How to Sew on a Button

by Antonio on June 28, 2012 · 68 comments

in Dress & Grooming

I was in Chicago at a networking event three years ago and found myself with a problem.

The dress shirt I was wearing had apparently “shrank” in the neck as I couldn’t get it to button-up all the way to the top.  Although I could normally skip the tie, this event was more formal and going without neckwear was not an option.  What was a man to do?

With 30 minutes to spare, I went to the hotel lobby and asked for an emergency sewing kit.  5 minutes later I was cutting off the offending button and within 5 more minutes had moved it 3/4 of an inch.  It was still a bit tight, but the shirt buttoned much more easily, and I made it through the event without a problem.

So the question today is: do you know how to sew on a button? You might think that sewing is “girly stuff,” and rely on your mom or wife to replace your buttons for you. But you never know when you’re going to be on your own and need this skill in a pinch; knowing how to sew on a button is a small way of making yourself more self-sufficient.

If you don’t know how to sew a button, but want to learn — below I’ll explain how to professionally sew on a button in 5 simple steps.

FYI – if you’d like more quick style fixes read through this classic AOM article.

Tools You’ll Need:

  • Needle (2 if possible) – any basic sewing needle will do, the slimmer the better.
  • Thread - you’ll need about 12″ to do the whole process. If you double your threads over (a bit stronger and easier to knot), use 24″. Try to use a thread that matches the garment color, but in a pinch, black or navy are unobjectionable.
  • Button – the original, if possible, otherwise simply use what you can find.  Most shirts will have a spare set of buttons sewn on the inside of the bottom front. Note: some buttons have two holes, others have four.  The method here is for a four-hole button, but can be adapted to two-hole buttons as well.
  • Cutting tool - Scissors, knife, or something sharp to cut the excess thread. You can use your teeth in a pinch.

If you’re traveling and don’t have the above supplies, ask the front desk at your hotel for an emergency sewing kit. They’ll very often have one to give you. But because you never know where and when one of your buttons will pop off, I recommend always packing your own emergency sewing kits in your bag and car, as I explain below:

How to Sew on a Button

Take off the garment if possible, although in my story above I simply performed the procedure in front of a public restroom mirror.  If working on your front trouser button, find a bathroom stall.

Step 1: Thread the Needle & Knot the End

How much thread do you have?  If you have 24 inches go ahead and “double over,” which means sliding the thread through the eye of the needle and then doubling it over until you have equal amounts on either side.  You want at least 12 inches to work with.  A doubled-over thread can just have the ends knotted together in a basic square knot, or you can use the same method as a single end.

If you have less than 24 inches of thread, you’ll have to use a single thread.  Slip a bit of slack through to tie it off with. An inch or two should be plenty of slack, but use as much as you need — you’ll pull it all back in the next step. To tie off the back end of a single thread, you can either tie a few small overhand knots, or you can just wrap the thread around your forefinger several times. Roll the loops into a tight bundle with your thumb, then slip the whole bundle off your finger. Grip the bundled loops with one hand and tug the long end of the thread tight with the other. This should pull the loose bundle into a tight knot.

In either method, once the knot is tied it’ll be used as the first anchor to help keep the thread from coming loose.

Step 2: Create Anchor “X” Point

Starting at the back end of the fabric, run the needle through to the front where the button is going to be needed.  Run the thread through to the back, and then again back to the front.  You want to create a small “X” where the button will be centered.  This X is also the reinforced anchor for the thread to ensure it doesn’t loosen during stress.

Step 3: Position the Button

Put the button on the anchor “X” and begin sewing by pushing the needle from the back to the front through the first button hole. At this point you want to add the spacer (a second needle or a toothpick, pin, or small stick can be used).

Push the needle up from the underside of the garment and through one of the holes on the button. Pull the thread all the way through until the knot snugs against the underside of the fabric. Use a fingertip to keep the button in its place.

Turn the needle around and push it back down through the hole opposite the one you came up from. Push it all the way through and tug the thread tight. You should be left with a single small line of thread across the button, connecting the two holes.

You’ll repeat this process for six passes, three for each set of holes on the button.

Step 4: Create the Shank

On your last repetition of the previous step, come back up through the fabric but not through the button. Come up like you were going to go through the usual hole in the button, but turn the needle aside and bring it out from underneath the button.

Use the needle to wrap your thread around the threads beneath the button. Make six loops around the bridges of thread that connect the button to the fabric, behind the button itself.

Pull tight and then dive the needle back into the base to be tied off on the other side of the fabric.

 

Step 5: Tie It Off

Make a small knot on the back side of the fabric. You can use the needle to guide the thread through a knot or you can snip the thread off the needle and tie the knot in the slack with your fingers, but either way you want it snug up against the back of the fabric.

Probably the easiest knot to tie off is a simple overhand loop tied with the needle still attached. Pin the thread down right against the back of the fabric, under the button, then make a little circle in the thread just beyond your fingertip and pass the needle through the circle. Tighten it down and then cut off the excess fabric.

These directions can be used on shirt buttons, suit buttons, or trouser buttons. Hopefully you can put this to good use!

If you would like to watch this in video form, here is a short 4 minute video explanation:

Written By:

Antonio Centeno
Founder – Real Men Real Style
Creator of the internet’s most comprehensive style video library 

Got a button sewing tip or a quick repair story? Share it with us in the comments!

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ch.h.m. June 28, 2012 at 7:22 pm

These instructions are great. Another method to try if you’re not using the spacer, or if you have to sew the button on a garment while you’re wearing it: scotch tape the button onto the fabric in the right spot, sew through the tape and peel it off when the button is secure. Best trick my mother the seamstress ever taught me.

2 Edward June 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm

This is one of the most basic skills a man can know, yet sadly so few men ever learn it. My father is a tailor, and he had us learn basic sewing skills like this as small children. It has come in handy time and time again; every man who cares about his clothes should know the fundamentals of sewing like this. Good article.

3 Mark Petersen June 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm

One of the coolest things I did on a date was to sew a button back on my own shirt. I forget how it came off but I asked my date if she happened to have a needle and some thread and I took care of the problem in a matter of minutes. I’m sure she wasn’t impressed with what I look like without my shirt on but my skill with a needle and thread held her attention quite well.

4 Peter June 28, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Very cool post. I used to do a lot of camping and fishing, usually in old army surplus gear. I wish I knew this at the time. Busting buttons in the wilderness is a pain.

5 Danny Zawacki June 29, 2012 at 3:18 am

I guess I’ve been doing this wrong for years. That explains why my buttons don’t ever stay on my coat after I’ve re-affixed them.
I’ll make sure to keep this in mind for my next button sewing attempt. Thanks!

6 Calvin June 29, 2012 at 4:33 am

If I need white thread, often I’ll use dental floss (as my mother taught me years ago) as it is pretty strong and works great.

Another comment about buttons in general – I have noticed that on my jackets (my suit jacket and my leather coat) that when they are brand new, the buttons start falling off in short order. The thread mass connecting them to the fabric starts growing longer and longer until it detaches completely. I don’t know what it is about how they fasten them on, but they just don’t stay put. I’ve had to re-attach the buttons on both jackets, and once I did it myself they gave me (almost) no more trouble.

7 Rob June 29, 2012 at 4:43 am

I don’t understand – in which direction did you move the button on your dress shirt? I can’t imagine there being 3/4 of any inch room in any useful direction!

8 Luke June 29, 2012 at 5:56 am

Well it seems I’ve been sewing on buttons the wrong way for years! I didn’t know about the ‘x’, or double-threading, or using a second needle as a spacer.

Thanks for this post, very useful.

9 Marc June 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

Good article!
I’m a classical musician, and in my cage there’s always needles, threads and buttons, it has happened more than once that your shirt has lost a button and you don’t notice until right before the performance.

10 brian June 29, 2012 at 8:24 am

No man should ever consider any job that needs doing to be a “woman’s” job. Sewing, cooking, cleaning, etc. A real man does what needs to be done.

11 Tony June 29, 2012 at 9:23 am

Great instructions! Growing up, my mom made sure all the boys could sew a button or mend a sock and dad made sure the girls knew how to change a tire!

12 John June 29, 2012 at 9:34 am

Perfect timing, I had a cracked button on a polo. Found a suitable replacement now I’m all better. Thanks!!

13 Chad June 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

I second the perfect timing comment. Cheers.

14 J.James June 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

I hope modern gentlemen can come to embrace sewing. My great grandmother taught my grandfather to sew very well. He taught my father who then taught me.
I also do Rev War reenacting and we all do our own sewing. Often we sit around the fire in the evenings and do field repairs while passing a bottle of rum around, which is actually historically accurate.
There is nothing girly about gettin’ s**t done!

15 Nemo June 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

Another useful tip: Don’t overdo it!

If a button has popped off it seems smart to sew it on ‘extra hard’ by using a lot of thread or super strong thread (dental floss, fishing line etc).

This is wrong thinking. While you want the job to be robust, you also want the point of failure to be the thread. Under stress SOMEthing has to give. If that something is the thread, you just sew the button back on again. However, if the button snaps or the fabric tears you have a bigger problem. I’ve seen both happen due to ‘overenthusiastic’ stitchery.

This is true for seams repairs as well. Do a good solid job, but don’t make the threadwork stronger than the surrounding material.

Happy Stitching!

16 Ara Bedrossian June 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Thank you. I would leave more of a comment, but I’ve got to get busy saving some garments from banishment in the misfit clothes section of my closet!

17 Brad June 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I have a better way. I hand my shirt to my wife and say, “Can you please fix this?” :)

18 M. G. Hughes June 30, 2012 at 6:25 am

It is amazing the lack of basic skills that so many have today.

19 allswagga June 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Nice post! You would be amazed at how many people who don’t know how to complete this task. My mom taught me how to do this a long time ago and I’m forever grateful.

20 sami June 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Thanks heaps… I fixed 2 suits and a shirt this weekend, awesome post!

21 Mike July 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Great article! I spent 20 years “on the road” in sales and always had a sewing kit with me. A tip that served me well. Buy a roll of white (if you can find it) and a roll of black carpet thread. I think they make that stuff out of tensile steel! A button sewed on with it will never fail.

22 Levi July 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

Sewing a button was one of the many skills I learned in Marine Corps boot camp. Anything taught to you by a Marine Corps drill instructor in a professional environment is by definition manly.

23 Steve July 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Good article, but your pictures only show the thread going through the button in parallel lines, rather than doing a more typical ‘x’ pattern through the button. Is there a reason?

24 Brian July 2, 2012 at 11:01 pm

The second video ends with a picture of a button stitched with in X format. Is one way better than the other?

BTW, the timing couldn’t have been better. My wife went overseas for a couple of months and left me to fend for myself!

25 Emily July 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm

It’s great to see a post like this where so many guys will see it. And it warms my little heart to see so many comments about how it’s not girly — it’s just a necessary chore that needs to get done! To me sewing is second nature, like throwing a ball is to a man, but it’s all about what we’ve been taught to do.
Also, if I may add to Step 5: make sure you knot the thread at least 3 times or all your work may come undone.

26 Brian July 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Great article. FYI if you have a regular dry cleaner they will repair or replace your buttons as part of the service. They have a special sewing machine that puts shirt buttons on in about two seconds.

27 2whls3spds July 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I learned sewing (and cooking) at an early age. I was staying long term in a hotel in Iowa for business reasons. I got to be friends with much of the hotel staff. I had asked for a sewing kit earlier one week when I had popped a button off of a dress shirt. A couple of days later I was passing through the lobby when one of the young ladies at the counter was bemoaning the fact that it was cold and two buttons had come off her favorite coat. I offered to sew them back on for her so she could go out on the town. I find it ironic that many youngsters today have no idea how to do basic things like this.

28 Martin Adler July 9, 2012 at 8:46 am

Its very useful for those who can’t sew the bottons of the shirts…… Nice article… very relevant pictures

29 Jon July 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm

That video was painfully slow to watch but helpful.

30 Mike July 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

Well, today I learned that I have been sewing buttons wrong for quite a while.

31 Mark July 27, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Having a Tailoress for a Grandmother I got lots of instruction on how to look after my clothes.
One Tip – Gran always used ‘dental floss’ for buttons that where going to cop some wear and tear. it is tough as.

32 Isaiah September 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

this is cool a button off of my shirt fell off.Where can i get this stuff separately for cheap but still good quality.I don;t wont to buy a whole set just what i need.A needle , and black thread

33 Jussi October 2, 2012 at 3:01 am

That is an OK way to do it, although very amateurish. That’ll save your day and is a good skill to have. However, you shouldn’t use knots when sewing on shirt buttons – or any other buttons, as a matter of fact. Nevertheless, there’s also a right way to do it. And please, do a cross over the button – that way the buttons shall last longer.

http://www.customshirt1.com/ProperlySewButton.html

I do lots of alteration tailoring and – for starters – re-sew all the shirt buttons, unless they’ve been handsewn (and thus the shirt is rather expensive). It only takes a couple of minutes per button (the fifteen minutes, as mentioned in the guide, is overestimated, although it might take that long for a beginner).

Next, when your jacket or coat button falls, try to do a braided shank on it. It’s a lot more beautiful thing than the basic twisted one your jacket came with – even you’d be the only one to know it.

34 Robert Eisner October 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Antonio,

I am as fastidious about writing as you are about dress and grooming. ” . . . had shrank” should be ” . . . had shrunk.”

35 Caroline Pannes October 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

years ago, having a cub scout group , I taught knots ,etc, but also taught basic sewing,,buttons.. fix a seam . I thought I would get phone calls from parents, did not..I hope these boys ,now men , remembered …..I also taught them how to make breakfast……….

36 Benn Spis November 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

Good article!
I’m a classical musician, and in my cage there’s always needles, threads and buttons, it has happened more than once that your shirt has lost a button and you don’t notice until right before the performance.

37 Arhio Puns November 19, 2012 at 8:08 am

I don’t understand – in which direction did you move the button on your dress shirt? I can’t imagine there being 3/4 of any inch room in any useful direction!

38 Many November 19, 2012 at 8:09 am

Very cool post. I used to do a lot of camping and fishing, usually in old army surplus gear. I wish I knew this at the time. Busting buttons in the wilderness is a pain.

39 Palifox December 5, 2012 at 5:45 am

Thanks for showing a better way to do it than I’ve been using. Hint. Get a bottle of colourless nail varnish and put a dab on tthe threads of buttons on new clothes, both inside and out. Half a drop is plenty. Cannot be seen and it prevents the threads from coming loose,.

40 Villain December 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I make the shank of the button by tying 3 to 6 sheep-shank or macrame knots around the shank. This makes a more stable and slimmer shank than simply wrapping, then wrap the thread a half-rotation and push the needle through the shank. go the opposite way and repeat. Put the thread to the back of the garment and snip.

41 Jerry Rose December 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm

While some may not consider sewing a button to be manly, they should know the Army issues every soldier a sewing kit with new buttons and thread to replace buttons on our uniforms. Buttons are practical and fixing things is manly.

42 Ash January 19, 2013 at 4:58 am

I may not be a man but I certainly found this extremely helpful. I have never been much of a girly girl and my mum never really taught me much about it, so useful for fixing up the buttons on my new work pants!

43 Bash January 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for a great information

44 Elizabeth February 5, 2013 at 7:05 am

I am trying to find if there is a tool for when you machine a button on it raises it so its not tight thank you Elizabeth

45 Justin February 7, 2013 at 5:32 am

Thank you! I’ve been sewing my own buttons for a while but always wondered why the never came out quite right. This explains it well.

46 C. Ramos February 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I am female but never learned any home skills because I come from a background where womens’ work in the home is taken for granted and my Dad used my Mom as slave labor. I wish I would have realized that skills like sewing, cooking, etc. are “survival” skills. I am paying to be taught how to sew now. These are the best instructions I’ve run across for sewing a button. Thank you.

47 F. HUGH February 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm

THANK YOU!
THANK YOU!
THANK YOU!

48 Marty February 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Finally, sewing a button explained. I’ve got a tin filled with buttons that have popped off. Now if I can just match them to the right shirt. Thanks

49 C. Ramos February 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I wish I would have realized that skills like sewing, cooking, etc. are “survival” skills. I am paying to be taught how to sew now. These are the best instructions I’ve run across for sewing a button. Thank you.

50 Quincy February 20, 2013 at 12:12 am

It is really useful. My mom taught me how to sew a button as a child, but in a different way:)

Sadly I think lots of men nowadays lost this skill or would turn to their wifes for that job that they think fundamental. I think this is useful when your wife is not around or you are travelling. Very good article, thanks for sharing that.

51 Elissa February 27, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I used to work in alterations and one small method of speeding up this process is, instead of just ‘doubling’ the thread we, how to say it, doubled it twice. I’m not even sure if there’s a technical name for it. What I mean is, double your thread before putting it through the needles eye. This will require using more thread of course. I never measure 24″ specifically, I just eye ball it.
By doubling the thread beforehand, once you essentially pull two ends of the thread through the needle eye, you will have four strands rather than just two. I hope that makes sense. =)

52 SupaGlue March 4, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I cheat! I use instant glue also known as super glue, when the shirt or coat is brand new, before the thread can loosen. Just a mere dollop on the threads at front of button.
Use constraint, not too much glue, just wet the threads, else you may glue the back of button to shirt. Try it on an old knock-about shirt first for proper technique.

53 Marko March 26, 2013 at 3:24 am

Thank you – I never knew about the “spacer needle”!

I might even have a suggestion to improve it: I grabbed a medium-sized safety pin that had the same diameter shank as the needles, but it won’t fall out in between the 1st and 6th loops… ;0)

54 james March 29, 2013 at 11:18 am

If you can, it makes a MUCH neater and firmer holding stitch if you pass the thread through beeswax before you begin stitching.

55 Ken March 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

I was looking for ideas to put the space under a button for my wool/cashmere coat and never thought of spacing from the top of the button. Thank you kindly!

56 Anthony Lewis April 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I could have used this skill 20 years ago. I think I’ll give it a shot.

57 penandra April 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm

An alternative to knotting the thread (a “no-no” for button sewing) is to fold the thread in half and thread the two loose ends through the eye of the needle (with a loop at the other end. From the back of the garment, pull the thread through the fabric, through the button, back through the fabric and through the loop of the thread. This will anchor the thread and doesn’t leave that little knot to irritate the skin.

Found your post while talking to a friend who was trying to coerce me to sew buttons for her. I sent her this link (and also pinned it to by Sewing Board on Pinterest)! Thank you.

58 Anita A. July 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

Loved all the ideas ’cause I need to sew a front button on my navy blue blazer. Once upon a time was married to an Army officer and when moving from one outfit to another…there were always shoulder patches to replace. Will never forget sewing a button on a short coat and didn’t leave room to button it up!! Those were the days! Now I want to be able to button up my blazer…thanks so much for all the great instructions and the interesting comments! And a few laughs, too, by the way.

59 Ann August 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Thanks – very useful post!
Sincerely ,
Former-tomboy-who-didn’t-take-home-economics

60 Christine September 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I just finished repairing a tear and sewing on the button (thanks to these instructions) on a vintage Burberry trench coat. I had worn the coat with the button secured on the kickpleat, and while driving my car the button had ripped out. To my regret the coat hung for months in a damaged state but today I fixed it by sewing a small piece of twill tape over the tear, and attaching the button over it. It looks like a professional job. The vintage trench has been reinstated to its original flawless condition. Incidentally, I have always been good with a needle but never knew how to professionally sew on a button until I found this set of instruction by doing a google search. And I did take Home Economics in high school.

61 Jim J. November 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Great post! Helped me sew a button back on a dressier suede jacket before I had to go to a party. Self-improvement and adding to ones skill-set is one of the best things a man can do for himself. A friend of mine once said, “Regardless of the skill in question, competence is extraordinarily manly and sexy.” Thanks for your help in that.

62 Patrick Foster November 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Thank you so much!

63 JosK December 14, 2013 at 11:42 am

Nice – this added some finer detail to my (pretty basic) button sewing skills.
Some people here complained about buttons quickly falling off new garments. I put a tiny drop of superglue on the thread that holds the buttons. Soaks it right up, and the button will never come undone. Done in less than a minute.

64 PAC February 2, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Handing your ____ to your wife/gf and saying please fix this these days is often not going to get you a good result these days. Sadly they are no longer taught these skills since the last generation to get Home Economics in school is now in their 40s and many of them don’t remember either. My mom taught me but I’d forgotten the proper way how til I saw this video.
Darning stinky socks is another matter however, I am just not as attached to them as I am to my outer wear. lol. Every man should be able to perform basic maintenance on everything he owns or he cannot call himself a man.

65 PAC February 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Thank you penandra!
That through the loop trick you mentioned in your comment above (57) was the one other thing my mom taught me that I could not remember for the life of me about sewing on buttons.

66 marc February 13, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Great article, I recently Bought two vintage heavy overcoats in London and a couple of the buttons were loose. I followed the instructions in this article and they are now looking great, Thank you

67 Barry February 19, 2014 at 8:11 am

This is a great tutorial because it includes making the spacer, which is missing from most similar tutorials.

One reason buttons fail (especially on pants) is if the button does not have a sunken area in the center that protects the threads. Flat buttons leave the threads exposed to abrasion. When repairing these, I use a different countersunk button for durability. Keep a pack of this kind of button along with your thread and needles, and never sew a button twice. A buck or two will probably buy a lifetime supply.

68 Y_Whateley March 31, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I keep a travel sewing kit in my office desk, and another in the trunk of my car with the tools. They’ve come in handy more than once! The thread in those kits is supposedly some pretty cheap stuff and I’ve seen more than one suggestion from wannabe survival types to replace the thread with something a little sturdier, and that’s probably not a bad idea. I’ve never gotten any dirty looks from even co-workers from more conservative/macho backgrounds over being a guy doing a supposedly “girly job” like sewing a button back on – like other comments mentioned, it’s a great get-things-done skill any guy should want to be able to do for himself, like basic car maintenance and so on.

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