Home-Made Buttons: Three Easy Techniques

home-made buttonsWhen you're looking for just the right buttons for your latest clothing project, as jewelry components or as trimmings for your scrapbooks, there's nothing like the DIY approach for that perfect finishing touch. Homemade buttons are easy and fun. Once you've made your first batch, you'll never want to use store-bought buttons again!

Home-Made Buttons from Rustic Wood

You can make wooden buttons very simply, either from a length of dowel or from a natural tree-branch. Using a branch will give you lots of interesting natural variation in the shape and color of your buttons, but you need to be quite choosy in selecting your material.

Choose a hardwood such as oak; softwoods are too fragile. Use the straightest branch you can find — this will give you the most even buttons. Only use seasoned wood that's had time to dry out; avoid wood that's too green. Check the branch for rot, and discard it if you find any. Bear in mind that your buttons will be the diameter of the branch, minus the bark.

homemade buttons

Photo credit:  Ask Cheese

Saw the branch into thin slices using a fretsaw, hacksaw or other fine-toothed saw. Peel away the bark and pith so that only the wood remains, then drill the sewing holes. Sand the button with fine sandpaper. You can now simply oil the button with olive or linseed oil to protect it. You can stain the wood with light-fast pigments before oiling it. Alternatively, you can decorate these natural wooden buttons with any durable water-resistant paint, such as acrylics, and further protect this with a layer of suitable varnish.

Home-Made Buttons from Shrink Plastic

Shrink plastic is a special type of plastic that comes in thin sheets. When heated, items made from this plastic shrink and become thicker. Before heating, you can apply designs to the plastic; these will shrink along with the rest of the item. This makes it the ideal choice for finely detailed and very precisely made buttons.

You can cut the plastic with scissors; however, for greater precision, a punch is better for round buttons. Squares, rectangles and polygons can be cut with a guillotine. It's a good idea to make a paper template so that you can make all your buttons with the same dimensions. Remember that you'll need to cut shapes with around double the diameter that you want for your finished buttons.

home-made buttons

Photo credit:  Fulgorine

Before you shrink the buttons, you can draw or paint on the plastic. Permanent pens such as Sharpies will give strong, vivid colors; colored pencils give a more subtle effect. You can also use spirit-based ink to create designs. The plastic comes in both clear and frosted versions; permanent markers work on both, but you'll need the frosted type if you wish to use colored pencils. Tracing the design from an original will give you more uniform buttons.

Another option is to use a stamp with spirit-based ink. You can stamp the plastic before shrinking it, or — with care, and a little luck — stamp the buttons while they're still soft. This will give you a textured effect.

Home-Made Buttons from Polymer Clay

Colorful polymer clay is a great material for buttons. It is easy to work with, handling just like regular modeling clay; once you're happy with what you've made, polymer clay can be hardened to make the piece permanent. Air-hardening clays are available, though most varieties are formulated to be heated in a domestic oven. When hardened, polymer clay buttons are durable and colorfast.

Polymer clay is a relatively new art medium consisting of particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in plasticizer. When fired in a home oven, the particles fuse solid which results in a hard, durable substance. The colors are vivid and the surface can be sanded to a smooth finish.

As well as shaping buttons from a single color, you can blend two or more shades for a marbled effect. You can also stamp your buttons with an ink stamp while the clay is still soft. This is a quick and nifty way to create a design with both color and texture. Make sure that you only use spirit-based ink on polymer clay.

A clay gun is very useful for making buttons. This is a gadget that allows you to extrude a length of clay with a uniform cross-section. You can use it to extrude clay with a variety of different cross-sections, from a simple circle to flowers and star shapes.

Here's a link to where you can get this gadget if you're interested.

Clay canes make ideal material for buttons. A polymer clay cane has a pattern all the way through it; by cutting slices, you can quickly make pretty, decorative buttons. You can buy canes ready to cut from many handicraft outlets, but learning to make your own canes is very rewarding.

For example, a daisy cane can be made by rolling out a cylinder of yellow clay for the center and six cylinders of contrasting colors for the petals. Arrange the cylinders in a bundle, with the yellow cylinder at the center; fill in any gaps with shade that will complement the other colors. Gently press them all together, then reduce the cane by turning it over and pressing it repeatedly along its length. Make sure the bundle retains its cylindrical shape by carefully turning it a little at a time and pressing evenly along the full length of the cane. It's best to use a flat object, like a board or a ruler, to keep the pressure even.

A checkered cane is even easier. Make two square prisms in different colors, then carefully press them together. Cut the resulting two-colored block in half. Reverse one half and place it on top of the other, so that you now have four squares of alternating colors. Press the blocks together on all four sides to make sure that the clay is fully fused. You can go on cutting, reversing and joining the cane until you're happy with the size and number of the squares. Try to keep the pressure even so that the squares don't distort.

When you have prepared your extruded clay or clay cane, you can cut off slices and punch sewing holes in them while it's still soft. Alternatively, you can fire the clay cane whole and saw off slices with a fine fretsaw, then make the sewing holes with a drill. Cutting the slices horizontally will give you buttons that are the same shape and diameter as your cane. By cutting at an angle, you can make oblong buttons. A rippled blade creates buttons with an interesting wavy texture.

With these techniques and a little practice, you'll never be short of the perfect button again.

Here are some of the materials you'll need for these projects:


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35 Responses to Home-Made Buttons: Three Easy Techniques

  1. Rosie Hinesley says:

    Interesting, but I couldn’t find the links. I have done the shrink plastic but not the clay or wood.

  2. Carol Kauffman says:

    This looks like a lot of fun. Don’t know why I have never thot of making my own buttons. I do quite a bit of sewing and sometimes it is hard to find the right buttons at a decent price. I hate spending almost as much for buttons as I did the fabric.

  3. Pingback: Custom-made Buttons: Three Easy Techniques - Sewing 4 Free

  4. Cathee says:

    I have used the polymer clay, and it makes very nice buttons and embellishments. A lot of the rolled fondant materials work great. There is one mold from Wilton that has buttons. You can create your holes with a toothpick. One lesson learned, don’t get the holes too close and be sure to bake as directed. You don’t want it to be soft or they will break (lesson learned). The thickness determines the bake time. It is nice to make a big button that doesn’t cost you $3-$5!

  5. Pingback: Tutorial: 3 ways to make your own buttons – Sewing

  6. katactivity says:

    Hi – Great article but I have searched the whole page and there are no links to click on for the materials.

  7. Cindy Dusthimer says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t understand how to get the perfect little holes from the wood and plastic? Love the article and ideas though.

  8. Stacy McNaught says:

    I would make makeup bags and cosmetic pouches!

  9. Anne Weaver says:

    The possibilities! I’ve got a Craft gossip post scheduled for tomorrow evening
    that features your post: http://sewing.craftgossip.com/?p=91206 –Anne

  10. Marlette Louisin says:

    Great article. I’ve done the polymer and wooden buttons before as well as deer antler ones for a coat. You do need at least a power jigsaw to cut the hard antler. They aren’t all the same size exactly but that lends to their uniqueness!

    Thanks for the info and supplies link.

  11. Eileen Fac says:

    What an interesting article. I’d love to give it a try so will keep my eyes open for possible mediums. One question though, could I cut the shrink plastic with a die cutter?

  12. How do you shrink plastic? Do you make holes before or after shrinking? With what tool?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hello Josee, you use a heat tool, found at the stamping side of the craft shops. You make the holes before you shrink using a craft punch holder. Check the links at the end of the article. Enjoy!

  13. Eva says:

    Thank you so much for this article! Just a few days ago my mom mentioned that I could make my own buttons. I was like, What??? #MindBlown In the Amazon info for the shrinking plastic it has clear, matte, & white. Would the matte = frosted, as you recommended for use with pencils?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I have never used it with pencil because as it is the pencil makes for a muted tone if you add matte effect it will make for a light matte color, it could work if that is the effect you are going for. If you want a stronger tone the sharpie works best. However, I encourage you to experiment and have fun with it. You will come up with great buttons I am sure!

  14. Pamela says:

    Which technique are the first buttons pictured made with?

  15. carolyn407 says:

    Great ideas! Would it work well to paint the outside of the wooden dowel or stick before slicing into buttons, or would it be best to paint afterward? Also, maybe it’s just on my computer, but I’m not seeing the link to the materials list (or to the extruder) that you refer to.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I would paint before I cut, simply because it would be so much faster. Just tested the link and it is working well.

  16. sewjanet says:

    Interesting!

  17. patricia welch says:

    thank you for this information. I am always so grateful to learn something I never even thought of! In the past, people had to figure out ways to make the things they needed or wanted, but we have become used to having everything made for us by manufacturers. (I am not really complaining about that at all)….but it is so good to be reminded that there are things we can do ourselves and get exactly what we want! Love this!!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hello Patricia, you will have a lot of fun making buttons, it is addictive. I do have one more method, that we will be using in a bag, I think you will like the new method.

  18. Bethany Thompson says:

    I love to make buttons and have collected buttons since I was young having been fascinated with my mama’s button box. Now if I could just get myself to sew again and make something to put my buttons on!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Bethany, I have a neckless and a handbag made out of buttons. I will share as soon as I finish the video.

  19. Christine Warner says:

    Oh my! What a great article! How fun! I can’t wait to try all of these! I am new to sewing and was wishing for something more unique than what I’m finding in the stores. Thanks!!?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Indeed Christine, with any of this methods your buttons can not get more unique that. Do share love what you come up with.

  20. Susan DeVilbiss says:

    I especially love this article because sometimes I have a hard time finding buttons that I like for what I am making. You all give such good advice and I know it is from years of experience, so everything is tried and true.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Susan, I completely understand how you feel, do try this methods. I have tried one more method that I will be sharing with you soon. Enjoy!

  21. Lisa says:

    Hello! Wonderful idea! And so many color options. My first question was, “Are they washable?” Here’s a link to an article to answer that question: https://thebluebottletree.com/wash-polymer-clay-buttons/
    Thanks!

  22. Brenda Hare says:

    Interesting, but I think you forgot to give us some links.

What do you think?