Ladyguides: How To Sew a Button

Last week we asked you, our faithful readers, what simple things you wished you could do.  First on the list of responses was sewing; how to sew a button or hem pants. Today we will be tackling buttons, next week we’ll do pants.  My sewing skills are very visceral, figuring out how to describe what I’m doing in words is tricky enough that I’d rather go in bite-size chunks.

First, the needle.  You’ll need about 2-3 feet of thread.  It seems like a lot, but it will be doubled over and it’s easier to have a little more than not enough.  If you have never threaded a needle, you just poke the thread through the eye.  Or you can try a needle threader.  Most packets of needles and sewing kits have one.  You poke the wiry loop through the eye, poke the thread through the wiry loop and pull it out of the eye, taking the thread with it – voila, threaded needle.  Pull the thread through until the ends are even with each other.

Now the knot.  First lick you thumb, just trust me on this one.  Now wrap the end of the threads around your index finger.  Pinch the loop with your thumb and roll it to the tip of your finger (this is why you licked your thumb, for traction).  When you reach the tip of your finger, keep them pinched together.  Then use your pointer finger to pin the twisty loop in place and pull.  The twisty loop will turn into a knot.  I promise this is way easier to do than it is to describe.

On to the button.  If you are replacing a missing button there is probably a worn spot on the fabric where the old button was.  If the fabric is in good shape you can put the new button right on top of it, if it is really threadbare you need to shift the button to the side a bit.  Remember, closer to the edge will make your clothes a tiny bit looser, away from the edge will make them a little tighter.  Poke the needle through from the back, so the knot is on the wrong side of the fabric (Instead of a front side and back side, fabric has a right side and a wrong side.  The wrong side is the side that won’t be seen when you are wearing your garment.)  Now poke the needle through a button hole.  From here you have a couple of options.  If you have a four hole button you can sew it in straight lines or X’s.  I like X’s because they are cool, but they are both equally stable.  Anyway, poke the needle through a different hole in the button and keep going through the fabric behind it.  From here it is just rinse and repeat.  You want to have a total of six stitches holding your button down, so on a four hole button you use three stitches in each pair of holes, in a two-hole button you put all six in the same place.  (Figuring out where to poke the needle through from the back of the fabric, so that it comes up through the right hole in the button is a huge pain in the ass until you’ve done it a few times.  Don’t stress, you will find a way to make it work.  I can’t really offer any advice here other than ‘Practice.’)

After you have your six stitches you get to make a shank.  Yay – fun words!  The shank holds the button away from the fabric so that there is room for another piece of fabric behind it.  Here’s what you do:  Poke your needle through from the back of the fabric, like you’re making another stitch, but don’t go through the button.  Instead, you wrap the thread around your stitches behind the button, three times, then you go back through the fabric.

You are almost done.  The only thing left is the final knot.  Make a tiny stitch on the wrong side of the fabric.  Instead of going straight through, back to front, you make a straight stitch so you start and end on the same side of the fabric.  Before you pull the needle all the way through the fabric, wrap the thread around the free end of the needle two or three times.  When you pull the needle through, it should make a knot right on the fabric.  Clip the thread and you are done.  Huzzah!

Since I realize that, while this makes sense to me, it might sound like monkey gibberish to someone who hasn’t sewn before, we made a short video to demonstrate.  Here’s mine, and if it still doesn’t make any sense, there are lots of other recommended videos where others show how they were taught to sew buttons.  With a little luck, one of us can teach you what you need to know.

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

7 replies on “Ladyguides: How To Sew a Button”

Okay I have an urgent question. When I sew I often get knots while sewing. My thread gets twisted somehow and I realize it when I pull the needle through and the thread gets caught. Sometimes I can undo the knot if I spot it before re inserting the needle through the fabric..
Any suggestions or tips?

First tip, this usually happens when your thread is twisted. It happens to me all the time when I am sewing a bunch. Let your thread and needle hang down and see if it spins. If it does, just let it spin out. I got the idea from playing with a yo-yo that kept getting tangled.

Option B, use a shorter length of thread. The thread gets twisted because we spin the needle as we stitch. You can either pay super-close attention to how you stitch and find out where you spin the needle (which is really hard to stop) or you can use less thread and make it less likely to reach it’s twisty critical-mass.

Option C, beeswax. I have never tried this, but I believe that if you run your thread through a chunk of beeswax and it will run through the fabric smoother and tangle less.

If you do get a knot, pull the loops with your needle till you find one that moves. Pull that one and, if you’re lucky, the whole thing will come loose.

I can do buttons but have a bad way of doing hems, learned from my domestically challenged mother. And I fret that my son will just toss his clothes or walk around buttonless when he goes to college next year. I am hoping to squeeze in a lesson for him.

Oddly enough my Japanese husband knows how to do basic sewing better than I. He was taught in elementary school, all boys were.

Thanks for this (since I’m the one who didn’t know how to sew buttons OR hem) – I have been doing buttons wrong my entire life. I am a self-taught re-button-er, but I’m happy to know the proper technique now!

You’re very welcome. It’s an interesting challenge to translate muscle memory into words.

When it comes right down to it, hand-sewing is one of those things where there are a hundred different ways to do it and everyone passionately believes that theirs is right. As far as I’m concerned, if it gets the job done it’s right enough.

I’m looking forward to writing about hems next week. It’s a neat technique and should be fun to explain.

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