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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Button, button, who's got the button? I DO!

When I was a little girl, I loved playing with Grandma's button box.  It was an old candy tin that once held Christmas ribbon candy, but by the time I was six or seven, the candy was long gone and it was stuffed full of brightly colored buttons.

Grandma and Grandpa lived just a few yards from my house so I often spent the afternoon playing at Grandma's.  If I happened to arrive at the same time as her favorite soap opera, "As the World Turns," Grandma always let me get out the buttons and play.

A consummate taxonomist, I loved to sort and categorize the buttons.  I arranged them by color, size, and value.  Of course the value was determined by my seven year-old mind, so that meant the best buttons were anything that had  jewels, sparkles, or were red.

The buttons all arrived in the box the same way.  Whenever a garment was headed for the rag bag, Grandma would first remove all the buttons.  Of course that meant most of the buttons in the box were the boring brown buttons from the front of Grandpa's work shirts. 
Fortunately for me someone in the family also wore out their party dresses and black mourning clothes.  That meant there were lovely jet black glass beads and luminescent pink pearl buttons.  And some fortunate relative must have owned a lovely red dress that once had red buttons with glass jeweled centers.

 Grandma's button box was such a fond memory that I had to have my own.  But my button collection isn't hidden in a candy tin, it is displayed in glass jars in my office.  A few of the buttons in my collection come from worn out shirts, but in these days of t-shirts and zippers, the bulk of my collection is from local antique shops. 

My favorite are the Mother-of-Pearl buttons from the 1800's.  Millions of buttons were cut from oyster and abalone shells and sewn on shirts, skirts, collars, and cuffs.  Large silver dollar size buttons decorated coats and jackets. 

I love the iridescent quality of the buttons.  Each one has it's own character.  Mother of pearl buttons are much heavier than their plastic counterparts and literally cooler.  If you hold a plastic button and a Mother-of Pearl button to your cheek the pearl button will feel cooler to the touch.

Of course there are lots of wonderful ways to use buttons in crafts.  From traditional ornamentation of clothing and hats to the now popular button jewelry. You can let your imagination run wild.

So wild that you might even make an entire outfit out of the tiny gems.  The Pearly Society of London carries on a 125 year-old tradition of clothing decorated with pearl buttons.  They wear these unique outfits to raise money for charity.  You can see their pearly costumes at

But me - I still like to play with my buttons.  Occasionally my husband will poke his head in my office and see me sitting surrounded with a pile of pearly circles. 

 "How many times have you sorted those?"  He asks.

 I don't even bother to answer.  Who knows how many times I've sorted through my treasure trove?  All I know is - I love my buttons.

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