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How to Sew On a Button by Hand

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Picking out buttons for your sewing projects is fun! But, let's be frank... sewing on those buttons is not quite as fun. It's kind of the "cleaning toilets" of the sewing world – a dirty job, but one that is very worth it in the end. The up-side of button sewing is that it's relatively quick and easy, and there's no sponge involved. Our button sewing tutorial explains the basics. 

In our step-by-step images below, we used contrasting thread in order to make sure our stitches stood out for the tutorial. Contrasting thread is also a great way to to add an extra spot of color in your project. 

In case you're bonkers for buttons already, the Sew4Home projects shown above (clockwise from the upper left) are: Three-Tier Ombre Apron, Toile Tote with Button Accents, a close-up view of the Ombre Apron, and our Starfish Pillow. The S4H project featured below, and showing an example of contrasting thread, is our Decorative Stitch Sewing Machine Cover.

There are two types of buttons: Flat buttons and Shank buttons. Flat buttons have holes through the body of the button, which means the thread stitching them in place is visible. The holes traditionally come in either a two-hole or four-hole pattern. 

Shank buttons have a small "eyelet" piece that extends from the back of the button with a hole for attaching the button.

Shank style buttons are often more decorative than flat buttons because the entire top surface is available for embellishment. Although, as you can see in the flat button photo above, decorative buttons come in all styles.

How to sew on a flat button by hand

  1. Cut a length of thread about 24”.
  2. Thread the needle, and loop the thread so it is folded on itself.
  3. Make a knot, catching both ends so you are working with double thread (you want the strength of two strands of thread when you are sewing a button so it doesn't fall off). Trim the thread so you leave a short tail. 
    NOTE: If you are brand new to hand sewing, read our article: Hand Sewing: Thread the Needle & Tie the Knot.
  4. Pull the needle up through the fabric, from the back to the front, in the location where you would like to place your button. (Because, of course, you've already figured out and marked where you want your button to be ... right?) 
  5. Stitch an "X" in the fabric in the button location. 
  6. To keep the button elevated from the fabric, so there is space to fit it through the buttonhole when you're done, insert a straight pin through the fabric at the “X”. Then place the button over the “X”.
  7. Bring the needle up through one hole of the button, then down through the hole across from it, passing the needle all the way through the fabric each time: front to back and then back to front.  Repeat this several times to insure your button is secure.
  8. On the final pass, bring your needle and thread up through the fabric once more, but keep it UNDER the button. 
  9. Wrap the thread tightly around the thread at the base of the button where it is now attached to the fabric. Wrap it around a few times. This reinforces your work and creates a mini "thread-shank" for the button so it slips in and out of the buttonhole more easily.
  10. Bring the thread through to the back side of the fabric again.
  11. Pass the needle through a few of the stitches, and form a loop. Pull your needle through this loop to form a tidy knot. 
  12. Trim the thread to leave a very short tail.
  13. A pretty button in place with contrasting thread.
  14. This is the pattern for a two-hole flat button. If you have four holes, the method is the same but you are sewing diagonally through the four holes, creating an “X” to match the “X” you used to mark the position of your button.

Don’t want a visible knot on the back of your project… even if it’s neat?

  1. If you’re fine with seeing the stitches holding your button in place on the inside of your project, but you don’t want to see the knot, you can both start and end your stitching underneath the surface of the button, hiding it from view. 
  2. Thread a needle in the same manner, but instead of initially pulling the thread from the back to the front, take a tiny stitch just through the front of the fabric at your marked point to secure your knot.
  3. With the knot secured the front of the project, create your “X” as you did above, which marks the position of your button.
  4. Continue sewing in the same manner as described above, passing the thread back and forth from front to back, creating the neat “X” at the back. If you have a two-hole button, you'll have a single line not an "X".
  5. After you’ve wrapped the thread tightly around the the base of the button where it is now attached to the fabric, rather that passing the needle through to the back, lift up the button slightly and carefully make your knot underneath the button, catching just the top layer. Knot two to three times, then trim the thread tails so they also are hidden under the surface of the button. 

Don’t want anything to show on the back side?

  1. Sometimes, you want the back of the project to have no visible thread work. This was the case on our Wrap Front Belt shown below. This is done similarly to the hidden knot method above, but you are not ever passing all the way through to the back – you are only working through the top layer behind the button. 
  2. As above, take a tiny stitch just through the top layer of the fabric at your marked point to secure your knot. Place a pin at the marked point. 
  3. With the knot secured on the front of the project, stitch in the same two-hole or four-hole pattern as above, but each time, pick up only the top layer with the point of your needle, avoiding the back layer entirely.
  4. It can help to gently pull the button away from the fabric slightly to separate the layers.
  5. As above, once the button is secure, wrap the thread around and make your knot directly underneath the button. Gently pull the top layer away from the back to insure you don’t catch the back in your knot. 

How to Sew on a Shank Button

  1. To sew a shank button, you're going to follow the steps above with just a few minor alterations.
  2. Because the button has a shank, you don't need to worry about creating one with a pin. The button raises itself from the surface of the fabric, so there is a natural space between it and the buttonhole. You can sew on this button without using the pin behind the button to lift it from the fabric surface.
  3. When stitching the button, just pull your thread through the single hole of the shank button four or five times. You can kind of tilt the button back and forth as you sew for better access.
  4. Knot your thread and trim the tail in the same manner as above. 
    NOTE: You can use these “hidden” techniques with a shank button, but bear in mind that the underside of a shank button is more visible so you need to keep your knots very small and tidu and as close to the shank as possible.

Machine sewing buttons

If you have lots and lots of buttons to sew in place, you may want to sew them on by machine. We have a handy tutorial on how to do just that


Comments (7)

Donzey560 said:
Donzey560's picture

Do not hand sew a 4 hole button in an X.  The threads rub together an shred causing the button to fall out.  Additionally, if you put them on a men's shirt it will crack the buttons when they are professionally cleaned because where the X meets is higher than the button.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Donzey560 - Thanks for adding your expertise! It sounds like you're speaking mostly to buttons used in garmet construction -- buttons that get a lot of wear and tear. Great tips. Since we focus more on home décor projects that require less handling, we do use the "X" stitch on projects when we want that particular look, combining it with the "wrap around" technique described above to help insure the buttons stays in place.  

roseytheriveter said:

Love being reminded of the basics!  Sometimes I take a shortcut and end up forgetting the very basics of some sewing things.  

Dorothy S. said:
Dorothy S.'s picture

I too, was worried about the needle breaking, however I have a way that works for me. After placing the button in the proper place on my fabric I carefully turn the flywheel by hand to lower the needle into the right side whole. Then, again by hand, I raise the needle all the way so that it flips to the left side. Carefully lower the needle into that hole, by hand, and all the way in. Adjust the button as needed to fit the needle placement. Doing this by hand lessens the danger of the button splitting or other bad things. Usually you must lower the needle into the right side several times before the move to the left occurs. After both sides are lined up, the machine will finish sewing on the button in the normal manner. I hope this will ease the worry of damaged needles or buttons causing bodily harm.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Dorothy - thanks for your note. We do cover this technique as well as several others in our Sewing Buttons by Machine tutorial linked above. 

Caroline from France said:
Caroline from France's picture

This is a great tutorial.

On two-hole buttons, it is often more effective to line up the direction of the holes across all the buttons. You've done this yourself in the pictures - eg in the starfish pillow the sewing lines of the buttons follow the shape of the starfish - but it's worth making the point to people who are new to sewing.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Caroline - Great follow-up. Thanks! Yes, it's always best if you have multiple buttons that they are all sewn in the same direction.