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Home>Tips for Better Buttons

Tips for Better Buttons


Seriously, this is the most valuable tip we can offer.  Lining makes the different between lush silk buttons and a wrinkled mess; the difference between professional and amateur.  Lining also prevents metal "shine through," and gives substance to thin and loosely woven fabrics that might otherwise slip out.  Some types of backs seem to work better with lined fabric.

What should you use for lining?  Short answer... it depends.  Some fabrics don't even need to be lined, which is why making a couple of test buttons is so important.  Perfect results don't happen by chance.

You can use almost anything as lining:  non-woven interfacing, muslin, quilt batting, Polar Fleece, flannel...  You can simply double your fabric, but our personal favorites are Pellon Fusible Fleece and Pellon Easy-Knit fusible interfacing (we sometimes use Sheer-Knit for unstable midweight fabrics).  Normally we prefer knit backings but recently we worked with a very thin woven gingham —turns out, the best backing was Shape-Flex, a light woven fusible that we carefully aligned to match warp and weft threads:


NOTE:  Pellon Thermolam and Rowley Iron-On Batting are great products, but too dense for this application.  Use something else.

Fleece makes gorgeous satin button, and knits provide a softer hand for quilt-weight cottons than non-woven interfacing.

We love the convenience of fusibles, although we keep the iron low and just lightly heat-tack the fabric.  You don't need a firm bond because the finished button will hold everything together.  We also use our handy Elmer's glue stick for non-fusible materials, on the rare occasions when we use them.

Be prepared to cut out larger circles.  Lining "bulks out" the fabric, which may prevent it from catching inside the shell completely.  Try using a cutter one size larger.

How to Center a Design on Your Buttons

We are contracting with a new American supplier for better, thicker templates in pretty colors and non-skid bottoms.  Hey, we're excited!

We used to stock clear acrylic templates, designed for machine buttons.  Custom-made for us... wonderful product, they allowed you to effortlessly center your design before cutting the fabric.

Then the nice lady who made them for us signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Dritz, who now markets her wonderful product in sizes to fit Dritz cover buttons.  No more custom templates for us (the Dritz version doesn't fit machine buttons).

All is not lost!  You can make a cheater version with poster board or manilla folders!  It's not quite as wonderful, but hey... beggars can't be choosers.  And this version is free!
  1. Trace the cutter.  Using the inside as your guide might provide a more accurate line, but the jury's still out on that.
  2. Center a button shell of the same size inside the circle.  Eyeball it, or use a ruler to help.  There's probably a mathematical formula for this...
  3. Cut the outside circle.  Cut out the inside circle.  Poking a hole first is helpful, but be careful not to distort you template material.  Curved embroidery scissors are very useful here, if you don't mind using them for cardboard.  Your finished template should look like a doughnut.
A little crude, but there you go.  Mark it with the button size for future reference.  Plop it over your design or embroidery.  The cut-out center represents the top of the button, so move the template around until you're happy with the placement.  Trace around the outside, and cut by hand (use those curved embroidery scissors if the cardboard didn't ruin them).

How to KEEP That Design Centered

You painstakingly centered that adorable little motif, only to have it slip to the side when you actually made the button... and now it's crooked.  Here's a tip to help ensure that never happens again:  glue stick!  Yes, the humble glue stick.

Smear a little glue on the top of your button shell.  Lightly position the fabric circle over it, and press all around the edge to see if it's really centered.  Reposition if necessary.  When you're satisfied with the placement, gently smooth the fabric over the top, being careful not to distort it.  Set to the side, upside-down, and repeat with the rest of your shells.  When finished, make buttons starting with the first shell you glued.  By then, the glue will have set.

Using Your Cutter Properly

When you don't have to worry about centering a design, your cutter can be your best friend.  Life is beautiful when you don't have to sit and cut out circles... with apologies to people who enjoy that sort of thing (we are told they exist).

Use a stack of fabric, not a single layer (you can add a couple of sacrificial layers of scrap fabric underneath, if necessary).  Like five or six layers:

Taller stacks and bigger cutters can require a little more "oomph".  Many customers have been able to achieve more leverage by slipping a length of PVC pipe over the machine handle.  We find placing the machine on the floor to be very effective.  One of our shop machines is mounted on a 17" long piece of 2" x 6" so we can move it around easily.  Please note we mounted the machine to the very back of the board, because otherwise pushing the handle would topple everything frontwards.

Cutter not cutting even with additional fabric layers?  If it used to cut just fine, you probably need to have it sharpened. Like any fine sharpened tool, cutters will eventually become dull.  We trust our own cutters to Bobby Mac the Knife.  Bob McBride is a certified Master Sharpener specifically trained to repair and sharpen round cutters —this is not a job for the guy at your local fabric store!  He accepts cutters by mail and will return them in better-than-new condition.

If your cutter is brand new and simply isn't cutting... you probably got a dud (rare, but it happens).  Give us a call, and we'll replace it ASAP.

Making Leather and Vinyl Buttons

Leather can be thick... or thin, depending.  Leather is inconsistent, so you need to adapt.  We generally recommend HUX dies for customers who use a lot of upholstery-weight leather, which allow a little more space for thicker materials.  HU dies can tolerate "medium" thick (approximately .022" - .030") material, including thin apparel-weight leather.  Some leather, however pliable, is even too thick for an HUX die.  You might need to try a different approach.  Try one of the following:
  1. Hammer the leather (cover it with something first).
  2. Spritz a little silicone on the moving surfaces of the top die.  Be very careful not to get silicone on any surface that will come in contact with the leather.
  3. Split the leather.  If you're desperate, try a belt sander on the underside... carefully.
If you make a lot of leather buttons, or plan to, maybe it's time to invest in a professional splitting machine (or perhaps a skiving knife to thin out the leather for just a couple of  buttons).

If you're making vinyl buttons and the bottom of your shells are actually slicing through the vinyl...
  1. Use a HUX die.  If you are using a HUX die...
  2. "Soften" your vinyl by lining it with Fusible Fleece (but glued, not ironed) or possibly thin felt.  This works especially well with stiff vinyl as long as it isn't too thick.
  3. Verify that your rust-resistant shells have undergone an annealing process (heated to at least 850°F and allowed to slowly cool to room temperature), which "softens" the metal —ours have.  Otherwise, try aluminum shells (not our first choice for vinyl, but hey... if you're desperate... maybe it will work).
  4. Accept that your vinyl is too thick.  If you can't use a thinner vinyl, try peeling off the knit lining and possibly thinning the vinyl with a skiving knife.  If you're truly desperate, a belt sander can also work with vinyl.