18" Doll Sewing Patterns • Free Tutorials • Sewing with Kids

Buttons: a Love-Hate Relationship

Buttons are so darn cute, until they fall off and no longer serve their intended purpose. I love their perky cuteness, and hate having to sew them back on–I guess it’s really all mending which I loathe, and it seems that  I avoid it at all costs. I even place the mending in an ugly, misshapen basket, periodically kicking it out of my my way to get to the tantalizing, new projects. It’s a sad affair.

Really, really sad.

My poor husband usually waits a very long time for his buttons to be sewn back on. He drops subtle hints: putting his forlorn shorts with its missing button in my way. On my sewing chair, on my sewing machine, on my cutting table, on top of my current sewing project, sewing room door handle, wherever he believes it to get noticed.

He has even been known pick it up and examine it, pretending to talk to himself while I’m in the room, “Oh yeah, this pair is missing its button.” <<insert sad face here>>

“Oh, how I would have liked to wear these, but oh well…” <<insert another sad face here>>

Why? Because like many, he does not know how to do this simple thing: sew a button. He tells me, “I thought if you had to move it, you’d remember to sew it back on for me.” Let’s face it, tripping over a mending project just makes it more unappealing, and makes me feel more determined to neglect it and its forgotten peers in that unsightly basket.

Well, when he put his shorts on my dolls, that was too much for me to deal with. Game over.

Here is the project I have been ignoring that rudely interferes with my lovely sewing projects
Here is the project I have been ignoring and that rudely interferes with my sewing of more lovely sewing projects. Notice how he safety pins the button to the project? What a clever man. This came about when I claimed once that I would have sewn a button back on, but could not find the proper button.

In hopes of liberating him from his button-repairing dependency, I am writing a tutorial—a 10-step program, really. Now if he checks out my blog, which he promises to do occasionally, he will see its usefulness and possibly be inspired to take on his own mending needs. (probably not)

In my volunteer work at the local youth shelter, I taught a life skills sewing course. It was part of a larger life skills program designed to help the youth be more prepared as young adults on their own. I was surprised that the employees didn’t even know how to sew a button onto a garment (and not just the male employees). So if you do know how, start looking in the thrift stores, there are quite possibly lots of shirts and pants that just need a new button sewn on. Because evidently, many explained that what they do when they lose a button. Really?!? I had no idea people did that. Did you?

buttons with shanks
Some buttons have shanks
while others do not have shanks
while others do not have shanks

Since most buttons don’t have a shank built in,  you need to add one, in order for your button to function well. In 4-H, judges mark students down for not sewing a shank with the thread. One of our students made these amazing shorts, with a zip fly and everything. Beautiful sewing!! Well, she forgot her shank (or just didn’t want to take the extra steps when sewing her button on). This was her only flaw, I think. She ended up with Reserve Champion, instead of Champion at the State Fair. What did she learn? Don’t shank the shank, people.

Newer machine have a tool to use when sewing shank-less buttons on. When sewing the button on, it sits between the fabric and button and creates a shank, but I still don’t think it’s as secure as hand sewing buttons on.

button tool for sewing machine

Sewing a button on, correctly, in 10 easy steps:


  • hand sewing needle
  • scissors and thread
  • round toothpick or a thin, wooden skewer or knitting needle


  • needle threader (these work amazingly for a beginner sewist or for old, tired eyes)
  • thimble

Remember to click on image to see the details more clearly.

Step 1

Thread your needle and double knot the end

Step 2

Poke the needle in from the inside of the garment and sew an “X” on the spot where you will be sewing the button. This secures your stitches and your button will be less likely to fall off again.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: how to sew on a button correctly

Step 3

Put the button in place and put the toothpick on top of the button, in between the holes of the button.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 4

Sew the button on, making the stitches over the toothpick as shown. 5-10 stitches should do it.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 5

Slide the toothpick out and put it in your sewing basket.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 6

There should be some slack in the threads. Pull up on the button, so the slack is under the button. Poke the needle up, but underneath the button.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 7

Wrap the thread around the slack underneath the button, about 5-6 times.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 8

Poke the needle back down to the inside of the garment.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 9

Sew another “X”  to secure your stitches.Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Step 10

Tie a knot in your thread. Trim the extra thread and you are done.

Avery Lane Blog tutorial: Sewing a Button on Correctly

Now there is a space under the button for the buttonhole and fabric. Makes buttoning and unbuttoning easier -that’s the function of a shank. Of course, if the button is decorative, then a shank is not really needed.

It’s  a not-so-exciting tutorial, but a very useful skill. I suppose it will save you money if you were one to donate instead of replace a simple button. I apologize if this tutorial has reminded anyone of her mending pile, which was otherwise blissfully forgotten.


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