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Button Sewing Basics

dressmaking sewing techniques

In this beginner’s sewing technique blog post, you will learn how to sew a button by hand and how to sew a buttonhole with a sewing machine. If you’re new to dressmaking or sewing more generally, these are two good techniques to master and sewing author, Emma Hardy, is a brilliant teacher. Taken from her book, Learn to Sew, these button-sewing tutorials will take through the techniques one step at a time and illustrations are included to help explain. Any questions? Comment below or get in touch on Twitter and we'll be happy to help!

Hand-stitching buttons

Sewing on a button step 1 

  1. Mark the place where you want the button to go. Push the needle up from the back of the fabric and sew a few stitches over and over in this place.

Sewing on button step 2 

  1. Now bring the needle up through one of the holes in the button. Push the needle back down through the second hole and through the fabric. Bring it back up through the first hole. Repeat this five or six times. If there are four holes in the button, use all four of them to make a cross pattern. Make sure that you keep the stitches close together under the middle of the button.
  1. Finish with a few small stitches over and over on the back of the fabric and trim the thread. 

Buttons on the floor

Machine-stitching buttonholes

Most modern machines have built-in mechanisms that stitch buttonholes either semi-automatically or fully automatically, so there is no need for you to change the needle position or to pivot your fabric manually. However, older sewing machines may ask you to hand-guide the buttonhole, so please check your manual.

Working a semi-automatic buttonhole

A semi-automatic buttonhole foot has a gauge down the left-hand side to measure the buttonhole length. The length of the buttonhole for either a sew-through button or a shank button is determined by the diameter and height of the button. Add them together, then add an extra ⅛in. (3mm), which allows for the bar tacks at each end. Before stitching you will need to mark your buttonhole position and move the slide so that the lower mark on the slider is even with the start of the buttonhole marking on your garment. Draw both threads to the left under the foot.

Machine sewing a buttonhole step 1

  1. Set your machine to the first stage of the buttonhole; you may have to turn your stitch selector or press a memory button on your machine to stitch each part of the buttonhole, so check your manual. Start the stitching—the machine will make the first bar tack (the end stitching across the whole width of the buttonhole). Stitch backward up the left-hand side of the buttonhole, stopping at the top mark.

Machine sewing a buttonhole step 2 

  1. Press the memory button or move your dial to stitch the next bar tack.

Machine sewing a buttonhole step 3 

  1. Finally, stitch down the remaining side of the buttonhole.

Machine sewing a buttonhole step 4 

  1. Place a pin at each end of the buttonhole just before the bar tacks, to protect them. Using a seam ripper, carefully slit down the center of the buttonhole between the pins.


For more beginner's sewing tutorials and some simple projects to practice your skills, check out Learn to Sew by Emma Hardy, or try your hand at dressmaking with the brilliant book, A Beginner's Guide to Making Skirts by Wendy Ward.

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