Monday, May 14, 2012

Tutorial: How to Make Nursery Button Art

As I've been scouring the Internet for cool nursery ideas, I discovered button art.  If you want, a few sellers on etsy will make a custom monogram letter out of buttons, to use as art in your baby's nursery.  I thought they looked so cool!  The art has old-fashioned charm, but it seems modern at the same time.  I wanted one! 

The going rate for an unframed piece of button art is $80. 

Having a baby is expensive.  Aside from birth-related expenses, we've bought nursery furniture, and we still have to buy the car seat and stroller, probably an infant seat, a set of cloth diapers, a breast pump, and about 900 other things like a snot-sucker and crib sheets.  So, it's pretty hard to justify spending $80 on a little piece of fabric with some buttons.  (Even a really cute little piece of fabric with some buttons.)

I decided to make one myself.  The supplies would be cheap, and sewing buttons is pretty easy, so how hard could it be?  (Answer: Not too hard, but fairly time consuming.)

I think this took me about 4 hours, and the supplies cost under $10 (or much less, depending on which supplies you already have).  I think my result was not quite as nice as the ones for sale on etsy, but close enough.  (And the baby won't know the difference.)

Want to make your own nursery button art?  Here's what I did.

* fabric - I used linen, which seemed like a good choice.  (My linen was $12.88/yard, and I bought .25 yard for $3.22.  The quarter yard was enough fabric to make five pieces of button art.)
* buttons - Plan to use at least 70 buttons of various sizes.  Buy a lot more, so that you have more choices as you go; I think I had about twice as many as I needed, and that was about right.  I started with little container of pink buttons that I bought at Ross for a few dollars, and when I realized most stores sell buttons a few at a time (or bigger blends in not-pink), I turned to eBay.  On eBay I bought two packs of 50 assorted pink buttons (about $6 including shipping).
* thread & needle - any.  I used an off-white thread that I already had, which matched my linen.  Embroidery floss would also be a good option.
* disappearing fabric ink marking pen - I got one that wrote in purple, and it cost $4.79. 
* frame (& coordinating paint) - to display your button art.  I bought a cheap oak frame from Walmart for $4, and I painted it a coordinating light purple to match the nursery.


1. Choose what letter you're going to do. 

Bold letters work well, and so do fancy frilly letters.  Skinny lines are easier to make with buttons than fat areas.  I downloaded a few free fonts from a free font website online, and I thought about using "Annabel Script Font", but then I ended up deciding to use Georgia font, which was already on my computer.

For 8X10 button art, I printed the letter I was using in 650 pt font.  This would vary depending on the font that you choose and the size that you want it, but the key is to have something that doesn't take up a full sheet of paper, but is large and seems well spaced.

I printed my letter in "outline" style to make it easier to trace.

2. Print 2 copies if you want to try laying out buttons before you sew anything, or 1 copy if you're sure you have the right size.

3. (optional) Arrange your buttons on one of the printouts.

I worried that I wouldn't have the right number of buttons for what I wanted, so I used one copy to practice.  I arranged the buttons directly on one of the printouts.  I had plenty of buttons and liked how it was going to look, so I left the buttons arranged, and planned to transfer them to the coordinating spot on my actual fabric.

4. Cut your fabric. 

Remember, a little too big is better than a little too small.  Iron the fabric.  I also used a little bit of starch to help it stay flat. On a scrap of your fabric, test your disappearing ink to make sure it actually disappears.

5. Put a letter printout beneath your fabric and trace the outline onto your fabric with the disappearing ink.

Since I used linen, I was able to do this on top of a regular table.  If you choose something thicker, you may need to tape your fabric up to a window to get some light coming through so that you know where to trace.

6. Start sewing buttons on. 

I was using regular thread (which is pretty thin) and linen (which has a loose weave), so I quadrupled my thread, because otherwise the knots came right through the fabric.  To do that, I took a long piece of thread, folded it in half, threaded both of the loose ends, and matched them up with the other end.  This worked fine for me.

I had thought that transferring buttons from the arrangement on paper to my fabric would be a piece of cake.  It wasn't.  It turns out, it's pretty hard to sew buttons very precisely where you want them, since the fabric tends to move around a little as you're sewing.  This means, sometimes you'll end up with a little extra space where you didn't want it, and sometimes the buttons will be a little closer together than you meant for them to be.  At first this bothered me, because it wasn't perfect, and then I decided it was totally fine, as long as I didn't have big gaps, or big overlaps.  If I were to do this project again, I would try using an embroidery hoop to keep my fabric flat.  I think that would partially solve this problem.  This is handmade art, though, so I decided it's okay if it looks like a person did it instead of a machine.  Another thing that I think would really help with spacing is to have tiny buttons.  I had small buttons, medium buttons, and large buttons, but I think the people who sell these on etsy have some very tiny buttons.  That would help a lot with spacing.

For me, I liked to start with the skinny parts of the letter, where it required small buttons and they had to be in precise places.  Then I worked away from those areas, using larger buttons first and then smaller buttons to finish small sections and work my way out.  I frequently arranged 3-4 buttons to help decide how to best lay them out on the fabric.  Sometimes after I sewed one or two buttons, I would have to decide again, because of the way the spacing was.  So, it didn't end up looking like my original arrangement, but I think that exercise was still worthwhile.

7. Rearrange buttons or re-sew buttons as necessary.

There were a couple buttons that I sewed at the beginning that I decided to adjust later.  And, there were a couple buttons that started to come detached because the knots pulled through from the back, so I needed to re-sew those too.

8. Iron your button art.  Use water to remove any disappearing ink that hasn't disappeared. 

I tried to avoid actually touching the buttons with the iron, but to the extent that they did touch the iron, they were fine.  (Which makes sense, since men's dress shirts are ironed all the time and they have buttons on them.)

9. Frame your button art, and put it on display!  (Note: these also look pretty when they are matted, or when they hang on the wall.) 

That's it!  If these instructions are helpful for anyone else, I would love to see how your button art comes out.

(And yes, we have finally settled on a name for this baby girl, and yes, it does start with "P".  More about that later.)


Me again said...

I've been admiring the button art on Pinterest for a few weeks now. Love the way yours turned out.

How did you settle on the baby name? I need help with twin boy names!

Anonymous said...

Try sticking the buttons onto a canvas much easier
Also buttons in uk seem much cheaper-bag of 250g for £3!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to give this a go, im hoping to make to some and give them for Christmas presents if they turn out well. I love yours i will be happy if mine turn out like that :-) Thanks for the blog