Monday, March 27, 2017

Tutorial: Making Polymer Clay Buttons

A little over a year ago I took a button-making class with my good friend Carolyn Barnett. Her buttons are amazing. I will never make buttons with such technical precision and ingenuity. That said, I'm pretty pleased with the custom buttons I've made for two versions of my new Audrey Coat (publication probably by the end of this week). If you read this blog, you've already seen these buttons, made to go with my dark grey coat.

Today I focused on getting buttons done for Isabel's plum coat, shown below drying on the library floor. You're looking at the inside, with the pleat basted closed for blocking (the front is mostly dry, but the pleats and front seed stitch borders make for a lot of layers so now I've opened things up to get more air to the pleat).

Here's what I did to make buttons.
1. I assembled all the necessary equipment, including:
-premo! brand polymer clay in purple and green, plus black and white for colour blending,
-pasta machine, purchased from Michaels (with 40% off coupon) for conditioning the clay and blending colours,
-a cutting blade,
-a roller,
-a ceramic tile (cheap, cheap, cheap from Home Depot) to use as a work surface, and
-a small travel toiletry container which just happens to be 1" in diameter and makes a perfect cutter for the button.
I also laid our some yarn strands in the colours of the coat to help with colour decisions.

2. I started with the plum base. Isabel and I decided to make it a pale plum. If I tried to match the yarn, more than likely the end result would be a bit "off". Better to go for a shade deliberately and obviously lighter. I ran the purple through the pasta machine, together with some black (to tone it down) and white (to lighten it) until we were satisfied with the shade. Actually, this was the most time-consuming part of the exercise. It took forever to get the colour just right. Worth the trouble, though.
3. Next, I did the same for the green, using a bit of black to take it down in intensity.
4. Using the container, I punched out seven rounds of light plum for the base of the buttons. I only needed six buttons, but it's best to have an extra, just in case...

5.Time to make a cane from two rectangles of clay. There's a good video tutorial on making cane here.

6. After reducing the cane a little by carefully rolling it to make the cylinder longer, I thinly sliced little wafers and stuck them onto some plum background. I used the roller (top of pic) to press them into the plum clay. I used a glass jar as a roller on my first batch of buttons for the grey coat. Use whatever you have on hand.

7. I ran the the above piece through the pasta machine ONCE. (In fact, I made a pretty big sheet; what you see below is just a corner of it. You can also see one of the benefits of blending your own colour, as opposed to using a colour straight out of the wrapper. See the colour variation in the green sections? I think this really adds a lot of life to the end result, sort of the equivalent of kettle dyeing yarn.

8. Again, I used the plastic container/cutter to make 1" rounds of the patterned clay. 

9. I carefully centred the patterned cutouts onto the pre-cut solid plum bases, pressing down slightly to remove any possible air bubbles. I used a knitting needle to make holes, then placed the buttons on some parchment paper in a pre-heated 275F oven for 30 minutes.

And here they are, ready for the coat!


  1. This is so cool! Thank you for sharing,

  2. Lizzie, Thank you for such great tutorials. I never thought of making my own buttons, and have a question: do you have to remove them before washing garment? Also, do you think they would be okay to use on children's items/ baby items? Thanks again, I look forward to trying these! I am rjgosnell on RAV.

    1. No, I don't remove them, although I always handwash my knits (well, really I soak them in my top loader with NO AGITATION AT ALL, then spin the water out before laying flat to dry). I think you would want to take a child's age into account before using these. Polymer clay has a lot of chemicals, so might not be a great choice for a child who might put the buttons in his or her mouth. Just a gut reaction (pardon the pun)...