Saturday, October 1, 2011

How to sew on a button without the spacer sandwich

A spacer sandwich?  What?


one kind of spacer sandwich

Actually, this post is not about UFO's on a bun, it's about a different kind of spacer sandwich--it's about a little trick to make sewing on buttons easier.  How it came about is that recently, I had to sew 9 buttons onto a sweater-coat.  Naturally, only on the very last one did today's neat trick decide to reveal itself.

The problem arises because non-shanked buttons (the kinds with holes in the top) still need to have a shank (shank = little stem on button back).  The shank raises the button high enough so that you can work the button into and out of the button hole without the button compressing the fabric.  Naturally, the thicker the fabric, the longer must be the shank.  


shanked and unshanked

Shanked buttons are offered in different shank heights, but unshanked buttons are more generally versatile--making the shank yourself out of thread allows you to custom-control the shank height, and so use the same button on a thin fabric or on a thick one.

The usual method for making a thread shank on an unshanked button involves inserting a spacer of the desired height (a matchstick or toothpick is common) between the button and the fabric, then sewing the button on over the spacer.  At the end, the spacer is removed. The needle is then poked into the space between the button and the fabric, and the loose sewing loops are wrapped tightly with thread to make the shank.  Finally, the end of the thread is "buried" in the thickness of the underlying fabric, taking one or two 180 degree bends on the way to stop it from pulling out.  The end result of all the sandwiching and sewing and wrapping and burying is a thread shank.


a thread shank being wrapped

Until today's trick revealed itself to me, I dutifully sewed on buttons by making each into a button-spacer-sandwich: the button on top, the matchstick in the middle, and the knitting on the bottom.  Naturally, until several stitches were made and this slippery sandwich snugged down, the spacer wanted to shoot out, fall down or generally wiggle around, taking the button with it and requiring the whole works to be carefully repositioned before sewing could re-commence.  Annoying.


a spacer sandwich about to be sewn

So, on button number nine, when patience was wearing out and sailor words were about to fly, it occurred to me to tack the spacer down FIRST! with a couple of stitches! and THEN sew the button on over the spacer.

tack the spacer down first with a stitch or two, 
and say goodbye to the wiggly sandwich

 Whew.