How to Make Polymer Clay Buttons

Learn how to make polymer clay buttons.Fancy or plain, simple or complicated, many of us like to make polymer clay buttons. Able to be made in endless colors and be made in any shape or with any texture, polymer clay buttons are a natural choice for anyone wanting customized or unique buttons for clothing and accessories. If you make your own clothing or knitwear, then why not make some artistic buttons to match your creations? Polymer clay buttons are typically washable and durable, too, as I explored in a recent post. But best of all, they’re easy to make. Here is an overview of how to make polymer clay buttons.

Simple Sew-On Polymer Clay Buttons

At their simplest, you can just roll out a sheet of clay, cut circles from it, and poke some buttonholes in them. The sew-on buttons in my recent washability test were cut from a sheet of clay rolled on the thickest setting of my pasta machine. That’s about 8 playing cards thick. I used a 3/4″ (9mm) round Kemper Cutter to cut circles. Then I used a nifty little tool to mark where the buttonholes should go. Just arrange three toothpicks in a row, push the center one up, then wrap then with some tape to hold them together. Use this little toothpick tool to poke holes in your clay circles before baking. This marks where the buttonholes should go so you can easily enlarge the hole and drill all the way through with a DIY hand drill or micro drill after baking.

Use three toothpicks taped together to mark where to place buttonholes when you make polymer clay buttons.

But there’s no reason you have to be limited to plain buttons. Try using a texture sheet to make textured buttons like you see above. Or cut the buttons from a sheet of clay sliced from a mokume gane stack. You could even use veneers like Lynda Moseley’s Controlled Marbling and Masterful Faux techniques. The Stroppel Cane and Pixelated Retro Cane are both fun ways to make veneers for buttons, too. Have some scraps to use up? Then make nice little swirly pinwheel lentils and poke holes into them.

Making Shank-backed Polymer Clay Buttons

Button backs are a fantastic product that helps you make polymer clay buttons.

Have you ever noticed that some buttons are sew-through (where you can see the thread on the front) and some are sewn on with a little loop on the back? That loop is called a shank. There are many ways to make shank-backed buttons, of course. But I found that a very simple and easy way to make them is with commercially available button backs. I found these from a seller on Etsy called Hummingbird’s Beads and Treasures. They’re very durable and well made. I used the 10mm size. Another source is ButtonsShanks.com. Here’s how I made my shank backed buttons:

Learn how to make polymer clay buttons with a shank back. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.

How to Make Polymer Clay Buttons

  1. Roll out a sheet of clay to the 4th thickest setting on your pasta machine (4 playing cards thick). Lay the sheet on a piece of scrap paper. Place commercially available button backs onto the clay sheet.
  2. Roll a second sheet of clay very thin, to about 1-2 playing card’s thickness. Use a 1″ circle cutter and make one circle for each button.
  3. Use a 3/16″ (4mm) circle cutter (or a straw) to remove a small hole in the center of these clay circles.
  4. Place the clay circles over the button backs, the shank sticking up through the small hole.
  5. Press down on the clay layers lightly, removing air bubbles, but not firmly enough to create fingerprints.
  6. Use a 3/4″ (9mm) circle cutter to cut through all layers of the clay. If using a Kemper cutter, the plunger should push out against the shank.
  7. Carefully remove each button and set face down on plain scrap paper.
  8. If desired, dust with mica powder. Here I used Pearl-Ex Apple Green. Bake for at least 45 minutes at the correct temperature for the clay that you used. If needed, seal with Varathane. (Plain polymer clay does not need to be sealed.)
Note: I didn’t use any glue to make these and they are plenty strong. But if you wish, you could use some liquid polymer clay or Bake and Bond between the shank and the clay to enhance the strength.

Using Glue

Of course there are other ways to make shank-backed polymer clay buttons. You can glue these same button backs on any cabochon with your favorite glue. (I prefer simple 2-part epoxy in the little tubes from the hardware store. Others swear by E6000.) Or you can embed other things in the back of the button which will act as a shank. Meg from Polymer Clay Workshop shows you how to make buttons with jump rings embedded in the back to make a loop or shank.

Another option is to use part of a covered button kit that you buy from the fabric store. They’re made from aluminum and are sort of bulky, but they will work. You might have to get creative in how you embed them in the clay, though. I think I’d hammer the backs a bit more flat before using, too. They do come in a variety of sizes and are widely available.

You can use the backs from a covered button kit to make shanks for polymer clay buttons.

Fancy Polymer Clay Buttons

Nobody says you have to make buttons in nice, neat little circles. You can make buttons in any shape. Cane slices of all sorts make great buttons. Just make even slices, poke some buttonholes, and bake. If you want to embed a loop or button back, just bake the cane slice first, then add more clay to the back, embedding the loop, and bake a second time.

You can sculpt buttons in a theme which matches your clothing, too. Here’s an easy way to make acorn buttons by Polymer Clay Workshop. Here are some buttons made by Tammy of Paisley Lizard Designs. And also some on Facebook by Vanessa’s Clay Adventures. Don’t miss the dazzling array of polymer clay buttons by Becky Sue Mizell. And remember that you can use 2-part silicone mold putty to make molds so that you can repeat a design and have a whole pile of matching buttons. You can even come up with a pretty passable facsimile of those fancy Czech glass buttons. My Faux Glass Tutorial shows how to get this effect and I just added a crystal to the center to make them extra fancy. Decadent!

Faux Czech glass buttons by The Blue Bottle Tree.

Durability Concerns

Polymer clay by itself is strong, durable, and waterproof. Because of that it’s an excellent material for making buttons. But for polymer clay to be strong, it needs to be baked properly. And because strength increases with bake time, it might be worth baking your clay longer than normal, perhaps twice as long as recommended.

Uncoated polymer clay is completely machine washable and is safe to use in the tumble dryer. But if you’re using any sort of paint or sealer, I recommend hand washing your artisan polymer clay buttons. I’ve had good luck with Varathane, but I don’t know how well other sealers will hold up in the heat and moisture of a machine wash.

Use button pins to attach artisan polymer clay buttons to your garment. That way you can remove the buttons when it's time to wash the clothing.

If you do want to remove your buttons before washing your garment, there is a neat little item that you might want to find. They’re basically little curvy safety pins that you use to attach your buttons instead of sewing them on. It makes removal super easy. You can find them in the button section of some sewing and fabric stores. Thanks to Rebecca for the reminder about these pins.

 

Shank backed polymer clay buttons colored with mica powder.
Here are the green shank-backed buttons that I made in the mini-tutorial, above. Sealed with Varathane, they’ll be plenty durable for use on hand-wash garments or sweaters.

30 thoughts on “How to Make Polymer Clay Buttons”

  1. Muchas gracias por sus tutoriales y explicaciones, son de verdadera ayuda y muy bienvenidos. Gracias por su tiempo y dedicación. Espero ansiosa sus entradas en mi correo. Otra vez, muchas gracias. Un saludo cordial.

    1. Muchas gracias por leer y seguir mi blog. Significa mucho para mí que usted está disfrutando! Gracias ou por tomarse el tiempo para comentar. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this and the previous post on durability. I have thought about making buttons, but had so many unanswered questions in my head. Armed with all your info, I now have no excuses. I recently saw a post on http://www.polyclay.co.uk that may be of interest. I haven’t been able to find the actual post, so can’t credit who put it on there. Anyway the tip was; when making thin pieces, to strengthen them, put a very thin layer of liquid polymer clay over the baked piece and bake again. With buttons the liquid clay could so easily be painted on the back. Love the cocktail stick tool.

    1. Thank you Ann, I did check it out and shared what I found out. I do love the idea about the liquid clay. I can see where it would be quite stabilizing. It’s funny, but I thought of the toothpick trick when writing up the article. But I see on the Polyclay.co.uk forum that someone there had the very same idea. Great minds think alike, eh? Well it’s an easy trick to try, and who doesn’t have toothpicks sitting around? Thanks for your comments!

  3. Hi

    I make lots of buttons and can heartily recommend that they are machine washable at 30 degrees (I have tested a range of buttons over 100 washes and never had a problem). However I never recommend that they are safe to use in a tumble dryer. The “hot spots” that can occur in a tumble dryer would make me very reticent to state this. Have you tested the buttons in one over an extended period and if so which brand of clay? I don’t want to put a damper on you fantastic tutorial but would be interested.

    1. Hi Pete. I’m curious, have you actually had any ruined buttons in the tumble dryer or is that more a warning based on erring on the side of caution? I was truly surprised how little the buttons were affected by both the washing and especially the bleaching and the tumble dryer, which I do run quite hot, especially for towels. I ran that sample through the hot water and bleach load several times (4-5 times) and was honestly expecting to see some sort of degradation or peeling after the first time, but it just didn’t happen. No, I didn’t run any long term tests greater than 40 loads. Polymer clay isn’t a terribly hard plastic and I do expect that it will wear over time. I can’t see polymer clay buttons holding up like metal or glass ones do. But I was quite favorably surprised at how well they DID hold up. And it was good enough that I feel safe recommending that wash/dry is safe for unvarnished beads over the typical life of an average garment. Thanks for coming over to comment. I really should spend more time on Emma’s forum. It’s a great little group and I always enjoy reading when I do visit.

      1. Hi Ginger…..I use mainly FIMO and it is based on their recommendations on the Steadler website : “FIMO buttons should not be machine-washed or dry-cleaned because the colours can fade over the course of time depending on the detergent and chemical cleaning agents, respectively.

        In general, the buttons should not be varnished because our varnish is water-based. We recommend washing the garment along with the FIMO buttons by hand (30° C) and preferably using a soft detergent. ”

        I always recommend machine washing at 30 degrees because I have tested them at that temperature and basically it is the same temperature that some people use for hand washing. Your results have given me food for thought though!!!

        Great website and fab tutorials!!!

        1. Thank Pete. There’s nothing wrong with being safe and sticking with the default recommendations. But some people do take a conservative warning such as that and interpret it to mean something far more ominous. I try to shed a little light in all the worrisome corners. 😉 I think we can be far more relaxed than the default warning that Staedtler recommends, but the trick, of course, is knowing how far to go. We also don’t want someone upset because they put buttons on industrial linens and then wonder why they faded and crumbled. The key is being reasonable and logical, I guess. *shrugs* Time will tell!

  4. Another excellent article and mini tutorial. I am so making one of those toothpick button hole markers. I won’t tell you about the labor intensive method I’ve been using – but when I saw yours it was a definite du-oh moment. And many thanks for the link to my shop.

    1. And did you see the tip on my FB page that Eva Källström left? She just uses an old button of the correct size as a guide and just pokes holes. Isn’t it funny how we don’t think of such simple things! I blame my kids. (I always blame them, LOL.)

  5. This was truly unexpected to be mentioned in your blog on buttons. You did a very in depth explanation on how to make buttons and the many different styles. Thank you for including me in the places to go for unique buttons.

  6. it’s amazing how many minds travel in the same vein! I couldn’t find any compiled info to make buttons so I set about with the bits and pieces and came up with the same steps (almost) that you show here! Amazing! I made a little clear template though for centering the holes and use my “Clay Punch” tool to make them. Clean cut every time! Even though I am good at ‘eyeballing’ a lot of things there is always one or two who seem to waver off center, so I cut my circles BEFORE adding the shanks and putting them together. I do use liquid poly to secure the shanks and the end of the pointed color shaper tools to push the clay down around the shank ring. That way I’m assured it is sealed well and adds a little pretty ‘flower’ touch to the back! The shanks you have pictured look identical to the ones I sell in my Etsy shop too (superfluity shop) because I’m always looking for a bargain – and usually have excess to share!

    Thanks for putting this info all in one place!

    1. Well there’s always more than one way to do things and I just came up with the toothpick trick real quick because I wasn’t doing so well eyeballing them. I think a template would be wonderful. I’d likely do that if I were making lots of buttons. It sounds like you’ve got it down to an art! And thanks for letting me know about your Etsy shop. Here’s the link to the button shanks: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180221846/button-shanks-for-making-your-own

  7. what a fantastic site.i have just started making buttons and you have answered all my queries without me asking. thanks so much..chrissy.

  8. Thanks Ginger for the shank button idea 🙂 I have a few packets kicking around in my many sewing boxes 🙂 will have to hunt them out and give that trick a go I had made mine with the polymer clay on the back with a hole what job that was 🙂 but they turned out okay 🙂 and still on the garment 🙂 but I like your idea better half the work is done for me 🙂 cool 🙂 as for the toothpicks trick I have been using a corncob holder to do mine as they too are evenly spaced apart 🙂 and I had heaps of corncob holders so one going missing for the set was not a problem 🙂

  9. Hi! I love your designs and creations!!! the best!!!
    Please I am interested on learning how to glaze buttons, because when I glaze one side and then the other the old glaze get attached to the new one and then peel off, like nail polish. Can you give me some advice, please?!!!
    Thanks so much!!!
    A big hug.

    1. Hi Claudia, I know just what you mean about the glaze peeling off. Many glazes and varnishes will peel from polymer clay. It’s just the nature of the beast. That’s why it’s best to avoid using any sort of sealer/varnish/glaze if you don’t have to use them. If you feel that you have to, you should make sure you don’t use Kato polyclay (it seems to repel varnish) and make sure to clean the surface well with alcohol before varnishing. Even so, sometimes the sealer can be fairly plasticky and will still peel off once you get it started. However, I have found that unless you pick at the varnish, it doesn’t really seem to be a problem in use. Over time the varnish usually becomes harder and more durable, too, depending on which varnish you use.

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