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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Use a 3/16″ (4mm) circle cutter (or a straw) to remove a small hole in the center of these clay circles.
- Place the clay circles over the button backs, the shank sticking up through the small hole.
- Press down on the clay layers lightly, removing air bubbles, but not firmly enough to create fingerprints.
- 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.
- Carefully remove each button and set face down on plain scrap paper.
- 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.)
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. And this tutorial from Bijut (in Russian) explains how to use wire loops in a similar manner.
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.
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!
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.
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. Or find them online at sewing suppliers such as Sew True. Thanks to Rebecca for the reminder about these pins.
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