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How to sew on a button – your ultimate guide

More than a quick fix, we’ll show you how to sew on a button with long-lasting results – plus the guaranteed satisfaction that you’ve done it yourself.

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A spool of different threads, needles, buttons and a toothpick with scissors and measuring tape in the background

Are you avoiding your favourite jackets and shirts because they’re missing a button? Does the thought of fixing them yourself seem an impassable task? If you’re not sure how to sew on a button, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, missing buttons are simple to replace and you can easily mend your clothes if you have a needle, some thread, and a few minutes to spare. Here’s how:

You will need

  • Sewing needle (thinner is better for shirts and blouses, but choose something slightly sturdier if you’re sewing through heavy fabric)
  • Thread (about 60cm, which you’ll double over)
  • Replacement buttons
  • Tape measure
  • Toothpick or matchstick
  • Scissors

How to sew on a button: the basics

Your sewing method will vary depending on if you have a flat or shank button (see further down for a full description), but you’ll need the below steps for all button sewing.

First off, you'll need to find the same button. A replacement button can usually be found on a label inside some items of clothing, or sewn into the inside of a shirt.

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Spare buttons on a shirt

If there’s no replacement button, you could repurpose a button from elsewhere on the garment, for example, from your top button or cuffs. 

If you can’t find a button that’s the same style as the rest, you could choose something completely different that looks like an intentional choice. 

  1. Line up the button on top of the old stitching or measure the distance between buttons to ensure the correct position.

  2. Thread the needle, double the strand and knot the end.

  3. Always start from the inside when you’re making the first stitch and pull the thread through until the knot hits the fabric at the back and holds there.

A needle pushing through a shirt

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, then thread back through and do a few stitches on the inside.

6. Secure the end of the thread by looping it behind the stitches at the back of the fabric and cutting to leave about 1cm of thread.

Top tip: Place a toothpick or matchstick underneath flat buttons to avoid sewing it too close to the fabric. Remove before finishing and securing thread.

Sewing different types of buttons

There are two types of buttons – flat and shank. Flat buttons are more widely used on clothes, but shank buttons perform best on thicker fabrics, due to their height. While they both perform the same function, how they are sewed varies slightly due to their different design. 

How to sew on a 2-hole button

  1. Thread the needle, double the strand and knot the end.
  2. Position your button and pass the needle up through one of the buttonholes and the fabric. Pull the thread through until the knot hits the fabric at the back and holds there.
  3. Push the needle down through the opposite hole and fabric, passing through each hole twice and bringing the needle to the underside of the garment.
  4. Repeat the process, starting from the opposite hole you started on, pulling the thread taught every time the needle passes through the fabric.
  5. Thread the needle back through the top of the fabric, avoiding the button, and winding the thread around the button several times, before passing back through to the underside.
  6. To secure the thread, pass it under the stitches at the back of the fabric a few times; 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.
  7. Once the thread is secure, snip off the excess.

How to sew on a 4-hole button

A four-hole button being sewn onto a shirt
  1. Copy the pattern of stitching to match the other buttons; either diagonal for a cross shape or parallel for a straight stitch.
  2. Follow steps 1 and 2 above, and 3 if you want a straight stitch.
  3. For a cross shape, thread across diagonally to your first hole
  4. Pass 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.
  5. Thread the needle back through the top of the fabric but not through the button. Winding the thread a few times around the button threads and passing the needle back through to the underside.
  6. Secure the thread as in step 6 above and snip off the excess.

How to sew on a shank button

A shank button, with a needle, spool of thread and thimble in the background

A shank button has a raised area on the underside, with a hole in it that you thread your needle through. Shank buttons can be small or large, with larger ones usually used for bulkier or heavier materials.

  1. Thread the needle with double thread and tie a knot.
  2. Starting from the inside of the garment, thread the needle up through the shank, staying underneath the button. 
  3. Centre the button correctly, pulling the needle back down into the underside of the fabric.
  4. Return the needle to the outside of the fabric, passing it through the shank and into the fabric three or four times, or until you feel it is secure.
  5. Be careful not to pull too tightly so the shank ‘sinks’ into the garment as it will damage the fabric.
  6. Pass the needle back through the top of the garment and, without going through the shank hole, wind the needle thread a few times around the button threads, bringing the needle down through the fabric and under the stitches at the back of the fabric. Create a final loop to tighten into a knot and snip the excess.

How to sew a button on thicker material

Sewing a button on any thick material, such as a coat, requires a shank button to allow for enough space for the fabric to fit underneath it. 

The deeper the shank, the thicker the material can fit underneath - something to consider if you’re working with particularly heavy fabric. It’s also best to use a sturdier needle, to get through the thicker layers of fabric. Here’s what to do:

  1. Thread the needle, double the strand and knot the end.
  2. Starting from the inside of the garment, thread the needle up through the fabric into the old holes, and make a few ‘anchor’ stitches to help secure your thread for this extra weight.
  3. For heavy and high-use garments, stitch a small button on the underside, covering the anchor stitches.
  4. Return the needle to the outside of the fabric, passing it through the shank into the fabric (and the small button on the inside if you’re using one) about six times. Make sure there is some slack in your threads – don’t pull too tight.
  5. Finally, pass the needle through the top of the fabric, avoiding the button, and wind the needle thread around the button threads, looping the needle through them to tighten. 
  6. Pass the needle back through the underside of the material, knot it, and cut to about 1cm length.

How to sew a button on a cuff

A four-hole button being sewn onto a shirt cuff using a toothpick and a needle
  1. Thread the needle with double thread and tie a knot.
  2. Pass the needle through the back of the fabric to the front, continue passing through the front to the back until you have formed a cross with your thread. 
  3. Place the button on top of the cross, take a toothpick or match and place it on top of the button. This will ensure the thread has some slack for the final stage.
  4. Start sewing, use the same pattern as you used to form the first cross, passing through the back of the material and bringing the needle through the first buttonhole, passing over the toothpick (which you’ll only need to hold in place for the first few stitches) and going through the second buttonhole.
  5. Continue sewing until you have gone through each buttonhole six times.
  6. Pull the needle up through the back of the fabric and remove the toothpick. 
  7. Wind the thread around the base of the button six times, pulling the needle through the underside of the fabric. 
  8. Pass the needle under the threads on the back, pulling it through a small loop and tightening to a knot. Cut off any excess.

Your top questions on sewing on a button

Can you sew buttons on with a sewing machine?

Yes, you can sew on buttons with either two or four holes. Lift up the foot of the sewing machine and place the fabric under the needle, positioning the button with the foot accessory or, if you don’t have one, securing it in place with some sticky tape. 

Select the zig-zag stitch setting to zero and programme your machine to the width of your button, testing it’s correct by turning your wheel with your hand to make sure the needle goes in the holes. Adjust the width if necessary and, on a slow setting, use the foot peddle to do ten stitches backwards and forwards until secure. 

Lift up the needle and remove the foot accessory, moving the fabric out and snipping the thread to leave about three inches. Use a seam ripper to pull through any threads from the front of the garment to the back and tie the loose ends in a knot on the underside.

What does a shank button look like?

Shank buttons are also called one-hole buttons and have a protrusion on the underside that houses a hole.

They come in all different sizes and finishes and, while they’re mostly used on coats and jackets, they can also be used for dresses and more delicate fabrics that require the garment to drape well. See the section above for details on how to sew on a shank button.

When should I use backing buttons?

These small buttons can be used to strengthen heavy buttons on soft knits and woollen fabrics that, if sewed on directly, can pull and distort the thread, gradually causing damage. 

Backing buttons should be a similar size to the outer button, have the same number of holes and be stitched in the same way as a two or four hole button (see above for instructions). 

They are affixed to the underside of the garment by passing the needle up through the holes, fabric, and outside-facing button holes, and bringing it back down through the backing button, repeating until both buttons are secure.

So now you know how to sew on a button, you may have more confidence for those other sewing jobs. Why not have a go at fixing ripped jeans? Or, if you’re feeling inspired, read our guide on how to mend a broken zip.

Originally published