Handmade Buttons – Tutorial

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This is more craft than sew, but I assure you, I am not turning into a craft blogger.  I’m a sewist all the way, but because I’ve featured my handmade buttons here, and here, I thought I would share my process with you.

The first step is to acquire shrinkplastic.  You may be able to find it in craft shops, but I bought mine online.  The brand I have is called Lucky Squirrel, and I’ve been happy with it, although I assume the brand doesn’t matter much.  (Lucky Squirrel is not sponsoring me in any way, it’s just what I used.)  It comes in A4 sized sheets, and in a variety of colours.  I used clear, because I like being able to see the design on both sides, and I love being able to trace images onto the plastic.

You also need:

  • 400 grit sandpaper,
  • a wide-mouth shotglass,
  • coloured pencils,
  • scissors,
  • a single hole punch, and
  • clear nail varnish.

To prepare the surface for your design, you need to scuff it with fine sandpaper.  You do this all over the sheet of shrinkplastic, in a crosshatch pattern.  Be thorough!  You’re going to draw on the scuffy side, so keep that facing up.

Next, you create a button template.  Place the shotglass upside-down on the shrinkplastic (or cardstock – this is just a template, afterall) and trace around it in pencil.  There is no need for precision, so you can eyeball these next steps.  Draw a line straight down the middle of your circle and place a mark at the middle.  Cut out the circle, and use the hole punch to create holes on the line, just either side of the middle.

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I also used my template to test out my pattern and colour combinations! Still, you can see the line I drew down the centre for the placement of the holes.

Trace your template onto the shrink plastic several times to make several buttons.  Now, use coloured pencils to draw any design you like.  Here, I traced scraps of printed fabric to create a flurry of airplanes.  I traced the airplanes first, then I coloured in the background, and finally, outlined the shapes with a sharp pencil.  Don’t worry if your drawing is imprecise, because it will look much better after shrinking.

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Buttons before shrinking. I put down 5 pence, for scale. (That’s the size of a dime, if you’re North American)

Your next step is to cut out all of the rounds, and punch out all the holes.  Place them on a piece of cardboard (I use the side of an empty cereal box) on a baking tray, making sure they do not touch.  Put this under the grill and watch it closely.  Soon, you’ll see the buttons start to shrink and curl – they will normally uncurl on their own, but you might need to help them out.  When they flatten out again, they’re done, and the pigments have become permanent!  Remove the buttons from the oven and let them cool before applying clear nail varnish to protect the scuffy side, and to add some shine.

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Buttons, after shrinking. They shrink quite a bit!

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