Introduction: How to Professionally Sew on a Button by Hand

About: Hi, we're Dara and Nash. Industrial designers, tinkers, and mayhem builders. Follow our travels.

                     Hey guys, this is part of a series for tailors (at home and work) to cover the basics on how to professionally sew alterations and repairs by hand so that they hold up to regular use (wear and tear). Unless otherwise mentioned, all finished pieces are machine washable and heirloom quality. The number one request a person gets at a dry cleaners or tailor shop is to have buttons sewn back on and you do A LOT. Generally an experienced seamstress can sew a button on from start to finish in under 2-3 minutes. So how do you too sew those buttons on so fast? And keep them from falling apart?
This quick instructable will teach you how.

                   You will need:

1) Buttonhole thread (Professional shops normally use Silamide type A thread sold in small 40 yard cards in any beading store or $1 each on ebay/Etsy). I stock the basic 5 colors: white, tan, brown, gray, and black which pretty much covers everything that comes up.
2) Scissors
3) Needle (John James needles are considered the best on the market. You can buy a 100 professional pack for $5.00 on Amazon which will probably last you your whole life or any sewing store. 3-5 will generally run you under $2. These are GREAT.)
4. Button to be sewn on
5. Article of clothing to be repaired or finished

Step 1: Cut the Thread

When doing button repairs, you want roughly 1 yard or meter to start out with. Cut a piece of string the distance between your fingertips and nose.

Step 2: Fold in Half

Fold the thread in half. Your thread should now be roughly 18 inches long.

Step 3: Thread the Needle

Holding the thread gently at the loop, squish it between your fingers and thread it through the needle. A bigger eye is always easier to thread. I will use leather needles for my buttons as the hole is easier to thread two strings at once (always works for me). Alternatively you can use a metal threader to do the work for you. Simply push the loop of metal through the needle, thread the huge loop and pull back through. I will let your personal eye-sight make the judgement call here for which one you use.

When you are done, you should have 4 threads of equal length hanging from your needle.

Step 4: Tie the Knot

Taking all 4 threads, tie them together in a knot. Most people waste time trying to do one or two threads at a time when doing button repairs. As Channel discovered, you need 12-16 passes with buttonhole thread to properly secure a button to a piece of clothing. This is only 3-4 passes with a needle 4 threads thick and so this method comes from her in the US (Thank you the Charlotte Mint Museum for this random trivia fact). It may also simply be a typical French sewing method, but I didn't live a 100 years ago, so I'll give her credit.

To tie the thread make a loop. Wrap the thread around the needle 3-4 times. Pinch the knot between your fingers and slide it down the needle, pulling gently as you go. Waxed thread never bunches on me so I just pull until the circle closes and I have a prefect knot. If there's any extra, I simply cut it off with my scissors.

Step 5: Pierce the Fabric From the Back

Mark where you want your button to go (if you are replacing the button, there should be a mark where the old threads came out. Pierce the underside of the fabric and pull out until the knot in the back is flush with the back of the fabric and the front is smooth with no puckers.

Step 6: Thread Through the Hole (1st Time)

Alright, now it's time to sew on your button. Many people like to break down button methods to sew into types of buttons or number of holes, but I like to remember the general rule of thumb by Channel that you need 3-4 passes with the thread to make the button strong enough to put up to years of abuse.

If you only have one hole, then you will thread through it 3-4 times, if you have several different holes, you can form a square or x. All are equally strong, it is simply a matter of aesthetics.

Raised buttons (also called post buttons) with the hole in the back) are common on coats and outerwear. Buttons with multiple holes are often used on regular clothing you wear everyday: shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, etc.

Step 7: Go Back Into the Fabric (1st Time)

     Now that you've gone through the fabric and button, it's time to go back. Put your needle back into the fabric push. Then feed your thread to the back. The button should look flat and even on fabric when you are done. You have completed your first loop.

Step 8: Thread Through Button (2nd Time)

      Repeat the step you just did again. Pierce the fabric from the back to the front again and thread through the button a second time. If this is a post button this simply means thread through the hole again. If you are doing a shirt button with a pattern on it, you will need to start in another hole (I've done several different styles here to give people an idea if you want to do an X or other pattern). Like reading, you move from top left to bottom right in your design.

Step 9: Go Back Into the Fabric (2ndTime)

         Repeat what you did the first time. Go back into the fabric to the back. You should now have a button which has 8 threads holding it in place. Your button is halfway there.

Step 10: Thread Through Button (3rd Time)

        Alright, time for the 3rd pass. Stab your needle up from the back of the fabric to the front and through the button. This should feel pretty familar by now. The thread will be thicker at this point.

Step 11: Go Back Into the Fabric (3rd Time) (Possible 4th Repeat)

      By this time you should have the hang of this. Stab back through the fabric and pull the extra thread to the back. If you are doing a post button (coat), you probably only need 3 passes or 12 threads to hold the button in place. However, if you have a specific pattern you are following then just repeat again. 12 threads is strong enough, but some people like 16 just to be safe. Either answer is correct.

Step 12: Wrap Around Thread Shaft to Make the Button Stem

      This next part is the point home sewers tend to miss or develop crazy work arounds (like with matches). Just stab up front the back of the fabric again and pull your thread through. This time instead of stabbing one of button holes, take the threads firmly between your fingers wrap the thread around in a circle firmly below the button. This creates what is known in the industry as the button stem and allow the button to float on top of the fabric without any apparent effort. The stem should be tight enough to secure the button so it floats, but not wrapped so tight that it causes the thread to pucker. If you mess up wrapping the thread too tight or too loose, simply unwind and re-wrap.

Step 13: Go Back Through Fabric

              Go back through the fabric.

Step 14: Tie Off Button Thread.

         Looking at the back of your fabric, tie two knots with your remaining thread through the knot in the back. Cut off the extra thread and voila! You're done. Happy button sewing.