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Quick Tip: Warp Speed Button Sewing

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Last week in our Michael Miller Cotton Couture series, we showed you how to make a beautiful Queen Color Block Duvet, which featured a row of buttons as its closure. This week, we have a shabby chic ombre apron in Cotton Couture that features eleven decorative and functional buttons. We know you start rolling your eyes when you think about having to break out the needle and thread to sew on button after button. For some reason, button-sewing is stuck in our psyche as a dreaded, time-consuming task. We’re here to tell you it’s not true! Read on to learn our favorite, super speedy five-step process to perfect buttons.

Okay... we know this LOOKS like more than five-steps, but that's because writing out something really easy is one of the hardest things to do. Practice a few times, and it will become second nature... and probably seem like two steps!

Step 1

  1. Thread your hand needle with a double strand of thread. 
  2. To get a double strand, evenly fold your length of thread in half, so there is a loop at one end and two cut ends at the other.
  3. Thread either the cut ends or the loop (doesn’t matter) through the eye of the needle.

Step 2

  1. Knot the thread ends and loop. To make this knot, bring all four strands together between your fingers so you can treat the four as one. 
  2. Wrap the thread around your forefinger, while holding the ends between your thumb and forefinger.
  3. Roll the loop off your forefinger (with your middle finger), so you can see the thread tail in the middle of what looks like a circle. 
  4. Hold all the threads in position by pressing your thumb between your forefinger and middle finger
  5. Using the needle, pull the thread tail through the 'circle.' 
  6. This creates the knot. 
  7. Pull the thread tails to finish and 'lock' the knot.

Step 3

  1. Insert the needle through your fabric. 
  2. You can insert the needle from the right side, so the knot is hidden by the button. Or, you can insert the needle from the wrong side, hiding the knot on the wrong side of the project 
  3. Bring the needle in, then back out.
  4. Pull the thread taut, not tight, and clip the thread tails.

Step 4

  1. Sew through the holes on the button twice. Twice around is all you need because your thread is already doubled!
  2. To do this, feed the threaded needle through the fabric, and into one of the holes on the button. 
  3. Go back through the next hole, and through the fabric again. 
  4. Go around one more time and you're done.

Step 5

  1. Knot the ends into the existing threads to secure.

More things to bear in mind about buttons

The steps shown above will vary slightly based on the type of button you’re using. Our sample shows a two-hole button. Other common types are the four-hole and the shank button.

If your buttons are going to be highly functional, meaning there will be a lot of buttoning and un-buttoning going on, it's a good idea to interface the area behind the buttons for added support and stability. (We often do the same for zippers.)

When using very thick fabrics, such as the heavy wools you'd find on a coat, you need to leave space between the button and the fabric so the buttonhole can overlap the button and you can actually button and unbutton the thing! This is called a "thread shank." In order to sew on a button and create the needed space behind, use a toothpick under the button as you sew. 

For very lightweight fabrics, you do not want to add any bulk. Using our quick method for sewing buttons, you need only go around once!

Finally, thread color is definitely a consideration when sewing buttons, and the decision depends on the finished look you want to achieve. Sometimes you want to match the button itself. Other times, it's more important to match the fabric, such as on a shirt placket. If the collar of the shirt is open, you don't want the button thread to stand out against the fabric. Finally, we sometimes choose a highly contrasting color thread for our button sewing in order to use it as an actual decorative element. We did this on the backs of our recent Seersucker Ruffled Square Pillows.

We also recommend using beeswax or a similar product to strengthen your thread when doing any hand sewing technique. Take a look at our recent hand sewing article for more information about these products, as well as other tips for tangle-free hand sewing.

If doubling the thread as we show above is just not working for you, many thread companies offer heavyweight button sewing thread solely for this purpose. Ask about it at your local sewing supply retailer.


Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly



Comments (5)

Elaine Gates said:
Elaine Gates's picture

I like the indigo fabrics.  Very inricate and various points of interest. 

Jenifer said:
Jenifer's picture

I use my sewing machine to sew on buttons.  It has a special foot and computerized sewing program setting for this, but you could also drop the feed dogs on a conventional machine and sew a close back and forth zig zag stitch to get the same results.  It is a true joy (for me) to step away from the sewing machine with a completed garment or project in my hands.

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

When sewing shankless buttons on thick fabric, such as a coat or jacket, make your own shank with thread.  Bring the thread through the first hole in the button, then place a pin across the button and sew over it.  When you remove the pin, you will have a thread shank between the button and fabric.  Wrap the thread around this shank a few times and knot off.  The extra space between the button and fabric will make buttoning easier and will also prevent undue friction caused by a too tight button.  I also put a drop of Fray Check on the back threads of any button I sew on, especially on boy's clothes.

Gayle Mitchel said:
Gayle Mitchel's picture

If your buttons will receive alot of use, or are used by those with unsteady hands (children or the elderly), it is very helpful to wind the thread around the strands between the back of the button and the fabric 3 or 4 times, creating a little shank. Then, rather than making a knot, run the needle through all threads between the button back and the fabric a few times from different directions before you clip it off.  No knot required.  If you do this, as the button is yanked or pulled on, the thread automatically tightens and the buttons stay on longer.  Learned this from an old tailor and it works like a charm!

Ruth Tackett said:
Ruth Tackett's picture

That is the way I was taught to sew a button. I do like the 4 thread at a time. Never would have thought of that!

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