A leather button with a metal shank
17th-century Spanish metal shank button
Buttons with shanks

A shank is a device for providing a small amount of space in between a garment and a button. Shanks are necessary to provide space for fabric to sit in between the button and the garment when the garment is buttoned. Shanks also allow a garment to drape nicely.

Types of shanks

There are two types of shanks used on buttons.

Button shank

Shank buttons have a hollow protrusion on the back through which thread is sewn to attach the button. Button shanks may be a separate piece added to the back of a button, or be carved or moulded directly onto the back of the button, in which case the button is referred to by collectors as having a 'self-shank';[1] self-shanks are a common construction for older shell and glass buttons. Buttons with shanks have no holes in the button blank (the main part of the button) itself because they are not needed for sewing. Buttons with shanks are more expensive to produce than shankless buttons.

Thread shank

A button without a shank. A thread shank is required to properly sew this type of button onto a garment.

A thread shank is made of thread and is intended to be used with a shankless button (a button with typically two or four holes). It is created while a button is being stitched onto a garment; a shankless button is first stitched onto the fabric, with a space left between the button and the fabric itself. This is usually done by keeping a toothpick or other small object in between the button and fabric while the button is stitched on. Once the button has been sewn through a few times, the toothpick is removed and the needle is moved down through one of the buttonholes, placing the needle and its thread in between the button and fabric. The sewer takes care to not tighten the thread too much. While holding the button away from the garment, the thread is then firmly wrapped around the button (in between the button and fabric) a few times to form a sturdy wrapper for the other threads. The needle is then pushed through the fabric to the underside of the garment, where it can then be securely fastened off.

A thread shank's length depends on the thickness of the fabric that will be buttoned. The ideal thread shank is long enough to button the garment closed without being too tight, affecting the drape and appearance of the garment, but short enough that the button does not flop around when buttoned.

Specialty shanks

See also


  1. ^ Button Country (2010). "Back Types/Shanks (23-3)". Georgia, USA: Peach State Button Club. Archived from the original on 17 June 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2010.