Beckoning all button lovers...

The button was used originally as pure ornament rather than as a fastening. Holes were cut so that thread would keep the button secure to a piece of clothing, but buttons for use with functional buttonholes didn't appear until the 13th century in Germany and then, with widespread usage across Europe due to the increase in close-fitting garments during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Historic buttons 900BC-43AD copper alloy / 1650-1675AD Spanish metal

 

The first buttons were obviously to be made with natural materials such as bone, metal and shell as that's what was available, and they needed to be fairly hefty due to the swathes of fabric that had to be hoisted up. The higher classes throughout the Middle Ages had gone a bit crazy for buttons, fully adorning their clothes with buttons and buttonholes (which led to the introduction of professional dressers) using them to accentuate certain close-fitted parts of the garment. Buttons had shanks so that the button face was completely clear for engraving and embroidery and, it's documented that it was the Elizabethans who introduced cloth covered buttons - we can see that embroidery was pretty key in this age. The variety of materials used to make buttons developed as the aesthetic of the eras developed.

Historic buttons 18th Century buttons

 

With the production of plastic, buttons sadly fell off the scale of preciousness. They had gone from ornament, to functional decoration, to pure function (this includes the naughty smuggler-buttons used to transport drugs and those used for expressing politics).

7.-Stringing-buttons-in-cro.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large.-Stringing-buttons-in-cro Stringing buttons, Massachussets 1912

 

During the Industrial Revolution, buttons were mass-produced in homes by families. Nowadays, buttons are so easy to come by that we can forget they are made by someone - whether via machine or by hand (anyone trying to cover their own buttons knows it isn't so straightforward). The National Button Society was founded in 1938, recognising that people did in fact collect buttons - collecting is part of our human psyche, it's like foraging. So now we find hoards of buttons in house clearances, or we have tubs of our own stuffed in drawers or have jars on shelves full of nice little buttons we've found, but haven't necessarily got a purpose for. Whilst we don't ordinarily on a day-to-day basis recognise the handiwork of small components like buttons, there is something within us that recognises the preciousness of the design and consequently affects us enough to collect. Search for 'buttons' on Pinterest and up pops hundreds of DIY ideas using buttons, because we all collect them and need to use them somehow.

For dressmaking, we see buttons as needing to be both functional and ornamental. They have to serve a purpose otherwise, why would we go through the trouble of marking the points, sewing them on and making buttonholes? Maybe some of you are masochistic like that and make garments with buttons just for the sake of using a certain design, or maybe you just really hate zips and so buttons are the only option if you want a fitted garment...

This brings us back to the aesthetic of buttons. Perhaps you're making a dress out of cat print fabric, and so a cloth-covered cat button sewn on like a badge just finishes it off perfectly... We've come full loop to buttons being ornamental; they are used to express personality or, affiliate us with a group or, used to add a splash of colour. Buttons are such transient things, really. You can easily snip them off in order to replace, or they'll come off themselves anyway and so, you can quite undramatically change the look you have just like people did all that time ago (by the push of a button...)

 

Ray Stitch button

 

With this in mind, we select buttons for our shop that breach the function-ornament divide - we may as well preach to both the collectors and to the functionals amongst you and, if we can, different tastes as well (we do have all those print trays and shelves and jars to fill after all). We would like to share our newest additions with you, and maybe some of our existing selection just because we think they're really nice. (Click on the main image to go through to even more buttons!)

 

Fabric Covered Buttons from Ray Stitch

Wooden Buttons from Ray Stitch

Shell Buttons from Ray Stitch

Enjoy your collecting and making!

Words by Steph.