Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Basic Skills: Sewing on a Button

Last week I had a bit of a holiday freak-out. I had my blog schedule all planned out. I looked at my blog schedule, then I looked at my pile of Christmas gift making supplies, completely untouched. And I thought, "SHIT." The conundrum of my situation is of course, that I am making a whole bunch of stuff, but I can't share it with you until the gifts have been given! So things are going to slow down a bit around From Scratch, until the holidays are over.

But I do have a little basic sewing lesson to share today.

A couple weeks ago a button fell off my favorite coat. And you know what? I haven't sewn it back on yet. I also have a cardigan that I wear at least twice a week that lost a button LAST WINTER. It's pretty despicable. A seamstress walking around missing all sorts of important buttons missing! Then my roommate was like, "Hey, could you help me with this coat? It's missing all the buttons." ALL of them.  I don't even know how that happens...

I hear it all the time when I ask people about their past sewing experience, "I don't really know how to sew, but, you know, I can sew a button on." And I'm thinking, "Really? I'm not sure I believe you. There's more to know about sewing on a button than meets the eye. I've seen a lot of botched jobs."

So here I present Melody's Complete Guide to Sewing on a Button.

Common Mistake: Placing buttons in the center of a horizontal buttonhole. If you have vertically-oriented buttonholes, go ahead, place your button in the middle. But if you have horizontally-oriented buttonholes, consider this. When you put on a coat, and you button it up, the button doesn't float in the center of the hole, it slides to the end of the hole closest to the center front of the garment, against the tension of being wrapped around a body. (This is very important to remember, also, when making buttonholes!)

Begin by buttoning up your garment with the surrounding buttons. With a threaded and knotted sewing needle, send your needle down through the hole, 1/8" from the center edge of the buttonhole, as pictured in the placement guide above. Now that you've determined your placement, unbutton the garment for easy access to that spot. Your knot is now on top of garment, where it will hide neatly under your button.

Now, there are two basic kinds of buttons, shank and flat. 

But here's the thing, whether or not your button has a shank, your button needs a shank. 

#1 Most Common Mistake: Sewing buttons on too tight. A shank is a spacer. Because a button isn't just a little decorative doodad! It has a function. That function is to hold the other side of your garment, so a button needs some space to do its job. A button sewn on too tight, while it may still work, it won't look good. It will create ugly pulls and puckers and make you look frumpy. Don't fall victim. If your button doesn't have a shank, you need to make one out of thread when you sew it on.

The best thing to do is to use a spacer of some kind when sewing. The spacer you choose should speak to the weight of your garment. For coats and blazers, I use an awl. A chopstick or skewer could also work. For lightweight garments, a couple pins would suffice. 

1. Attach button loosely.
2. Place spacer under button and tighten.
3. Sew through button and fabric a few times to attach firmly. End between button and fabric.
4. Remove spacer and pull up on your button.
5. Wrap thread around the stitches between the button and fabric a few times.
6. Knot thread here, between button and fabric. Pass needle through garment, traveling between the body and the facing, and clip thread wherever the needle comes out, hiding the thread tail inside the garment.

Now that's all you need to know about sewing on buttons!


  1. This is excellent instruction Melody!

  2. Thanks for all the detail here! I had no idea about any of this?