Buttons

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I sew, therefore I collect buttons.  By collect I don’t mean that I am a button collector in the strictest sense.  I’m more of a saver, an accumulator, maybe even a hoarder.  I just never know when I’ll need seven purple plastic buttons to complete a project, so when I see them, I buy them.

I mentioned last week that I still have my grandmother’s button box.  When she sold her house and dispersed her belongings it was one of the two things I wanted most. (Along with her sewing machine, which I foolishly let a cousin take to save a nasty scene.  But that’s another story.)

Button boxes used to be a household necessity.  Worn garments were not simply tossed into the trash.  The buttons and zippers were removed for later use, and the fabric was either used for rags or if any of it was suitable, was used in quilts and other projects.   Because buttons were saved, it is now possible to find boxes and jars filled with them at flea markets, antique stores and estate sales.  I’m always looking for them.

Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few.  Some of the more special of them I keep in one of those metal boxes that have the little drawers that are meant for nuts and bolts and screws and such.  They are perfect for organizing buttons.

In the first drawer I have single buttons, in the second drawer I have doubles, then triples, and so forth.  I also have a drawer for just single metal ones, and a drawer for black glass buttons.

I’m always looking for great old (and new) buttons.  I’ve been known to buy trashed dresses and holey sweaters just to save the buttons.  I also love shopping for buttons when I travel.  The wooden buttons with the oak leaves came from a button shop in Munich quite a few years ago.

These buttons came with an old sewing box I bought years ago.  I love how the owner of it arranged the same colored buttons on wire.  The rest of the box is filled with old zippers.

Even if you do not sew, terrific buttons can really transform a plain dress, sweater, or jacket.  I’ve always switching buttons around on the things in my closet.  But sometimes I get it right, and no switching is necessary:

Carved wood, made in Czechoslovakia.

21 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Vintage Sewing

21 responses to “Buttons

  1. Love buttons! Little treasures 🙂

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  2. I collect them as well, but wouldn’t you know it, when I have a project, I never have just what I need and so have to buy more.

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  3. cass

    I am a true button collector, but also a saver, accumulator and definitely a hoarder. Joined a local button society group last year and love what I have learned. I recommend it highly. Went to the 75th anniversary show of the national button society.org last august and had a blast.

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  4. There is *something* about buttons, isn’t there? I have a few cards of my aunt’s white bone buttons that I’ve used in my costumes, and I hoard black glass ones, and have used them many times in my mourning gowns. I too am drawn to buttons at antique shows and dream of finding someone’s button box. There’s such a mystery to them.
    Val

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  5. Tins and jars of adorable little mother of pearl buttons? Oh Yeah!

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  6. Love buttons as well… I have few from the past (well not so long ago – maybe 20-30 years ago) which still are waiting to be used one day 🙂

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  7. Add me to all these button lovers. I keep all mine in an old shoe box and love to just run my fingers through them….listening to the sound they make. Love seeing the neat crafts you can make with buttons. Completely cover hats, mannequins, wreaths…no end to what you can do with them. Only recently I began sculpting interesting flower buttons with petals…painted in different colors, to look like real flowers. Made the flower buttons….but haven’t made anything perfect to sew them to, as yet.

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  8. Oooh, I don’t sew terribly much but I do love vintage buttons. They’re just so pretty and you have so many gems!

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  9. A friend

    I think you are amazing.

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  10. Koumpounophobics turn away now! 😉 I do suffer a bit with this and my sister is even worse. My poor old hubby has to sew his own on if he has to replace any on his shirts. Needless to say, I won’t be rushing to join the NBS. But even I have the requisite tin lurking somewhere in the back of a cupboard. In fact, there must be gadzillions of them out there, all waiting to be rescued from redundancy and obscurity. Gosh I almost feel sorry for them!

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  11. We have trays of buttons my mother saved, and ones from Jeff’s grandmother too. And Pittsburgh has the Parker Button Company, so if you’re ever in the area, you are in luck: an entire wall dedicated to buttons!

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  12. Well, buttons are my one true collecting mania. I have my grandmother’s, which I remember playing with as a child. The matched sets were families, who navigating around the “streets” and “houses” on her tufted bedspread and carpet. I buy buttons all the time, with absolutely no intended project in mind. To me, there are little pieces of art. Button phobia! That would be like being allergic to air.

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  13. Buttons are one of life’s little pleasures…

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  14. You have some very pretty buttons in your collection!

    My mother-in-law gave me her collection of buttons years ago (of course, I’ve added to it). I put them in a large glass canister jar with a metal screw-top lid. She had most of the matching ones threaded together but I have since traded the thread for large safety pins (chained together when there are more than one pin will hold). That way, I can open a pin to decide if I like a button with my fabric and easily put it back if I chose not to use it.

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  15. r'smom

    a too true story.. 20ish years ago, garage sale, new subdivision: after describing my history based collector interest in buttons, the householder excitedly shared that she had her seamstress grandmothers button collection, in a big metal bread box. She stated she had organized them “by color”, in ziplock bags just after moving in 6 months before. When she removed the top we were dumbfounded to see the bags inside with droplets of liquid at the top, the contents a mass of wet goo. The metals corroding, the pearls redrust/white with powdery goo. Plastics melted with color shifting. Opening a bag the odor was intense. I’d seen/smelled container odor before, but First time I’d seen such utter destruction! I believed her dates, as the new homes were just 6 months old. I phoned a senior collector, who prepped me to tell the granddaughter the heirloom buttons were gone. Advice her not to let her children play with the chemical goo. Perhaps those that were all glass, all china might be washed and saved. I could see a quality set of French rosebud enamels, corroded to non-restorable ruin. Had she sorted By Material, and stored in an airy environment, such as a dry sewing basket stored in the main house, not basement or attic, she would still be enjoying these today 20 years later. But, without a working knowledge that plastics must offgas, and airless enclosed environment causes self-destruction, directly affecting other materials she made an unintentional error with very sad results. We saw first hand, what button collectors teach, besides plastics destruction, No one saves rusty buttons, they become corroded by moisture in this case, plastics offgas. Added to that she stored the metal container in the basement, naturally damp, but a New basement even more so as it’s still curing. This accelerated the destruction that collectors typically see in old tins and jars that have mixed material buttons enclosed airtight for some years. This example has saved countless other heirloom buttons for 20 years. At the very least, take the lid off tins, and jars. Best? sort By material, and store separately in airy baskets or mounted in acidfree shadowbox frames, which can be hung on your walls and enjoyed every day. PS the wire is plastic coated copper telephone wire, fairly inert. Avoid pipecleaners which wick moisture. Avoid Plastic buttons on Metal safety pins + enclosed.

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