Sewing on Buttons with a Sewing Machine

We Carry
by Sara Snuggerud in Foot of the Month

Sewing on buttons has long been relegated to doing by hand. And if there was one thing anyone hoped to learn from the “Home Ec” or “Living Skills” class during school years, was to be able to sew on a button. Seldom, even if there were sewing machines in the classroom, was anyone taught that it could be done with the machine; it was one thing that was always done by hand.

Bernina Button sew-on Foot #18:

The central pin can be adjusted for a longer or shorter thread shank, or moved out of the way so that the stitch does not form over it at all.

Bernina 18 Foot - Sewing on Buttons

Husqvarna Viking Button Foot:

Raises the foot slightly off the fabric, has a Retractable Thread Shank Guide that is adjustable, and comes with a button placement tool.

Husqvarna Viking Retractable Thread Shank Guide - Sewing on Buttons

Janome Button Sewing Foot: has the blue rubber toes to hold the button in place. There is a button shank plate available to create the thread shank.

Janome Button Sewing Foot - Sewing on Buttons

There may be two exceptions to the top statement, and one in particular is about the kind of button. But first, when I took sewing in High School it was so long ago that the classroom machines only did straight stitch and we had to sew buttons by hand. If you today have a machine that only will do straight stitch, you too will only be able to sew buttons on by hand. When the zigzag feature was added, there were so many more techniques we could do with the machines, including sewing on buttons.

The other exception is that a button which has a shank rather than “eyes” must be sewn by hand. There are few things that have to be done by hand today, but this is one. Sewing machines with their array of features and accessories can for the most part do it all, and yes, they can sew on the buttons that have the holes.

Sewing on buttons by machine is still not a well known technique. After teaching hundreds of people about their new machines, most of them have never known that it could be done, and upon learning it is one of the greatest sources of amazement.

Sewing on Buttons Project Sample

Buttons can be sewn with a very simple medium width zigzag stitch, but what makes button sewing easiest is having the foot that is specially designed to hold the button in place. Another thing is that the feed dogs on the machine must be disabled, either lowered to the “darning” position or covered with a plate that comes with the machines which the feed dogs cannot be lowered. The plate may reduce the space under the foot needed for thicker buttons.

Sewing on Buttons Project Sample 2

The button sew-on foot looks small compared to all other feet, because the “toes” are very short but long enough to sit on the button and hold it in place. This is very handy when working with small things that need to be tacked on. For some machines the toes are a distinctive blue color and are rubbery which helps grip the button. The button can be easily placed underneath and aligned so the needle will go through each hole. Turn the hand wheel by hand to make sure the needle goes into both holes before using the foot control. The actual sewing is about 8-10 zigzag stitches.

Sewing on Buttons Project Sample 3

Some machines have a built-in button sewing stitch which has tie-off stitches so the threads stay secure. If your machine only does zigzag a way to secure the threads is to leave the bobbin thread several inches long, beginning and end, and tie these two in a knot, then they can be trimmed close. The top thread can also be cut short and it will be secure. Use a seam sealant for extra security.

Sewing on Buttons Project Sample 4

Some machine manufacturers add another feature to the button sew-on foot to create a thread shank. It is a little pin that is slightly above the button and centered between the eyes. As the needle is hopping from eye to eye the thread is forming the stitch over this pin. When it is finished there is now a thread shank and a small space between the button and the fabric so the buttonhole fits smoothly under the button. For the blue style of button foot there is usually a hole in which you can insert a pin and it will serve the same purpose to form the thread shank. When sewing buttons with four holes start with the two holes closest to you, stitch, then pull the button slightly towards you, realign and sew the rear two holes. That way the thread shank forms easily over the pin for both sets of eyes.

Sewing on Buttons Project Sample 5

I often get the question about different sizes of buttons and how does the machine know what size of stitch. The answer is that most buttons area created equal, meaning that the holes are the same distance apart. Some buttons may have bigger holes, but the distance between them is still the same. If you want to check this, take a small and a large button, and hold them together so the eyes align and you can look through both sets. You will see they are the same.

Now that you have the foot and technique for sewing on buttons you can apply it to other things like pants hooks, snaps, eyelets, curtain rings, charms, sequins, ribbons, anything that will go under the foot that needs to be tacked on. Check and adjust the stitch width to accommodate the spacing for what you are sewing.

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