I’m still learning how to make practical costumes for LARP, as well as general tailoring and clothing making with my sewing machine, most of which has been detailed on Wolfish Written through photographs and general kit enthusiasm. Having stumbled on several costuming blogs with their detail photographs, progress updates and tutorials I feel more confident in sharing what I’ve been up to – hence the growing collection of walkthroughs on the tutorial page.
However, recently I came across fabric buttons. Not the ones where you cover a button with fabric and press it to shape (though they do do kits for that …), but the old fashioned self-stuffed ones made with cloth scraps leftover from your costume project. When I saw these I thought they would make the perfect touch for my Tudor-style doublet I was making for my Knight character. Then I thought I’d share them with you.
This week I’d like to share how I recently made fabric buttons and how I used them to button close a Tudor-style doublet.
For more tutorials/walk-throughs, go to Tutorials
During my research into Tudor costuming/quilted arming jackets/historic costume making I had found reference made to handmade/fabric buttons , with some helpful tutorials posted here and here. After reading through the instructions and making my first mock up I was surprised how simple they were to make and made a rash decision to use them on my own doublet. I don’t regret the decision because they certainly complement the garment, but I had to make more than a few to do the job! So, what started as 11 buttons down the front of the garment became 21 as I decided the proposed spacing was too wide for the look I had in mind, plus an additional 6 to fasten the sleeves to the shoulders. This last decision deviated from the eyelets and ribbon the pattern called for, but after having lost ribbons to the props box or in the field at fests I decided to do away with that bit of fuss. So, buttons, buttonholes and gusto was called for.
But how do you close a garment on fabric buttons? Well, you can either use buttonholes like normal (factoring a little bit of “give” for the depth of your new buttons) or make some nifty thread button loops to hook over the buttons and close the front of a garment or pocket or similar. I used Ysolda’s tutorial to make the button loops for my doublet, though there are several others out there – some using ribbon or bias tape, others using embroidery floss, some using crochet wool. For more tips on working with button loops, this Sewing.org guideline might help, with other guidelines found here.
When I made my buttons I wanted them reasonably large so that there was no real gap between each one as it went down the front of my doublet, but it’s really up to you how large you choose to make your buttons. Just remember that you’re going to have something much smaller than you started and you’ve got to sew two rounds of gathering stitches, one of which needs to be far enough from the edge so it doesn’t cause your button cloth to fray. One tutorial suggests that a 1 1/4″ round of cloth makes a 1/2″ button, but have an experiment!
First, gather your materials – scrap from your costume or something you’re making your buttons from, scissors, dressmakers chalk/pen/pencil or something that’ll mark the cloth, thread and needle.
Draw a circle on the cloth. I used the bottom of my pin pot (2 5/8″). The blue markings from the pen don’t show up at all well on this cloth when it’s photographed, so I added a red circle to help point out what’s going on. Cut out the circle from your cloth.
Thread your needle with plenty of thread. This thread will gather and bind your button together as well as leaving long tails to sew into your project. You may still need thread to secure your button, but the long tail helps attach the button in the first instance. Note how we’re working with the right side of the cloth – we turn the raw edges into the middle of the button rather than turning the button wrong ways out.
Sew a running stitch around the outer edge of your button, being careful not to get too close to the raw edge of your cloth, leaving a long tail. If you were to pull on one of the threads whilst holding the other firm the button would start to gather in on itself, which is exactly what you want. Some people don’t keep the long tail and fasten it off with an anchoring knot, but that’s personal preference.
Pull the button edges into the middle by pulling on one set of threads, holding the other firm. This should create a pleasant flat button with the outer edge tucked into the middle.
I would like to draw your attention to the little pleats formed by your first round of gathering stitches. These will be used to gather another round of the button into the middle, securing the raw edges neatly inside. Sew a few running stitches around the edge of your flat button until you return to your starting point.
Pull on this second round of gathering stitches until the button forms into the shape you’re looking for – ideally something nice and neat with the tatty ends tucked out of sight. Once you’re happy with the shape of your button, sew a couple of stitches into the button back to secure all your gathers.
You should now have two “tails” of thread and a nice little button. Tie a knot in your tails for security and cut off your needle.
You now have a button! And all from using scraps of cloth that, lets be honest with ourselves, would likely end up in the bin or as rags to stuff another project or two.
However, once you have one, you do need many more …
A word to the wise – try and stop your tails from tangling together, otherwise you’ll end up with a knotty ball and be forced to cut the threads when you give up untangling it all. Then what was the point in keeping those long tails?
Now that you have your lovely swanky new buttons, you’ll need something for them to pull against to hold your costume/accessory closed. You could make proper button holes using a sewing machine or hand stitching, or make some thread loops to slip over your button. Because my doublet pattern already had steps calling for ribbon loops I decided I would just adapt my costume a touch with thread rather than ribbon loops to keep the central seam on the doublet where the pattern has it, but it all depends on what look you want.
Before I sewed my doublet together I applied the interfacing on the back of the front panels and marked the button loop placement marks down the back (not the front as the pattern says) to mark the points on the seam I was going to work with (you can just about see the teeny blue dots in the photo). I used crochet wool to sew these loops. Cut a length of thread, anchor the stitch at the back and pass the needle through to the front.
Loop the thread over a finger (or something else if you prefer that is approximately the same width as your buttons) and pass the needle through to the next dot. Pass it back a couple of times until you have three or four loops of thread over your finger.
Make a loop through the thread loop to knot it off to begin making your loop. I suggest you take a quick look at Ysolda’s tutorial at steps 5, 6 and 7 to show how the knotting should work. You should work so that the uppermost section of thread is the one that will be facing outwards when the garment is worn, so that you have a nice bevel to your loop.
Keep knotting (step 8 of Ysolda’s tutorial) around your thread loop, keeping your knots nice and tight together. You’ll start seeing how the loop comes together pretty quickly.
Knot the last of your knots tight up against the fabric and pass your needle back towards the back of the cloth, leaving behind your thread loop. Anchor the end of your thread and either continue onto the next loop (if you have enough thread left) or cut it off. As you can see here there is a seam allowance left between the loop and the edge, along which will be sewn the lining. Be careful when sewing the lining to the outer though – keep your button loops pressed away from the sewing machine foot and the seam you’re working on so as not to catch them into the seam. When you fold the seam back on itself the loops should stand proudly away from the join between the outer and lining.
A better view of the button loop. Can’t you just see the button passing through that in your mind’s eye?
And just a quick sneaky peek at the end result …
… more to come on my upcoming walk through making my Tudor-style doublet to accompany my ruffed red shirt.