Being able to sew on a button can save you quite a bit of time and money.
- thread (preferably in a matching color; the color could match the button or more often, the fabric)
and of course the item which needs the button.
First you'll need to thread the needle.
- Hints: It's easier to thread the needle if the end of the thread is cut bluntly and slightly damp. Some people think it's easier if you hold the thread still and move the needle. There are wire threaders that make it easier. They are stiff and you put the loop or diamond of wire through the hole, then put the thread into the bigger loop made by the wire. Now pull the wire back through the needle, drawing the thread with it.
You can either knot just one end of the thread, or it's slightly easier if you use double the length you'll need and knot both ends together after you've threaded the needle. About 8 inches is enough for a basic clothing button. For a button that's under a lot of stress or on thick material, such as a coat, you'll need a foot or more. If you're new to sewing on buttons, it's better to have extra. It's easy to cut away the extra, but more work to have to start over or attach more thread.
Before you begin sewing on the new button, you may need to cut and pull out the old threads. But they can be a useful guide to where to place the button. So, you may want to make a pencil mark on the back side of the cloth to mark the location first. Sometimes the hole in the cloth can also serve to find the location, so the mark is not necessary.
Start by sticking the needle through the cloth from the back side. Pull the needle through until the knot is snug against the back side of the cloth. Put the needle through the button and then back through the cloth. The first stitch will influence where the button goes, so check now to make sure it's in the right place. Assuming it's in the right place, you'll tighten up the loop holding the button to the cloth now.
For most clothes you don't have to pull hard, but you don't want to leave extra thread in the loop either. An exception is when you are sewing a button on thick cloth like a coat. When the cloth is thick make sure you leave enough extra thread to allow it to go through the slot in the thick cloth without trying to pull the fabric through the button hole or slot. For a special item like this remember to leave about the same extra amount with each loop you make. Some people will find a piece of cardboard, a toothpick or something to put under the button as it's sewed onto something thick. If you are concerned about sewing a button on too tightly on thin fabric, you can use a piece of paper or a flat toothpick.
Now, you'll continue making loops: come in through the back of the fabric through the button on the front and then going through the fabric again to end at the back. If it's a 2 hole button or one with a ring on the back, just keep making the loops the same way. If it's a 4 hole button, you can shift over slightly to go through the other 2 holes half the time. Or use the criss-cross technique, going to the hole across rather than next to the one you came forward through. (Crisscross is recommended by tailor Alan Bennett because it reduces the strain on the button. See external links below.) For a shirt or something where there is not much strain on the buttons, 3-4 loops through each hole or ring is likely to be enough, but a few extra (about 6) will make it more secure and may keep the button on longer. Another consideration is that the front of some buttons, especially larger ones, may look better with a few more loops of thread. For items where you are leaving extra space because of thick cloth loop even a few more times.
For the thick cloth items once you have enough loops, go through the cloth one more time to take the needle to the front side behind the button, but don't go through the button. Now wrap the thread around the other threads behind the button so it's not just hanging from loose threads anymore, but from a strong wrapped "cord" of thread. After it looks well wrapped to you, put the needle back through the cloth so it is on the backside again.
Now take a few small stitches behind the button, they do not have to go entirely through the cloth and should not show on the front. Tie a loose knot and as you tighten it, move it to the cloth. If you cannot slide the knot completely to the cloth you can (a) tie another knot and try again or (b) take a few more stitches so it doesn't stick out. I like to have the two ends near each other and tie them together at this point. Now you can cut off the thread holding the needle and trim all the thread ends. Voila! You've sewed on a button.
Tips and trouble shootingEdit
If the knot is too small, it can pull through. This is most likely to happen if it's a cloth with a loose weave or if the thread from a previous button has created a larger hole. There are several ways to resolve this. You can make the knot bigger. Just don't pull as hard until there are a few stitches, or make a first stitch without the button, come in from the back, go back in from the front, then tie the two ends together. Once the knot is secure you can continue.
Leave the thread that's left over on the needle after you're done. If there's a lot of it, you may even be able to use it next time you sew on a button, but even if that's not the case, it makes the needle easier to find or to pick up, for instance if it drops.
Some sewing machines have a special setting for sewing on buttons. While setting this up with the right color thread may take almost as long as sewing a button on by hand, if you're sewing on or tightening up multiple buttons it may be worth it.
- How to Sew On a Button by Lisa Chiu, eHow Contributor, includes interview content with tailor Alan Bennett