Mending: Replacing / Reattaching a Button

I’m going to be adding some mending tutorials over the next few months here at Frugal Upstate.  While sewing from scratch can be expensive (seriously–check out the price of fabric!) and takes a bit of skill/practice. . . most mending is pretty easy to do and very cost effective.   All you need to have on hand is a basic mending kit and you can really do a lot!

sewing and mending supplies

And now on to the mending!

How to Replace or Reattach a Missing Button

Replace or Sew on a Missing ButtonSo one of my comfy spring sweaters was missing a button–the second to the bottom one.  In order to continue wearing the sweater I needed to fix that!

I had no idea when or where the original button had popped off.  Luckily this was a higher quality sweater–LL Bean to be exact–and the sweater was helpfully made with an extra button sewn into the side seam for just this reason.

TIP:  If you lose a button on a shirt or sweater, check the inside seams to see if it came with an extra

TIP:  If your shirt or sweater comes with an extra button attached to the product tag or in a little envelope–write what the item is on that tag or envelope and keep it in your sewing kit, maybe in a jar or a bag, so you can find it later!

TIP:  If you lose a button, can’t find it and there is no replacement don’t despair–just replace ALL the buttons with a style that looks good with the item.  You can probably buy enough buttons to fix the item for just a couple of dollars.   Just be sure you get something the same size (I like to bring one of the buttons from the item along with me) or your buttonholes might not work!

I carefully detached the button using my seam ripper and making sure not to clip any of the actual seam holding the sweater together–I don’t want to make more mending for myself.

Now it’s time to thread up.  I like to use actual button thread when sewing buttons.  Yeah-it sounds obvious, but many people don’t have button thread on hand.  As you can see in this picture–button thread is thicker and therefore stronger.  Buttons by their nature have a lot of chaffing and movement put on the thread.  That’s why you break threads and lose them in the first place.  Using a stronger thread means your mending job will last longer.  I really need to just go through this sweater and resew on ALL the buttons–some of the others are looking pretty loose!

So I threaded a good sized length into my needle and tied a knot in the end.  I was taught to sew using double thread and always tying a knot–some folks will use a single thread (ie a small tail on one side and the long length on the other).  That’s fine if you like to do it that way.  Some folks also don’t bother tying a knot.  After the first couple of passes/stitches your thread is probably in there pretty firmly anyway.  Despite all that I do it the way I always have with a knot.  I use this method to tie a knot (except I usuall wrap 3 or 4 times-I’ll have to try it with just the one!):

So now you have to figure out where to place your button.  Placement is important because you want the front of your sweater (or shirt or whatever) to lie nice and flat when you button it closed.  You’ve got a bit of leeway–but if you place the button a half inch too high or low, you are going to have obvious pulling and bubbling!  On this particular sweater it is easy to figure because the original yarn is still sticking out from where the button was.  On a dress shirt or other regular woven fabric the fibers will frequently still show small holes where the thread was stitched through, which is helpful.  If there is nothing to go off off, just lay the item flat, button up the other buttons and see where the button hole falls and then mark it with sewing chalk, a pin etc.

I removed the leftover thread pieces and poked my needle up through exactly where the button needed to go.

Next I just slid the button down on to the needle, pulled it through and then sewed some loops up and down through the fabric.

TIP:  Take a look at the other buttons on your garment and see how they are sewn on so you can match them.  If it’s a 2 hole button, does the thread look like it’s going up and down on the face of the button (vertically like an I) or does it go side to side (horizontally like a minus sign).  If it’s a 4 hole button, does the thread make an X or an =. . . and if it’s an = are they horizontal or vertical? You want your repair to match the rest!

Once you’ve gone through several times and your button is pretty secure you may want to do a thread “wrap”.  Again, some folks do not do this step, but it was how I was taught.  You simply bring the needle up but do NOT put it through the button-angle it.

Then you wrap your thread around under the button several times.  You are basically wrapping thread around the stitches you’ve already made between where they come out of the fabric and the underside of the button.  This strengthens your stitching and it helps sort of raise the button off the fabric a tiny bit, almost creating a bit of a shank.  This helps make it easier to button (gives you some room to slip the button into the buttonhole) and give some more strength where the rubbing and chaffing of the thread will occur.

Then you bring the needle back up through the button hole and do a few more stitches to make sure it’s all together.

Now it’s time to “Tie Off” your thread.  End your sewing with your needle on the wrong side of your fabric.  Take a small stitch and pull it tight.

Next take another small stitch but don’t pull it until it’s all the way tight-leave a small loop.

Feed your needle back through that small loop.  What you want to do next is to tighten down that loop but leave the NEW loop you’ve just created so that you can do the whole thing one more time.  I do this buy pulling on the thread as you see above.

Repeat and then pull the entire thing tight.

Clip it with a very short tail, and tada! You are done!
Don’t worry-this whole tying off thing is easier than it sounds. Here’s a video:

So what do you think? Do you feel confident now about sewing on a button?

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  1. Catherine says

    Great tutorial. Mending is definitely part of my frugal skill set. I think I have picked up a few new tricks for the next time I sew on a button. Sometimes it feels like I do one button a week around here. We are very tough on our clothes & pants from Kmart tend to fall apart at the seems…. on the plus side, after I fix them once they stay together!

    • says

      Catherine–It’s true, mending should be on every frugal family’s skill list! And it is funny how our repairs are frequently stronger than the originals :) Glad you found some new tricks to help next time you tackle a button. . .

  2. Kristin says

    This is great! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Buttons I can do…it’s the more complicated stuff I am not so good at. Thanks!

    • says

      Kristin-glad you enjoyed it! I’m going to tackle some of the simple tasks, and then I’m going to try a few more complicated things like darning socks and repairing tears that are not on a seam. . . we’ll all be learning together!

    • says

      It’s probably a good idea for you to keep a variety of common button sizes on hand :) Sometimes you can get cheap sets of buttons in a single color in 2 or 3 sizes–like a little bag or case full of them–I picked up black, white and blue myself so I can make those kind of kiddo repairs without having to head to the store :)


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