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How to sew a button: a step-by-step guide

Learning how to sew a button is easier than you think. More than a quick fix, read on for our ultimate guide where we’ll show you how to sew on different types of buttons with long-lasting results.

Updated By Cleanipedia Team

A wooden table with needles, thread, scissors
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Have you ever avoided wearing your favourite items of clothing because they’re missing a button. Well all that changes now. Missing buttons are simple to replace if you have a needle, some thread, and a few minutes to spare.

We recommend you work with clean fabric when replacing a button, to ensure you don't trap dirt in the new stitches. Ensure you follow the instructions on the care label, using a good quality detergent like Persil alongside a quality fabric conditioner like Comfort, designed to protect clothing from damage and deliver long-lasting freshness. Read on to discover our simple steps for how to sew a button on a shirt or other item of clothing with ease.

The basic steps to sew a button onto any garment are essentially the same. Start by finding your replacement button, thread your needle and always begin stitching from under the fabric.
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RequiredComfort Fresh Sky
Comfort Fresh Sky Ultimate Care Bottle
  • Sewing needle
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Toothpick or matchstick
  • Thread
  • Replacement buttons

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How to sew on a button with 2 holes

The steps for how to sew different types of buttons will vary, but the basics remain the same. The most common buttons used for clothing are flat buttons which often have 2 or 4 holes. There are several simple steps to follow to learn how to sew on a button with 2 holes, which you can read below.

  1. Find your replacement button.

    Replacement buttons are usually found on a label inside some items of clothing or sewn into the inside of a shirt. Make sure your replacement buttons shine with our guide to cleaning buttons and other clothing fasteners.

    If you don't have replacements why not repurpose a button from elsewhere on the garment, or choose an entirely new one altogether?

    Step 1: Spare buttons on a shirt label
  2. Line up the button on top of the old stitching.

    If you can't see the old stitching, measure the distance between buttons to ensure the correct position.

  3. Thread the needle.

    You need a length of thread around 60cm long. Double the thread and knot the end.

    When it comes to choosing your needle, thinner is better for shirts and blouses, but choose something slightly sturdier if you’re sewing through heavy fabric.

  4. Pull the thread through until the knot hits the fabric at the back and holds there.

    Always start from the inside when you’re making the first stitch.

    Step 4: A woman with threading a needle through a shirt
  5. Push the needle down through the opposite hole and fabric.

    Continue to pass the needle through each hole twice before bringing the needle to the underside of the garment.

  6. Repeat the process, starting in the opposite hole you began with.

    Take care to pull the thread taught every time the needle passes through the fabric.

  7. Thread the needle back through the top of the fabric.

    Make sure you avoid the button. Wind the thread around the button several times, before passing back through to the underside.

  8. Secure the end of the thread.

    Pass the needle and thread under the stitches at the back of the fabric a few times. Finish off by pulling the needle through the final loop while the loop is still loose and tighten. Don't forget to snip off any excess.

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

How to sew on a button with 4 holes

Flat buttons aren't all the same - whilst some have just two holes, others have four. If you need to learn how to sew a button on a shirt or other item of clothing with four holes, these are the steps you need to follow.

  1. Copy the pattern of stitching to match the other buttons.

    There are two types of stitches used for 4-hole buttons. Either diagonal stitching to create a cross shape or parallel stitching for a straight stitch.

    Step 1: A four-hole button being sewn onto a white shirt
  2. Follow steps 1 - 4 above.

    To start, you need to follow the same steps as replacing a 2-hole button.

    If your buttons need a straight stitch, you should also follow step 5. Alternatively, you will need to work diagonally if you wish to create a cross shape.

  3. Pass through all four holes with the needle before returning to the first.

    This is stronger than repeatedly stitching through two holes and then moving on to the next two.

  4. Follow steps 7-8 above.

    Follow the same technique as finishing up a button with two holes to secure your button in place.

How to sew on a shank button

Whether you're replacing a button on a coat, or a delicate, draped dress, a shank button is likely what you need. These one-hole buttons, have a protrusion on the underside that houses a hole. Here are some simple steps for you to learn how to sew a button with a shank fitting with ease, including tips to sew a button into the thickest of fabrics.

  1. Thread the needle.

    Don't forget to double thread and tie a knot.

    Step 1: Shank button on a table with needle, thimble, and thread
  2. Thread the needle up through the shank.

    Starting from the inside of the garment, staying underneath the button. 

    If you're working with slightly thicker fabric, make a few ‘anchor’ stitches to help secure your thread for this extra weight.

  3. Centre the button correctly.

    Pull the needle back down into the underside of the fabric ensuring the button is sitting where it needs to be.

  4. For heavy and high-use garments, stitch a small button on the underside.

    Cover the anchor stitches with a small button to help support your shank button on heavier fabrics.

  5. Return the needle to the outside of the fabric.

    Pass the needle through the shank and into the fabric three or four times, or until you feel it is secure.

    Be careful not to pull too tightly so the shank ‘sinks’ into the garment as it will damage the fabric.

  6. Secure the thread.

    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 a cuff

Shirt cuffs are one of the most noticeable spots to lose a button from, but don't worry, we've got your back. Now you know how to sew on different types of buttons, here's some top tips to attach them to a cuff.

  1. Begin by threading your needle.

    As with the other guides above, to sew a button on a cuff you will need to thread your needle with double thread and tie a knot.

  2. Create a cross on the outside of the cuff.

    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.

    Step 3: A woman sewing button onto shirt cuff around a toothpick
  4. Start sewing.

    Pass the needle through the back of the material and up through the first buttonhole, over the toothpick and down through the second buttonhole. Repeat this process until you have gone through each buttonhole six times.

    You’ll only need to hold the toothpick or match in place for the first few stitches.

  5. Remove the toothpick.

    Pull the needle up through the back of the fabric and wind the thread around the base of the button six times, before pulling the needle back through the underside of the fabric.

  6. Secure the thread.

    Pass the needle under the threads on the back, pulling it through a small loop and tightening to a knot. Cut off any excess.

How to do an invisible stitch

Knowing how to invisible stitch is invaluable, and will help you in your quest to upcycle those unloved garments in your wardrobe. Here are 10 easy steps to follow for how to do a hidden stitch.

  1. Select your thread.

    We recommend trying to find a colour which matches as closely as possible to the fabric.

  2. Check the folds.

    On the ‘wrong’ (hidden) side of the fabric, make sure the edges you’re sewing together are both folded over themselves so that the folded edge is the one that connects. If you are repairing a split seam, this is probably already the case.

  3. Knot the thread, then hide the end.

    To do this, bring your chosen thread inside of the folded edge nearest you and pull it through the fabric to the outside, directly opposite the other folded edge.

    Step 3: A needle with red thread laying over a clothing seam
  4. Place your needle into the edge furthest away from you.

    It should enter the fabric directly opposite where the thread has come out of the side closest to you.

  5. On the inside of the opposite folded edge, move the needle along the fold of the fabric for approximately 5mm.

    When learning how to do a hidden stitch, all the stitches along the edge should be about this length, and then you can adjust this depending on the thickness and density of the fabric.

    Step 5: A needle and red thread pushing into an invisible seam on white fabric
  6. Pull the needle through and draw the thread out of your fabric.

    Again, the stitch should come out along the folded edge.

    Step 6: red stitching illustrating how to do an invisible stitch
  7. Place your needle into the edge closest to you.

    As with your first stitch, it should enter the fabric directly opposite where the thread has come out of the other side.

  8. Repeat step 5.

    Create another hidden 5mm long stitch.

  9. Repeat steps 4 to 8.

    This process should create 5mm long stitches jumping from side to side of the seam you are stitching and gently pulling the thread to draw the two edges together until you reach the end of the area you need to sew.

    Step 9: An invisible seam being pulled together with needle and red thread
  10. For added strength, sew back over the stitches.

    To make the invisible stitch extra-strong you can sew back over it again, before securing your sewing by making a few small stitches over each other in a hidden place to anchor them in place.

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With our comprehensive guide you have all the tips and tricks you need to be able to sew a button with ease. From what you need to how to finish off sewing a button and ensure it stays in place securely we've walked you through every step.

Hopefully this guide has given you a little more confidence for those other sewing jobs you've been avoiding. 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.

Frequently asked questions about how to sew a button

What are the basic steps to sew a button?

Your sewing method will vary depending on if you have a flat or shank button, but the basics remain the same. Once you find your replacement button, line it up, start sewing from underneath the fabric and pass the needle through every hole before securing the end of the thread.

Can you sew a button on using a sewing machine?

Yes, you can sew a button using a sewing machine. We recommend using the zig-zag stitch setting on zero and programming your machine to the width of your button. Always test it’s correct by turning your wheel with your hand to ensure the needle goes in the holes, adjusting if necessary.

When should I use backing buttons?

Backing buttons are used to strengthen heavy buttons on soft knits and woollen fabrics. This is to protect the fabric, as if heavy buttons are sewn on directly, they could pull and distort the thread, gradually causing damage. Note that they 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.

Can I sew a buttonhole by hand?

It is possible to sew a buttonhole by hand, but it is extremely time intensive. If you’re wondering how to sew a buttonhole, the basic steps are simple. Mark out your placement, measure the button length and cut a hole before stitching around the opening to reinforce the buttonhole.

Originally published