I have had lots of comments about my “button columns” so I thought I would continue on. This week I am going to write about covered buttons.
Years ago when I was doing my PBS TV show, I had on with me a girl with no eyesight. She was someone I had taught and even without her vision, she could sew anything. On the show most things were not scripted so in this particular episode, I was discussing covered buttons. I made the comment that I didn’t like making covered buttons and I didn’t do it unless I had to. Before I finished explaining this, the blind girl, Janice, spoke up and said, “I love making covered buttons.” I was shocked. I asked her to explain. She said her mother would give her the little cloth circles, the metal parts and the rubber thing. (You all know what I mean). She went on to say that she loved making them because she got to spend time at her mother’s knees. There wasn’t a dry eye in the studio, including the cameramen. I haven’t complained since.
Seventeenth- and 18th- century button makers didn’t have convenient button-covering kits to assist them in making fabric-covered buttons for the fashionable, elaborately embroidered clothing of the day. Button making was an art, and to learn it aspiring buttonmakers apprenticed themselves to master lacemakers and embroiderers.
In France, a student of passementerie (fancy trimmings made of braid, cord, gimp, beading, and metallic threads in various combinations) served an apprenticeship of nine years before opening his own business. ( Yes, you read that right-NINE years). Buttonmakers belonged to the same guild as lacemakers. Louis XV had a servant whose only job was making buttons.
These early covered buttons were made over wooden, bone, or mother-of-pearl molds and sometimes were embellished with pearls, beads,, sequins, and jewels.
Another notable variety of covered buttons was made in Dorsetshire, England. A particularly attractive type of Dorset thread button was made by lacemakers who covered wire rings with delicate, weblike patterns of hair, silk, and/or wool. Since I have Persian cats I could make hundreds of hair-covered buttons! In the 1920’s satin buttons, painted to resemble cartoon star Betty Boop, were worn on ladies’ garters. Bridal gowns traditionally have included rows of tiny covered buttons.
“Button, button, who has the button?”