Tag Archives: buttons

A little bit of history

I’ve got Canada in my pocket
a little bit of history
a penny and a nickel and a quarter and a dime mean a lot to you and me…

Oops, sorry. Channeling the children’s lit (or in this case, songs) again there.

The Box

The Box

Sometime in the early seventies, as I understand it, my mother attended the auction of the estate of an elderly relative. One of the things she bought was an old wooden box full of buttons, which had belonged to the wife of this elderly relative, my grandmother’s great aunt (great-grandmother’s aunt?)
Even at this time, the little stash was “vintage”—the newest buttons were probably added sometime in the 40s, and most of the collection dates to much earlier. Put it this way: although there are plastic buttons, the majority of the collection is shell, metal, horn, and even glass. There are a lot of boot buttons—the tiny toggle buttons you see on Victorian and Edwardian women’s footwear.

My mother and Syo hard at work

My mother and Syo hard at work

Although I’ve been familiar with this collection all my life, when we went to visit my mother this weekend she had pulled it out, so I got the chance to document some of it for your (I hope) viewing pleasure. We also, as one must when playing with button stashes, did some sorting, as well as some unraveling of matted clumps of button-groups. Unfortunately my camera battery was dying, so I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked, but I hope I got most of the highlights. Fortunately, my mom’s checked tablecloth is a perfect 1/4″ grid for scale. 🙂

Buttons and jewelry

A wide assortment

Everything from giant coat buttons to tiny shell buttons are represented. There are a lot of fabric-covered buttons, including some “homemade” ones which are just regular buttons with fabric sewn around.


Assorted buttons

More doodads

Assorted not-buttons

There are also a number of inclusions of buckles, garter clips, screws and other bits of hardware, and even two little spigots.


Shell, cloth, plastic

Since there are SUCH a lot of photos, I’ll leave you to peruse the flickr gallery for the most part.

The Box

Halfway through. Chalk drawing on the box courtesy of me, aged 3 or 4.

I love pawing through this stash, but I don’t think I could ever actually bring myself to take anything out of it. To me (and I’m known to be sentimental about such matters, so your mileage may vary) this collection has gone from stash (to be used) to time-capsule, to be cherished, curated, and preserved for future generations. I suppose realistically there isn’t a huge amount of historical data in a bunch of buttons—or is there? Considering that most of these buttons were probably cut off clothing on its way to the rag bin, perhaps you could perform some kind of an analysis—proportions of shirt buttons to boot buttons to coat buttons? Dating the various buttons would be interesting, though I don’t know if carbon-dating is feasible at this age (it would work on the wood and horn buttons, potentially. Is there enough carbon residue in shell?). Stylistic dating would probably be more useful. Isotope studies on the shells could probably shed light on their origin, and maybe highlight trade/manufacturing pathways in the early 20th century.

… okay, pulling back from the brink of madness. What would you do with a treasure trove like this? 🙂



Filed under Sewing


My new Button Stash

Yes, I am weak. I think we’ve established that. Today, I gave in to the lure of the Bag of Mixed Buttons. These things call to me. You see, my mother has a button stash. My grandmother has a button stash (two or three, actually). In fact, a good chunk of my mother’s button stash used to be my great-grandmother’s. Me, I have no button stash. And my forebears are not yet ready to part with theirs (they get real squirrely when I ask, too.)

So today, when I was at Zellers to buy thread, they had big mixed bags for five bucks, and I caved.

Now, this is not the way to acquire a button stash, I know. Ideally one should be accumulated over the years from buttons snipped off of worn-out garments, or at least bought at a garage sale or thrift store from some old lady’s accumulation. Added to here and there with truly magnificent finds, like a fabric stash. Doing what I did is kinda like buying a garbage bag full of random fabrics to create your stash. But I couldn’t resist any longer. I’m sorry. There are lots of fake pearl ones, which I love. A few big funky ones that might be worthy of a Lady Grey coat some day. Some brightly coloured ones that would be good for kids clothes. And some that are just butt-ugly and cheap looking. A fair number of sets of six to twenty matching ones, which was one of my fears of buying a bag like this. I don’t know if this will actually curtail my project-related button buying, but you never know. At least this way any extra buttons I have left over will have company.

On the sewing front, as you may have guessed, I’m struggling along with the jean jacket for my younger daughter. This got off to a really good start last night.

Today, not so much.

I really should read pattern instructions. Even the second time round. It’s not that I don’t know how things are constructed—I just forget steps. Or do them out of order. Like forgetting to attach the front button placket/facing before I sewed the shoulder seam. Or forgetting to leave the gap for the sleeve placket when I stitched the two pieces of the sleeve together. And then topstitched them. And then sewed the lace down over that. Frankly just a lot of stupidity that could have been avoided by actually thinking. Or, failing that, reading the instructions. Also some of the same issues from the first version are occurring—the front yoke was a smidge too wide. I did manage to get the front band/facing fitting right this time, so my issues last time around were presumably user error. And, most distressingly, the collar is too big. This was not such an issue last time; I just shortened one side. The difference isn’t noticeable.

This time, I had lace sandwiched between the upper and under collar, so that its edges would just peek out when it was folded right-side out. No shortening that. I managed to get the undercollar side sewn on (with a few tucks… fortunately, it’s made oft the same seersucker as the pocket linings, so it was much more amenable to easing than the denim would be) and I’ll sew the denim upper side in by hand, which should let me fudge it. Pooey. Possibly this is also user error—I’m not the best at collars—but I haven’t had this much trouble with the other collars I’ve done this year, which is actually at least eight. Eight collars! Wow, I’m a pro!

Anyway, bedliness beckons. Here’s hoping tomorrow brings smooth sailing, or at least smoother sewing. Once I get this one done, I can make something for ME!!!


Filed under Sewing