Well now, here's a real essential. This, to me, is like being able to change a lightbulb or boil an egg.
On Your Marks....
There are a few basic principles to remember here:
- Keep your stitches small and tidy.
- Keep it simple! You're attaching a button, not a limb.
To make sure your button is going in the right place, put on the garment in question. So if it's a coat, for example, put it on, stand in front of the mirror, and close it over naturally. If there are other buttons, close them, so the coat hangs properly. Put a pin in the point where the button needs to go.
If you sew a button on at random, or in the 'general area' where you think it should be, don't be surprised if your clothes hang funny or your coat doesn't line up at the front.
If you're moving a button/buttons, either to tighten or loosen something, mark with pins. It's best not to adjust button positions by more than 3cm in either direction - any more than that and you effect the shape of the whole garment.
And if you don't have the original button, just make sure the replacement is the same size. If it's bigger, it won't fit through the buttonhole. If it's too small, it won't stay closed.
Thread a needle, preferably with roughly the same colour thread as the garment. Draw your thread all the way through so it's doubled, and tie a knot near the end. You don't need 10 metres of thread to sew on a button! Using way too much thread will just make things difficult on yourself, as they will snarl up and get tangled.
Next, get your button.
You'll either be using a stemmed button, or a flat button.
Stemmed buttons, like these, are mostly used for thick, heavy fabrics - you'll see them on coats in particular. This is because when you close the button on your coat, all that thickness of fabric has to fit in behind the button. If the button isn't stemmed or is too tight, the pressure will pop it off.
Flat or un-stemmed buttons like these are on almost everything else - shirts, trouser waistbands, suits - most everyday clothes. But even with very light fabrics, you want a small stem - so read on.
Attaching an un-stemmed button:
Your first stitch goes through from the inside of the garment, at the point you have marked with a pin. Starting on the inside means all your knots and loose threads are hidden away.
Draw the thread through as far as your knot. Pass the needle through your button, and back through to the inside of the garment. Repeat 4 or 5 times, keeping your stitches small, and about the same size.
Please note! Your button does not need to support the gravitational pull of the earth! It's just a button - and it's better off a bit loose than too tight. Buttons sewn on too tightly are under pressure, and they're far more likely to pop off as a result. So keep your stitches tidy, and a little loose. It helps to keep a fingertip under the edge of the button to stop you pulling too tight.
Once you've looped through about four times, bring the needle back out to the front. Now you're going to make a little stem, to strengthen your stitching and secure the threads. Simply wind your thread around a few times behind the button - this binds your looped threads together into a stem!
Pass the needle back through to the inside again.
And just tie a knot with the thread left from your first stitch (the loose threads behind your first knot).
Attaching a stemmed button:
Just the same as above, except you don't need to worry about thread tension and creating stems. Just sew through from the inside, loop through from inside to outside passing through the button a few times, and tie off.
Tying a knot in the end of your thread is useful for beginners, as it stops you pulling your thread all the way through by accident. It's not essential though - if you like, just leave a few centimetres of thread on the inside when you start sewing, and tie off with this at the end.
Back-stitching is technically the proper way to finish your stitch - this just means that after your last stitch, you add one more in the opposite direction. It's a standard feature when machine sewing, it's just a different way of tying off. But for beginners, and for hand-sewing and buttons in particular, I find people are happier tying a knot.
Hooks & Eyes: Once you know how to sew on a button, you can fix loads of things! Once you have a tidy, even hand-sewing technique, you can use it to attach hooks and eyes, as well as any number of embellishments.
Buttons on modern clothes are not sewn on to last. Even on good quality shop-bought clothes, it's common for the buttons to start falling off from the very first wear. So if you want to be able to lash them back on quickly and without a fuss (or without them languishing in the back of a wardrobe for 6 months first), pull out a shirt or jacket now. Use something already missing buttons, or pull something old out and cut the buttons off. And sit down and sew them back on! Ok, your first couple of tries might be a bit messy - but do it four or five times, and you should be happy enough by the end. It should only take a minute or two once you get the hang of it, and it's a little everyday skill that will be useful for the rest of your life.
Any questions, just ask!