A stunning pair of jeans is a must-have in any wardrobe. But replacing that all-metal button can seem kind of daunting if you’ve never done it before. How do you attach it? What if part of the old button is still on the pants? What if the denim is torn? Can you re-use a button from an old pair of jeans? What about a regular button with holes in it?
Replacement jeans buttons are inexpensive and typically require no sewing to attach: you pretty much just whack them with a hammer and you’re done. If the denim is torn or if you want to use a regular button with holes in it, you will need a few extra steps. But it’s not difficult, and I’ll show you the process for each method, along with a hack that lets you reuse a button from a pair of worn-out jeans! So here’s how to replace the button on your jeans!
If pieces of the old button are still attached:
This is a pair of jeans that I’m using as an example. The button has broken off, but it still has the tack on the back and a bent piece of metal where the button is supposed to be. This kind of button failure is, unfortunately, fairly common in lower-quality pants that use cheaper zippers and buttons. But it’s also easy to fix!
First, we need to get rid of the old metal pieces from the broken button. Use a small pair of pliers that have a sharp cutting edge, and cut the tack from the back of the waistband. Working from the inside of the pants assures that if you accidentally scuff or nick the fabric, it will be less noticeable.
When the tack is snipped through, you can remove the metal pieces from both sides of the waistband.
Now we need our new jeans button! They’re on Amazon, and you can find them in different colors, with designs like roses on them, and even in bulk. The buttons for adult sizes of jeans are all a pretty standard size, so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting the right size. Whichever brand you get, it should have two parts: a tack-shaped pointy piece that goes through the fabric, and a part that looks like a button with a hollow shank.
Poke the tack through from the inside of the waistband, using the hole that the old button tack went through.
Now put the other piece of the button over the pointy end of the tack.
Place the button face-down on a piece of scrap wood. (If you use your nice tabletop, you might end up with a button-sized divot in it!) Make sure that the button is centered on the tack, and then smack the tack with a hammer. Try to whack it straight up and down, not at an angle.
You can also use a pair of slip-joint pliers like these to press the two parts together. Slip-joint pliers have a moveable pivot point, and the jaws will open wide enough that you can pinch the tack and button straight down, not at an angle. A regular pair of pliers will pinch the pieces at an angle. Take a look at the pictures to see examples of the right and wrong way to join the two pieces.
It’s a really good idea to place a scrap of fabric over the pretty side of the button to keep the pliers from scratching it, but I’m not using one in the pictures so that you can see the right/wrong angle of the pliers more easily.
Check to see if the button is seated all the way down on the tack. You shouldn’t have any extra room in between the tack and the denim; you can see in the picture above that I can still get my thumbnail in between the tack and the denim. So I need to smack it again!
Once the tack is hammered all the way into the button, you’re done. Seriously, that’s it! You’ve replaced the button on a pair of jeans!
If you want to reuse the button from an old pair of jeans:
Metal jeans buttons are made to be one-use only: The tack goes in, but it’s not designed to come out. However, if it’s still attached firmly to the fabric of the waistband, we can use that to our advantage and reuse the old button on a different pair of pants!
Cut a circle out of the waistband of the old pair of jeans, with the button in the center. Cut just inside of the gold waistband stitches, and remove the rogue seam allowances from the bottom edge of the patch.
Go back to the jeans that you are repairing, and look at the hole where the button came off. You want the hole to be just large enough for you to push the circle of fabric through to the back of the waistband. Ideally, the hole will be exactly as big around as the button shank. You can snip it a little bigger, but don’t make it larger than you need to! Cutting it too big will just weaken the jeans unnecessarily.
Push the patch of fabric through the hole to the back of the waistband. I’m using my hemostats for this; they work really well.
Since you’ll be going through quite a few layers of thick fabric, I recommend a size 16 sharp needle (also called size 100 regular point). I also like using denim thread, which is a thread that’s mottled blue and designed to blend in with denim fabric. It’s useful for all kinds of mending and repairs. I’m using magenta thread for all of these pictures, because of course I want you to be able to see it! I’m sewing with a wide zigzag and about 10 stitches per inch (about 2.5 mm).
Zigzag two times around the perimeter of the patch, as close to the button as you can go. You will have to sew with the patch on the bottom, making sure that the button stays out of your way.
Trim any excess fabric away from the edges of the patch after you’re done stitching.
As long as you stitch fairly close to the button, you won’t be able to see the patch or the stitching while you’re wearing the pants. The other side of the waistband (the side with the buttonhole on it) will overlap and cover all of the stitches. Even with the contrasting magenta thread, you can’t see it at all while the button is closed!
Here’s one button replacement I did a while ago that reused an old jeans button. I sewed with the denim thread, and you can see how well it blends in with the fabric.
If the denim is torn:
If the original button was ripped off but you want to use a new button, you can use a hybrid of the two techniques above. Patch the hole from the back (which will be easier because the button won’t be in your way, and you can sew with the patch facing up!) and then use a hammer or a pair of pliers to apply the new button.
If you want to use a regular button with holes in it:
You can do that, too! In fact, if you happen to have a pair of jeans that doesn’t have a standard size of buttonhole, this is likely your best option.
There’s a good chance you’ve attached this kind of button before. But when you’re replacing a button on a garment made of thicker material (like jeans or a coat), it’s very important to make a thread shank.
What’s a thread shank? It’s a stem made of thread that lets the button stand up like a mushroom, instead of lying flat like a dinner plate. It allows plenty of room for the other side of the waistband (the side with the buttonhole on it) to fit between the button and the fabric.
Start by choosing a button that fits easily (but fairly snugly) through the buttonhole. A 5/8″ or 17mm button is pretty standard for a pair of jeans, but you should always test the fit by pushing it through the buttonhole.
You also need a needle and thread, and a long, thin item like a toothpick, skewer, large tapestry needle, or an awl/stiletto. Don’t use something with two fat ends, like a phone charger cord, because you won’t be able to pull it out of the stitching later!
The toothpick should be about as thick as the waistband right where the buttonhole is. Here I’m folding the buttonhole in half so that you can see that I’ve chosen a toothpick as thick as one side of the buttonhole. If you were sewing a button onto a dress shirt, you could use a small toothpick or a regular-sized needle to create your thread shank, since the fabric will be much thinner than a pair of jeans. But for something thick, like jeans or a coat, we need a large toothpick.
Thread your needle with a quadrupled length of thread. You should use matching thread when you’re sewing on a button, but I’m using magenta here so you’ll be able to see it. Cut a length of thread that’s about as long as your wingspan (fingertip to fingertip), then fold it in half. Put the fold of the thread through the eye of the needle, and even up the thread so that you have the two cut ends a little longer than the fold.
Take one small stitch on the back of the waistband, and run the needle through the loop of thread.
Pull the thread tight and trim the two cut ends of the thread close to the fabric.
Then run the needle through to the outside of the waistband, and through one of the holes in the button.
Place the toothpick on top of the button, between the holes. You can use painter’s tape to hold the toothpick down if you want to. (This is just one thing on my list of painter’s tape hacks that can make your sewing and crafting easier!)
Put the needle over the toothpick, through another buttonhole, and back down through the waistband, pulling the thread tight around the toothpick.
You will find very devoted members of the “make the shape of an X with your thread” club, and members of the “make an 11” club. You can probably start a fight in a fabric shop over it. I make an 11, but (psst, here’s a secret:) it doesn’t really matter. Both methods will effectively attach the button to the waistband. I feel like it’s a little easier to get all the thread evened out if the strands aren’t crossing over each other, so I make an 11. You should do whatever makes sense to you.
Continue sewing through one set of holes, and then the other. When you have sewn through each set of holes four times, pull the toothpick out.
Now run the needle down between the button and the waistband.
Pull the button away from the waistband, and hold the thread tight. Wind the thread 4 times around the threads that hold the button to the waistband. There’s your thread shank!
When you’ve wrapped the thread shank, hold the thread tight and run the needle straight through the thread shank 4 times. Now cut the thread tails close, and you’re done!
Check out how the button is standing up off the fabric: that extra space lets the thick jeans waistband fit in between the button and the cloth comfortably and without straining anything.
If you want to use a shank button:
Another option is to use a shank button, which is a button that has a stem-like shank already attached to the back of the button. You do not need to make a thread shank when you’re using a shank button, which will save you a little bit of time.
Make sure that the button fits nicely through the buttonhole before you start.
Take your stitches through the waistband, through the hole in the button shank, and back down through the waistband. Here’s a closeup of the finished product!
You can knot the threads when you’re done if you want to, but I prefer to take several small backstitches to lock my threads at the beginning and end. If you do knot the thread, it’s a really good idea to put a dab of fabric glue on the knot to keep it from coming undone later.
If you’re still on the fence about giving it a try, here’s one more option for you. These jeans buttons attach much like a lapel pin, and can be repositioned. I haven’t used them personally, and it looks like the back sticks out far enough that it might be uncomfortable. But they would be perfect for an emergency sewing kit, or maybe for temporarily adding suspender buttons to a pair of pants. Since they are repositionable, they might be a good idea if you aren’t confident about your button placement, or if you think you will need to be adjusting the waistband in the near future. Moving the button to one side or the other is a super simple way to adjust the fit on your jeans!
So there you have it! Replacing a jeans button is pretty easy to do, no matter which method you choose, and I hope you give it a try. It’s so much cheaper than replacing your favorite jeans if they lose a button, and it’s a good skill to have in your bag of tricks! And if you need to patch holes in your jeans or make other repairs to your clothes, check out my other mending tutorials!