How To Sew A Button: 2-Hole, 4-Hole, & Shank Buttons Explained

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It seems so simple, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to sew a button. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry. It’s easy to replace a button by hand or using a sewing machine. We’ll show you how.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

Most of us have at least some of these things at home already. And if you don’t? They’re cheap and often as close as your local craft store.

Replacement Button

This is the fun part. Think about the button you lost. Do you want to replace it exactly? That might take some doing. If it’s a common sort of button, you might easily find a match at your fabric or craft store, or even in the household section of your grocery. If it’s a specialized button, however, you might have to contact the maker of your garment.

On the other hand, this could be your chance to revitalize your garment with a completely different set of buttons. Different colors, materials, or designs can give an item a whole new character. Take a look at this blouse. How would each of these buttons change its look?

different types of button

Regardless of color, shape, or material, there are three basic types of button: two-hole, four-hole and shank. Two-hole and four-hole buttons are self-explanatory. A shank button, like the wooden button above, has a circular bit on one side. Instead of sewing through the button to attach a shank button, you sew through the shank.

Needle

There are a lot of types of needles for hand-sewing. Fortunately, you can use just about any of them to attach a button. However, you should pay attention to the needle’s sharpness and size.

needles for button sewing

A dull needle, like a darning needle, may be able to get the job done. However, a sharp needle will go through cloth easily and with minimal damage. Likewise the needle you choose should not only fit through the holes or shank of your replacement button, but should also be small enough to not damage the fabric of your garment.

Thread

Again, there are many types of thread. And again, you can use most of them to sew on a button. If you want to minimize the chances of losing your new button, though, you might consider using button thread. Button thread is a thick, tough thread that’s also used for sewing carpets and upholstery. 

button sewing thread

Scissors

Using scissors to cut off your thread ends will keep things tidy.

Fabric Marking Pen

A fabric marking pen can help you to remember exactly where you want your buttons to go. It can help you to line up your new buttons nice and straight, and to make sure they line up with the buttonholes. They can also mark your place. This can be a lifesaver if you have to set your work down, or if you drop a button while sewing.

Fabric marking pens come in different colors. Some have washable ink. Others have ink that disappears when exposed to heat. Alternatively, you can use tailor’s chalk, which simply brushes off.

Pin or Toothpick

It might be tempting to sew your new button on as tightly as possible so that it won’t fall off. But you should always leave a little bit of space between the button and the fabric. First, a too-tight button can pucker the fabric, and the garment won’t look right. Also, if your button is too tight, it could actually break off more easily, as the thread is under more pressure. And if the thread is really tight, it might also take some of the fabric with it.

Using a toothpick or a pin can give your new button just enough breathing room. You can also use a paperclip or anything else of similar size. We’ll show you how to do this in a bit.

Beeswax (Optional)

No matter what kind of thread you’re using, coating it with beeswax can make it straighter, tougher and stronger. It will also help the thread to glide more easily through the fabric. This is an old bookbinder’s trick, but it works for sewing fabric, too. Here’s how you do it.

Thimble (Optional)

If you’re pushing thread through thick cloth or multiple layers, using a thimble can protect your thumb and allow you to press harder on the end of the needle.

How to Sew a Button Step by Step

There are two ways to sew a button: by hand and by machine. The process is a little bit different for each kind of button.

How to Sew a Button With Two Holes by Hand

2-hole button
A two-hole flat button

Let’s start with the easiest job: sewing a two-hole button by hand.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

First, make sure you have everything you need. Thread your needle. A double thickness of thread, as shown in the photo, will make your repair stronger. Tie a knot at the end of your thread, and coat the thread in beeswax.

needle and thread

Step 2: Make Your Mark

Now lay out your item. Smooth the buttonhole down so that it’s right over where the old button sat. Use your fabric marking pen to mark where the new button will go. If you’re sewing on more than one replacement button, repeat this process for all of the buttons.

fabric marker pen

Now open the garment and lay your button down over the mark. Flat buttons often have a ridged side and a smooth side. The smooth side is the back and should sit against the fabric.

Step 3: The First Hole

Holding the button in place with one hand, use your other hand to bring the needle up from the bottom and through the first hole. Some people pull the thread all the way through, so that the knot is snug against the back of the fabric. I prefer to leave an inch or so of thread so that I can tie off my thread at the end.

Step 4: The Second Hole

Now, bring the needle down through the other hole.

sewing a button

Step 5: Toothpick Time

If you’re planning to use your toothpick, now is the time. Slide it gently between your button and the fabric. Alternatively, you could slip the toothpick on top of the button, between your initial stitch and the button itself.

toothpick button sewing

Step 6: Sew!

Now sew the button on. Make a continuous loop, going up through the first hole, down through the second, then back up through the first one again. Do this eight to ten times.

Step 7: Tie Off and Snip

Once your button is firmly attached, knot your thread several times underneath the fabric. You can also “sew off” the thread end by knotting it several times around the bottom of your circle of stitches and securing the knot with a few stitches. Remove the toothpick and snip off the edges. You’re done!

How to Sew a Button With Four Holes by Hand

4-hole button
A four-hole flat button

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As before, thread your needle, pulling the ends of the thread together so that the needle sits at the midpoint. Now knot the ends and treat the entire thread with beeswax.

Step 2: On Your Mark

Use your fabric markers to mark where you want your button to sit. You can make the location very precise by laying the edges of your garment over one another, as if buttoning the garment, then poking the tip of your fabric through the buttonhole to mark the button’s final place.

Step 3: Holes 1 and 2

Set the button on top of your mark. Remember: ridge side up!

Now, bring your thread up from beneath the fabric, through the first hole. It doesn’t matter which hole you choose. Then bring it down through the hole that sits diagonally to your first hole.

Step 4: Make Some Room

Will you use a toothpick with a four-hole button? You bet you will. Slip it gently beneath the diagonal of thread you just made, or between the button and your fabric.

how to sew a 4-hole button

Step 5: Holes 3 and 4

Your needle should now be underneath the fabric. Bring it back up again through one of the holes that you’ve not yet stitched. Now bring it back down through the hole that sits diagonally to it. You should now have a nice “X” shape.

Step 6: Criss Cross

You will be sewing this “X” over and over again by sewing diagonals. You could sew the diagonal from hole 1 to hole 2 several times, then switch to one between holes 3 and 4. You could also alternate. This video shows you the first way.

Step 7: Finish the Job

Once you have between six and eight complete “X” shapes, knot off your thread or sew it off. Now remove your toothpick, snip your edges, and admire your work!

How to Sew a Shank Button by Hand

shank button sewing
A shank button

A shank button is a bit easier than a flat button. You don’t have to use a toothpick, although I do recommend keeping the thread relaxed.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As always, thread your needle, making sure that you have a double length of thread. Knot the thread ends and treat your thread with beeswax. 

Step 2: X Marks the Spot

Use your fabric pen to mark where you want your button to go. Now set the shank of your button down on your mark.

Step 3: Stitch it Up

Hold the shank of the button against the fabric with one hand. Now, use the other to draw the thread up from below the fabric, through the shank, and back down through the fabric. Make six to ten complete loops.

sewing shank button

Step 4: Tie it Off and Snip

When you’re finished, knot the thread and snip off the ends.

How to Sew a Button Using a Sewing Machine

Some people prefer sewing buttons by hand. It’s quick and easy, and you’re not risking either your button or your machine needle. But if you want to sew your button by machine, that, too, can be quick and easy. And if you’re careful, you can do it safely, as well.

You’ll need two extra pieces of kit for this: some sticky tape and a button foot (optional).

button foot
A button sewing foot

Step 1: Secure Your Button

Put your button where you want it and secure it to the fabric with sticky tape.

Step 2: Prepare Your Sewing Machine

You’ll want to do several things.

First, choose your stitch. You’ll want a zigzag stitch.

Next, set your stitch length to zero. You’ll not want your button moving forward through the machine. 

Now lower your feed dogs. Your feed dogs move the work forward through the machine. If your stitch length is zero, it should not be moving anyway. However, lowering the feed dogs will be an added measure of protection.

Set your stitching speed to slow. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, put on your button foot if you have one. A button foot holds your button in place while you sew. This is optional, but it makes things easier.

Step 3: Insert Your Work

Place your fabric and button on top of the feed dogs. Lower the presser foot onto it. 

Step 4: Sew a Test Stitch…Slowly

Use the hand wheel to slowly lower the needle into the first buttonhole. Continuing to use the hand wheel, lift up the needle and continue to turn it until the needle approaches the second hole.

button sewing machine

Does it go directly in? Is the stitch too wide or too narrow? Adjust the stitch width if you need to, then set it.

Sew Your Button

Now, carefully, stitch your button.

Tie and Snip the Edges

When you’re finished, take your work out of the sewing machine. Turn it over and tie off the edges.

Having trouble visualizing the process? Check out this instructional.

It’s Sew Easy!

Replacing a button isn’t difficult, but it’s important to use the right tools and the right procedure. 

What did you think of our tutorial? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

learn to sew buttons

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