One of the most frequently lost buttons are pants buttons. Replacing them may seem an easy task at first glance. But it can be frustrating, resulting in stabbed fingers or a button quickly lost again if not sewn correctly. Here are some step-by-step instructions for four-holed buttons to guide you in learning this important sewing skill.
How To Hand Sew a Button On Pants
1. Use the right button.
Pants buttons are often a bit heavier than other kinds of buttons. They take more strain from normal movements simply by being located at the body’s fulcrum.
For this reason, you need to make sure you use a button suited for the purpose. If the original button has come off from loosened threads, you can reuse it. If the button itself was broken, try to match it as closely as possible.
If the button was lost and you don’t remember what it looked like, choose a new button that is strong enough to hold. Jeans often require a metal button. Dress pants use lighter buttons, but don’t use one that is too thin.
2. Prepare the fabric.
If the pants button broke and the threads remain in the fabric, these will need to be removed with snippers or a seam ripper before you can sew on a new button. It is often easy to see exactly where the button was located, even if no threads remain. But if there is no visible mark from the previous thread, You will need to hold the pants together and mark through the buttonhole to place the button properly.
3. Repair any holes or tears.
You will need to make any needed repairs to the fabric before replacing a button. Some fabrics will fray quickly without immediate attention. Many jeans have a factory-installed rivet style button. If you lose one and don’t have the tools to replace it with a similar button, you’ll need to patch the hole before sewing on a regular button.
I keep scraps of dearly departed jeans for use as patches for denim. Place a small piece of similar-weight fabric behind any tear or hole and zigzag over it a few times with your machine. Then trim away any excess fabric on the backside.
Other options are to place a small iron-on patch on the backside to reinforce the hole or hand sew a piece of matching fabric there. Whatever you choose, you must patch the hole whether or not you’re placing your new button in the same location.
4. Choose the right tools.
When replacing a button or sewing a new garment button, it’s important to choose the right thread. For lighter, non-jean garments, choose a thread that will match either the fabric or the button. If the pants are part of a suit or clothing set, match the thread used for buttons on the jacket or other pieces.
Jean buttons are usually sewed with the same color, heavy thread used for the hems and side overstitching. Be sure you choose a needle heavy enough and having a large enough eye to accommodate the thread. And don’t forget your thimble for this project.
5. Tips for threading the needle.
When replacing jean buttons, thread your needle with a single strand of heavy thread 18-24 inches long. Then knot the ends together for a double strand. More than that will make pushing the thread through the fabric difficult.
However, your sewing project will go more quickly if you use a double strand of thread for other types of buttons. By threading your needle with a double strand and knotting the ends together, you will actually be pulling four threads through at once. So you will only need to go through each hole 2-3 times before there’s plenty of thread to hold the button securely.
6. Tie a secure knot.
Failure to use secure knots at either the beginning or end of sewing on a button is a major reason for buttons to work loose and fall off. So make sure you know how to tie a secure knot in your thread ends before you start.
I have found that the loose weave of some fabrics can also create a problem with knots pulling through and loosening no matter how carefully you tie your thread. If you think you may be dealing with this issue, try this fix: catch a few threads on the backside of your fabric and tie your thread off to them as if you were finishing the project. Then pull the needle through to the front and sew the button on normally. That extra knot will anchor the thread into the fabric itself, preventing it from pulling through.
7. Two ways to sew on four-hole buttons.
Four-hole buttons are usually sewn on using one of two main patterns. An “X”-shaped pattern is for jeans or other heavier fabrics. This is considered a more “masculine” pattern. The second most common is the “=” pattern, two parallel stitches, considered a more “feminine” pattern. Most pants buttons use the “X” pattern for extra stability.
If you are reattaching a button, usually the same pattern is used as was used previously. But this is totally your call. If you feel the previous pattern was not secure enough to endure or was too stressful and broke through the button, change it.
There are also two different ways of attaching the buttons to the fabric. The most traditional is to sew straight through the button and fabric, back to front, then front to back. The main problem with this method is lining up the needle to easily go from the back of the fabric through the buttonhole to the front.
I have found one way to help guide the needle to the desired buttonhole. Line up your thumbnail with the edge of the hole you’re aiming for. Be careful not to cover the hole with your thumbnail, or you may get stabbed. I don’t know why this works. But with my thumb as a guide, I am much more likely to find the buttonhole than if I randomly jab the needle in that general direction. Seriously, try it.
The other way of attaching the button works better for lighter fabric. Sew directly from one hole to the next under the button without pulling the thread through to the backside. This may make the button looser. A little loose is okay, but not too much. You’ll see why in step nine.
8. How thick should the thread be?
By looking at other buttons in your wardrobe, you can see examples of how much thread is required to secure a button to your pants. The number of times you pass through each buttonhole will depend on the type of thread you’re using and how many strands. It should not require more than 2-3 passes with a heavy thread or four strands.
9. Create a “shank.”
To help make room for the fabric around the buttonhole to fit snuggly and smoothly under the button, it’s a good idea to create a thread shank between the button and fabric. Wrap the thread around the thread under the button to slightly lift it off the fabric. About 3-4 wraps will do it, then pull the thread to the wrong side of the fabric near the stitches.
10. Make one more secure knot.
Creating an end knot can be as challenging as knotting thread for beginners. You’ll definitely want to create a secure end knot for your button, where extra stress can cause it to pull loose.
I recommend a double knot for pants buttons. This will ensure that you don’t have to worry about that particular button coming loose again, hopefully for the pants’ lifetime.