Help teach me to sew a button. *really* *slowly*
October 19, 2007 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Sewing and Internet Tutorials: Find me a *really good* *idiot-proof* internet tutorial on how to sew a button onto a suit jacket such that it will: A) Not fall off for a long long time, B) Look professional and all that, and C) Have some (small) length of somehow robust thread between the jacket and the button, like the other buttons.

Apologies for the extreme basic-ness of the question (after reading the posts tagged with "sewing", this is a little embarassing).

So far all I've figured out is how to get a length of thread through the needle, at which point I don't really know whether to knot it or what, and then I criss-cross through the fabric/button I need to sew until there's a mess of string holding whatever things need to be held. At the end, there is some odd fumbling and looping over and over again until the thread seems like it will stay put. This is not particularly elegant. Help.

This goes to AskMeFi because the tutorials I've seen so far seem to assume knowledge I don't yet have (like "1) Thread the needle [got this part!]) 2)Sew the button on [could use more details, as mine arent looking so hot!], 3) Finish the knot![Totally lost here!]")
posted by sdis to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Ok here we go:

1. Stick the thread through the eye of the needle.
2. Pull through until you have about a foot or so of thread on the other side. Match this to the thread still attached to the spool, and cut, so you have this (dashed line is thread, solid line is needle):

3. Tie the two ends of the thread together. Knot it a few times so it will hold.
4. Position the button where you want it.
5. Stick the needle in the fabric on the side that doesn't have the button. Push it up through the fabric and into one of the button holes.
6. Look at your other buttons and see how they're sewn on, and make this one match. Some of the common ways to do this are by making an X shape or by looping through the two top button holes and then the two bottom ones. When I talk about sewing it in an X shape I mean pushing the needle up through one of the holes labeled below with an x and then down through the other hole labeled with an x. Then up through one of the o holes and down through the other one.

X o
o X

7. Keep doing this until the button feels secure.
8. End when your needle is on the back side of the fabric (the side without the button). Run the needle under some of the loops you've created and then pull it through the loop of remaining thread to tie a knot. Do a couple of these and then snip off the excess thread.
9. Viola!
posted by MsMolly at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2007

No tutorial, but I've done this for years.

You want what is called "buttonhole twist thread" which is stronger and thicker. If you can't find any that looks right, you can try quilting threads, or a regular thread if you run it through wax (beeswax is best).

1) thread the needle with about 3 feet of thread. If it's not the specialized threads mentioned, use the needle to pull the length of thread through wax - a beeswax candle works well. This helps the threads sort of meld together in the finished product, and also makes the thread pass more smoothly through the fabrics.
2) pull the thread until the two ends meet and the needle is at the halfway point
3) tie the ends together into a tight knot
4) look at the existing buttons and see the length of the little chain of thread
5) place a toothpick or two or three behind the button, such that if you wrap thread through the hole in the button, around the bundle of toothpicks, and back through the hole, it comes out to the right length to match the other buttons.
6) Push the needle from the wrong side of the jacket, right where you want the button, to the right side, and pull the knot up tight. Depending on the construction you may be able to cleverly tuck the know somewhere hard to see
7) Set the toothpicks on the jacket, and the button over the toothpicks. It may be easier if you tape or tie the toothpicks together.
8) run the needle (now on the right side of the jacket) through the button hole from under the button.
9) pass the needle back through the other hole, and back through the jacket as close to the original exit thread as you can get it without actually sewing through the other thread. Keep the bundle of toothpicks between the button and jacket and between the up thread and the down thread.
10) pull this first stitch tight enough that the toothpicks are held in place. Now you should have an easier time of keeping the toothpicks where they need to be.
11) keep repeating this, from wrong to right side of jacket, in and out of the button, from right to wrong side of jacket. Look at the other buttons so see what pattern of passing through holes to use, and keep going until you seem to have the same amount of thread going on. the big thing to watch for is keeping each needle exit point as close as possible to the existing ones, and not ever piercing through any other thread as you go.
12) Stop with the needle on the wrong side, and tie a knot as close to the fabric of the jacket as you can. Don't cut the thread.
13) get rid of the toothpicks
14) bring the needle back to the right side of the jacket, still as close as you can to the existing bunch of threads but not actually piercing any of them
15) Pull the button away from the jacket until it is tight - it should be about the same distance as the other buttons
16) wrap the thread tail tightly around the bunch of threads connecting the button to the jacket. Keep going until it looks like the other buttons.
17) pass the needle back to the wrong side of the jacket, and tie a knot as close to the jacket as you can.
18) cut the thread
posted by buildmyworld at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

buildmyworld point 16 is the one to watch; this gives you the extension.
posted by londongeezer at 3:45 PM on October 19, 2007

This tutorial in video shows all the steps.

Turn the volume down if you are at work.
posted by clearlydemon at 4:21 PM on October 19, 2007

All the knots and clipped threads at the start and end of the process will be the most likely aspect of the above steps to look homemade/sloppy. I suggest you start and end on the RIGHT side of the job, thereby concealing the knots under the button, and leaving only stitches showing on the wrong side. Actually, you don’t really need to make any knots (they’re lumpy and awkward things...). Take one 1/8th-inch in&out stitch through just the top of the fabric at the start, leaving about an inch of threads sticking out. Loop back to the starting point, take another tiny similar stitch, pull it tight, and the threads will be locked and you can snip off the sticking-out inch. At the end, drive your needle through the shank (that’s the name of the little wrapped “pillar” of threads that hold the button away from the jacket by the width of the overlapping jacket layer) a few times at different angles, and assuming the shank is pretty tight to start with, and the thread is waxed, these stitches aren’t gonna come out. You can clip them right up against the shank.

You can also speed the whole thing up by threading the needle twice, so you’re laying down 4 threads with each pass instead of only 2. You also might find that a single wooden match is just about the right width for the shank support, and easier to manage than a stack of toothpicks.

And finally, “buttonhole twist thread” is actually for buttonholes, not for stitching on buttons. It’s designed to make a nice silky rim around the hole, not to be strong and tight like you’d want for holding the buttons on. I’d go with a matching color in regular 100% polyester.
posted by dpcoffin at 5:15 PM on October 19, 2007

Shhhh! Secret guy-sewing tip: Once the button is done (or for a shirt that you've purchased) a dot of superglue on the thread is instantly soaked up and invisible, but the button will then never come off, because a break worn in the thread over the years can't unravel the stitching any more, nor can the knot become untied.
(This might not be so important when sewing buttons on yourself, as you can choose to do a good job, but it's very useful for store-bought shirts as their button sewing is almost always done poorly*, and the buttons eventually come off.)

*Done by people who while skilled, are (under)paid to get them done faster than is humanly possible :-/

posted by -harlequin- at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2007

If you wanna be a real tricky mo fo? When you're snipping your length of thread - hold one end at your chest and then run it out the length of your arm. Then when it's been threaded and now doubled over it will be nice and long but automatically a comfortable length for you to work with.

Also it's a great habit to get into, of always re-tieing the end not as soon as you snip it off. It's always ready to go :)

Cheap thread will snarl and tangle on you but this happens with good thread too occasionally. Stop yanking on it!! 2. Tease the knot out a bit with your fingers (I just use the tip of the needle but you might find it easier to use a combination)
3. If it's cheap (poly/cotton crap - snaps between two hands) you'll find you need to repeat. When you get it all pulled through let it dangle free. Pinch it lightly where it begins at the button (ect) and run down the length of it to smooth out the kinks and twists.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:50 PM on October 19, 2007

The one situation where -harlequin-'s superglue tip won't work is where you have those buttons with a metal loop on the back, instead of normal buttons with holes in - if, for instance, you have bought some cheap pair of trousers from Asda/Walmart, and those pretty bronze-coloured buttons aren't properly finished, because the rough metal loop will chafe off whatever you sew around it.

That said, next time I sew the buttons back on, I'm using buildmyworld's matchstick trick to see if it helps any. Oh, and on the smart black trousers currently being held up with a discreet safety pin. Thank you for asking this question!
posted by Lebannen at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2007

Ask Martha!
posted by foxinthesnow at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2007

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