Sewing Basics- Sewing on a button

I love vintage buttons! I think the love of buttons first came when I was allowed to sift through my grandmother’s sewing tin & play with all the special buttons, that to me were like jewels.

Changing the buttons on a garment can really change the look of a garment, for example, changing a regular store-bought garment to one with some vintage buttons, can change the whole look and take it from ordinary to bespoke…

Regular buttons focus

I have quite a selection of buttons now. These are a few of my vintage buttons that I have collected over the years. some of them belonged to my grandmother and are over 50 years old.

Button Types

There are a couple of different button types. These are your regular button with holes, generally either a two hole, or a four hole button. Then there are shank buttons. These are the buttons that have no hole through the button itself, but have a small loop at the back of the button disk- either molded into the button itself if the button is plastic. The button could potentially be a metal button with a metallic loop. Covered buttons are also often shank buttons.

This step by step method will feature the buttons with holes through the button., (as shown in the photo above):

The method for sewing on shank buttons will be featured on a tutorial that will follow shortly.

In this tutorial, I’m going to change the buttons on this jacket, as I feel that they are too dark & obvious. I’d like to change them to something that blends in with the colour of the garment itself.

1 Jacket with dark buttons
The jacket with dark buttons, which I will change to blend in with the fabric colour

Sewing on a button is a handy skill to have. Even if you aren’t interested in learning to sew, it’s useful to know as buttons can come loose or fall off on clothing that you may already own, and you want to repair the item. It’s a good way to save some cash by learning how to do it yourself in a few minutes, or save some cash by extending the life of an item that you already own.

So firstly I need to choose a button of the same size, so that the buttonholes fit and function correctly:

3 Changing a button
Choosing the same size button to replace

2 sizing up the button

Marking where the button is to be positioned.

If you are just replacing one button on a shirt for example, to work out where the is going to be placed, button all the other buttons up, and if it’s not sitting well, or looking a little creased, you will need to iron the garment to ensure that everything will button up well when finished.

In this case, I’m removing the button, not replacing a lost button, so I’ll take off the button with an unpicker.

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Removing the button

Marking the position for the button:

Next, get a sharp lead pencil, and make a dot at the centre of the button-hole with the pencil. The dot will be covered by the button, but the smaller the dot, the more accurate the mark will be. Now you can unbutton your project to have a little bit more space to work with just ensure that the dot does line up with the other buttons before beginning.

I’m marking the point at the edge of the buttonhole, as that is where the buttonhole will pull the button to when being worn

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Marking the button position- make sure the remaining buttons are buttoned, then mark the position

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Now: threading the needle.

Obvious you might think, but I want to make no assumptions about prior sewing knowledge. To thread a needle I like to use to threads doubled on each other. This gives the thread extra strength and halves the amount of times that you need to stitch through the button. A second benefit of having the thread doubled is that the needle will not come un-threaded halfway through your project, which will save time & frustration!
To begin, grab your spool of thread of the correct colour. Do not cut a length thread before threading the needle, but leave it attached to the spool. This will stop it getting tangled or lost.

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Threading the needle with the thread still attached to the reel.

Cut the very end of the threads that it is not furry and has a nice sharp point to it. That will make it a lot for you to thread through the needle.

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Needle threading

When you have threaded the needle, double the thread back on itself so that you have approximately 30 to 40 cm in length looped in on itself. Then cut the thread and tie a knot with both ends together. Make the knot big enough so that it doesn’t pull through the fabric, but not big enough to make the button sticking look messy. Ensure that the needle is at the direct opposite end of the thread, not dangling half way along, which can cause loops, tangles & knots.

I do this by holding onto the knot & gently pulling the needle in the opposite direction so that the thread is straight & tangle free.

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Tying a knot

Stitching on the button.

Now to begin the process of stitching the button. Begin with the right side of the fabric – where the button will sit. Poke the tip of the needle through the fabric through the dot & then pull the needle through the fabric until the knot is on the top. The knot will be on the top of the fabric, but this will be converted by the button, so it will not be visible once the project is finished. It will give much neater finish to the inside of the garment as all, with no knots visible.

Stitch through the fabric from the right side out, so that the button will cover any knots and the button sttiching will be neat on the inside.

You are going to take the needle and thread back up through the little pencil dot that you made earlier. (also where the knot is). Poke the very top of the needle through the fabric until it is in the centre of that spot , then when you have it in the right place, you can gently pull through the needle , again being careful not to let the thread tangle. It’s worthwhile taking your time, especially for the first few stitches, as this is when the thread is longest and most likely to tangle up.

15 Changing a button (19)

Now to start sewing on the button

Now it’s time to thread the button onto the needle. Make sure that you thread the needle through from the undersides of the button, so that the correct side of the button is facing upwards. Pull the needle & thread all the way through, then push the needle back down through the other buttonhole (if it’s a 2 hole button) and bring it back through that same dot that you’ve made on the fabric. Again be very careful not to let the threads tangle.

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Creating the Shank

Now if you have a button loosely attached, grab a toothpick and thread it under the loop that is between the button and the fabric. This will create enough space so that when the garment is buttoned up there will be enough space and the fabric will not be squashed.

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Slide a toothpick under the button to create a shank to allow the button to have enough space underneath for bulky fabric
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Creating the shank with a toothpick spacer

Get your needle and thread through that little dot again , then up through the button and back down again through other hole and repeat this procedure about eight time.

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On the last time that you are coming back down through the button, do not push the needle through the fabric, so your needle is now between the button and the fabric where the match is.

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Bring the needle between the button & the fabric
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Needle and thread is now where the toootpick is
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Now pull the toothpick out

Now remove the toothpick- the thread will be loose behind the button

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Winding the thread behind the button

Now wind the thread around the loose bundle of threads that were created with the match stick. This will create what is known as a shank. It will allow ensure that the button is not pressing down to firmly on the fabric as previously mentioned.

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Creating the shank behind the button

Finishing off.

Once you’ve wound around a few times, push the needle back through the fabric to the reverse side, and do a couple of small stitches through the thread to secure it. 

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Sttich into the shank to secure the threads
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Cutting the threads- leave enough lenght to be able to securely tie the ends

Then you can cut the thread as close as possible to the then knot the 2 ends of the thread together a few times to secure it.

Ensure that the knots are right down at the button so that it won’t come loose.

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Tying the knots to secure the button

Then trim any thread ends and voila!

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The finished button
Jacket with buttons changed (2)
The jacket with the new (vintage pale) buttons


Before and after with the paler buttons.

EASY!- you can give it a try and let me know how you go

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