Sewing machines can do lots of things, but perhaps you haven’t exhausted all the possibilities yet. Attaching buttons by machine is not only fast, but secure as well. Any flat button with holes will work for this process.
To prepare the machine, lower or otherwise deactivate the feed dogs–those teeth under the presser foot that normally move the fabric along. For button sewing, you don’t want anything to move–just let the machine stitch in one place. Some machines have a plate to cover the feed dogs; others allow you to actually lower the teeth. Check your manual for your model’s strategy.
Buttons can be sewn on with Dual Duty XP All-Purpose thread or with larger weights of thread like Jeans, Denim or XP Heavy where more strength is needed. For a decorative look, consider a multi-color cotton or polyester embroidery thread. Select a needle size compatible with the thread weight.
If your machine has a button foot, install it. A button foot has open toes in the front, and may have a non-slip coating to keep the button in place. Some button feet have a center pin to help create a thread shank (to button through thick fabrics)—the pin is usually removable or can be tilted upward in the event no thread shank is needed.
Other button feet have a raised clamp to hold the button while stitching.
If you don’t own a button foot, use a zigzag foot and slide a toothpick between the holes to make a thread shank as you stitch; remove it when stitching is complete.
Mark the button location on the fabric right side. Place the button under the foot and lower it. If the button doesn’t stay in place, use a strip of tape to hold it in place. You can stitch through the tape and peel it off later.
Align the needle with one hole in the button and stitch in place to anchor the threads. Then, change the machine setting to a zigzag, double checking that the stitch width lines up with the button hole spacing. Turn the handwheel once or twice to check alignment. Stitch back and forth about 6 times to secure the button. If your button has four holes, raise the presser foot and move to the next set of holes and repeat the zigzag stitching.
To anchor, set the machine back to straight stitching and stitch in one hole several times. Trim the threads and remove the project from the machine, sliding it off the shank maker. If you used a toothpick and/or tape, remove it.
This same process can be used to attach large snaps, trouser hook-and-eye sets, or sew-on magnetic fasteners flat to the fabric—just span the holes with the zigzag stitch.
Here is a video showing just how easy it is to sew on a button by machine.
About the Author
Linda Griepentrog is a writer, editor and designer who lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband (a long arm quilter) and dog, Frank. She loves all things fabric! Linda also leads fabric shopping tours to Hong Kong. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.