Although we take buttons and snaps for granted on our garments, they can become quite complex. There are lots of different variables that you’ll need to consider before adding them to your projects.

Button Basics

Buttons come in many shapes and sizes. The most common buttons are made of plastic or metal, but others are made of porcelain, wood, bone, glass, leather, shell and jewels. There are also buttons that are fabric covered. These are common on outerwear. 

Although fastening a button with a buttonhole is very common, you can fasten buttons with loops, frogs or chains.

Button sizing must relate to the garment design and fabric chosen. Functional buttons generally range in size from 3/8" (9.5 mm) to 1.5" (38 mm) in diameter. Purely decorative buttons can be as large as 2.5" (63.5 mm).

Generally, you’ll want to place your buttons an equal distance apart. When working with items that typically gape, like a woman’s shirt, you’ll want to make sure to place a button at the gaping area. This would be at the bust line.

If you want to be unique, you can group the buttons in clusters, space them irregularly, or use a row of small ones instead of a few larger ones.

Sew Through & Shank

There are two types of buttons. A sew-through button has two or four holes for attaching the button to the garment. A shank button has a metal, plastic or fabric shank behind the button with a hole in it sewing the button to the garment. The shank allows room for the overlapping fabric, so that the button rests on top of the buttonhole.

Buttons are sewn on the center front/back lines of tops, skirts and pants. You can use two buttons, placed back-to-back to mimic linked buttons. Linked buttons can be used to close a cuff, vest or cape.

One thing you’ll want to keep in mind when applying any type of fastener, is that typically women’s bodices (tops) button right over left and men’s button left over right.


Buttonholes are typically the diameter of the button plus 1/8” or 3mm. Always make a test buttonhole on a fabric scrap to determine the best size for your button.


Horizontal buttonholes are typically not centered on the button line. The end closest to the extension should extend nearly all the way across the line. Most of the time the button will pull to the limit of the hole, so that should be where the center line is.

Vertical buttonholes can have the button placement at the top, the center or the bottom of the hole. A row of very small buttons may have the top button at the top of the buttonhole, the last button at the bottom of the buttonhole and all the buttons between in the center. The Buttons tool in the Fashioner makes this process very simple to achieve.

You will need to extend your pattern when adding buttons or other fasteners. Learn more about button extensions.