How to sew a button on clothing

Lost a button? It’s easily fixed. Learn how to sew a button on a shirt, or anything else, here.


Buttons and thread on a purple background

Key steps

When you’re thinking about how to sew a button on:

  1. Thread the needle, double the strand and knot the end.
  2. Start from the inside when you’re making the first stitch.
  3. Use a toothpick to avoid sewing the button too close to the fabric.
  4. Pass through every hole on the button before returning to the first one.
  5. When the button is secure, wind the thread a few times around the threads between the button and the fabric.
  6. Secure the end of the thread by looping it behind the stitches at the back of the fabric.

It’s your favourite coat. You’ve worn it every winter for the last six years. The design is ideal; the fit is perfect; the fabric is gorgeous. Only one problem: it’s lost half its buttons, and by this point you can’t really do it up snugly.

Fortunately, missing buttons are easy to replace if you have a needle, some thread, and a few minutes to spare. Here’s how to sew a button on a shirt, or any other item of clothing.

Before you start thinking about how to sew a button on, you’ll need a button. If you can’t find a button that’s exactly the same style as the rest, you could go as close as you can get — or you could choose something completely different. If your shirt has six large white buttons and one small white button, it’ll look like you couldn’t find the right button. If your shirt has six white buttons and one gold one, it’ll look like an intentional choice.

What you’ll need

  • Sewing needle (thinner is better for shirts and blouses, but go for something slightly sturdier if you’re thinking about how to sew a button on a coat made of heavy fabric)
  • Thread
  • Replacement button
  • Toothpick (or a second needle)
  • Scissors

Step 1. Get the button

When you’re sewing on a button, the first step is actually getting the button. You could always go and buy a button, of course, but that’s not always necessary.

You’ll find a replacement button on a label inside some items of clothing, or sewn into the inside of a shirt. If there’s no replacement button and you really want a button of the exact same style, you could repurpose a button from elsewhere on the garment. If you never do up your top button, for example, or if your cuffs have more buttons than you could ever need, why not move an unnecessary button to replace a button you actually use?

Step 2. Prepare the needle

You’ll need about 60cm of thread, ideally the same colour as the thread used on the rest of the buttons. Thread it through the eye of the needle until the need is halfway through the length of thread and double it over. In other words, you should now have a two-strand 30cm thread to work with, which will be stronger than a single strand.

Tie a knot in the end of the thread. This is to prevent the thread from passing through the fabric completely. Treat the double strand as you would a single strand of thread: hold the two ends together in one hand, loop them back over the tail of the two-stranded thread, and pull the ends through the loop. If the knot gets pulled through the fabric when you start sewing, you may need to tie another knot on top of it.

Step 3. How to sew a button on: the actual sewing

  1. Position the button carefully. Make sure it’ll line up with the corresponding buttonhole when the garment is buttoned up. You’ll also want it to be in line with any other buttons, and to have its holes positioned in the same way, although this is less of a concern if you’re considering how to sew a button on trousers, which often only have one visible button.
  2. Push the threaded needle through both the fabric and one of the buttonholes. Always start from the inside when you’re making the first stitch; it’ll look messy if the knot you tied to secure the thread ends up at the front. Pull the thread through until the knot hits the fabric at the back and holds there.
  3. Put a toothpick or second needle behind the button, between the buttonholes. This is to prevent the button from being stitched too close to the fabric.
  4. If your button has two holes, pass the needle down through the second hole and the fabric. Again, pull the thread through as far as it will go. Then push the needle up through the fabric and the first hole again, and repeat the process, pulling the thread all the way through every time the needle passes through the fabric.
  5. If your button has four holes, look at the other buttons on your garment so you can match their stitching pattern. Are they stitched in a cross shape, or are there two separate lines of stitches on each button? Should you be going from lower left to top right over the fabric and from top right to lower right underneath, or should it be the other way around? Whatever the pattern, you should be passing through all four holes with the needle before returning to the first; it’s stronger than repeatedly stitching through two holes and then moving on to the next two.
  6. Keep going until you feel the button is securely fastened.
  7. Remove the toothpick. Get your sewing needle between the fabric and the button; depending on where you left off sewing, this could mean pushing the needle through the fabric but not a buttonhole from the back, or it could mean passing it down through a buttonhole but not the fabric. Wrap the thread tightly around the short threads between the button and the fabric, five or six times, then pass the needle down through the fabric.
  8. To secure the thread, pass it under the stitches at the back of the fabric a few times; just push the needle under the stitches, then loop back and do it again. Finish off by pulling the needle through the final loop while the loop is still loose and tighten. Once the thread is secure, snip off the excess.

And that’s how to sew a button on a shirt, a coat, a pair of trousers, or anything else! For more advice on clothing repair, check out our guide to how to mend clothes quickly.

Originally published