Sewing Tips And Advice: Sewing On Novelty Buttons

Use novelty buttons to personalize and dramatize both ready-made and personally designed garments. Sewing tips can help you plan buttonholes and sew the buttons on securely.

Novelty buttons are a special category of sewing and fashion accessory. They personalize your garments, and add fun and fashion impact to a design. They also require some special handling because they are often made of unusual materials or have special shapes. If you decide you would like to add novelty buttons to a garment you are making or to an existing garment, there are some special issues you need to consider.

What kind of material is the button made of?

Is the button washable or will it require special handling? Novelty buttons are made of a variety of materials including metal, leather, glass and shell. Sometimes these buttons are hand-painted and they may even include photos or other sensitive materials. They may break, become damaged or lose their shape in a washer and dryer. Many buttons are made of materials that may be damaged even by the dry cleaning process. Such buttons need to be sewed on in such a way that they can easily be removed when the garment is cleaned. They must be sewed on securely enough that they do not fall off, but not so securely that they cannot be removed without damaging the garment.

What is the shape of the button?

If it is an unusual shape, such as an animal or a team insignia, it may not fit in a conventional buttonhole. Such a button will require a special buttonhole that may be angled rather than straight up and down or horizontal to keep the garment from popping open. If it replaces a more conventional button and has a conventional buttonhole, the existing buttonhole may need to be extended or sewn shut to fit the novelty button properly. Round buttons present special problems because they easily come undone. If you are making a garment with a front closure that uses round buttons, consider adding loop closures rather than conventional buttonholes. Loop closures are more likely to hold round buttons securely.

What purpose does the button serve?

Is the button purely decorative or does it actually hold the garment closed or in place? If you are replacing buttons that provide structural support to an existing garment, make sure that the new buttons will provide the same support. No matter how attractive the new buttons are, if the garment won't stay closed in a critical area they are not an improvement. If you are making a new garment and wish to use novelty buttons, you may choose to use hidden buttons or snaps for structural support and sew the novelty buttons on top as a decorative element.

Here are a few more tips for working with fashion buttons.

Buttonhole size is important. If you are designing a garment, chose the buttons you intend to use before you plan your buttonholes. Don't confuse button size with buttonhole size. The buttonhole size is the distance around the outside of the button divided in half plus 1/16th inch. This size allows the button to slip through easily. If the button is ball shaped, square or oddly shaped it will be harder to determine the button hole size. You may want to make a sample buttonhole out of a scrap of fabric and test it on the button to see how well it works. Remember that it is easier to make a large buttonhole smaller than it is to make a small buttonhole larger. If the buttonhole is too big you can tighten it by sewing it shut a fraction of an inch at one end.

Button thickness is important. A thin button on a thick garment won't be strong enough to hold the garment shut. A thick button on a thin garment will sag and pull. If the button has a shank, the shank size is part of the total thickness of the button. If the garment is ready-made, the buttons that originally came with it may not be the correct size for the buttonholes. If the garment doesn't stay closed or is difficult to button, the buttons are probably the wrong size. If the button you want to use is smaller but thicker than the original button, it may still fit the original buttonhole. If it is thinner and larger it may also work. You will want to test such buttons and their buttonholes carefully to make sure that they really work.

The button should match the fabric of the garment on which it will be used. For example, a leather button will not go well with a satin dress. A heavy rhinestone button may snag, tear or strain a delicate fabric. A very large button can also create problems because of its size and weight. If you are determined to use a difficult button on your garment, remember that you can sew it on as a surface ornament rather than a structural element.

Think carefully about where you are going to place decorative buttons. Try pinning the buttons in place before you make the buttonholes and sew the buttons on. Do you want to draw attention to the area where the button is placed? If you do not wish to emphasize the area, consider placing the button where you do want the viewer's eye to look.

To sew a button on securely, thread a needle with good quality thread. Use a double strand approximately 12 " long after it is doubled, and knot the two ends together. Start sewing under the spot where the button will be, and place a small lifter such as a pin or toothpick under the button to give it a little ease. This makes sure that the sewing is not too tight to fit through the buttonhole. Sew through the holes 3-4 times and then wrap the thread around the strands under the button in a figure eight to reinforce and create a shank. If the button has a shank already, use a smaller lifter. When the button is securely attached, bring the thread to the back of the cloth, sew a knot and trim the end of the thread.

You will find that novelty buttons are fun to work with and are worth the time and attention to detail they may require. Novelty buttons add interest and drama to your clothing and give ready-made garments a personalized look.

© High Speed Ventures 2011