How To Sew On A Button

It’s safe to say that most of us, if not all, have probably had some experience with a button coming loose on a garment. Not only can it be embarrassing if it happens in front of others but it can also shorten the useful life of a garment. You could, of course, take the garment into a tailor to have the button reattached but a simple and cost-effective solution is just learning how to reattach a button yourself.

What You Will Need…

Sewing Needles

Sewing Needle

Of course, a sewing needle is going to be your main tool. Any type of basic needle will do but generally, the slimmer the needle you have, the better for this application.

Assorted threads


In terms of thread, having about nine to twelve inches will be enough for most situations, however, if you want to double your thread over to make it stronger, doubling the amount of thread would also be necessary. Therefore, you’ll probably want about eighteen to twenty-four inches of thread in total. Ideally, you’re going to want to have a thread that matches the thread used on the garment but if you don’t have something in exactly the same color, it’s typically safe to just use a light colored thread for light garments and dark colored thread for dark ones.



Most button-up shirts will have spare buttons on the inside of the bottom front of the shirt’s placket. Most jackets and outerwear will come with some spare buttons typically in a small plastic bag inside one of the pockets and many pairs of trousers will often have a spare button on the inside of the waistband.

As another note, there are buttons with differing amounts of holes. The standard button will have four holes but you’ll also occasionally see buttons with two holes or even less commonly some other amount.

The main methods we will be illustrating today concern four-holed buttons but they could apply to buttons with different amounts of holes as well. There are also certain types of buttons that have no holes whatsoever, these are referred to as shank buttons and they require a slightly different method of sewing.

A sewing needle used as a spacer


You’re also going to want a small implement called a spacer to be placed on top of the button while sewing, this will leave a little bit of extra room between the button itself and the fabric. For your spacer, you could use another sewing needle, a matchstick, or any similarly sized tool. Some sewing kits will also come with a small metal rod that has two blunt ends, you can use this one without having to worry about poking yourself as you would if you were using a second needle.


Cutting Tool

You’re also going to need a cutting tool, this could be a pair of scissors, a pocketknife, a seam ripper, or any other sharp-edged object.

Fabric Marker

Fabric Pencil

A water-soluble marking pen, fabric pencil, or tailor’s chalk can also be helpful if you want to make a small mark on the fabric of your garment where the button is going to be located.



An optional tool here is a thimble. If you’ve ever wondered what that monopoly piece is actually for, when you’re working with thick fabric, it can sometimes be a little painful to actually push the needle all the way through. As such, you can wear a thimble on the thumb or finger that primarily does the pushing.

How To Sew On A Button Effectively

Removing a loose button

Remove The Loose Button From The Shirt

If your button is loose but still hanging on, you should use your cutting tool to take away the thread that’s still keeping the button on the shirt. A seam ripper will work best for this but you can also use a different type of cutting tool, just make sure that you’re not damaging the fabric of the shirt itself. Next, just use your cutting tool or your fingers to remove any excess old thread that still happens to be hanging on to either the button or the garment.

Needle threader

Thread Your Needle & Knot The End Of The Thread

Another optional tool you might want to have handy is a little implement called a needle threader, these will come in some sewing kits and they make the process of threading a needle much easier. If you’re just working with single thread, just pass the thread through the needle and tie a couple of simple overhand knots to make sure things are secure.

If you have doubled your thread over, you can create a knot by wrapping the thread around your forefinger several times, roll the loops that are created into a tight bundle with your thumb, then slip that bundle off of your finger. You can grip the bundled loops with one hand and tug the long end of the thread tight with the other hand, this should pull the loose bundle into a tight knot that you can work with.

Create Your Anchor Point

This is the time to make a small mark on your fabric where the button will be located if you so choose but this is optional. To create your anchor, start by looking at the back side of the fabric, run the needle through from the back side to the front then move a short distance, the distance between holes on your button and run the thread back through from the front side to the back side.

Repeat this process one more time perpendicular to the first small line of thread you created on the garment. This will create a small X where the button is going to be centered. The X is also the anchor for your thread to make sure that that doesn’t loosen up while you’re sewing.

Position The Button

Put your button on the anchor X point and begin sewing by pushing the needle from the back side through to the front side and through the hole of the button. You can place your spacer on top of the button and put the needle through the opposite hole in the button, back to the backside of the fabric. You can put a finger on the button to make sure that things are secure while you’re making your first few passes.

Using the anchoring X on the fabric as a guide, you can alternate between sets of holes or you can do one set and then the other. You can make six passes in total; three for each set of holes on the button. When the button is secured, you can remove the spacer.

Button on the collar with a shank that makes it easy to button
Button on the collar with a shank that makes it easy to button

Create The Shank

On your final pass from the backside to the front, come back up through the fabric but don’t go through one of the holes of the button. Turn the needle slightly and bring it out from underneath the button. Wrap your thread tightly around all of the threads beneath the button at least six times in total. You’ve now created a shank which will stand the button away from the fabric, this will make it easier to button your garment since the button won’t be sitting directly and tightly against the fabric. Pull to make sure things are secured here and then put the needle back through from the front side to the back side.

Secure The Thread

With both ends of your thread on the backside of the fabric, you can use your needle to make a small loop in one part of the thread. You can use the needle to guide the thread through that loop to create a knot or you can snip the thread off of the needle and just tie the knot with your fingers. Either way, it’s key to make sure that your knot is tight.

For extra security, you can always add a few more knots just to make sure things aren’t going to come loose. Cut off the excess thread on the back side of the fabric when you’re done and your button is successfully reattached to your shirt.

For Overcoats & Jackets:

These directions can be used particularly effective on shirts and trousers but jackets and overcoats are going to require some different methods that will work a little bit better.

Overcoat buttons can be sewn on in the exact same method as with shirts or trousers but sometimes, you’ll see this done with another smaller button sewn on simultaneously to the main button on the back side of the fabric. Metal buttons can also benefit from having a stay attached on the reverse, as metal buttons can be heavier or made from more valuable materials so you wouldn’t want to lose them. Also, to get metal buttons to stand up as straight as possible, you can use a waxed thread which is going to be a little bit more durable. Metal buttons are quite often shank buttons, we will cover how to sew on a shank button in a moment.

Sewing Buttons On A Suit Jacket

Sewing buttons on to a suit can be done in the same way that we’ve just outlined for shirts but it’s often done with a slightly different technique so that there’s no visible knotting on the backside of the fabric.

  • Here, you can start the same way as before by marking your button placement if you so choose, threading your needle, and making a large knot in your length of thread which should still ideally be 18 to 24 inches and doubled over for strength.
  • Next, insert your needle into the front side of the fabric about 3/4 of an inch away from your mark but stop the needle point between the layers of fabric. Don’t go all the way through to the backside. Work your needle over to the mark you created and then bring your needle point back out through the front.
  • Next, using the loop method we outlined before, create a small knot at your mark just to make sure that things are secured at this point. It’s also helpful to do this another time or two just to make sure that things are absolutely stable.
  • When knots are secured at your buttoning point, pull on the big knot, the one that you originally created with the thread to bunch up the fabric and expose some of the internal threading that’s inside the layers of the jacket. If you clip off the big knot and then release the bunched up fabric, the tails of the thread will slip in between the layers of the jacket so you won’t be able to see them. In other words, you’ve got a good amount of thread to keep the knots at yourmarking point secure but because it’s neatly inside of the jacket’s layers, you won’t see it.
  • Next, insert your needle through one of the holes in the button. Hold the button against the coat and place your spacer over the button as with the previous method. Put the thread through the button and again, in between the jacket’s layers. You’re going to repeat the sewing process without ever exiting out of the back side of the fabric. Each time you make contact with the front side of the fabric in other words, you’re just going to pick up a little bit of that fabric layer. Never go all the way through the jacket.
  • Make your six passes as before, wrap around to create the shank, insert the needle at the base of the shank, and knot a few times to secure it.
  • After knotting, put your needle in between the jacket’s layers again. Work the needle three-quarters of an inch away from the button and come out the front side again. Essentially, this is a reverse of the way we started this particular process.
  • Pull tight, clip the thread closely to the fabric and release so that your final tail of thread will also be hidden between the jacket’s layers. Now, you’ve got your button reattached to your jacket with no visible tails of thread anywhere and everything is knotted and secured.
Shank Button

Shank Buttons

As we said, a shank button differs from a standard button and then it doesn’t feature any buttonholes.

  • To sew a shank button on to a garment, start as before with 18 to 24 inches of thread, doubled and knotted. You can use less thread overall with a shank button if you wish though, as you won’t have to wrap the thread around itself to create the shank.
  • The anchor that you create on the fabric will probably be simpler here as well. Start on the back side and run through to the front.
  • Move your needle a short distance only slightly greater than the width of the shank itself and pull it through from the front to the back.
  • Move the needle back to your original point on this side and put it through from the back side to the front side. Now, your simple anchor for this style of button is done.
  • Next, run the needle through the button shank and then go through the fabric from the front side to the back side. Repeat this process several times until you feel that the button is secure against the fabric.
  • With the thread on the back side, use a simple knot or two or more to tie off the thread and then cut off the excess. You can either run the needle all the way through the fabric as we’ve just outlined or you can combine this method of sewing on a shank button with the method we outline for sewing buttons onto a jacket without going all the way through.
  • Also, you can feel free to use a stay button on the back side of the fabric with a shank button if you so choose and there you have it!

Armed with these simple sewing techniques, you should be able to attach or reattach buttons to your garments and prolong their usable life. What’s more, you won’t have to depend on a tailor in order to have this done.

Are there tips with any of these methods that you think we missed today? Do you prefer a different sewing method altogether that we didn’t mention? If so, share with us in the comments below.

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Saying #MeToo in the Push of a Button

In a downtown hotel in Chicago’s Loop, a female housekeeper is interrupted by a crowd. Hotel security staff, her housekeeping manager and the general manager are standing at the door.

Much to their surprise, she was safe—but they had come upstairs because she had inadvertently, while tidying the room, pressed her new “panic button.” (She keeps the small, “Life Alert”-like device, connected to the hotel’s communication system, in her pants pocket.)

Hotel workers successfully passed legislation for “panic buttons” in the wake of reports of widespread sexual harassment on-the-job. (Charles Edward Miller / Creative Commons)

Last October, the Chicago City Council passed the “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance with unanimous approval, mandating that hotels supply housekeepers with these portable devices. The new panic buttons are meant to protect anyone working alone in a room from sexual misconduct by hotel guests.

“You never know knocking on one of those doors what’s going to be on the other side of that door,” says Latonia, a housekeeper at a Chicago hotel who has been working in the industry for 17 years. “We witnessed it all. We saw it all.”

Unite Here Local 1, a Chicago labor union primarily representing women of color, proposed the legislation after releasing a report detailing that 49 percent of surveyed Chicagoland housekeepers “have had guest(s) expose themselves, flash them or answer the door naked,” and that 58 percent had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment—a stark number, especially in comparison to women working outside of the service industry.

“One of the issues that we had asked people about was what would make them feel safer at work, and 96 percent of the housekeepers we surveyed said a panic button,” says Sarah Lyons, research analyst for Unite Here Local 1. “We needed an industrywide solution.”

The fight to implement such precautionary measures has been a long journey for women like Latonia, who are completely alone for most of their working hours, but is gaining pace across the country. Chicago became only the second city in the United States to pass a panic button ordinance in 2017, one year after Seattle did the same. But in 2018, hotel employees in the California cities of Oakland and Long Beach followed suit, and fought to pass “Measure Z” and “Measure WW”—which would not only provide panic buttons to hotel housekeepers but also create new minimum wage standards, enforce safer workloads and prevent forced overtime.

Oakland voters passed the measure after a local survey showed that guests had exposed themselves to over half of hotel workers there, and that 25 percent had been threatened by a male guest. Irma, a local housekeeper who was a leading force in the movement, says she supported the measure to prevent sexual harassment, and to fight against the “complete lack of respect” for her work. Though her hotel has yet to incorporate the buttons, she is expecting the implementation by early July 2019.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement—and the TIME declaration that “Silence Breakers” including hotel workers were the Persons of the Year—large corporate chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts have also announced their intentions to roll panic buttons out nationwide by 2020, accompanied by mandatory new policies, education and training around sexual harassment.

Their intentions, however, don’t signal quite the sea change hotel workers are waiting for. Unite Here Local 8 in Seattle faced down a strategic campaign by the hotel industry to discourage the passage of their ballot initiative—and are currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by industry actors, including the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which announced a partnership in September with the corporations now declaring widespread support for the devices. Some hotels also resisted the ordinance’s goals by implementing low-grade buttons or not installing them at all.

“Certainly the industry was not always a willing collaborator in these efforts,” Abby Lawlor, the union’s strategic researcher, told Ms., “and I think in a lot of ways still aren’t.” Unite Here Local 8 continues to fight not only for the buttons but also anti-harassment measures beyond the buttons, including the right to be assigned to another hotel location and legal repercussions for perpetrators. “Panic buttons are a start,” Lawlor noted, “but they are in no way near the full extent of what folks need.”

In addition to occasional false alarms, implementation of the buttons requires high costs of installment and trainings for workers. Some large hotel chains expressed discontent over Chicago’s short timeframe for implementation and disagreed with stipulations that required anyone working alone in a room with a guest to carry a button. “I know that a lot of companies are not going to like it,” Irma told Ms., “because it’s not going to just cost time, but it’s also going to cost them money.”

Yet other hotels have supported these measures wholeheartedly. “You don’t ever put a price on your employees’ safety and comfort,” Mitch Langeler, vice president of talent and culture at SMASHotels in Chicago, told Ms. “You want people to come to work and not have to worry that they’re going to get help if they need it.”

According to Latonia, all of Chicago’s 26 unionized downtown hotels have also recognized the importance of their workers’ safety and implemented the buttons in time, primarily due to the activist efforts of their unionized workers. When asked about her own hotel’s management, she submitted an ideal report: “We haven’t had any backlash.” Even though nobody has needed to use the buttons thus far at her hotel, the devices seem to be working properly in all test runs and false alarms.

Workers at non-union hotels, however, faced more pushback. “There were some challenges,” Karla Altmayer, the co-founder and co-director of Healing to Action, which trains Chicago service workers on workplace gender-based violence, told Ms., “with employers saying, ‘I’m going to charge you for the button if you break it,’ or, ‘only women wear the button, men don’t have to’ or, ‘you’ll be fired if you use it.’ That’s where I think you really get to see the power of the collective. We’re not going to tolerate that.”

For Latonia, this “power of the collective,” especially in the form of a local union, is the source of much of her recent pride as an organizer and shop steward for Local 1. “That’s where it all started,” she says, discussing the long fight to pass “Hands Off Pants On”—which began as part of a conversation proposed by Unite Here at her hotel’s morning housekeeper meeting. “It’s been a long journey, and it was worth it,” she told Ms. “I wouldn’t change anything.”

But her fight is also far from over. Local 1 led citywide strikes in September, after the measure passed, that culminated in 16 hotels reaching a deal with their workers for year-round health insurance and improved work conditions—the next logical step for women like Latonia intent on building equitable workplaces. Altmayer also told Ms. that she hopes the next fight for Chicago will be expanding these protections and improved work contracts to smaller businesses, where she says the “most rampant” sexual violence occurs.

Although recent successes for workers like Irma and Latonia are being credited to the #MeToo movement, many of the women fighting for such reforms were doing so long before news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct made headlines—and their work has also been devoted to centering the experiences of low-income women and women of color.

If time’s (finally) up on hotel guest sex harassment, it’s because of the years of leadership of working-class women of color, and Altmayer hopes their leadership will shape the movement that has now amplified their voices. “I do think that there’s still an opportunity for centering this work in the voices of workers most impacted,” she told Ms., “who are doing really creative initiatives to address gender-based violence in their communities.”

Brock Colyar is a contributor at Ms. He is currently a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where he founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and serves as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of his spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)

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