How to sew a button – like a Savile Row tailor

Friday, August 7th 2020
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Dressing well is not just about buying clothes, but about looking after them well, and responsibly. Caring for things so that they last longer, and you need less. 

In the past we’ve covered quite a few aspects about caring for clothes, including pressing trousers, polishing shoes, darning and washing knitwear

Over the next few weeks we will be doing some more, focusing on techniques you can use at home. The first is on sewing buttons. 

Of course, this being Permanent Style, we have done the most in-depth video on sewing buttons you could ever see. It shows how a Savile Row tailor sews on a button, and covers everything from shank lengths to button stands to thread patterns. 

But we also then focus on what you, as a highly engaged menswear consumer, can do at home: which of these tools you need, which steps you really need to replicate. And how to make a quick fix on the go. 

Cutter Ben Clarke demonstrates these techniques, in our pop-up space on Savile Row. I hope you enjoy it. 

 

 

A quick summary of Ben’s points - perhaps for those that have watched the video once, and need a quick reminder - are as follows:

  • Most thread is OK, particularly polyester. You just need to sew through more times if using thinner thread. 
  • Thread your needle, double up the thread, and tie a knot in the end.
  • Do your first stitch on the surface of the cloth. 
  • Then go through the button, come back through, and then push right to the other side of the two layers of cloth.
  • Put your fingers under the button to measure how much excess you need to leave on the top, to create the shank. Perhaps around half to three quarters of an inch. It will get smaller as you sew. 
  • Go up and down through the button and right through the cloth - four times with thicker thread as used by Ben. Perhaps six or eight times with something thinner. 
  • The last time you come up onto the front of the jacket, don’t go through the button, but wrap the thread round and round, to create a shank. As much as needed to make the button stand on its own. 
  • Then finish by passing the needle through the shank - but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Leave a loop, which you hook round the needle on the other side, before then pulling the thread tight. This creates a knot. 
  • Snip off the excess thread, close to the shank. 

If you would like to see some other practical videos we have created on Permanent Style, they include: 

Thank you to Ben Clarke, and to the Campaign for Wool for all their support through these series of videos.

In the video I am wearing my summer jacket from Solito, and a PS Lighter Everyday Denim shirt

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Matrix.RX1

absolute genius, thank you

Daniel

Hi Simon. Terrific. It really is the simple things! So easy to follow. May take a bit of practice but this will be forever useful. Love the tip on passing the needle through the shank at the end. Almost looking forward to popping a button.

Jasper

Awesome! Thanks. Great idea.

Hugh

I’ve always laid the button flat on the cloth, then overlaid a needle across the top of the button. Then after a free stitches, remove the needle, and you reinforce the shank as in the video.

Nico

Same here. If you get yourself a set of knitting needles of several widths, you can use them as spacers that way and easily achieve the desired and consistent shank length.

hugh

Clever!

Lindsay Eric McKee

A terrific post.
Is a similar procedure used for sewing on a shirt button for instance?
Where can I buy the professional kit or some of it? I can only think of a couple eg. Berenstain & Banleys or Gutterman thread. There may be others.

Chris Jones

I have bought a few shirts (well …16 to be exact) from Edward Sexton in the last 18 months. They have “lily” stitching which I haven’t seen before. They have four hole MOP buttons but the stitching looks like a “Y” bird’s foot (or even a lily !!!) and not an “X” s. It looks both strong and attractive.

Maël

If you want 100% cotton, Aurifill has thick ones made in Italy (the lowest the wt number the thicker). A notch above Gutterman in terms of quality. Superior threads is supposed to be good as well. There was an article where they would compare different brands of threads under a microscope.

Sebastián

Thank you for this video, Simon. It is amazing how these simple things are rarely covered in a comprehensive manner: of course almost everybody knows how to sew a button, but that does not mean that it is obvious how to do so properly.

Would you mind adding shirt care to your practical series? It would be great if you could cover the best ironing techniques, how to remove stains (at least the most common types), and such.

Harry

I don’t have time to search for the info you present. If anything, PS is an efficient means of learning and absorbing. No hard sell, no ‘Whassup YouTube’, no ‘How to speak to women’ articles. Like the writing, reasoning and in-depth subjects. Nice.

George

I’d like to second this thought entirely. Simon has donsistently erudite, well-researched, and informative content. I also always appreciate that Simon takes the time to respond to reader queries about the various things. I’d love to see more how-to videos that are done at the in-depth, intellectual level of PS. Thank you, Simon.

Michael Maglaras

Simon…as usual…practical advice for gentlemen who may have a button or two loose …and I do not mean that metaphorically. In the men’s fashion business, PS is a bastion of good advice and sound judgement…thank you…Michael from CT…in the beleaguered USA…Stay well and prosperous.

Håvard

Hi Simon,

Thanks for the excellent tutorial and helpful advice.

Would you consider making a tutorial about how to finish jacket cuffs by yourself? I imagine a minor percentage of your audience could manage to finish their own sleeves with the proper guidance.

All the best,
Håvard

Ian

Hi Simon,
This is a great subject to cover, and I might also add the article on trouser rise as well (it was a revelation to see it discussed in terms of hip bones, and not the navel).

A very mundane question; if you have a button that is starting to come loose, should you try to strengthen up the shank/stitching that is there, or just cut it off and start from scratch?

Ian

Thanks Simon; I will watch with more care in future!

Peter

It’s a great piece of journalism Simon but don’t be decieved Savile Row tailors don’t sew buttons on – they give that job to their unfortunate apprentice.

Jackson Heart

This is great. I don’t want to appear to be an ingrate, but can you have him come back one day and show us how to sew on buttons with shanks, like blazer buttons? I have never been able to do it; that is, keeping the emblem right-side-up, making the stitching secure, spacing them properly, etc. I am sure there are tricks to doing it that a well-experienced, professional tailor might demonstrate. Thank you, Simon.

Ben

A very informative and valuable post. The video quality is also top notch.

RT

Hi Simon,

I quite like the cloth of the jacket used. Do you know what cloth it is, by any chance?

RT

Thank you.

Tomas

Simon,

On similar topic – can buttonhole be re-done?
Tailor made 2/3 button inverse with ugly side visible and refuses to re-do saying that pulling threads out will leave edges damaged and new buttonhole will not be possible.

Thanks

Felix

Hello Simon and Ben. Thank you to both. Excepting situations where a customer requests something unusual, how do tailors select what color thread to use when sewing buttons?

Felix

An additional question. What size needle does Ben recommend for this task, if the polyester/cotton thread is used?

Felix

Thank you, Simon. Please convey my gratitude to Ben as well. It’s time for me to purchase buttons (brown and navy horn), thread (brown and navy), and wax from the Lining Company. Then, it’s time to practice changing the buttons on some old suits. Though not as glamorous as learning to bake sourdough, it’ll be a nice extra skill to gain during Covid!

Abalfazl Takrimi

Hi Simon
as always you made the best tutorial and arguably the best video for sewing on button with great expression ; but what I’ve considered is there’s something you and Ben didn’t talk about . when you start to sew on a button , we have four buttonhole and non of them didn’t considered as center So If you start to put the thread through a hole and swing it around you will see the buttonstance starts to change and there’s any center considered to hold the button in the same point you have been specified exactly .
so the question is which hole do you considered as the center ?
should we place the buttonstance point exactly among the four buttonholes ?
thank you again
Best
Ebi