Do’s and Don’ts for Sewing Buttons by Machine

While I am working on my simple summer skirt sewing smackdown, I figured I’d work on some new techniques. I mean, a gal’s gotta keep up with her skillz, yes?

The Justine skirt has eleven buttons – nine up the front and one on each pocket. That’s a lotta buttons. I usually sew buttons by hand, but this seemed like a good opportunity to try sewing on the buttons by machine.

Eleven buttons later, here are some tips from me to you:

  1. Don’t use your best needle. You’re going to break a needle, or at least bang it up a bit, unless you are very very careful. Use a needle that has a few miles on it, so you won’t feel so bad if when you break it. Also, have an extra button on hand in case you really mess up:
IMG_20200523_131857
Oops – good thing it wasn’t a fresh needle, and good thing I had spare buttons on hand

2. Skip the fancy button-foot. If you have one, by all means use it, but I don’t and I was unwilling to pay $65 for one. Guess what? A piece of clear tape works just as well to hold the button in place.

IMG_20200523_132840

Since these were larger buttons, I used a wide-set embroidery foot so I could see both button holes clearly. A regular foot also works fine. Sew through the tape – it doesn’t leave residue on the needle, and it tears easily to remove cleanly when done.

3. Set stitch width and length. My machine has a button-sewing stitch – basically a wide zig-zag stitch with zero length. If your machine doesn’t have such an option, you can try out different zig-zag widths until you find what works. Set the length to zero.

4. Handwheel dress rehearsal. Before sewing on each button, use the handwheel to slowly crank the needle through its paces to be certain the needle lands where you want it. Does this get tiresome, 7 or 8 buttons in? Yes. Is it necessary? See step #1 and its carnage above. (Literally – this was the last button and I was like, “I don’t need to do a test run!”)

5. Knot by hand. My machine-sewn buttons were a bit messy with thread tails on the underside. I realized I needed to clean them up a bit. So I knotted by hand, by pulling the bobbin thread tails until the top thread could be picked through with a pin.

IMG_20200523_122440
A bit messy under there, are we?

All told, I don’t think I saved much time sewing the buttons by machine vs. by hand. The buttons are definitely on more securely, however, and at least now I know how to do it, if the mood strikes again.

Author: shoes15

I live in Connecticut, USA with my husband and my dog, in an old house outfitted with a sewing room, a garden, an orchard, and a big liquor cabinet.

5 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts for Sewing Buttons by Machine”

  1. I have never tried machine sewing buttons. I could never see how it would work well and securing the thread ends so the buttons don’t come off.

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  2. I often do buttons by machine and I find it’s a lot faster for me, but I’m very bad at hand sewing. My manual says to tie off by reducing the width to zero and sewing more stitches. It seems to work…can’t recall any coming off anyway! I would only bother setting up the machine for a garment with four or more buttons though.

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