Buttons need a “Shank”

by Ramona on June 23, 2016

The other day I had a little request to “re-sew” buttons on a fly front of a pair of utility pants. The buttons have four holes and I did see one button that did have the threads missing from one hole-set. So, I fixed that, returned the pants and got the question, “Did you fix the buttons on these pants?”


Of course I fixed the button (not buttons) on the pants! What the wearer failed to realize is that the remaining buttons were not “loose”, but the threads did not hold the button tight to the fabric because there needs to be a “shank” to the thread that holds the button on. What is the purpose of a shank? The thread shank allows enough room for the layers beneath the button to rest the button on the fabric but not pull. If a shank is not present—especially on thicker fabrics—then the button pulls against the buttonhole and can damage the buttonhole and possibly even create a rip in the layer of fabric holding the button because it is trying to find enough room to allow the button to lay on the top fabric layer smoothly when it is buttoned.



There are several methods for creating a shank and the amount of thread shank to be left depends upon how many and the thickness of the layers between the bottom layer of fabric that holds the button and the top layer of fabric upon which the button rests. Let’s take a look at some of the methods to accomplish a thread shank.


The first is shank button. The back of the button has a “loop” area as placed by the manufacturer as part of the button. The distance between the bottom of the shank and the bottom of the back side of the button seems to be relatively standard. Is this enough shank? That will have to be tested with the fabric being sewn. For the most part when working with light to medium weight fabrics it is sufficient. If the shank on the back of the button is not sufficient, then an additional thread shank at the bottom of the button shank may have to be made.


Picture4The second way to produce a shank is with a “button sewing” accessory foot for the machine. This foot has a pin or finger in the middle that rests on top of the button; this releases extra thread over the button creating a shank. Place the foot on the machine, drop the feed dogs, set the proper stitch on the machine, and sew. The machine will sew thread over the finger between the holes to create the shank. Again, for medium and lightweight fabric this method usually releases enough thread to create a sufficient shank, but for a thicker fabric (think wool melton) it would probably not be enough and the sewing should be done by hand.


If you don’t have the accessory foot for the machine, a standard zig-zag foot (either open or closed toe) can be used. Place the foot on the machine, drop the feed dogs, place down the button and then place either a thick pin or toothpick over the button. Lower the feed dogs and sew the button on. The pin or toothpick acts like the finger on the button sewing accessory foot. Be sure to test before sewing a button on the project with this method; you may have to widen the stitch a bit so the needle doesn’t hit the button.



Picture7And lastly, hand sewing should be used for finely tailored garments and when a thicker fabric needs a button. Simply sew the button on neatly, leaving enough thread between the bottom of the button and the fabric to which the button is being sewn. Wrap the thread a few times around the thread shank, and secure the thread to the back of the work. For all the applications above, a little seam sealant on the back side of the work will help keep the threads knotted preventing the threads from coming out.

Test any method you chose to use but more importantly, test the shank with the layers of fabric. Make sample layers (including interfacings) and do a test buttonhole and then test the amount of thread shank needed to properly secure and button the garment so there will be no pulling once the garment is buttoned. This isn’t only for garments but for things like purses and totes, pillows, and any other place a button is needed.



As with all things sewing there are exceptions to the rules. There are times when the button needs to “pull” into the fabric such as with “tufting” and sewing eyes onto a stuffed animal. The pulling in these cases creates a texture—or in the case of the bears—an expression to the face.


Try sewing samples of button shanks with different fabrics and learn how easy it is to create the appropriate thread shank for the fabric being sewn. As for those utility pants, I took all the buttons off, used the button accessory foot for the machine and re-sewed all the buttons back on doubling up the stitches in each hole-set (the thought by the customer was that there wasn’t enough thread to hold on the buttons). After all, the customer–even if it is the most loved family member–is ALWAYS right!

Sew ‘til next time….enjoy the journey of Sewing!


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