From plastic to fantastic: How to make your own sew-on buttons

Guestpost by Liz Gubernatis on Apr 12th

Whether it's a tiny touch or a larger embellishment, unique buttons can really set off a look. They're a great way to put your personal stamp on clothing and accessories — you can even make your own buttons for your botton and baubles bouquet. Whether they're the sprinkle on the icing on your astounding outfit, or the loudest colorful part of your Offbeat Lite gown of awesome, here's how you can add DIY sew-on buttons to your pantry of parlor tricks.

Materials and Tools

custom buttons

  • Shrink Plastic (Has to be the real deal shrink plastic. Transparencies or other look-alikes may burn your house down and will definitely smell gawd-awful.)
  • Markers. The Millennium Pen Set will not run/bleed when washed. Sharpies will also work, but will fade/bleed when washed.
  • Scissors or Circle Cutter. You'll want something 2-3 inches to start with, as the plastic shrinks to a little less than ½ its original size.
  • Hole punch
  • Ruler
  • Oven or toaster oven
  • Cookie sheet or pizza pan
  • Wax paper

Special note regarding shrink plastic: After checking out suggestions from other fine crafters, I have to agree that the Grafix Clear Shrink Paper is the easiest to use. I plan to make a jillion of these (yes, that's totally a number) so a 50-pack made sense for me. You can get clear, matte, or white shrink plastic, as small as six-packs and as large as 50-packs. That said, a Grafix 6-pack of Printable Inkjet White Background may be more accessible for a single attempt. The printable plastic lets you do all the illustration work on the screen, cut out and then shrink. I like the free-for-all handmade charm of drawing on the plastic myself, but there are options!

Step 1:
Trace a ruler onto the bottom of one sheet of plastic. Mark the inches, ½ inches and ¼ inches (or cm, if you prefer) and cut out. Bake your ruler on wax paper on your cookie sheet according to the instructions on your plastic — make sure you watch it.

NOTE: There comes a moment of panic when this stuff bakes. It curls up on itself and looks like it's going to be ruined. Every once in a while it really does get stuck to itself, but try to count to ten before you let the panic make you open the oven. It will flatten out again as it finally shrinks completely. When it's flattened, it's done, and you can pull it out of the oven. Be careful handling it — it's a hot plate like fajitas, yo.

ruler traced

Step 2:

Now that you have your shrink ruler, decide how large to make your buttons. If I want my finished button to be this big, I'll start with a 1.5 inch circle. Or square. Or dinosaur. (Trace a cookie cutter for easy shapes!)

sizing your button

Step 3:

Trace and cut out your original shape on paper. This can be a piece of loose leaf, a flap of cereal box, newspaper, whatever is handy. Then fold in half and use the hole-punch to create your eventual sewing-holes. When you open it again, they're evenly spaced and you have a template for your buttons.

holes for sewing

Step 4:

However many you need for your project, make at least one or two extra. Cut out all your shapes and, using your template, punch out the stitching holes. (You can do two or four holes — both look very nice.)

Step 5:

Fun part! Illustrate your buttons. You can freehand this, or draw your design onto your template and then trace it onto your buttons. Bold illustrations will shrink better than very detailed ones will — think about how your awesome photos look when you shrink them to Facebook avatar size. Try to use the lighter colors first and darker colors last to avoid weird streaking in your yellow daisies, for example.

Note: If you're going to use words, consider this: Once shrunk, the buttons often look just a bit better from the side you didn't draw on directly. Writing your words out in a dark Sharpie and flipping the paper to trace them backwards onto your drawn side will leave the pretty side reading correctly. Not 100% necessary, but worth considering.

Step 6:

Bake'em up! Place your finished buttons a couple inches apart on wax paper on your cookie sheet, and bake according to the instructions on your shrink plastic. Watch them dance and melt into mini versions of themselves. Suppress the panic when they roll up. They will unroll… probably. (And anyway, you made an extra or two, right?)

custom buttons

Step 7:

Once flattened, remove from oven and let cool. Admire your amazing handiwork — no one has buttons like yours — from plastic to fantastic!

finished buttons

Applications:

You can do tiny buttons, giant buttons, square buttons, buttons shaped like dinosaurs — whatever you can think of, you can make. Want some dainty blue butterflies down the back of your gorgeous white ball gown? Can do. Want some larger gears for your steampunk ensemble? Can do. Want some old skool Nintendo gamepads? Can do. Sky's the limit.

Finished Buttons

Buttons are the featured application of this plastic to fantastic transformation, but they're not the only one. You can turn this same idea into cute earrings, wine charms, key ring favors, pet tags — all kinds of things. Remember to use your ruler to gauge the final and starting sizes, and to place your hole punch accordingly (and before baking!) and have a blast!

Tips:

If your plastic curls up and sticks to itself, and stays stuck, while the other buttons are flattening out, you can pop open the oven and use a pair of chopsticks or butter knives to gently attempt to separate it before it melts together. BE CAREFUL if you do this, and know that sometimes it just doesn't want to release, and that's why you made extras.

If your buttons come out a bit warped or bubbly, it's probably because of the way it shrank. You can embrace the handmade charm of it or make a few more, but either way, don't beat yourself up. Very rarely do all the buttons come out 100% perfectly.

Niche:

How can you make this your own offbeat item? Creating your button puts the design decision in your hands. Here are a few ideas:

  • Rockabilly Divas: Make your own cherries, swallows, or a deck of cards-inspired set.
  • Gamer Girls: Your favorite characters, systems, or game series are perfect for this project.
  • Bookish Brides: Scrawl a favorite quote in a spiral, colorful or classic black and white.
  • Steampunk Fans: You can use a snowflake punch to create pretty amazing gears.
  • Animal Lovers: Trace a cookie cutter for a fabulously shaped button you can illustrate like your best beast buddy.

Your Turn!

Comment below telling us how you plan to make this project your own. What will your buttons look like?

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About Liz Gubernatis

Liz is a Pepsi addict who married her sword-wielding urban Viking (who probably inspired the “What’s in YOUR wallet?” commercials) on 1-1-11. Originally from Nebraska, she spent some time on the East Coast but left before it made her hard-hearted, landing back in the Midwest, where she thrives. She sews, paints, cooks, bakes, plays with paper, computers and cats, loves chocolate, peanut butter, and popcorn, and frequently purges her apartment to make room for more fabric, craft supplies, and projects to play with.

http://swordinthestove.com