Tutorial: How to sew on a button

For my first photographic tutorial I have decided to illustrate how to sew on a button. This is my most frequently asked question & as store bought clothing constantly lets us down on this front it’s useful skill to master!

Firstly you’ll need to know that there are several different types of button, and these instructions are for a button with no shank. I am sure that just from looking at your clothes you’ll have noticed the difference. Buttons with shanks do not have the two or four holes to be sewn on with, are flat across the top and can be very highly decorated because of this.

shank is a device for providing a small amount of space in between a garment & a button. Shanks are necessary to provide space for fabric to sit in between the button & the garment when the garment is buttoned. Shanks also allow a garment to hang and drape nicely.


On the left are metal buttons with shanks, on the right are sew in buttons. 

If you are sewing your button to an existing garment, i.e. replacing a button, you’ll have a guide for where to sew. If you are sewing buttons on to something beautiful you have just created the first thing you’ll need to do is mark your button placement. Commercial patterns will have these clearly marked but the general rule I like to follow is to sew on buttons at least 1cm from the edge of the fabric, as this will help strengthen the area. The distance apart is entirely dependent on what size and type of button you are using, what garment you are sewing and where they are placed on that garment. You shall have to use your own judgement however; looking at commercially bought clothing in your wardrobe will help with this.

sew on your own buttons

You will need a tailors chalk or a pencil, needle, thread, the fabric & buttons & two pins. Click on any of the images to enlarge.

Mark where you are going to sew your first button with chalk or a pencil. Under the first mark pin two pins into the fabric in a cross shape (1), with the mark forming the center. Thread your needle & take a couple stitches on your mark to start yourself off (2).

1. 2.

Pick up your button & thread on to your needle. Push it down close to you fabric and hold in place (3). Push your needle through to the other side of the fabric & through the other hole in the button (4).

3. 4.

I always want to make sure the stitching on the wrong side of the fabric is as beautiful as the front, so about .5cm away from where the needle has come through (5), and under the first hole of the button, push your needle back through to the right side (6). Pull the thread tight, but not too tight.

5. 6.

Continue to take stitches through the button & back until it is firmly secured, I take about six stitches. End up on the right side.  Remove the pins, the stitching should now become slightly loose, & the button standing away from the fabric because of this. Thread the need through one of the holes in the button but still on the right side of the fabric (7).

7. 8.

Wrap the thread tightly around the stitches (8) to form a shank (9), then push the needle through to the wrong side (10). End off by taking a stitch & threading the needle through the loop & pulling tightly (11) Twice.

9.  10. 11.

The front should look like below left, & the back like below right:

(front) (back)

Of course, as you advance in skill you can position the threads on the back in any manner you fancy, my particular favorite at the moment is to sew the buttons on in a contrast yet complimentary thread and make a shape or symbol on the back such as a cross. As I said, I like to think about how beautiful the inside of the garment will be as well. The following photograph from The Anchor Manual of Needlework illustrates how you can also create patterns on the front perfectly.

I hope this has been in some way helpful, as I have a number of these planned any feedback is gratefully received! If you are in the Bristol (UK) area why not join one of my workshops? Click here to see dates, times and subjects.

Happy stitching!

Quote from Wikipedia, first three pictures from Google searches all others copyright Laura After Midnight. Conversion: .5cm = 3/16th Inch. 1cm = 3/8th Inch. 3cm = 1 1/4 Inch. All measurements approximate, a simple visual aid can be found here.

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