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

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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.

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13 Discussions


3 years ago

It seems that my coat buttons are always coming loose from constant opening closing / going in and out. Any thoughts around using elastic thread? Would that help?

2 replies
Haus Pagetvhacu

Reply 3 years ago

If you use waxed thread, and leave some space between the button and the fabric, then wrap extra thread around the thread between the button and the fabric, it will add a spacer that can help keep it from breaking. Waxed thread is more difficult to tear. You could also try to find some industrial thread, such as Tex 70 or higher. That won't tear unless it's cut.


3 years ago

I am not much of a sewer but I find I must replace a button on my ugg boots. I found a replacement button - but I have no idea what needle or thread to get. Can anyone help me out with this? Thanks so much.

1 reply
Haus Pagesharonkinsey2010

Reply 3 years ago

Standard needle and thread should work. Ugg boots aren't made of tough leather, so you can put a needle through them with more effort than cloth, but it's not horrible. If you still have difficulty, you can find awls that will punch holes and you can thread the needle through. If you feel that normal thread won't hold on as well, you can get waxed thread that will help a bit more. It's not much more difficult than a normal button, but it won't be as easy! Good luck!


4 years ago on Introduction

Assuming this second attempt at my button stays on this time (I think it will) this was an excellent tutorial and told me just that little bit extra I needed to know to be sure I made a strong enough fastening. Good tip with the doubling of the cotton twice to save effort!


5 years ago on Step 14

Great tutorial! The pictures are especially well done. Thank you!


5 years ago

Interesting. I just use regular sewing thread coated with beeswax and a toothpick under flat buttons to help create a shank to wrap the thread around.

1 reply
Haus PageAnniesAppless

Reply 5 years ago

That's how my mom used to do it when I was a little kid. It also works, this is just a professional finish if you need your stuff to hold up for years or plan to charge money for your work.


6 years ago on Introduction

Finally! Somebody who takes buttons seriously.

Thank you for an informative Instructable. Well written and thoughtfully illustrated, I learned a lot.

Now I have a favor to ask. I need some practical and creative thinking to solve a fastening problem on my swim parka. This coat is oversized because I often wear it with wetsuits up to 10mm thick. Other times with little or nothing underneath, and that's the trouble part. I would like to fasten it without using the zipper, like a cape, so it will snug down against me. Tying it across the breast and maybe also the waist would be fine. This is life-support critical. Swimming up to 5 hours a day is bone-chilling and mind-numbing. I need protection from sea winds between dives and for beach swims too.

The coat is made with 2 layers — nylon taffeta outer shell and polyester fleece inside. The layers float, only stitched together at the hems. But it wouldn't bother me to quilt them together in some areas. I doubt either layer would be strong enough to support the fasteners I need. This has to be rugged. I wear the parka on dive boats for days at time. It's rough. Heavy gear and spearguns are being carried with the boat deck always moving.

I can fabricate any kind of button/hook/cleat from indestructible marine plastic up to ¾ inch thick. Using thread/rope/webbing/elastic/wire is not an obstacle. This problem needs an extraordinary solution: I appreciate you giving it some uninhibited consideration.

Cheers from Sarasota.

3 replies
Haus Pageflavrt

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Why aren't you using a scuba dry suit for extreme conditions like this where you try and limit your actual exposure to the water as much as possible as it means you lose core body temp 30 times slower. They run for $300-400 around here though the pricey ones will often be closer to a grand. I've seen plenty of fishermen around here spend the winter living out of them with a sweater or something underneath. Your hands don't even get wet 60 meters under.

flavrtHaus Page

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

"Why aren't you using a scuba dry suit …?"

They're fine for commercial divers who scrape boat hulls, but I chase fish. Trust me, swimming in a balloon is no fun. And who wants to wear one to the beach? And then you need a regulator refit and inflator hose and more weights for buoyancy compensation. And you can never pee. I'd rather deal with the challenge of attaching a couple of pretty buttons.

You seem like a creative craftsman. I was just hoping you would have a unique idea for upgrading my parka. Sorry.

Haus Pageflavrt

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Flavrt, I'm not opposed to a little DIY hack, just trying to figure out what you need. If you're just trying to upgrade the coat buttons so they work to close in cold weather, you may want to use magnets like the fur industry or a wood toggle and cord like a parka like the skiing industry as you can still manage those with cold frozen fingers. If you want to snug it down belts work. Let me know if that works for you.