Sewing Tips: Sewing On Vintage Buttons

Learn how to sew your collectible buttons on to clothing and fabric designs to enhance your wardrobe and home decor.

Vintage buttons are one of the most fascinating and accessible items to collect. All kinds of buttons are available for sale on the Internet. The prices are not cheap but they are within the range of possibility for most of us. If the buttons came to you without their original packaging, you may want to display them by sewing them on to a garment or a decorative piece such as a pillow or wall hanging.

The type of button and the use you choose determines how you want to sew them on. If you're using them on a garment consider how the garment will be cleaned. You may want to sew them on so that they're secure enough not to get lost but can easily be removed. If you're sewing them onto a pillow or a wall hanging cleaning is less of an issue.

There are many types of vintage buttons. Freshwater mussel and carved shell buttons are quite tough. Mussel and shell buttons sometimes lose their sheen with age and wear and you can refresh them by washing off any dirt with a little shampoo. Rinse and let them dry, brush them lightly with a little mineral oil and polish them gently with a soft cloth.

You can now sew them onto the garment permanently. They will easily stand up to hand washing. Dry the garment by hanging it up. An iron will not harm shell buttons. Glass buttons are also quite strong and can be washed by hand and air dried as long as they are handled gently and are not crushed or scratched.

Buttons made of vintage materials such as leather, celluloid, and synthetic or real pearl are delicate. They may not survive washing or chemical processes such as dry cleaning. These buttons should be sewn on so that they can be removed before cleaning or washing the garment to which they are attached. Set aside a special place to put the buttons and sew them on again when the garment is clean.

To sew buttons on, the same basic techniques apply whether the attachment is temporary or permanent. Always sew vintage buttons on by hand rather than with a machine. Many vintage buttons have a shank rather than holes through the surface of the button. If the button has holes you will be making a thread shank. To remove the button you will simply cut the thread shank.



Thread your needle with good quality thread that matches either the button or the fabric. Your color choice will depend on whether thread color is serving as a design element. Knot the thread so that you are sewing with both strands and sew a stitch or two into the back of the fabric behind where the button will go.

If the button has a shank, sew through the shank three or four times and then anchor the stitching on the back of the fabric again with a stitch or two. If you will be removing the button don't sew too tightly. You'll want the thread to be loose enough that it can be cut without cutting the fabric to which the button is sewn. Knot the thread again by wrapping the thread around the needle and sewing another stitch through the fabric, and you are done.

If the button has 2 to 4 holes rather than a shank, thread the needle and follow the same initial technique of putting a stitch or two through the back of the fabric to create a base for the button. You will create the thread shank for the button by holding a toothpick or a match across the top of the button to create enough ease for the shank. This toothpick or match should be the same thickness as the buttonhole through which the button passes so that the button sits on the surface of the fabric without pulling.

Sew through the holes, making sure that the thread passes over the toothpick each time. If there are four holes you can sew a variety of patterns, such as a x or two parallel lines, or even a square. Just make sure that each stitch goes over the toothpick. Once you have three strands of thread going through each hole, bring the needle through from the back of the fabric without going through the holes of the button. Instead, wrap the thread around the shank three times and then sew through to the back of the fabric. Then anchor the thread with a final stitch and a knot as described above.

If you are using the button as an ornament rather a functional element, you don't need a buttonhole. Just sew the button directly on to the fabric. If the fabric is thin put an extra scrap on the back and sew through both as reinforcement. You won't need to make a shank for a holed button, but again, make sure you sew it just loosely enough that you can remove it easily without damaging the fabric to which it is attached.

If you have a garment which calls for more buttons than you have you can redesign the garment to feature your vintage buttons. A blouse that opens down the front can be sewed together up most of the front. Then the vintage buttons can be arranged at the top as decorative rather than construction elements. Or you can include one of a kind buttons as part of a quilted or embroidered design.

Your imagination is the only limit. Remember to treat your vintage buttons gently so that a washer or dryer doesn't damage them. Sew them on securely so they don't get lost. Your treasures can enhance your wardrobe or the d├ęcor of your home.

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