1930s Sew-along with Norma: Covered and Underlined Buttons


I’m now at the part I love about dressmaking–considering and making the finishing touches.  For my dress created during the 1930s Sew-along with Norma those finishing touches will be a belt and fabric covered buttons.  The green fabric I chose works well with the floral print of the dress and provides just the right contrast.  I started with the buttons first and will share what I learned in the form of a tutorial.

Planning for the buttons

Fabric covered buttons are made using a brass top and bottom designed to grip, hold and cover the fabric that is shaped around the top of the button.  On the inside of the top portion of the button are little teeth against which you mold and press the fabric so that the teeth grip and hold it securely.  When that is finished the bottom portion is snapped into place.

The fabric I am using is very lightweight and has a slight sheen.  As a result, the metallic gleam of the button shows through the fabric making it even more shiny.  I needed to underline the button fabric, so to speak, to prevent the shine from happening.  It is very important that the buttons have a matte look about them so that they stay in keeping with the dress fabric.

At first I thought a poly-china silk would work but it proved of no use in hiding the shine from the brass of the button top.  So I next tried a very lightweight cotton interfacing.  This solved the problem very well.  I was now ready to cover the buttons.

Fabric Covered Buttons with Underlining

1.  The underlining and button cover fabric is trued and steam pressed.  To keep things simple I pinned the fabric together at regular intervals so that it would not move when marked and cut.

2.   Here is a close-up of the button tops and bottoms.

3.   On the back of the package is a round button pattern.  This is to be cut out for use in marking the fabric that will cover your buttons.

4.   Another close-up of the buttons.  On the top at the left is the inside of the button top and to the upper right is the inside view of the cover.  In the front to the left is the right side of the top of the button and to the right is the outer part of the bottom of the button.

5.   I was interrupted when tracing the pattern onto the fabric so I will explain how I obtained what you see in the photo above.

a.   The fabric was pinned as shown in Step 1.

b.   I used a very sharp piece of new Tailor’s Chalk that I broke in half so that it would be very easy to handle.

c.   The cardboard circle (Button Pattern) was carefully held in place while I used the piece of chalk to trace the shape.

d.   A very sharp straight pin was used to hold the underlining and cover fabric together.  I continued in this manner until I had 10 pinned circles ready to cut.

e.   I used a small Fiskars Craft Scissors to cut out the circles.

6.   Since I could not cover the buttons at this point I put all the cut circles into a little box along with the button tops and bottoms.  I removed the pins so as not to have marks left in the fabric.


7.  When I was ready to start covering the buttons I stitched the fabric and underlining together at the outer edges using a conditioned, double strand of cotton thread passed through a #6 hand sewing sharp needle.  Cotton is much stronger and less likely to knot the way a polyester thread would.  The thread should have a 1/2″ tail after a double knot.  Use tiny running stitches all around.  At the end cut another tail about 1″ long but do not knot.


8.   Gather up the circle by pulling on both tails of the thread.  Put the top of the button inside and then gently draw the thread around the button top until it is covered.

9.   Coax the fabric onto the teeth on the inside of the button top.  The instructions on the package recommended using an eraser but I do not think that is wise.  A micro tweezer or crochet hook is a better choice since you cannot mark up your fabric with it.  Once the fabric is securely in place, gather the fabric as much as possible, then trim the tail.  It is not necessary to make a knot.


10.  Top of the button after the fabric has been smoothed out an before the tail of the thread was cut.

11.   Now it is time to snap the back of the button into place.

12.  To ensure the back is securely in place I press own with the top of a spool of thread that fits over the back of the button.

13.  The process is now completed.  The top of the button will look like this.

14.  And the bottom will look like this.  (Sorry for the blurry photo.)

15.  I now have to determine how much space is needed between each button and then they will be sewn onto each sleeve.



8 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Covered and Underlined Buttons

    • Thank you very much! Yes, it’s a bit nasty. My fingers were roughened up by pressing the fabric into the little teeth of the button top. I think it was well worth it, though.

      I’m in the midst of one of those weeks where I’m in constant motion with errands and work related activities. I hope this weekend I can at least sew them on.

      I’m super excited about the belt. I got two types of backing fabrics: crinoline and organdy. I look forward to the new learning experience. A whole new adventure lies ahead.

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      • After this experience I prefer a very lightweight cotton or cotton-poly interfacing or fashion fabric in white for prints and light colors and black for the very darkest colors. It is slightly more bulky but the effect is very rich. The poly-china silk was awful. The gleaming combination of the brass surface, the poly-china silk and the outer fabric looked very cheap.

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      • Interested to hear you say that. I like cotton quilting fabric as interfacing for heavier fabrics such as denim or linen. It gives a better finish than iron on in many cases and washes better. And I have lots of scraps waiting to be used so the expense is irrelevant

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      • Iron on interfacing is very convenient for craft projects like doll clothes. I think that putting a little extra effort into making something you will wear as an expression of your creativity merits the extra effort. There are so many ways in which fusibles can go wrong. The worse advice I ever got was when a woman at a doll crafting list recommended I use fusible hem tape to hem a doll dress made from satin scraps. Since I didn’t have fusible hem tape, I tried a fusible interfacing I had on a little scrap of the satin. It didn’t work. The satin puckered and was way too stiff and had lost the luster. I ended up using bias cut organza as an interfacing for the satin midriff of the doll dress and it worked out beautifully. I learned a good lesson. Thank goodness it wasn’t a full-sized midriff! As for the doll dress, I didn’t have enough satin left for the skirt so I used a piece of cotton I got from a fat quarter. This led to the bodice also being made in cotton, too. After this I’m not eager to use a fusible for my full-scale projects.

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