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Keeping You In Stitches: On Buttons

Everyone loves buttons.  Who could possibly hate a button?  I could understand why you might not like a zipper, or Velcro, or hooks and eyes, but buttons—never. How about bone buttons?  Bone is one of the earliest known materials used for making buttons. A Stone Age bone button was found by archaeologists digging in the Grotte des Morts in Garde, France.  Small bone objects that may have been buttons also were found in Egyptian tombs dating from the Sixth Dynasty.  Button-shaped objects made of bone also were worn as pendants by the men of Phoenicia (3000 B.C).  Experts do not believe that any of these early buttons were used as fasteners.

Some claim that bone buttons first were used for fastening garments in twelfth-century France.  In the fourteenth century bone buttons were made by French beadmakers. In the nineteenth century, sheep and cattle bone buttons were made all over the British Isles.  Many early bone buttons were cut on a lathe and fitted with metal shanks: others were drilled with two, three, or four holes.  The sew-through buttons often were used on underwear (yes, you read that right.)  Bone sometimes was also carved elaborately to simulate ivory.

Let’s go from bone to ceramic.  Many of the famous European porcelain manufactories have made and/or still make buttons.  According to Steen Nottelmann, curator of the Royal Copenhagen Museum in Copenhagen, Royal Copenhagen first produced porcelain buttons (in several sizes and models) in 1783.  Around the same time, English ceramicist Josiah Wedgwood manufactured cameo-like buttons that were mounted in metal bezels.

During the German occupation of Paris in World War II, popular buttonmaking materials, such as metal and leather, were in short supply. Hence the huge ceramic buttons became fashionable.   Some of the most whimsical ceramic buttons were made between 1938 and 1940 by artist Marguerite Stix.  Stix designed buttons for Parisian couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli.


About Sally Cowan (50 Articles)
After Keeping You in Stitches for over 45 years, Sally enjoys her memories of events that happened on her way to retirement. Author of 6 books, lectures, teaching, and TV host on PBS and now has time for her many cats and Snuggles, the dog. She also loves playing trumpet in the Anastasia Baptist Church orchestra.

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