How to Dye Buttons for Clothes and Craft Projects

Buttons
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Buttons are both functional and an accessory for a garment. They can also be used to create home accessories like a button wreath and art. But there are times when it is nearly impossible to find just the right color to replace a lost button or to enhance a new sewing or craft project. Buttons can also lose their original color or break when exposed to bleach or other harsh laundry products. Fortunately, it's rather easy to dye or recolor buttons so they match your clothes or inspire you to create the perfect craft project.

Before You Begin

The first step is to gather all of the buttons you will need for your project. It is important to dye all of the buttons at the same time and with the same batch of dye to keep the color consistent. Add in an extra button or two just in case one is lost. Plus, it's also good to have a couple of extra buttons to use for testing to make sure you get the color you desire.

The buttons can be plastic, leather or bone. Always take the button's original color into consideration; it is much easier to dye a lighter colored button darker than to lighten a dark button. If the buttonholes are already in place on the garment, be sure to test that the new buttons will pass easily through the opening. While buttonholes can be made smaller by sewing together a small portion of the edges, it is much more difficult to make a buttonhole larger.

If the button has a printed design or layers of color, it is nearly impossible to conceal the pattern. Test dye a sample button to see if you like the look before doing the entire batch.

With your buttons ready, be sure that you set aside enough time to complete the project from start to finish in one sitting to ensure the best results. Generally, the process will take at least one hour, though it can require more time, depending on your buttons, dyes, and the effect you're going for. This is not a last-minute project!

What You Need

Supplies

  • Buttons
  • Dyes: commercial dye or natural dye
  • Paper towels
  • Dishwashing liquid and warm water
  • Artist sealant protective spray

Tools

  • Latex gloves
  • Glass or plastic mixing container
  • Muffin tin or individual small cups
  • Tweezers
  • Dishwashing liquid and warm water

How to Dye Buttons

  1. Protect Your Hands and Work Area

    To prevent discolored hands, always were protective gloves when working with any type of dye. It is also a good idea to protect your work area with an inexpensive vinyl or plastic tablecloth.

  2. Mix the Dye Solution

    If you are using a powdered or liquid commercial dye, mix the dye and water in a container following the package directions. When using homemade natural dyes that you have made yourself or purchased, mix enough to completely cover all of the buttons at one time. Creating separate batches can lead to colors that don't match. 

  3. Prepare the Dye Bath

    Pour a small amount of the dye into the cups of a muffin tin or individual cups.

  4. Dye a Test Button

    Begin with a test button. Time how long you leave the button in the dye to achieve your desired color. Remember, most buttons will appear lighter after drying than they do while wet.

  5. Place the Buttons in the Dye Solution

    When you have determined the proper dyeing time, immerse all of the buttons in the dye solution, one button per cup. This will give you the best chance of an even dye color on all of the button surfaces.

    Use tweezers to turn each button several times to ensure that they dye evenly on each side. Leave the buttons in the dye solution until they reach your desired color.

  6. Rinse, Wash, and Dry the Buttons

    Remove the buttons from the dye bath and rinse with cool water. Mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and two cups of warm water. Wash the buttons with the mixture to remove any loose dye, rinse, and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Let the buttons sit on paper towels to finish drying. Turn a couple of times so the buttons dry evenly on all sides.

  7. Set the Dye with Acrylic Sealant

When the buttons are completely dry, place them on waxed paper to will prevent sticking as you spray the surfaces with a sealant. Space them out so no edges are touching.

In a well-ventilated area, spray the buttons with a sealant (artist varnish), following the directions on the sealant container. When the buttons are dry, turn them over and spray the other side.

Tips for the Best Results When Dyeing Buttons

  • If you use homemade natural dyes, you may need to leave the buttons in the solution much longer because the colors are often not as intense as commercial dyes.
  • You can also use liquid food coloring. There are fewer options in colors but for basic colors or buttons used for crafts, it will work fine.
  • Custom colors can be mixed using liquid dye. Test the colors on extra white buttons or pieces of fabric before dyeing the final buttons.
  • Make sure that you have adequate ventilation when spraying the sealant on the buttons.