Experienced sewing people - can I get bigger buttons put on old shirts?
February 8, 2024 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a bunch of very nice button-down work shirts that have small buttons and tight-fitting button holes. I also now have arthritis in my hands that’s making it painful if not impossible to button these buttons. Can I take them to a tailor/seamstress and get larger buttons put on along with corresponding larger button holes, or is that foolishness? Foolishness factors include prohibitive cost, impossibility of the task, or general ’no way to do this and make it look good.’
posted by Silvery Fish to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total)
 
Would one of these tools work for you instead?
posted by mcgsa at 8:56 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


This seems totally possible to me! The button placket of the shirt is sized relative to the existing buttons, so it will change the look and the buttons may end up slightly off-center as a result, but replacing buttons and making buttonholes bigger are both simple tasks.

Another suggestion: what about replacing the buttons with snaps - sew buttonholes shut, sew buttons to outside placket as though they are going through the buttonholes, sew snaps invisibly to the inside of the placket.
posted by mskyle at 8:59 AM on February 8 [28 favorites]


It might look a tiny bit odd, because buttons and button plackets are generally sized to sort of match each other. but this is absolutely doable. I have done it myself and I am not even good at sewing.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:01 AM on February 8


Putting in new button holes and buttons should be no problem at all, and I wouldn't expect it to be an expensive job. The only possible issue would be if the placket (the strip of reinforced fabric where the buttonholes are made) isn't wide enough to hold the larger buttonholes. As a general rule of thumb, a buttonhole must be about 1/8" (3mm) larger than the diameter of its button. You can use that information plus a ruler to check if your plackets are wide enough.
posted by ourobouros at 9:03 AM on February 8


Nth-ing the yes, this can generally be done... but recommending that you seriously consider the suggestion to have the buttons permanently attached and discreet snaps added, instead. That was done with my grandfather's shirts, and it made a huge difference, because while he could handle even larger buttons with difficulty, switching to snaps turned it into pretty much a non-issue.
posted by stormyteal at 9:22 AM on February 8 [18 favorites]


In order of costs/complication/ intervention, I would try:

1) replace the buttons: start with one and see if a different button goes into the existing hole more easily. This might be a button with thinner or smoother or rounder edges, a button that is slightly smaller, or a shank button with a dome top. You can try replacing one and see how it goes - you might have an easier time buttoning it, but you'll want to be sure that it stays closed.

2) make the button holes just slightly larger so that your existing buttons go in easier. This can be done carefully with a seam ripper but eventually will require re-sewing the button hole edges.

3) replace buttons and widen button holes. As others have said, it might end up looking slightly out of proportion but depending on the garment, it might not make a big difference. It is a bit of work though, so you might pay more for it than you expect. (My wild guess is that in a major US city, this wiould cost you $50-$60 outside of the cost of the buttons; I could be wrong.)
posted by vunder at 9:47 AM on February 8


I would say dead easy if the buttonholes are vertical and depends on the width of the placket if horizontal. I’m assuming you’d ask for new buttonholes to be made right over the existing ones, but bigger. Precision work but doable.

Do you have shirts of similar fabric with manageable buttons, so that you know the goal will be helpful?
posted by clew at 9:57 AM on February 8


I was just coming to suggest the snaps solution already given. It helps future-proof the shirt and let you wear it on bad arthritis days.

Also, it lets you pretend to be Superman, which basically every actor whose shirt gets that treatment for a quick change does at some point.
posted by DebetEsse at 10:36 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


I believe they sell magnetic buttons that you can use to retrofit to existing shirts. I think that would be super easy to do.
posted by jraz at 10:44 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


It can be done, but adapters might be easier on your hands, easier on the shirt plackets, and less expensive than tailoring: Button adapters, Magnetic button covers. (Related: no-tie dress shoe laces.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:39 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


It's doable but it's going to be hard to find someone with the sewing skills to expand the buttonholes in a way that looks good at a price you are willing to pay. I could see a sufficiently skilled seamstress/seamster charging you $50/shirt for this. You should definitely have them do a trial run on a stained or torn shirt (otherwise of the same quality of the other shirts) if you have them, to make sure the quality is acceptable.
posted by MattD at 11:41 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Adaptive clothing brands have different ways of tackling this, like the snaps and magnets mentioned above
posted by slightlybewildered at 1:52 PM on February 8


I think that the main limiting factor of your original idea is that bigger buttons are heavier. If you replace small buttons on a shirt-weight garment with significantly larger ones, they won't just look disproportionate -- they will sag forward and distort the fabric. The false buttons + snaps suggestion is probably the way to go.
posted by confluency at 1:32 AM on February 9


Also: how tightly fitted are these shirts? If they're loose enough for you to get them over your head with only a few buttons at the top unbuttoned (and if it's comfortable for you to do so!), you can simplify the alteration and save time by only adding the snaps to the top and permanently sewing together the rest of the placket.
posted by confluency at 1:35 AM on February 9


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