I’m continually surprised when I hear grown adults say, “I can’t even sew on a button.” So in honor of them, I’m making this Back-to-the-Basics post to show how easy it is to machine sew a button on a shirt. There’s a bit more to it than just needle and thread to achieve a professional and clean finish. Believe me, in the early days, there were lots of buttons with bird’s nests in them either on the front or back! Here are some tips I learned along the way.
Most of the time when a button comes off a shirt (at least the shirts in my life) it’s because it was broken in half at the dry cleaners in the pressing process. Here is one of my husband’s shirts with a missing collar button.
Unless the button is on a cuff, collar band, or the button band down the front center of the shirt where there are multiple layers of fabric and maybe some interfacing, it will need a bit of stabilizer on the back. A light to medium weight will do. This will help to keep the stitches from tearing the fabric. I usually just cut a about a half inch of iron-on interfacing and put it over the existing holes. It’s a great way to use up those little pieces of extra interfacing. If you don’t have interfacing, find a lightweight scrap of material and attach it with a glue stick. Really. The glue will come out in the wash and the backing will be sewn on by affixing the button.
IMPORTANT: Lower the feed dogs or set the stitch length to zero. This will prevent the shirt from moving during the stitching process. Do not change the stitch width.
Put a button foot on your machine. If it doesn’t have a specialized button foot, you’ll need a foot that allows a zigzag stitch. Place the button on the anchor spot on the shirt and gently slide it under the button foot. Try to get two opposing holes centered in the button foot or stitch spot and lower the presser foot to hold the button in place. Take a look at the other buttons and see which way the stitches and holes go. Are they in an X with the holes at 2-4-8-10? Or are the holes at 3-6-9-12? Try to make yours look the same. If they’re not, don’t die over it. Most people won’t notice. I just try to strive for a factory finish while I’m there.
Using the hand wheel, slowly lower the needle making sure it doesn’t hit either side of the holes in the button. If it does, change the stitch length until the needle goes in both holes successfully. If needed, reposition the button. Once the needle is cleanly going in both holes, use the foot pedal and stitch 8-10 times.
Without moving the shirt too much, lift the presser foot and reposition the button by turning the shirt and button 90 degrees to line up the last two button holes under the stitch point. Repeat the process to line up the holes and stitch the button on.