top of the button to lengthen the thread loops. Stitch through the button and fabric three or four times, ending with the needle between the fabric and button. Be sure the thread is pulled evenly tight.
Remove the toothpick or pin, wrap the thread three or four times around the stitches between the button and the fabric, and pull the needle to the wrong side of the fabric beneath the button. This creates a thread shank that provides the space for another fabric layer when the button is in use; eliminate the shank when sewing decorative buttons that should lie flat against the fabric. Take a few small backstitches beneath the button to secure the thread, and trim the thread ends.
Secure a shank button by sewing from the wrong side to the right side of the fabric, stitching through the button shank. Take several stitches, pulling the threads evenly tight to hold the shank firmly against the fabric. Knot the thread on the fabric wrong side.
Two- and four-hole buttons can be sewn in place using a machine zigzag stitch. To machine stitch a button in place, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for your machine’s accessory foot and button-attaching stitch. Alternatively, use a zigzag foot and stitch, setting the stitch width to align with the button’s holes. (You don’t want the needle to hit the button while stitching.) Set the stitch length to 0, and position the button on the fabric right side, making sure the holes are perpendicular to the feed dogs. If necessary, temporarily tape the button in place.
Turn the handwheel through one complete stitch to be sure the needle won’t hit the button, and stitch slowly, zigzagging the button in place. Sew through the button four to six times. To tie off, reset the machine for a straight stitch, and sew three or four times in one hole. Cut the thread, leaving a long thread end. Using a hand needle, wrap both the top and bobbin threads around the thread shank, and secure beneath the button with several hand stitches.
A drop of seam sealant on the bobbin threads helps hold the stitches securely through wear and washing.
Now that you know how to sew on buttons, you can fix all of those coats and shirts that have been waiting to go to the tailor! Happy sewing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sewing by Missy Shepler and Rebecca Kemp Brent