Tutorial: Thread Shirt Buttons

Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.

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Here are the buttons on Brandon’s new shirt in action!

You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!

What you’ll need:

  • Heavy linen thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter

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Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing  guide

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Tie a regular-old square knot at the end of your thread. Don’t cut the thread off of your spool/skein/threadwinder just yet.
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Put the loop of the knot around your sizing guide (I used a pencil, but you can use any 1/4″ diameter stick-like item you have lying around), and pull tight.

Step 2-Wrap your thread

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Wrap the thread around your sizing guide. A lot. For my very heavy linen thread, I did 30 wraps. If you’re using a slightly finer thread, I would go more like 40. It should seem like a slightly ridiculous amount of thread.

Step 3-Cut your thread

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At this point, you can cut your thread, and thread the cut end onto your needle. You want a nice long tail, I went with about a yard.

Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle

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Slip the wrapped thread to the end of your sizing guide and onto your needle. Be careful to hold the wrapped thread between your fingers to that it cannot come apart.

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Step 5-Pull thread through

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Pull your needle and working thread all the way through the center of your thread ring.

Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring

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At this point, you will begin to buttonhole stitch around the thread ring. Put your needle back through the center, and bring it up behind the ring, with the thread tail behind the point of the needle.
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When you pull the stitch tight, a loop will form around the working thread.
Here it is in action! Needle through the center, thread behind the point of the needle, pull tight.
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Continue all the way around the ring, until all of the thread ring is encased.

Step 6-Create the shank

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Turn your button over so that the back is facing you. Pass your needle behind a thread or two on the opposite side as your working thread.
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You should now have a bar across the center of your button.
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Pass your thread across the same place several more times so that you have about four or five threads across the hole.
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Here is what you button should look like at this point.

Step 7-Wrap the shank

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Pass your needle behind the shank you just created.
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Wrap the working thread around the shank several times to keep everything together.

Step 8-Finished!

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Tie it off and you’re done!

You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!

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I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.

8 thoughts on “Tutorial: Thread Shirt Buttons

  1. Awesome, thanks for sharing! Finding good HA buttons is difficult and can be expensive for really nice ones, especially if you need a bunch. I like that these can be made to match a garment perfectly, end easily replaced if lost or damaged.

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    1. Sure! They could theoretically be made in any thick thread. You may need a few more wraps to make sure you have the ring thick enough. Heavy linen would be the most common option for 18th/early 19th century underthings, but that’s no reason why you can’t give other materials a try.

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