How to Sew on a Button / Moving a Button

October 7, 2019

Are you wondering how to sew on a button? Sewing on a button is a basic life skill, I learned from my Mom and again in Home Ec classes in middle school and high school. Yet so many people do not know how to do it. Let’s look at the basic method of sewing on a button that has holes in it. (There are other buttons called shank buttons, they have no holes in the button top to put thread through, they have a ‘shank’ under the button that has a hole for the thread. We will not cover that this time, maybe another time.)

This is a very image dense post with very, very detailed instructions for the very beginner. If you are a more seasoned sewer, share this post with someone you know who need to learn how to sew on a button (essential life skill )and/or stick around because, while we are at it, I am going to show you a little trick for making pants more comfortable. Yay!

I will be showing you this skill on a pair of my Husband’s pants. Yes, his pants! They are a pair that have been around a while and repairing them is just extending their life until they really give up and rip somewhere, hopefully not while he is at work. While repairing them by sewing on a button is straight forward, my Husband asked if I could make them a little more comfortable. And by comfortable, he means moving the button out a little so he has more room in the waist area. We all have experienced the too tight pants syndrome.

This little trick isn’t going to move mountains, but it will give you an extra bit of room so you aren’t squeezing out the top of your pants! Can you say muffin top!?!? And possibly make your partner happier! Imagine not having excruciatingly tight pants on all the time, it’s enough to make anyone happy! (I’m not a therapist in any way shape or form, but I would imagine a day without tight pants would be a happier day than the same day with tight pants. It’s just logic, stay with me…) If

If you need to see what supplies to have in your sewing kit for a beginner sewer, check out this supply list post.

Want to save this to read later? Pin to your sewing skills board on Pinterest!

Sewing on a button by hand

Gather Materials and Tools

Matching button (hopefully you have the original, if not, find one that slips through the button hole just barely, you want it to be a tight fit)

Thread – either match what was there previously, match the button, or you can do whatever you want, they’re your pants!

Needle – a standard sewing needle from a basic needle package will do. It needs to go through your fabric easily, the thread needs to fit through the hole and the needle has to fit through the holes on the button.

Small scissors

Toothpick or another needle

The PANTS!

Get Ready to Sew the Button on The PANTS!

The pants we are working on today are classic chinos that are the staple of many men who work in an office.

Close up of a button on an older pair of pants
These are the pants that need to last a little longer, you can see their age is showing by the little stress tear on the right by the button hole.

While these pants still have a button on them, the technique will be the same for sewing a button on any other project. I just get the pleasure of cutting off the button first. If you have pants with a button that needs to be moved and the button is still attached, you get to cut it off. Be very careful to only snip the threads and not the fabric of the pants. That’s a whole other issue and you won’t find help for that in this post.

Cutting off the button of the older pants
Snip Snip!

So now I have a pair of pants that has no button. This is where you would start this tutorial if you had a pair of pants that has no button because it fell off in a more organic/natural way. Or a shirt or a dress, the method is the same.

The button is removed and the thread is still in the pants marking where the button used to be.
Original position.

If you are replacing a button exactly where it fell off, leave the threads if possible. This makes replacing it so much easier, no guessing as to where it is supposed to go. If the button fell off and there are no threads, look closely to see if you see any holes left behind by the thread. Usually you will see some indication, especially if they are well loved and well worn, where the thread was and should leave a mark. If there is no sign of the original location, zip the pants up all the way and hold the button hole in place directly over the zipper.

If you like where the button was, using a disappearing ink/air soluble marker, mark the place where the button was by poking the marker through a spot in the middle of the button hole. This will make sure that the button is going to be in the right place. A little off to either side won’t be too big a deal unless you go too far over the zipper (to the left in this example) because it will make the pants tighter. (That’s another way to utilize this technique, make the pants a little bit tighter.)

Relocating the Button

This section is the process for relocating a pants button – those of you who just want to sew on a button, you can skip down to the ‘Putting the Button in its Place section’ below. Or read this so you can remember this trick for the future.

With the pants zippered all the way up, hold the pants button hole slightly to the right (in this case). We want to move the button as for to the right as we can while still making sure the zipper can close and you can button the pants easily. See that bit of the button hole that is slightly more round and large on the left side? That is a good spot to start. See if you can hold that spot over to the right, pretty much directly above the zipper, while still able to zipper. Mark that spot with your disappearing ink. That is the new home for your button.

(When finished, this might require you to suck in your gut while putting them on since we are moving the button to rest on one end of the button hole, but that is sooooooo much better than sucking it in all day.)

Mark on the pants where the button is going to move to.
New desirable position.

Putting the Button in its Place

If you need a refresher for how to thread a needle and make a knot, check out a quick Stitch Clinic video here.

Bring the needle from the back to the front where you marked the button location.

Pushing the hand needle through the fabric to start securing the button.
If you are using an air soluble marker, make sure you can see the mark. If you wait too long your mark will vanish!

We need to accommodate for the thickness of the fabric, we cannot just sew a button on expecting it to be able to hold the thick pants fabric if there is no room behind the button. I like to use either a needle or a toothpick, you can use other things, it just needs to be thin (width wise, left to right) enough to go between the button holes and as thick (height wise, up and down) as the fabric you are sewing.

Showing how the thickness of a toothpick is about the same as the pants, important to make this work well.
Use something that is approximately the same thickness as your fabric.

Sew the Button into Place

With the needle coming out of the fabric towards you, place the button onto the needle. That toothpick is going to hold the button up off the fabric enough so that the button hole will fit behind it and not pop off. Please be careful, you see how close that is to the underside of my nail, OUCH.

Holding a toothpick under the button to make space under the button when it is sewn on.
It’s tricky to hold, but just keep trying.

Pull the needle and thread until the knot hits the back of the fabric. This is where you need to make a decision. Depending on how much of a perfectionist you are or if the buttons have a pattern that you need to take into account, you can swing the button around that needle until it is in the position you want it to stay. I looked at the button on the back pocket and saw that the button holes were placed such that they formed a diamond, with a corner straight up. Make sure the button doesn’t stray too far from the original marking. Then, dive the needle down the hole opposite, into the fabric.

Insert threaded needle into button hole to start securing.
Steady, Steady, Steady

First stitch done. Holding the toothpick in place can be tricky, it might take a few tries to get it right.

First stitch holding down the button.
First stitch, like magic!

This is what we have so far. I pulled it out to show you that it’s still very loose at this point, having only one stitch in is good to know where you are going but it’s not tight enough to let go, you still need to hold the toothpick in place.

button held out to allow for room
Keep it steady still!

Repeat this step at least 4 times. Start with the needle in the backside of the fabric, bring it up through the first hole you put it through and then dive down into the fabric in the same hole you dove* through before. (*I just looked up the word dive for it’s past tense, turns out you can use either dived or dove.) Keep the toothpick in place and keep the thread taut. You do not want it too loose or too tight. Like everything else in life and in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want it juuuuuuuuuuuust riiiiiiiiiiiight.

The back of the button showing the stitches already made.
After a few stitches, it does get a little messy.

Now, if your button only had two holes you would skip this next part and just repeat the last step a few more times. Since this button has four holes, we will just repeat the process but this time using the empty holes.

needle sticking out of other button hole.
Up through the other hole, almost done!

AND like we did before, dive through the opposite, open hole of the button. I didn’t show it since I think you can figure this one out (Ok I’ll tell the truth, I forgot to take the photo).

Button is all sewn.
Looks nice and sturdy!

One More Thing Before We Secure the Button

We are going to stop with the needle in the back of the fabric. Now, take your needle and go through the fabric once more, but we are not aiming for the button holes.

taking a few more stitches to secure the button
Even messier now…

We want the needle/thread to come out between the fabric and the button.

Needle sticking out of pants, ready to be cut.
Stay close to the threads already in place.

Why do we want to do this? We want to wrap some excess thread around the thread holding the button on to give it even more strength. This wrapping creates what is called a shank. Just a few times around is all you need. If you do it too much, it will take up the space you just worked so hard to create between the button and fabric.

Thread being pulled around the thread under the button.

After wrapping a few times, take the needle and thread to the inside of the pants, very close to where the thread attached the button.

Needle going into fabric to secure button.
Stay close!

Securing the Button for Good

Now that you are on the back side, you are going to take your needle and take a very little ‘bite’ of fabric very close to where the button was attached. Push the needle through but do not pull the thread all the way. We are going to tie off the thread so the button will not fall off after you sew it!

Final stitches to hold on the button
Little bite, enough to hold well, not so much that a knot tied here won’t hold

Leave the loop that was created by pulling the thread half-way and take your needle through the loop. Pull tight so that the knot is created at where the thread is coming out of the fabric.

Thread making knots to secure button stitches.

Repeat at least twice. I personally like three times. Pull tight on each one, but don’t stress the thread.

Pulling the thread taut
Don’t break the thread by pulling super hard!

Carefully trim the thread. I like to leave a little tail, that way I don’t accidentally cut the thread holding the button on.

Snipping thread when done
Careful now…

Pull out the previous threads if they are still there.

Pulling out the old threads
Tweezers are a good tool to have handy. Or just use your fingers!

Done! You’ll probably be able to see where the button was in relation to the new button placement. (Remember way up towards the beginning of the post, we talked about seeing were the button was originally sewn on by looking for the holes.)

Showing the stitches on the back of the finished button.
Moved and secure.

Enjoy that extra half inch of space in your waist! Thanks for sticking around for this super detailed post, it was worth it! Next time you need to sew on a button, I hope you feel confident after reading this post.

Want to see another basic tutorial or something a little more advanced. Let me know!

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4 Comments

  • Reply Catherine October 14, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    I never realized how completely wrong I was trying to sew buttons! Thank you for your awesome tutorial!
    Please keep them coming! This was so helpful!

    • Reply Marissa October 15, 2019 at 7:25 am

      Catherine,
      Thank you for the comment! So glad to help!

  • Reply Angela Holland October 8, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Love it Marissa! I never thought of putting a toothpick under to keep the space between the button and clothing. Look forward to your next post!

    • Reply Marissa October 8, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for the comment Angela! Anything that works, right?!

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