Being able to handle a needle and thread to perform basic repairs of your clothes and equipment is a very important skill to possess. You don’t fully realize or appreciate the importance of buttons until they break on you when you’re 10 miles into a 40 mile hike.
Sewing a Button
Buttons come primarily in 2 or 4-hole designs. The process for attaching either design is mostly the same.
Thread the Needle
This can be very frustrating. If the end of your thread is frayed, you can wet it with your lips to help create a narrow end to feed through the eye of the needle. Once you thread the needle, pull it through so that both ends are equal and at least 12 inches long. Tie a knot in the tail end of the thread to create an anchor point and help prevent the thread from pulling loose while you’re working.
Create the Anchor
From the back side of the cloth, run the needle through to the front. If you have a 2-hole button, run the needle through to the back side again so that a small loop is formed in the front side. The size of the loop should be equal to the distance between the holes in the button. Run the needle through the cloth several times to build up the loop. If you have a 4-hole button, do the same thing except in the shape of an X.
Place the Button
With your anchor created, position the button holes over the ends of the anchor and run the needle from the back of the cloth through to the front and through one of the button holes. It’s important not to make the button snug up to the cloth, there should be a space the width of a toothpick between the button and the cloth. You can eyeball this distance, but to get a nice, clean stitch, it’s helpful to lay another needle or toothpick over the top of the button to act as a spacer so that as you run the needle through the holes, the thread wraps over it.
Run the needle from back to front through the buttonholes and over the spacer until you feel you’ve made a solid attachment. Then run the needle back through the buttonholes, but not through the cloth so that the thread is dangling between the button and the cloth. Wrap the dangling thread around the stitched thread several times and pull it snug to cinch down the thread that holds the button on to the cloth. This will reinforce the stitching
To finish the job, run the needle through the anchor to the back side of the cloth. Then run the needle through the back side of the anchor several times and tie a knot to secure the thread. Tying several knots isn’t a bad idea, but don’t overdo it. Once you’re satisfied that the knots will hold, trim away the excess thread and test your work.
Stitching a Tear
When you stitch a torn piece of clothing, you’re going to have to make do with less cloth than you originally started with. A tear in cloth means that the threads at the edge of the rip have been weakened and aren’t suitable for holding a stitch. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fix or patch the tear, you’ll just have to accept that it may be a little tight until you can get to a proper tailor.
I should also mention that there are many, many techniques for stitching tears and that each has it’s own advantages and difficulties. The technique that is being taught here is a very simple, but sturdy approach that is field expedient and durable.
Thread the Needle
This step is more or less the same as described in the Sewing a Button section. The length of the thread you’ll need is dependent on the thickness of the cloth you’re stitching and the length of the tear. Generally speaking, you’ll probably want to have 12-24 inches of doubled up thread (that’s 24-48 inches of single strand thread).
Clean up the Tear
Before you begin stitching, it’s a good idea to try and clean up the edges of the tear. Cut away any loose thread and try to make the edges as straight and clean as possible. Try not to cut away any serviceable material as you’ll need this to help close the tear.
Meet in the Middle
Once the edges are cleaned up, press them together so that the insides of both sides the cloth are touching and the edges face outward away from the wearer’s body. Beginning at one end of the tear, begin stitching the two sides together.
There are a couple techniques you can use to actually stitch the tear. One technique is a back-and-forth stitch where you simply run the needle from one side to the other along the length of the tear. The other is a running loop stitch where you run the needle through from one side, bring it back over the tear to the same side, cinch the stitch, and run the needle back through the same side.
Run your stitching up and down the length of the tear several times to make the stitching hold tight.
Reinforce the Ends
Once you’ve closed up the tear, run a few extra stitches through the ends of the tear to provide additional reinforcement where the tear is most likely to grow. After building up the material with the thread, tie a knot or two to hold it in place and trim off the extra thread.