How to Dye Buttons for Clothes and Craft Projects

Buttons
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There are times when it is nearly impossible to find just the right colored button to replace one that gets lost or for 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 allow you to create the perfect craft project.

Before Your 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 button 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 great 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

  • Buttons
  • Latex gloves
  • Dyes: commercial dye or natural dye
  • Glass or plastic mixing container
  • Muffin tin or individual small cups
  • Tweezers
  • Paper towels
  • Dishwashing soap and warm water
  • Artist sealant protective spray

How to Dye Buttons

  1. Wear latex or protective gloves. If using a powdered or liquid commercial dye, mix the dye and water in a container following the package directions. When using your own homemade natural dyes, mix enough to completely cover all of the buttons at one time. Creating separate batches can lead to colors that don't match. 
  2. Pour a small amount of the dye into the cups of a muffin tin or individual cups.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 all around the button surfaces.
  5. 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. Remove the buttons and rinse with cool water. Mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing soap and two cups of warm water. Wash the buttons with the mixture, 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. When the buttons are completely dry, place them on waxed paper, which will prevent sticking as you spray. Space them out so no edges are touching. Spray the buttons with a sealant (artist varnish), following the directions on the sealant container. When the buttons are dry, turn them over and seal the other side.

Tips

  • 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.