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Sewing Tips: Attaching Buttons with a Sewing Machine


Don’t you love realizing there’s a faster way to do something?


[If only there was a faster way to potty train a snarky little 3 year old boy who tells me it’s not time to poop (or pee for that matter) in the potty yet.  While I was changing his messy diaper yesterday, I suggested he give his potty chair another try……and he quickly responded, so matter-of-factly, “Not today mommy, maybe when I’m 4!”  No sirree little buddy.  The 4 year mark doesn’t include diapers.]


Anyway, I digress.  And may have lost a few of you after typing poop a few times.  Haha.  Sorry.



But today’s little trick will definitely save you some time.  Especially if you’re working on a project that includes a whole lotta these:




Now you can sew them on with your sewing machine in a few easy steps.




I sure wish I would have realized this trick back when I made this pillow (found here). 

Sheesh, those buttons took me a long time to attach. 



So don’t let those little buttons intimidate you. 

After you get the hang of this technique (after practicing on one or two) you’ll never go back.  Promise.



(And a I have had several emails asking about making button holes.  I have a tutorial coming up for that.  I didn’t forget.)



Would you like to learn how to sew on your buttons with your sewing machine?


First of all, this technique only works with flat buttons with the holes through the top.


However, you can use this technique with 2 hole and 4 hole buttons.  Yay.


And there is a presser foot that is designed for attaching buttons……..but I don’t have one.  And didn’t need it.  So no biggee.  You don’t need one either.


To get started, you need to drop your feed dogs so they’re out of the way.


What are feed dogs?  They are those metal bars (with all of those ridges on it) that come up from the metal plate below the needle.  With each stitch, those feed dogs come up and pull your fabric under your needle.  They help your fabric move forward as you sew.

image source



But for this technique we want to de-activate them (or drop them down) so they aren’t pulling on the button.  Look to see if there is some sort of lever or button to drop the feed dogs down. 



Your machine may not have this as an option and if that’s the case….you’ll have to rig it a little differently.  I was reading some suggestions online and someone suggested taping an old credit card down over the feed dogs.  But be sure to drill a hole in the center of the card (or use an exacto knife) and line the hole up where the needle would need to go through it.  And make sure it’s wide enough for your zig-zag stitch.  Or you could even try some heavy card stock……..that would probably work well too.



Next, you want to decrease your stitch length all the way to zero so that the needle doesn’t advance forward at all.




And at first, make sure that you are on the “straight stitch” setting.




Place your button under your presser foot and line up the center of the button with the center of the presser foot (usually there’s a little mark on the presser foot that marks center).  Lower your needle down (with the hand wheel on the side of your machine) just to see if the needle hits down at center.  But don’t sew……you’ll break your needle.  You’re just making sure your button is centered under the needle.




Now, be careful not to bump your button and switch your stitch setting to “zig-zag”.




Make sure that your stitch length is still set to zero and now you’ll need to adjust the “stitch width”.  This will make your zig-zag stitch more narrow or wide.




Now, with my “stitch width” set at the largest…….when I lower my needle, it’s just a little too far over to the left.  See that?





So I decreased my “stitch width” a few notches…..



……..until it was centered over that left hole.




Now, slowly lower your needle down in to the hole with your side wheel (turn the wheel towards you)……..



……..until it drops right into the hole.




Now drop down your presser foot so that it clamps the button down in place.



And then advance your needle a bit more with your hand wheel and take a look from the top to see if the needle is now centered over the right hole.





And then slowly lower the needle down.



Make a another few turns of the hand wheel, just to be sure that it’s going in the holes each time………and then start sewing.  I let the zig-zag hit each hole about 7 times.  That seemed nice and secure to me.


When you’re done, life up your presser foot and switch the stitch back to the “straight stitch”. 



You will see your needle go back to center.


Then reposition your button under the presser foot so that one of the holes is right under the center.



Then lower the needle right down into the hole, and lower your presser foot, and then sew (with the pedal) 4 or 5 or five stitches. 



Then lift up the presser foot and place your needle back into the hole, just in a slightly different spot, lower the presser foot, and then sew another 4 or 5 stitches.  (This helps lock your threads in place.)



Then lift up your presser foot again and pull your fabric out.  Trim your threads nice and close so you can’t see any loose ends. 

(If sewing those last few stitches with your straight stitch didn’t lock your threads in place…… can thread those loose ends that are coming out the top, onto a hand-sewing needle, and thread them back down through the button holes.  And then tie the loose ends in a knot from the bottom side.)



And what if you’re using a 4 hole button?


Begin the same way as you did above.  After you sew through the first two holes, lift up your presser foot but don’t pull on the thread too much.  Rotate your button (and fabric) until the second set of holes are lined up…………..and then repeat.



And that’s it.


This may seem like a lot of steps but I showed you a ton of pictures.  It doesn’t actually take very long once you try a button or two.  SO give it a try……..I promise I saved a ton of time with this technique.  Sewing all of those buttons on probably took me a 1/3 of the time it would have taken me to hand sew them. 


That’s good news in my book.


Let me know how it works for you!



Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
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  1. Anne says:

    I use scotch tape to hold the button in place. When I am done I just rip it off.

  2. Ramiah says:

    Do you have a button hole tutorial? I searched your site but didn’t see one. I love your tutorials, and always search your site first before looking elsewhere on the internet for help :)

  3. isabel marant sneakers says:

    Awesome! Its truly awesome paragraph, I have got much clear idea about from this post.

  4. Jeanne Crowell says:

    When my daughter was being potty trained, I would sit on the floor in front of her and we’d visit for as long as it took. It was so cute. I’d put her on the potty and she’d say “So, what do you want to talk about?” I’d make up stories and make her the main character and always had her using the potty in the stories. It worked!! After about a week, she used the potty for the first time and that’s all she wrote.
    But then she would tell me she had to go to the bathroom and I’d take her and set her on the toilet and she’d ‘fart’ and say ‘all done’ and get off the potty. Oh no! What to do? How do you tell a child that they can do that in their pants? That it’s okay to fart in their pants? I couldn’t tell her, so for years I would go to the bathroom with her so she could ‘fart’ on the toilet. When she went to Kindergarten I told her she could ‘fart’ in her pants and she didn’t believe me. She didn’t believe that someone would let that smell go into their pants. I really disappointed her. :-(

  5. Kellie M says:

    Can’t wait to try this! Don’t you love your Bernina!? (I love mine!)

  6. dlmui says:

    how about with an old fashion sewing machine??????

  7. Caroline says:

    Thanks so much for posting these instructions – used them for the first time last night and will post the results on my blog later. It made it so much easier – I will stop avoiding buttons now!

  8. Clover says:

    I really need to try this I am horrible at hand sewing buttons on. thanks

  9. melissa {all sewn up} says:

    Each time I pop over to your blog I click away thinking about what a genius you are.

  10. Sally says:

    just you have any suggestions on where to buy mixed buttons in bulk? the cards of buttons are cute but so expensive? thanks! I think your hair looks cute in the picture of you trying the cupcakes disaster post!

  11. Heidi says:

    My son was potty trained at 21months but he was 100% ready at the time. I used a Mickey Mouse pez dispenser and every time he went he was so excited about getting Mickey candy. He adores Mickey mouse. But every child is different all you can do is try and if they aren’t ready then I wouldn’t push it, but you should rest easy in the fact that they won’t be wearing diapers when their 15! ;) haha!!!

    Your littlest babe looks about the same age as my babe hes 5months!

  12. Sara says:

    I love this method! Another thing that helps me is to tape the button down so that it doesn’t move. I use plain scotch tape and it works like a charm.

  13. Debra says:

    I can;t give potty training advice (looks like you got plenty) but after I got my new Janome Magnolia for Christmas this last year, I skimmed through the manual and discovered it could do this. I was thrilled! In all my sewing, I could never make a button stay on, and always had my mom sew them on for me… lol. After I learned how simple it was to do it with the machine (just like you said, lower the feed dogs, pop the button on, set to zig zag, line ’em up) I have been sewing buttons on all over. Love it! I can;t believe I never thought to do this before!

  14. Kristina Noall says:

    I love how you’re continually showing us all these cool tricks I never knew about! Question though: when I learned how to sew on a button, I was taught to be sure it’s not too tight, so there would be room for it to actually button onto the other piece of fabric. I think I was told to put two straight pins underneath on the fabric to space the button from it. Wouldn’t this technique make them too tight? Or is this more for LOTS of buttons, not just sewing one back on that’s fallen off?

    I hope that made sense. I have Sesame Street and a 2 1/2-year-old blaring in my ear. :)

  15. amy c says:

    Wow, very cool! I love the button pillow. Thanks for the idea!

  16. Dulcie says:

    I use this type of technique all the time. I tweak it a bit by using a piece of scotch tape to hold the button down. Another tip would be if you were attaching the button to a garment (not for a decorative application) you can put a toothpick on top of the button as you zig zag. This automatically gives you a “shank” of thread so that it is easier to button.

  17. Michelle says:

    LOVE the button trick!! Thansk for the reallylllyy clear instructions and tons of pics!!

    Oh, my machine comes with a darning plate i think its called. its plastic and goes over the feed dogs for manual moving of the fabric.

  18. Becky says:

    Hi Ashley-

    I was reading the comments and saw you are having potty training issues…When I was potty training my son last winter, i was at my wits end! I had tried everything- bribery, charts, nakedness- nothing was working! He was still going aorund the house doing his business wherever it was comfortable for him. After cleaning up messes for like the 6th time one day, I called my mom in complete breakdown mode. She told me to have him clean up the mess the next time- since, as long as I was cleaning it up, it wasn’t an issue for him. The next mess, I made him clean it and he NEVER made that mess again (he has never had an accident since, either!) When we were having issues with #2- same thing, I made him clean it up (I of course did follow up cleanings to make sure it was all cleaned) and things have been perfect ever since.

    I don’t know if your son operates like that, but i can tell you it was the trick for mine and we literally have not had a single problem since.
    Good luck!

  19. Katerina says:

    Thanks for the great idea. I already had this idea, and now must do!

  20. Shannon says:

    I asked my son to go pee on the potty and he told me… “No, I don’t think so. I already did that yesterday.”

  21. LLicht @ says:

    Thank you for posting this tutorial! I look forward to trying it out :-)

    The trick to potty training my 2 1/2 year old was leaving him naked from the waist down (we’re still working on out of the house potty training because he hates big toilets with out his special seat that I don’t want to lug around to filthy public restrooms.) He also really likes the potty seat that attaches to the big potty (we have a baby bjorn with the little nub to help spraying out of the toilet — it helps… a little.) I think he likes that one best because he’s kind of independent being able to plop the seat on, pee, wipe himself and flush. #2 obviously he needs some assistance… but for everything else he tells me “Mommy, you stay RIGHT there” and he races into the bathroom.

  22. irina says:

    I love using buttons Thanks for the great tutorial!

  23. Caren says:

    Some day I’m going to get me a sewing machine. And then I will try this! For now, I’m working on a borrowed machine – I’m not complaining – it’s a cast iron, jet black (gold trim) Singer from 1953 (in pristine condition – praying I keep it that way!), and ONLY has a straight stitch. On the bright side, it IS the electric model!

  24. paula says:

    I’ve always wondered how buttons could be sewn on with a sewing machine. I might give this a try someday to see how much faster and easier it is to do than by hand.

  25. Amanda says:

    I have a licensed daycare in my home and someone brought their nearly 4 year old who was not potty trained. As soon as his parents left I had a little talk with the tike and told him I only changed diapers for babies. Then I asked him if he felt he was a baby or a big boy. He said big boy and used the potty the rest of the day with only one minor accident. His parents were thrilled. For my daughter, when she turned two, I told her no more diapers sweetie; Here’s some pretty princess panties. Her eyes lit up and after a couple of days, no more accidents.

    I love my Bernina buttonhold foot. It’s outstanding :)

  26. Bonnie Ditto says:

    My machine is primitive and will not do buttons! Our youngest would not potty train! Just refused. Looked at us like we were crazy when we made the suggestion! We tried everything. Bribes, cute panties…the whole nine yards! She even changed her own diaper! Literally. It was histerically funny. Got up one day and said she wanted to wear her panties. Dry and clean all day. She decided it was best to wear a diaper that night. Got up dry and that was it. Has never had an accident…well that she had told me about. She was almost 4 then and is 31 now! Don’t stress. Just enjoy the funnies! It has been fun reading the comments!

  27. Kiersten says:

    Great tutorial! I’m totally going to use this.

    And as far as potty training goes, I have a 2 1/2 year old boy that I swear I will never potty train. I’m okay with diapers forever. It took me a year after my girl was peeing in the potty to get her to poop there too. I’d much rather deal with diapers. I hope you have better luck.

  28. April @ sewing novice says:

    My coworker told me that her son did the same thing. On his birthday she told him it was time to go on the potty and no more diapers and he was pretty much potty trained that day. So maybe compromise with 3 and a quarter or 3.5 years. As long as it’s “his decision” or so he thinks. :) Good luck and thanks for yet another great tutorial!

  29. Hallie says:

    I am in a similar boat with the potty training. My little guy is almost 4 and has just within the last couple months started seeing regularly in the potty. We can wear underwear and be accident free all day. Unless he has to poop. He refuses to poop in the potty. So he either uses his night time diaper or his underwear. I am hoping one day it will just click for him. Good luck with your little guy.

    1. Vieve says:

      I used to tend a 4-year-old who wouldn’t poop in the toilet. His mom and I decided that if he needed a diaper to poo in, he could have one. The kicker was that when he was done, he had to dump and flush the poop, bag the diaper, and wash himself (we gave him a washcloth and stood him in the tub with warm water running). In a short time, he found that pooing in the toilet was cleaner and quicker.

    2. Hallie says:

      I’ve tried having him dump his poop and clean himself and his underwear up, but he thinks it’s fun. lol My boys are strange.

  30. Lisa says:

    Great tip!! I love buttons on projects but hate sewing them on. I always thought it would be a pain to do it with the machine, lol. Now I know better.
    In exchange for your tip, I’ll give you one for potty training. My son always wanted to chew gum but we told him he was too little. When it was time to get him out of diapers, we got a little gumball machine and filled it. Every time he used the potty, he got a penny and got to use it in the machine. Worked like a charm! Your could always use m&m’s or something else if not gum.

  31. Christine says:

    I have a suggestion for your little guy. I read a book called “Potty Trained in Less than a Day” and though it was a little dated (I think it was written in the 80’s or so?) I really liked what I read and when it came time to potty train my little guy it worked wonderfully!! You don’t necessarily get them fully potty trained in just one day, but I like the approach you take and everyone I have talked to who has used this method hasn’t had a whole lot of trouble. Just a bit of advice from one mommy to another.

  32. Kira says:

    I do this trick too but I use one of my Bernina feet with the large open window, like a applique foot. That make it easier for me to see that I am making it in the holes the whole time. Works for me..

  33. Cassie Joughim says:

    Thanks for this. I can’t believe your machine doesn’t include the foot. My lil singer has it, and it’s a super basic one.
    Anyhow, you can also add a shank to make your button a little looser. Just put a matchstick between the holes in the button. Once you’re done just pull out the matchstick and you’ve created some slack. Also, for anyone looking for their foot, it is short and rubbery to hold the button still. Xo

  34. Hannah says:

    this is so much faster than hand sewing! its a bit fiddly, but great for large amounts! with only a few buttons, say 3 to 6, I would just revert to hand sewing, not really worth all of the fiddling for only a few!
    by the way, I found this genius idea to potty train kids! you make a chart, with around 50 to 70 squares on it, and at the end have a bed. tell your son that every time he uses the potty he gets a sticker, on one of the squares. when he fills up the chart he gets a “big boy bed”. the blog I found this on (can’t recall name, sorry) had her 2 kids potty trained by age 3!
    hope this works for you, thanks for tutorial!

  35. Candie says:

    Thanks for the info with the buttons!

    Potty Training is EASY… Seriously, do yourself a favor. The best $20 bucks you’ll ever spend – and you won’t have to buy another box of diapers and NO pull ups! LOVED it and plan to use it for all my kids. My daughter was potty trained in about 5 days (just as much my fault for not being consistant) at the age of 22 months.

    Hope it works for you like using a machine to sew on buttons! If it does, share the wealth!

    1. Ashley says:

      Okay, I’m going there next!

  36. erin says:

    what a time saver! i always stay away from buttons because i hate doing them by hand. thanks for sharing!

  37. Sue says:

    I have a button setting on my machine, but I am really looking forward to your button hole tutorial! I have a setting for that too, but have never been able to do it right.

    About potty training, we also went with bribery (1 for #1 or 2 for #2). My husband also showed him what to do (I refused to explain to a child how to pee standing up when he has a dad that could just show him). When he had accidents, we would (gently) remind him of the treats he could have had. It was slow starting, but he got the hang of it pretty quickly. Once he got the hang of it, he would have to remember to ask for the treats after in order to get them (he remembered about 1/2 the time), and then we changed it so he only got 1 treat for #2 and none for #1. Thankfully, after a few months he forgot completely about the treats, so we never had to worry about telling him he couldn’t have any more.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, that worked really well for him. Awesome. I need to get him comfortable on the potty first but then I love that he has to remind me about the treats. Perfect.

  38. Ashley Watson says:

    That’s how I’ve always sewed buttons on. A little trick, if you want to pass this along, is to tape your buttons down with plain scotch tape. The needle with pierce right through it and it will hold the button(s) in place. This is especially nice when you are creating a shape or pattern with the buttons or need your button in a specific spot.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oooooh, excellent idea. I love that!! Thanks.

  39. Kinda Crunchy Kate says:

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! You always have such clear instructions and pictures. I really appreciate that. And I can’t give you any advice at all about the potty training. My MIL potty trained the first child and the second child potty trained himself!

  40. Christina says:

    My machine has a button setting, but the procedure is pretty similar to what you’ve posted here, which is AWESOME. I love sewing buttons now that I do them on my machine.

    We tried potty training at home with mild success, but it was the peer pressure at day care that sent him over the edge. A bunch of other potty trained kids are magic for potty training the stubborn.

  41. Charley says:

    Oh thats sooo good :-) !!
    And I am totally with you on the potty training – four weeks and my daughter will NOT tell me she needs a wee and so far has not pooed anywhere but in her pants. I’m not quite sure what to do next …. oh well, the button thing has made me happy haha! x

    1. Ashley says:

      Haha…….glad there’s something happy in our day. Even if it’s buttons!

  42. Lystessa says:

    Very neat!

    Re: potty training – For my very stubborn and unmotivated boy, I finally found success when I started bribing him. First I had to bribe him just to sit on the thing. He got bribes for farting on the potty. LOTS of praise and bribes for actually using it in any fashion. I used gummy candies for bribes and he never got them at any other time, so it seemed to work pretty well. (This was after trying the “straight-to-underwear” and “naked” approach. Dismal failures with my stubborn guy).

    Find a treat that you don’t mind giving your boy in slight excess, and make sure his treats are almost non-existent outside of the bathroom. It still takes a while. Good luck!

    1. Ashley says:

      I’m totally not opposed to bribery………..I like the sound if this, it may be what my little dude responds to. Thanks! :)

  43. Emily says:

    Thank you for the pictures and explanations. I’m glad to hear it worked for you without a special foot. I will definitely be trying this!! I am the slowest hand sewer ever.

    PS good luck with the potty training. I’d love to hear what works for you as I’m trying to get ready to train my first.

  44. dannyscotland says:

    I always just set my machine to 0 and zig zag; I have never moved the feed dogs and have had plenty of success, so maybe some machines that isn’t necessary? Maybe setting it to 0 on mine moves them away somehow? Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there…

  45. Laree @ Ever Heard of Euless says:

    Ok, so I’ve been sewing buttons on with my machine for years – but I’ve NEVER heard to change your stitch length to zero.

    And I don’t get the point of it. Your stitch length is determined by how fast your feed dogs are moving – the faster the longer the stitch. So if they are down, why would you need to change the length.

    On the other hand, if you can’t drop your feed dogs, setting the length at 0 would do the same thing.

    And oh, I’m so sorry about the training. It’s been the worst part of parenthood so far for me (we’ll see how a teenager compares in a few more years!)

    1. Ashley says:

      Hmmmm……good point, now that you say so. This is just how I was taught but I’ll have to give it a try without the feed dogs adjusted.

      And yeah, I wish this was the hardest parenting……..I worry about what’s coming in 12 years. Eeek!

  46. Jill Franklin says:

    Love it! Love it! Love it! I don’t sew very often, but this is Good 2 Know!!!

    Grrrreat post!

  47. Tiffany says:

    Yay for machine sewn buttons!!!! I hear boys are harder to train than girls, but my little one is 19 months and is almost totally potty trained. I find that dropping poop from the diaper into the toilet and waving bye-bye to it, naked babies, and highly coveted pieces of candy, stickers, or cars are a fabulous system. It’s never failed me and trust me, I have trained my share of little people! Maybe a reward system would work well for your little man. Once you get twenty stickers on your potty chart, mommy will take you to get a new car (dollar store works wonders!). Good luck and I hope this helps!

    1. Ashley says:

      You know, I thought about doing the chart thing……I think I will give it a try. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  48. Felicia says:

    I’ve done my buttons similar to this without adjusting my feed dogs… Especially since I feel like my handsewing skills are lacking!

    My nephew and son are both in the process of potty training, rewards seem to be working with my son for Pee. But what worked for my nephew was that “he didn’t fit into the diapers anymore” and she used a newborn diaper to prove the point. And asked if he was a baby. He hasnt looked for a diaper since…

    1. Ashley says:

      Ooooooh, good idea. I may try that diaper idea. Thanks!

  49. anilegra says:

    nunca he cosido un botón a máquina , siempre a mano ,como las cremalleras

  50. Katie says:

    This is a great tutorial!! I’m relatively new to your blog, so I’m going back through all your sewing tips.

    I’m potty training my 2-year-old boy and he won’t bm in the potty, either. And it’s really. getting. old. I feel your pain.

  51. Meagan says:

    Gonna try it!

  52. Courtney says:

    Thanks for sharing this techinque. I know I can buy a special foot for this, but I’m glad to know I can also do without it.

    Oh, and I have a snarky three year old girl who doesn’t seem to mind sitting in wet underwear one bit. I know potty training will not be the hardest thing I do as a parent, but it sure is so far.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh my word…….I know!! This boy gives me lots of grey hairs. It’s a good thing he’s so squishy and cute!!

  53. Angela says:

    well shucks, i have a buttonhole foot but i’m so lazy i prefer this method–no changing feet means i don’t have to stand up to get my box of feet! yes, i know–i’m awful.

    and on the potty issue? SO with you. right there.

    1. Ashley says:

      Haha, I hear ya on not wanting to change the feet. I am the same kind of lazy!! :)

  54. Heidi says:

    I’ve had a great deal of success in Potty training…as long as my kid is naked. Good luck there.

  55. Cherie says:

    This is exactly how I do it! Learned it when I worked for a Bernina Dealer. Some of the high models have a button setting.

  56. Lynette says:

    I have tried this before, but I could never get it adjusted right. Your directions made it super clear, and it sounds SO much easier now. I can’t wait to try it! Thanks!!!

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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