Details Make A Difference: How To Sew On A Button

I’ve always been in love with the fine details of assembling a garment by hand; including adding pockets, embroidery, beautiful buttons, and making the perfect buttonhole. Many years ago, during my design education, I came across methods of sewing on buttons from the book, believe it or not “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing“. Ever since, when a button falls off, or attaching ones to my hand knit projects, I use one of these methods, depending on the type of garment.

For professional looking hand sewn buttons, follow these steps. Depending on the weight of the garment, use a single strand of standard thread, topstitching thread, or 1 or 2 strands of embroidery floss to sew on the buttons. Generally, the yarn used to knit the project is not durable enough to sew on buttons. The plies of yarn have to be separated, and if made of staple fibers will break from the friction created during sewing. Don’t use a double strand of thread, as it has a tendency to knot.

Shank Buttons

A shank button rests on top of the buttonhole and does not distort the fabric. This type is particularly good for heavy or bulky knits. To sew a shank button onto light to medium weight fabric, take enough small stitches through the fabric and the shank to secure the button. The button is best positioned with the threads running parallel to the opening. Fasten off the thread underneath the button on the wrong side with several stitches.

from Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (pg. 351)
from Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (pg. 351)

Additional Thread Shank: I like this technique as it is raised above the fabric and is particularly useful for very bulky knits, allowing enough space for the buttonhole to fit under the button without puckering or pulling unevenly around the button. To sew the extra thread shank, take a few stitches where the button is to be placed on the right side. Holding the forefinger between the button and the knit fabric; (this keeps the button separated from the fabric until the button is secure) bring the thread several times through the shank button back into the fabric, keeping the stitches even and loose. On the last stitch bring thread through the fabric only, then wind the thread tightly around stitches to form the thread shank. Back stitch through the thread shank to fasten off.

Shank Button
Shank Button

Sew-through Buttons

A sew-through button has either two or four holes. For light weight to medium weight knits, this type can be sewn flat or a thread shank can be added for heavy, bulky knits. To sew a button flat, take several small stitches at the marked position for button, then center the button over the stitches. Sew in place through the holes in the button and fasten off on the underside.

from Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (pg. 352)
from Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (pg. 352)

To make a thread shank secure thread at mark, then bring needle up through one hole in button. Lay a toothpick or needle across the top of the button; you will be placing your stitches over the toothpick to form the shank. Take the needle down through the second hole over the toothpick; if a 4 hole button bring needle up through the third, then over toothpick down the 4th hole. Repeat, sewing 6 to 8 stitches. Remove the toothpick and lift button away from the fabric so the stitches are taut, and wind thread tightly around the stitches to make shank. Back stitch through the shank to secure. For bulky fabrics, 2 toothpicks work well to create a long enough shank.

Sew Through 4-Hole Button
Sew Through 4-Hole Button

Reinforcing buttons is sometimes necessary at points of great strain. A small flat button can be sewn directly under the outer button on the inside. Both buttons should have the same number of holes. Attach using sew through button method with a shank. For delicate knits substitute a small square of fabric, seam binding, or grosgrain ribbon for the inside button.


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