How to choose the correct types of buttons can be a daunting task when you consider the huge selection available. Buttons come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be made in all kinds of different materials. They can be decorative accessories or a practical way of fastening an outfit.
Collecting buttons can be a great hobby and most sewing enthusiasts including me have a jar of buttons on their shelf, adding a touch of color to the sewing room. Actually, I have a plastic tub full and not just a jar!
History of Buttons
Buttons have been around for centuries. Once affordable for only the wealthy, buttons were traditionally hand made from everything from seashells, wood and metal. When the industrial revolution took place, buttons were manufactured and mass-produced making them more affordable and commonly used.
Types of Buttons
Buttons come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, colors and creative materials. In this article, I have classified the buttons first by their button type and then by their composition.
When choosing the best button for your project, the size is the top priority followed by style and lastly composition.
Let’s begin with the 5 main types of buttons classified by shape:
- Flat Buttons
- Shank Buttons
- Stud Buttons
- Toggle Buttons
- Decorative Buttons
Types of Buttons #1 – Flat Buttons
Most buttons which are mass-produced, fall into the category of flat buttons.
Flat buttons are mainly manufactured in plastic or metal with two or four holes to sew the button onto the fabric. Because they are flat, these buttons can be sewn on by sewing machines using a specialty foot to hold it in place.
The shirt button is usually a flat button with two or four holes and has specific measurements. Traditional men’s shirts use different button sizes on the collar, cuff and down the front of the shirt.
Types of Buttons #2 – Shank Buttons
Shank buttons are buttons without holes through the top. They have a shank underneath to sew the button onto the garment.
A shank button is a great option for jackets and thicker material or for a decorative finish making the button raised on the garment.
Types of Buttons #3 – Stud Buttons
Stud buttons are very popular in the manufacturing of jeans. Sometimes they are called ‘jean’s buttons’. Stud buttons are pressed onto the fabric with a special machine and are not used much for home applications. The button can be embossed or branded and is great for marketing purposes.
Types of Buttons #4 – Toggle Buttons
Toggle buttons are made in an interesting, elongated oval shape with two holes in the center to sew them in place.
Toggles often use loops as their fasteners. They are ideal for thicker coats and jackets such as duffel jackets.
Types of Buttons #5 – Decorative Buttons
Buttons can be used for cuff links, lapel buttons and other non-functional, decorative purposes. You can find fancy buttons on shirts and jackets giving a tailored finish to many garments.
Decorative buttons often have irregular shapes making it hard to fit them through buttonholes. I’ve used the fish and butterfly buttons as accents on necklines.
Composition of Buttons
Buttons can be made of various compositions and most projects will have several types of buttons that will be suitable. Think about the longevity of your sewn item and the washing method before choosing the type of button.
Button compositions include:
Once the industrial revolution took place and plastic came into the world of manufacturing, buttons took on a new role and became mass-produced, cheap and cheerful options for fasteners and decorative finishes. Although zippers are a very popular fastening innovation, buttons still remain the best selling fastener in the clothing industry.
Polyester buttons are an inexpensive form of plastic and can be used to mimic all kinds of other buttons. It can be manufactured to look like wood, pearl, or metal and colored with paint in bright colors.
Wood makes very unique long-lasting buttons. In their natural state, wood buttons have different textures and patterns, but they can also be painted in all sorts of colors.
Genuine leather and faux leather have been used to make buttons for a long time. Leather buttons are hard wearing and add a distinguished look to jackets. One of the original leather buttons was known as the football button because it resembled an old leather football.
Buttons have been made in all types of metal. Brass buttons have been very much a part of the military uniform for centuries. Metal buttons can be printed with logos or embossed giving them an added touch of class. They are very flexible as they can be smooth, textured, hammered, or ridged.
Metal buttons can be large or small and make great decorative statements.
Pearl and Shell Buttons
Mother of pearl and shell can be used to make all kinds of functional and decorative buttons. Mother of pearl is usually white, cream or pink and faux pearls can be manufactured in different colors. Small pearl buttons are very feminine and often used on wedding dresses.
Buttons can be covered in a fabric of your choice. Button covering kits allow the home seamstress to design and cover matching buttons for sewing projects.
Button kits allow for different button sizes and the shank is pressed into the back of the button ready to be sewn onto the garment.
Refined buttons can be made of glass and their ability to catch the light makes them beautiful decorative or functional buttons.
Types of Buttons – Size Comparison
Modern technology enables buttons to be manufactured in every shape you can imagine and in a multitude of sizes. Shapes range from geometric shapes through to floral and animal shapes in a variety of colors.
The measurement of buttons is called a “ligne” and originates from the French word meaning line. A ligne is 0.635mm or 0.025 inches.
This is a very small measurement taken across the diameter of the button. A shaped button needs to be measured across the widest part of the button to get the accurate ligne measurement.
Knowing the measurement of buttons is important for the clothing industry so that buttons can be standardized and will always fit the garment with accuracy and consistency. Button ligne charts are a useful resource to compare button sizes.
A button size will be written as a number followed by an L.
- 10L means 10 ligne and the ligne can be converted into inches or centimetres.
- A button measuring 40L would be the equivalent of a 1” or 25mm button.
Types of Buttons – In Conclusion
Buttons are one of those simple, but necessary items for your sewing room. Keeping a great supply of buttons in a jar helps the avid seamstress to have a button supply on hand all the time. You never know when you may need a button for a sewing project.
The next step is sewing the buttons on your project. Here is a quick video from my YouTube channel.
Here are some more button tutorials –
- How to Sew a Button – 4 holes, 2 holes and shank
- How to Sew a Buttonhole | Automatic & Manual
- Hand Sewn Buttonhole
- How to Sew a Button on a Shirt
- How to Make Fabric Buttons (Without a kit or machine)
- Easy Fabric Covered Buttons Tutorial – How to Make Buttons
Alternatives to Buttons
There are several alternatives to sewing buttons –