How to Sew a Button onto Clothing

As I dressed to go out shopping the other day, I grabbed my favorite purple sweater as protection against overzealous air conditioning in the stores. As I slid into the sweater, I noticed a loose thread and, even though I knew better, I grabbed it and pulled. Immediately, the thread parted ways with the sweater and so did the button, which the thread used to hold onto the sweater. Well, phooey!

Everyone knows that it's best not to procrastinate, so I should have immediately sewn the button back on. However, I'm human and I was in a hurry, so it didn't happen that way. But, if it had, it would have been done very quickly and easily. Thankfully, I put the loose button in my sewing box, so it will still be quick and easy when I sew it back on.

So, how will I go about reattaching my button? I'll show you step-by-step, so you can sew your buttons back on and not procrastinate like I did!

Get Your Sewing Gear Together

First, hopefully you have a sewing box. If you have no sewing box, take a look here for some suggestions on how to set one up. You will need, at the very least, a needle and some thread to make this repair. If you have a block of beeswax, you can run the length of thread needed to sew the button on through the wax. This prevents tangling and strengthens the thread.

If you don't have any beeswax, you can also use a candle to strengthen the thread. Simply pull the thread across the surface of the wax candle to coat the thread. Be aware, however, that the thread will cut grooves in the candle. It will probably still be usable, but not as attractive as it was.

To decide how much thread to cut for sewing on the button, look at your button and how it's made. Does your button have holes through it? Are there two holes or four? Does your button have a shank? Or is it a novelty button with an unusual method of connection?

Also, make note of how thick the fabric is. Is it a simple blouse with two layers of light cotton to be sewn through? Or is it a heavy wool coating fabric that will require a thread shank to be created? More holes, thicker fabric, a need to build a thread shank to give additional space for these things -- these all require more thread.

Usually, you'll find that eighteen to twenty-four inches of thread is plenty, but you'll need less for small two-holed buttons on light cotton, more for a large four-holed button on a thick wool coat. So let's talk about sewing a smallish two-hole button on a lightweight garment.

See here for more information about the kinds of things you need in your sewing box.

Thread Up Your Needle

To thread the needle, you'll want to moisten the thread to form the end into a point. Then try this method for getting the thread into the needle's eye: dip the needle's eye into water, then move the needle's eye toward the point of the thread. The surface tension of the water film in the needle's eye should suck the thread end into the needle's eye, so that you can grab it and pull it through.

Now, of course, for hygiene's sake, you would use a small bowl of water to moisten the thread and needle. Not every stitcher does, believe it or not. Sometimes a stitcher will decide to go for the quick and easy option of placing the thread and the needle's eye daintily in her mouth for moistening, but hygiene is important, isn't it? Although, if you won't judge me, I won't judge you!

For sewing on a button, you'll want several strands of thread to go through the holes on the button to help hold it securely. To make it faster and easier to get several strands, let's tie both tails of the thread together. Pull both tails to be equal length. Wrap both tails of thread around the tip of your finger, crossing the thread ends over the thread wrap, and roll it a couple of times with your thumb to get it off your fingertip. Grasp the threads above the resultant loose knot with your fingernail and your thumbnail and slide downwards to tighten the knot.

When you're first learning to make this knot, it can be helpful to have a pincushion to park the needle in while attempting to introduce the thread to its new state of knottedness! This will keep you from dropping everything into the floor, if your rolling-off-the-thumb should go awry.

Marking Your Button Placement

If you're replacing a button that has fallen off your garment (as opposed to sewing a button on a new garment!), the easiest way to place it properly is to button the buttons above and below the empty buttonhole. Next, hold the garment (or pin it to a cushion!) so that the fabric is taut, but not stretched, between the buttoned spots.

Carefully place a pin down through one end of the empty buttonhole and bring the point back to the surface at the other end of the empty buttonhole. (Be careful not to catch the fabric of the cushion, if you are using one, or the back of the garment! You want to catch only the spot where the button goes with your pin.) This way the pin marks both the place and the length of the buttonhole. Now you can unbutton the other buttons and push the extra fabric out of the way.

Actually Sewing on the Button

Now you can place and sew the button. If it has two holes, center the pin between them. You then place your needle hand under the fabric, being sure that you do not catch any fabric other than the place the button goes. Push the needle up through one of the holes in the button and pull the thread through until the knot stops the movement of the thread.

Angling the needle so that the threads on the back are placed neatly together, push the needle down through the other hole in the button. Do not go around the edge of the fabric with the thread. All movement up and down through the fabric goes through the button!

On your return trip down, do not pull the thread really tightly. Just pull it through until the button snuggles nicely on the fabric without denting or pulling it into wrinkles. Repeat the up and down stitching two or three more times to insure the strength of the button's connection to the fabric.

Finishing Off Neatly

Now turn the garment over and look at the back. The threads should lie neatly together, with no big loose loops of thread and with no tight pulls.

If so, let's tie it off. Carefully slide the needle through one or more of the stitches on the back, being careful not to catch the fabric. As you start to pull the thread through this stitch, place a finger inside the loop that is formed.

Pull until the loop is only big enough to allow your finger to slide out, then introduce the needle into this small loop, and then start to pull the thread through, stopping well before you have pulled it all the way through. This forms a second small loop.

Holding the second small loop with one hand, carefully draw the thread through the first loop until it is snug against the fabric, again not drawing so tightly it deforms the fabric. Now pull the second small loop snug down to the fabric. Tug lightly to tighten the knot and clip the threaded needle loose from the garment about a quarter-inch from the knot.

If your button has four holes, you would then repeat the entire exercise for the other two holes.

Your button should now be securely attached to your garment. This is success!