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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Buttons, buckles and beads

I've always loved buttons. When I was a little girl one of my favourite things was to sort through my grandmother's button tin. Below is the tin I inherited from my mother and although old, I don't think it is the tin. I remember that as being round and deep..


Buttons have been around for thousands of years. They have been made of a myriad of materials including bone, wood, amber, sandstone, coral, silver, gold, pearl, leather, coconut shell, polyester, fabric, even casein which is made from milk protein.

Over the years, buttons have waxed and waned in popularity. In Henry VIII's time everyone who could afford it, wore buttons on their clothes and they were even used as hiding places for secret messages with letters sewns into buttons made of silk thread. Queen Elizabeth I was reputedly very fond of buttons and apparently they were given to her in the shapes of fish, men, tortoises and little birds of paradise.

I am actually married to a button merchant so am never short of a button or two. When I say what my husband does for a living it always elicits two responses; the first is surprise that such a thing as a button merchant exists. People tend not to think about how the buttons get from the factory where they are made to the garment they are wearing. Secondly most people say 'Oh I love buttons!' So I thought that I'd post up a tiny taste of my treasure trove of buttons.

These first ones are made from pearl.

I've got quite a lot of jet buttons too. They always remind me of my great-grandmother, possibly because she had a pair of jet earrings. I've used a couple of her big jet buttons on a black and white check coat which I've had for years.

These enamel duck buttons were from my husband and I put them on a cardigan to make it look a bit different. When the cardigan wore out I saved the buttons. The enamel is a bit chipped now but I don't mind that. Maybe it's time to use them again.

There are beautiful vintage buckles in my collection too.

And little glass bugle beads.

And these lovely lustrous glass beads would make a pretty necklace if I ever get time to do something with them.

Almost everyone has a button tin and they bring back so many memories. One day I would like to write a story about a button tin but I am waiting for it to take shape in my head.

This week I became a grandmother for the first time so in a few years, maybe I will be able to sit down with my grandaughter and sift through my button collection with her.

Thank-you for reading and on these soft, snowy days in the U.K. when our world is forced to pause for a while, maybe you'll feel the urge to get out your own button tin and revive a few memories.
Maybe they'll even prompt a story or two.




  1. I love buttons. I used to play with the buttons that my Grandma and Great Aunt used when they worked as dressmakers in their front room. I still have some of those buttons and they bring back a myriad of memories.

    Congratulations on becoming a Grandma and I'm sure she'll love playing buttons with you :-)

    1. Thanks for the congratulations Ros. It's amazing how holding a button in your hand can bring back such strong images of people you love and transport you back in time. My great-grandmother was a dressmaker too. I still have a couple of dresses that she made, all embroidered with beautiful cross-stitch. Maybe I'll blog about them one day.

  2. I have a friend organising some shipments of sewing materials to a third world country and an appeal for buttons in the local paper got an overwhelming response. Now her house is stacked full of buttons being sorted and what history they coul tell!

  3. Hi Susan, it's lovely to think that all those buttons will be put to good use overseas and then maybe even come back to the u.k. attached to garments or transformed into something beautiful. I've sorted a few buttons in my time too. Sometimes when buttons come from the manufacturer if they're not up to scratch you have to sift out the bad ones. When it's an order for tens of thousands it's a real labour of love I can tell you!