Mending: Replacing a Button with a Shank

I really dislike today’s “throw away society”, and would rather utilize the depression era philosophy of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”.  Especially when it comes to clothes.  There are so many times that a simple mending repair can breathe new life into a garment!

Mending How to Replace a Shank Button ~ A step by step picture tutorial

In the past I’ve talked about how to create your basic sewing kit, and how to put together a quick mending kit that you can keep in the laundry room for quick repairs.  I’ve tackled a couple of basic mending tasks that everyone runs into sooner or later–replacing a basic two or four hole button and replacing a hook and eye.  Today I’m going to show you how to replace a button that has a shank.

My favorite sweater for every day wear is a gorgeous Irish wool fisherman knit cardigan that my grandmother gave me.  It’s just toasty warm during the winter in my rather cool house.  It’s oatmeal color goes with everything, and it has nice deep pockets.  I wear it to DEATH in the winter.  So much so that I finally popped off one of the buttons–the shank was still attached to the sweater, but the top of the button flew off.  Time for new buttons!

Shank Button Replacement 1

I took the button to the fabric store and of course I couldn’t match it exactly.  I was able to find the same style of faux leather wrapped shank button–but it was several shades lighter then the original buttons.  Plus a couple of the other buttons were starting to look pretty terrible (note the brown rubbing off of the one in the picture above)–so that meant I needed to replace all 5 buttons.  They came 2 buttons to a card for $3 each–so this is a nine dollar repair.  Which isn’t bad when you figure that the sweater is probably worth a minimum of $40 dollars (and knowing my grandmother, probably much more).  If money had been tight, I could have used a different style of shank button that was cheaper, or I could have gone with a larger sized 4 hole button and sort of created my own shank out of thread.

note: There is a great tutorial on Gail Patrice Design blog on how to create your own shank for a button from thread, a small button or a bead.

My other materials were thread (I used upholstery thread I already had in the right color for additional strength.  Another great option is buttonhole thread) and scissors or a seam ripper.

note: Please remember, I’m not a particularly awesome seamstress or anything.  This is just how I make repairs.  It is possible, even probable, that there are better ways and neater tricks to doing all this.  However my way does get the job done!

Sewing on a shank button 2

First remove the old button and thread.  I threw all caution to the wind and just used my scissors extremely carefully–honestly a seam ripper would have been safer, especially with a knit.  If you cut the fabric below the button you are going to create weakness and your repair might actually rip out eventually, leaving a hole!

Sewing on a shank button  3

Once the old button was removed I flipped the fabric over and took a couple of small stiches with my needle and thread on the wrong side of the fabric using the placement of the old button as a guide.  I wanted to have a good strong base for what I was doing on this stretchy and somewhat loose knit.  If I was doing this repair on a regular woven fabric–say something like a wool coat or a blazer–I probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Sewing on a shank button 4

I brought the thread through to the right side of the fabric, slid the button shank on, and then pushed the needle back through.  I’m sort of stopping mid step in this photo so you can see what I’m doing.  Now you simply stitch through the fabric and the button several times.  I tried to spread my stitches out a tiny bit so it was more of 4 or 5 stiches right next to each other instead of 4 or 5 stiches all coming through the same hole.  It just seemed a bit more secure on the knit fabric.

Sewing on a shank button  6

Now to add some additional strength I did a thread wrap.  I brought the needle up to the right side of the fabric, but instead of going through the button I wrapped the thread a couple of times around the stiches I already made.  Then I went down through the fabric, back up and through the button hole as normal.

Sewing on a shank button 5

Finally I brought the needle through to the back of the fabric, took a small stich and then tied my knot.

Sewing on a shank button  7

Tada!  New shank button!  I’ve heard that some folks use a bit of clear nailpolish over the thread for some extra strength, but I haven’t tried it and can’t comment on it.

Sewing on a shank button 8

Just repeat on all your remaining buttons.  And remember–don’t throw away any serviceable buttons that you remove, toss them in your button jar.  You never know when you might need to do a repair that calls for just one or two shank buttons.  Actually, any time you are actually going to throw out (don’t do this if you are donating it!) a garment that still has serviceable buttons on it, you really should take a moment and remove the buttons to toss them in your button jar.  You never know when you’ll need that button for a repair or even a craft project!

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  1. Amyrlin says

    Amazing how a small little investment created another lifetime of use! When I completed back to school shopping for my children I have them try on all of their clothes as they grow very fast. Often my son has button issues on his shorts in particular, so I buy a 8 pack of plain black buttons and replace them all, then we get more life out of the clothing. I also replace shoelaces as that is what my kids tend to wear out before they grow out of the shoes. A little investment goes a long way.

  2. Deborah Aldridge says

    Awesome tutorial! You know how much like you I am. I’d much rather fix something that buy a new one.
    In that vein, I have a set of copper-bottom pots. My roommate burned one of them and it bubbled on the bottom. I thought it was ruined, but I took a small tack hammer and wood block, hammered the bubbles down, polished the bottom and inside, and VOILA! Almost like new. If you had seen how horrible it looked at first, you would never know it is the same pot.

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