How do you sew a button onto fabric? If you’re new to sewing, it’s important to know that stitching isn’t all seams, hems, and machine work. However, knowing how to sew on a button is also a useful life skill to have since buttons come off of clothing all the time. Who doesn’t understand the frustration of going to put on your favorite shirt or pair of pants only to notice it’s missing a button? Then you have to find something else to wear or find a way to discreetly safety pin it, and it’s annoying.
In addition to that, what if you don’t know anyone who can sew that button back on for you? If you know how to sew on a button yourself, you’ve not only learned how to add beauty and fun to your sewing projects, but you’ve also gained a valuable life skill.
Materials You Need for Button Sewing
What materials do you need to sew buttons onto fabric?
If you’re going to learn how to sew on a button, obviously you need buttons. There are several different kinds, and what you want depends entirely on what you’re doing. If you’re sewing one that fell off of something, then ideally you’ve already got the button. Try to find a matching button if you don’t have the original, though.
However, if you’re working on a new project and you need to know how to sew on a button, you should understand that there are several different kinds of buttons. You have flat buttons with two or four holes. There are shank buttons, which are solid with a shank on the back. You can also use stud buttons, which are so standard for denim they’re also known as “jeans buttons.”
You generally hand sew buttons, so you need regular needles to do this. The size of the needle depends on the button you’re sewing, and on the fabric, you’re using. You will need a longer, thicker needle for heavier fabrics, so it’s strong enough to push through without bending or breaking. For sewing buttons onto a thin, delicate material like silk or voile, you want a smaller, finer needle so you don’t damage it.
Scissors and thread
You’ll need spools or bobbins of thread and scissors with which to cut it. Choose some thread that either matches or compliments the buttons the way you want. In fact, you can use the color of your thread to add some fun details to the piece on which you’re working. The scissors you use to cut the thread should be smaller just because small scissors make cutting the thread easier.
Since you’re hand-sewing buttons, you’ll probably want a thimble as well to protect your fingers from the eye end of the needle. That, in turn, makes it easier for you to push the needle and thread through fabric, especially heavier fabrics. There are several different kinds of thimbles, and what you choose depends entirely on your personal preferences and methods.
Water-soluble fabric pencil or marker
The easiest way to position your buttons is with a fabric marker or pencil. Use it to mark every spot where you need a button before you begin sewing them on. This way, you’re not measuring and positioning each button anew. You will also notice potential problems while they’re still easy to fix.
Medium or large safety pin or toothpick
One of the most challenging things about sewing buttons—especially flat buttons—is leaving enough space behind them for their buttonholes. You can use a safety pin to create that space behind the button easily. Whether you choose a medium or large pin depends on your fabric. You can also use a toothpick for this step.
How to Sew on a Button – Step by Step Instructions
Now that you know what tools you’ll need to learn how to sew on a button, how do you actually do it? It’s not that difficult to do, but there are steps you should follow to ensure you do it right.
Step 1: Determine where your button should go
Where should your buttons go? Just like anything else in sewing, you need to determine precisely where your button needs to go. Use a tape measure to do this, or, if you already have your buttonholes or loops in place, fold your piece so that the buttonholes lie on top of where your buttons will go. Then place a mark in the center of the fabric under the hole.
Step 2: Thread your needle and run it through your button mark
Loop your thread through your needle until you have two equal lengths of thread. Tie them together with a knot as close to the ends as possible. Then push your needle through your mark so that it goes in and out on the same side of the fabric. Pull your thread through all the way through your knot, then trim off the extra thread. That is your starting point for sewing. If you’re confused, take a look at this series of photos on Craftsy, which illustrate how to do this.
Step 3: Thread the button
Insert your needle into one of the holes in the button and pull it tight. Then insert the needle into a second hole and all the way through the fabric as close to the first stitch as possible. Pull this tight as well.
Step 4: Insert the safety pin
Take your safety pin, open it, and carefully slide it between the fabric and the button, and close it. Be sure you don’t accidentally poke it through the material, though. It helps you maintain your space between it and the fabric while you’re sewing. Then pull the button tight against the safety pin.
If you choose to use a toothpick, then place the toothpick on top of the button across the holes, and then stitch over the toothpick. Pull it out when you’re finished, and pull it tight against the stitches (not the fabric).
Regardless of what you choose to do, this little trick makes sewing buttons considerably easier.
Step 5: Continue sewing your button
Finish sewing your button with three or four more passes with the needle and thread. After your last stitch, remove the safety pin and insert the needle into the next hole in your sequence so that it comes out behind the button, but not on the wrong side of the fabric. Then wrap the thread around the “stem” you’ve created behind the button to secure it.
Finally, push the needle through the material under the button the same way you did above just before you started sewing. Leave a loop of thread open and put the needle through that loop, then pull tight to create a new knot that’s hidden under the button. You can do this more than once if you’re not sure the button is secure. Get your scissors as close to your stitches as possible, and cut away the excess thread.
How to Sew Different Kinds of Buttons
The directions above are basic directions for flat two- and four-hole buttons while using a straight stitch. There are other stitches for other buttons that you need to know, which depend on the type of buttons you’re using. You can use a straight stitch on both two-hole and four-hole buttons, and you can use a cross-stitch on a four-hole button.
Cross stitching a four-hole button
Cross-stitching four-hole buttons simply means that your stitches will create an “x” on your four-hole buttons instead of two small lines like a straight stitch. Cross stitches aren’t any more secure than straight stitches, but they can add some extra decoration to your buttons. Check out this YouTube video by gela_ru on how to cross stitch a flat, four-hole button.
Sewing a shank button
For shank buttons, you’ll start your stitching the same way as any other button. Once you’ve got your initial stitches in place, insert the needle through the shank’s eye. Pull it tight, and then push the needle into the fabric on one side of the shank and out at the other side. Sewing it this way removes a lot of guesswork and ensures small, neat stitches.
You don’t need a safety pin to properly sew a shank button because the shank creates the space you need behind it.
Here’s a great video for how to sew three of the most common types of buttons:
Stud or jeans buttons
Stud buttons (or jeans buttons) don’t require any sewing. They’re built to be very easy to attach to heavy fabric like canvas or denim because they come with a heavy-duty pin that you push through the material. Jeans buttons have two parts: The button and its back. To attach a jeans button, take the back off, push the pin through the fabric, connect the back, and gently pound the back flat until the button is tight. OnlineFabricStore.net has a great video illustrating how you should attach jeans buttons.
Now That you Know how to Sew on a Button, Have fun!
Knowing how to sew on a button is a very valuable skill to have. Not only do you know how to replace buttons on your own clothes, but you also have greater flexibility for fasteners if you like to make clothing. You can also use buttons to make statements and add some fantastic detail work to your projects.
Do you have a suggestion for how to sew on a button that we didn’t mention here? Feel free to let us know in the comments – we welcome your feedback!
Featured image: CC0, via MaxPixel