Updating A Sweater

If you have a sweater, old or new, that you’d like to “take up a notch” in style or personality, there’s an easy way to do it: swap the buttons. Typically, the store-issue buttons on a cardigan are cheap and made of plastic, but for only a few dollars and a little bit of simple sewing, your sweater can be customized to suit your taste.

When you swap out the buttons, don’t just go find another set of cheap plastic. If you do a little hunting, you can find vintage buttons made from a wide variety of materials: metal, wood, resin, bone, stone, shell, etc.

Great places to find old buttons:

  • If you live in the SF Bay area, my favorite place for buttons is the Cottage Jewel in Danville
  • Your Mom or Grandma’s button box – this has the added sentimental value of knowing that you have a part of your family history incorporated into your wardrobe. (I really do smile when I see my grandma’s buttons in different projects)
  • Thrift stores often have a sewing section where I’ve found many old cards and jars filled with buttons.
  • Thrift store also have old jackets and sweaters that can be “harvested” for their buttons
  • You can find them online, but its difficult to measure the exact size, and verify that it will fit through the button hole.

Start by finding your sweater (or coat, if you like) that has buttons on it. Note: The sweater I used had 9 buttons, which was the most that I would want to try. The fewer the buttons, the better! Then find buttons that match. Its best to have your sweater with you when you go to select the buttons, so you can try pushing them through the buttonholes.

You can see my sweater pictures above. Its a new one, but it had plain, plastic, purple buttons. Instead, I found these “hand-carved abalone shell buttons from 100 years ago,” according to the lady at the store.

You can see the comparison of first button (on the left) and replacement button (on the right) – they’re pretty much the same height and width, it doesn’t matter that one has a neck and the other doesn’t. As long as it fits through the buttonhole.

Use a seam ripper to remove the first button, and re-sew its replacement on right away, using the leftover thread bits to see exactly where the new button goes. Its important to sew the replacement on immediately so you don’t rip all the buttons off and then lose steam on the project and then end up with an empty, button-less sweater.

When you’re done you will have a sweater that’s a little bit above the ordinary.



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