Monday, September 24, 2012

tutorial :: sewing a button very very securely

So you've made a beautiful little baby cardigan and all it needs is five adorable buttons to finish the job.  But buttons are a choking hazard on baby clothes! Oh dear. One good solution is to use a zipper or ties instead, but if buttons are your closure of choice, you need to make sure that you sew them on for dear life (Find more tips for making great baby gifts here).

You may also be one of those knitters who loves buttons, as I do, and invests real time and money in finding beautiful and vintage buttons and buckles to finish your projects. The last thing you want is for them to fall off in the wash!

There are just as many right ways to sew buttons as there are wrong ways. This is my favorite. I begin with a visualization: the wearer of this sweater has just fallen off a cliff. The button catches on a branch, and that one little button is the only thing standing between the wearer and the abyss. Will the button hold?? The outcome is entirely up to you. Now start sewing:

Thread the needle

This may be a completely obvious step, but choose a short, thin, sharp sewing needle. Tapestry needles are much too thick to fit through most button eyes. Pull a length of thread about the length of your arm (I use polyester/cotton blend thread). Thread the needle, and pull the thread length until the two ends meet - so that your thread is doubled. 

Set up and positioning

Find the right spot for your button by laying out the garment and lining up the button bands. Then flip to the wrong side of the garment and run the needle through a short length of garment to hide your ends. I like a little extra thread end beyond a knot, but you need to hide it inside some knit stitches so that it's not hanging loose (I don't leave long ends hanging like in the example photo above - that's just to make it easier to see). 

Now knot your thread twice. To sew a knot, put the needle through a small amount of garment to make a tiny loop. Stick the needle through the loop and gently pull taut. Voila! A nice secure knot. Once you've made two of these, put your thread through to the front side. On the front side, get your position just right by running the thread through a couple of knit stitches once or twice. Then put the button into place. When you sew the button on, you will take the thread all the way through to the wrong side of the garment, and then bring it back to the front through the button's eye. 

If your button has only two eyes, then take the thread back & forth through the garment & button eyes at least 8-10 times, or more if you still have room and it doesn't look too wonky. 

If your button has four eyes, then take the thread through 6-8 times for the first half of the cross, then another 6-8 times for the second half of the cross. 

Wrapping the button firmly

Once your button is sewn into place, you will wrap it up tightly with the remaining length of thread. Bring the thread from the wrong side to the front of the button band through the button eye one last time. Now take the needle back through the button eye, but not the garment. Your thread should be sticking out from under the button, on the right side of the garment.  Wrap the thread firmly around your stitch-work about ten times. Now take the needle through to the wrong side of the garment again. On the wrong side, knot it twice and then run your needle through a few stitches to hide the thread ends.

Trim your thread ends (don't leave long tails like in my example photo), and admire your tidy, life-saving button work. I like to button up the garment after every button just to super-duper double-check the position before moving on to the next one.

Hopefully this little tutorial will make you a more confident knitter of baby garments. Do you have other tips and tricks for button sewing? Please share them in the comments! 


  1. I love your visualization! And wow, it never occurred to me that hiding thread in stitches was that easy. Thanks for this! I may not hate sewing on buttons quite so much next time :)

  2. My Mom taught me eons ago her little trick...especially with winter garments...use unwaxed dental floss - very sturdy (I also use it when mending denim....)
    ~Mary Ellen~

  3. millie, missmayflower on ravelryDecember 27, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Thanks for the great tips. Now I feel confident I can make baby clothes with buttons after all.
    This little cardi is just gorgeous. Where can we see a photo of the whole thing?

    1. Thanks Millie! You know, I don't think I ever took a good photo of the whole thing. But the Little Bee is wearing this sweater a lot these days, so hopefully I'll catch a good action shot and post it soon. Thanks for the reminder. : )

    2. Here's a photo of the whole sweater. I wasn't particularly happy with the collar, though. I think about ripping and re-knitting it every time the baby wears it!

  4. I linked to your lovely tutorial on Ravelry, when a question came up about buttons on baby sweaters. Thank you.

    I love the sweater.


  5. Thank you so much! About to do this on my crocheted baby sweater with shank buttons. Will let you know how it turns out! hope all is well in NC after Matthew.


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