The DIY Tailor: How to Sew on a Button

Every guy needs to learn how to sew a button. Follow the steps in this guide, and you'll have it down in no time.  

How to sew a button

There are two basic principles to the ManMade approach to style and dress: fit is everything, and buy high-quality, universal items that will last. In order to help you hold on to those investment items, and make sure they suit you as best they can, ManMade is happy to present our latest series: The DIY Tailor. This fall, professional tailor and alteration specialist Danni Trester will teach us some basic sewing principles and easy DIY repairs that every guy should know. First up: how to sew a button.   

Knowing how to sew on a four-hole or two-hole button is one of most basic domestic tasks every person should know. It's easy to do, and easy to screw up if you just go at it like a needle-wielding crazy person. The steps apply to all kinds of buttons, fabrics, and threads.  Not only will you be able to fix your own duds, but you'll look totally cool when you can help out your ignorant friends in a pinch. 

How to Sew a Button on a Shirt

how to sew on a button on a shirt

1) Get the supplies.  You'll need a needle, thread, the detached button (or a suitable replacement), and a scissors/cutting blade of some kind.  Depending on the garment, you may need a heavier weight thread, and thus a needle with a bigger eye that can accommodate thicker thread, or multiple strands of normal weight thread. 

2) Cut a piece of thread about two feet in length and thread the needle.  Line up the cut ends and tie into a knot.  This means you'll be sewing with two strands of thread at the same time, saving time and adding strength.  If you're sewing a button on a jacket, or something heavier weight, you can put two cuts on at once to sew with four strands. 

3) You'll be starting on the outside of the garment.  This way the knot isn't visible on the underside and is hidden by the button.  This can be important if you're sewing with a heavier thread where the knot is much bigger and you could potentially feel the bump, especially around a tight collar. Insert the needle into the fabric at the center point where the button will go. 

pull the thread until the knot meets the fabric

Exit the needle after about 1/8″ and pull the thread until the knot meets the fabric.

4) Put the button on needle and let the button fall down the length of the thread until it hits the fabric.

5) Insert the needle into an adjacent hole.  Check out how the other buttons on garment are sewn.  If you want an X pattern, put the needle into the diagonally opposite hole.  If you want the thread pattern to be a = or || pattern, then put the needle into the hole that's left/right, above/below.  This shirt has an X pattern so we're going to go diagonally. 

6) Pull the needle and thread all the way on the backside. 

thread the needle again

7) Insert the needle back through to the front side, making sure you put the needle into a hole you haven't already put thread through. 

thread through a diagonal

8) Pull the thread all the way through and insert the needle back into the diagonal hole.

check for spacing

9) Once you have thread in each set of holes, now's a good time to check that you're leaving enough thread for a shank.  A shank is a space holder between the button and the fabric so that when you button the garment, there's room for the layer that goes behind the button.  If you sew the button on too tight, it'll be difficult to button, and it won't lay as nice.  Depending on the button size, you'll want to leave between a little less than 1/8″ to 1/4″ space.  This is a typical men's shirt so we're going to put in a shank of a little less than 1/8″. 

Repeat steps 4-8 until the thread thickness matches that of the other buttons on the garment.  For this shirt, three “X's” were made.  Meaning thread was passed three times through each set of holes.  Remember to leave a little excess for the shank!

10) Once you've got enough thread sewn on the button, insert the needle from the back to the front.  But instead of going through one of the holes on the button, slip the needle past the backside of the button.  The thread should then be in between the button and the fabric.

11) Wind the thread a few times around the excess thread to form the shank.  Four to five times should be sufficient.  You don't want to do it too much in that the buttonhole won't fit around the shank, but you want to do it enough times to give the shank stability. 

12) After you're done winding, insert the needle into the middle of the shank.  Pull the thread through.

13) Cut the thread with about 2-3 inches extra for tying off.

tie a double knot14) Tie a double knot and snip the threads about 1/8″ from the knot.

You did it! Now you know how to sew a button.

shirt with buttons

Stay tuned for more posts in our DIY Tailoring series. Next up: How to Fix a Zipper

Danni Trester is a tailor with over 11 years experience.  She is currently located in Rochester, MN.  In addition to alterations, she is a designer and shoemaker.