DIY: How to sew your own buttons

If there is one task that our robotic helpers have never quite mastered it is the seemingly simple task of sewing buttons on garments. You can always tell when this has been done using machines, as … well, the buttons fall off. Sometimes it will take a while, other times almost before you have started using them. It starts with a tiny little bit of thread staring to unspool, and ends with the button bouncing along the floor. And hiding under the fridge or somewhere else where it will be a job and a half to get it out.

And once you’ve got the needle in your hand it’s time to re-attach it. Which is no problem at all for a nimble-fingered, well-equipped modern chap, right? If you have the right tools for the job that is, which is why you tend to ask your partner or your mother to do it. Time to man up.

Photo 24.02.15, 07.23.21

 

The tools for the job:

  • A sharp needle (a pack of 6 will last forever)
  • Some button thread of the appropriate colour (if you have white and black you’re pretty much sorted)
  • A toothpick or a match

Now the first two are quite obvious. When it comes to the needle make sure you get a slim one and not something for darning socks. The thinner the needle, the less it disturbs the weave of the fabric you’re sewing. For thread, do yourself a favour and get the stronger thread that is purpose made for sewing buttons. If you do a good job the button will stay in place forever. Do a poor job, or buy the cheap, regular thread and you’ll have no problem finding something to do every Saturday evening from here to eternity.

Photo 24.02.15, 07.24.19

 

The toothpick or the match though, that is a little bit more mysterious. Now, I’ll confess that for the longest time I have sewn my own buttons, and it wasn’t until recently that I learnt the proper way do it. In the mean streets where I grew up you would either do your own buttons or wear garments without buttons. Unless you could blackmail the maid to do them for you. The times were hard indeed, and even an ill-sewn button would keep the sleet out of yet britches, though it would not be a proper job. And around here we’re all about doing the job properly.

Photo 23.02.15, 23.15.54

So, the quick and dirty way of sewing your button in place:

  1. Thread needle
  2. Attach thread in location where needle should be fastened (a hint will usually be the holes where the thread was before the button fell off and rolled under the fridge)
  3. Pull thread through the holes in the button, going either for an X or a = pattern (don’t mix them, it looks amateurish)
  4. Do point 2 enough times to inspire confidence in a job well done (and a few extra for good measure)
  5. Loop thread a few times round the threads between the button and fabric (because it feels good)
  6. Fasten thread, cut thread to free the needle and tidy away your sewing gear (hide it, so no one else uses your good needle and special thread)

As stated, this will keep the button in place. Yet, if you want to go for extra bragging points, let’s see how the job could be done even better.

The point to consider is the thickness of the fabric your garment is made of. Unless your shirt is made of something whimsical and flimsy there will be a thickness, and the thickness should be compensated for. Consider the illustrations provided:

Photo 23.02.15, 23.28.40

Now, I’ll admit these are not of engineering standard, I only had a biro and some hotel paper at hand. The principle is there though, right? We understand that if we just lash the button to the fabric with tight, manly stitches, there will be no room under the button for whatever fabric we want the button to keep attached. Quite the conundrum!

Photo 23.02.15, 23.18.33

The trick is utterly simple though, and I’ve already given you the hints you require. You put the toothpick or the matchstick on top of the button, so that the thread takes this into account when going through the points. The revised procedure thus becomes as follows:

  1. Thread needle
  2. Attach thread in location where needle should be fastened (a hint will usually be the holes where the thread was before the button fell off and rolled under the fridge)
  3. Hold a toothpick or matchstick on top of the button, so that the thread will keep it in place (don’t go all macho, keep it a little bit lose)
  4. Pull thread through the holes in the button, going either for an X or a = pattern (don’t mix them, it looks amateurish)
  5. Do point 2 enough times to inspire confidence in a job well done (and a few extra for good measure)
  6. Loop thread a few times round the threads between the button and fabric (it still feels good)
  7. Fasten thread, remove toothpick or matchstick, cut thread to free the needle and tidy away your sewing gear (hide it, so no one else uses your good needle and special thread)

Photo 23.02.15, 23.42.11

And the end result should be a button that hangs just lose enough for it to neatly hold you shirt closed, without distorting the fabric around the buttonhole. The reason I mention both toothpick and matchstick is that they generally are a little different in size and you can pick the one that best suits the weight of fabric you are sewing.

And with your new skills, you will be able to sew all sorts of buttons, large and small, plastic and horn, in any number of fine or lesser fabrics. A brave new world of self-reliance beckons.

And that, my dear reader, is over 1000 words about sewing buttons. Some doubted it could be done.

5 Responses to “DIY: How to sew your own buttons”

  1. gregoryiain

    A great piece. You are correct to point out that buttons nowadays fall off everything within a month-or-so of purchase. For the advanced version may I suggest sewing a small, clear button on the inside of a garment such as a coat to act as a stronger foundation and prevent ‘pull-throughs’. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  2. andreas

    Some additional words about the pattern: Concerning to my tailor ( 79 years! ) you make an “X” for buttons on trousers and an ” II ” for shirts and jackets!
    Except you wear “van Laak” or “Regent”, they use buttons with three holes.

    Reply
      • andreas

        By the way: where do you sew the buttons for braces- inside or outside?
        Somebody wrote he sew them outside at the front and inside at the back, not to ruin the leather of his Rolls when he drives without a jacket ???

      • Well Dressed Dad

        I always put them on the outside. To me it just looks better. With regards to damaging leather seats? I’m not sure I see a big problem there, though buttons could conceivably catch on the piping (the edges).

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