This is my method for attaching pewter buttons to a garment. It is easy, simple and makes it doable to remove the pewter buttons before washing or to use on another garment, and then re-attaching them quick afterwards. Another great thing with this method is that you will not lose your buttons as easily as if you sew them onto the garment one by one, since you will have a secure ribbon to hold them in place.
Here is where I start; the sleeve at the top is finished, and the sleeve at the bottom already has its buttonholes and hems. You will need to make S-sleeves (with the seam at the back of the arm, going just over your elbow) and then fit them snugly over your underarm. I recommend doing a mock-up sleeve first in a cheap fabric to try it out. Do you notice the curved edge of the bottom sleeve? That will create room for the wrist and the start of the hand which are also inside the sleeve.
Start by marking out where to place the buttons, use a pen and compare with the already made buttonholes. Work on the inside of the sleeve. Depending on the size of your buttons you will need different seam allowances, I had small buttons and used 1 cm, but recommend that you use at least 1,5-2 cm.
Use an awl and make small holes in the fabric, for the buttons to go through. If you have a thin or sensitive fabric, you need to reinforce the sleeve before you begin, otherwise, the buttons may rip through the fabric when put under stress, such as moving or lifting when wearing the dress. A simple piece of fabric would do the trick, like on the sleeve above where the buttonholes have a strip of silk (sturdy linen is better to work with). Sew it into place before making the holes.
Do you see my trick now? I do not sew each button in place separately, but pull them through the holes I made with the awl. When I have them in the right place, I thread a sturdy ribbon (this one is in linen, but a braid, twisted linen threads or anything similar will go) through each buttons loop, to keep them in place.
The ribbon makes the buttons stay in place, and makes it impossible to lose them. Note that the ribbon is twisted from left to right to pass through each button from the same direction, this will give you a smoother seam later. The buttons are placed with the flatter side towards the sleeve.
When the whole set of buttons are attached and the ribbon threaded through them, fold the ribbon back, and leave a piece of it lying under the loops to keep it in place.
Final step! Fold the seam allowance over the buttons stem, loop and the ribbon, and whipstitch it in place. To remove the buttons, you will just have to rip the whip stitch open, remove the ribbon and take out the buttons to wash the dress in the machine, or use them elsewhere on another garment. To replace the buttons, repeat the steps above (the marking and holes should be left so you don’t have to redo them).
It takes me about 30 minutes to reset a sleeve, so quite doable instead of having to buy new buttons for each garment you make. This also works on bronze buttons of course, but fabric buttons I usually sew onto the garment one by one as is visible in finds from London (Dress Accessories 1150-1450). Also, note that you need the typical medieval button with its long stem, most modern buttons are flat and don’t work with this technique.
20/10/2018 at 14:19
That’s an ingenious way of doing things! I may have to use it on my next gown with an excuse for getting lovely fancy buttons.
24/01/2021 at 17:06
Lovely dress <3 Tell me, is it possible that the buttonhole is vertical ?
24/01/2021 at 21:39
It is possible to sew it that way, you just have to cut them vertical. But I have never seen it in the other direction on a medieval garment, but that doesn’t mean that it does not exist. =) But in the case with 14th c garments the buttons are commonly placed tight together which means you will have to make the holes in this direction to have room for them =)