Friday, January 15, 2021

Button Autopsy - Recyle, reuse


Velvet covered -Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

Many people will look at a box of fabric buttons and pick out any of the pretty ones - the fancy buttons, the ones that look like silk, or are crocheted. To a lot of people, the plain fabric buttons can really seem dirty or worn or just too boring to consider. But sometimes, they can hold a secret.

Any buttons that have a gathered back show that they have had the fabric put over the button mould by hand. These buttons, even when the fabric is beyond saving, are worth a second look.

By carefully cutting away the gathered stitching on the back of the button, you can remove the covering. Some will need to be cut away (but proceed with caution, as I'll explain further along).

Buttons with a wooden mould have a good chance of being professionally made - perhaps to match a garment. However, this isn't always the case, as you did used to be able to purchase button moulds at a haberdashery. But even these can be a bit of a surprise, and they can always teach you more about construction techniques.

Pink satin - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

The little pink buttons have a satin covering. Its a medium weight fabric, so the covering has been placed right on the wooden mould. This mould is only about 9mm across. The stitching to create the covering was not in a matching thread - perhaps an indication of being homemade?

beige silk - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

The beige button is perhaps older. The silk has been used as a double layer adding a bit of extra stability. The top layer of fabric had completely shattered. Again, a turned wooden domed mould inside, but this time, the sewing thread is a perfect match.

lavender and black - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

This one was a nice surprise. The top layer was black black silk. Not too fine, so only required the single fabric layer. 

Beneath the black, a faded, a shattered fine pale lavender - over a second layer that has a much stronger purple tone to it. 

The purple stitching was a perfect match to the fabric. The black stitching was too, but the thread itself a little thicker than that used on the purple. They are two distinct levels, indicating that the button was re-used and recovered after the initial sun damage to the lavender had happened. 

Then there is the covered-covered button. The button mould is actually a fabric button that has been made using a button machine or press - so there is a metal back and/or front. The large buttons in the image at the top of the page are this type - a velvet/plush covering over a damaged cloth button with metal moulds. The damage to the original covering is quite obvious when the velvet was removed.

mohair - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

This is another - the inside button is a three-part with a thread back, and the woven front is probably a mohair / silk mix. This could be a very old button, and I'll be looking at it more closely in the future to see what I can discover.

blue/orange - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

These plain blue buttons have a textured orange fabric button underneath. The button is a two part with a pad back, and as you can see from the picture, quite soiled. With such a drastic change in colour I suspect they were removed from the original item and used on something quite different.

khaki - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

This already hard working, utility, machine made linen button has been covered in an equally hard wearing cloth. A cotton twill in a dark khaki colour, I wonder if it was made to replace a missing button on a kit bag or similar? Either way, this too is showing signs of wear along the edges. I like this button. 

blue bone - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

Then there are the surprises. Such as this little faded silk button - with a bone disc at the centre. I assume made to be a covered button right from the start, as there is no central hole. This silk is quite a pretty  light peacock blue on the underside.

square - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

Or this - the fabric covering was actually quite thick, so the button did look a bit squarish, but not fully. And that's because the mould is a square, but with the corners trimmed. It is quite an uneven piece, so the thicker fabric allowed a far more even looking button to be made. 

red button - Gina Barrett / Gina-B Silkworks Button Autopsy

This one is one of my favourites so far. The fabric appears to be a fine black cotton - but there are two layers, and the bottom layer shows some patterning. These were sewn over a nice bright red button. 

I image a home dressmaker, making a patterned something that needed one button - at the neckline perhaps. She chose the red button but just wasn't happy with it, so covered it with a bit of the offcut fabric.... 

However, nothing beats the find of my button collecting friend Cheryl Killam. She found a group of covered buttons that were so thick she carefully took apart the layers. She found four layers - and at the core - a beautiful, yet very faded - death's head button. Here is her image of four of the buttons - with each layer shown. How cool is that.

At the weekend, I lost a good friend to Covid far before her time. She was someone who was passionate about reusing and recycling - why she even presented Prince Charles with a reusable fabric bag once! She made so many reusable bags, literally 100s, that she would give away to anyone, she never took money for them. She would bring them to my workshops so that everyone could take away their makes. This post really is in tribute to her - showing how we can reuse instead of throw away.

Take care and stay safe everyone.


  1. Bless you, dearie! What a moving tribute to a friend. Thank you and thank Cheryl for the hidden treasures. I have trained my local button friends to bring me their tired, their poor - there is always something to learn. But four layers! My giddy aunt! Those of us into clothing are always intrigued by what garment something came from and wishing there was some sort of "save the image" thing so we can see the button as used or reused. Of course there isn't such a thing so we just have to speculate.
    Hope the weekend has been better than the week. Hugs to all and stay warm and dry and well. Charlotte xxxx

  2. Don just told me that the most recent fabric design on Cheryl's button has been adopted by an electronics firm as their logo! Fun! C xx

    1. Oh gosh, how interesting is that! It looks a bit like a camera lens centre. I so agree, I do wish we knew how buttons were originally used.
      I hope you are both keeping well? We've now got Storm Christoph to content with, lots of flooding - can't get into work as two routes are closed. I think we are still in 2020 actually...
      Stay safe and well both of you xxx

    2. Sorry about the flooding and rain -it just adds another layer of discomfort and irritation. We have gone from 80'F Sunday to 60'F Tuesday with wind gusts whirling around the house, making prickly brown rolypolys from the pine needles off the tree in the front yard. It looks a bit like we have a dozen or more very large hedgehogs rolled up along the east side of the yard - very funny but very drafty!
      We got out to our dentist yesterday - they reopened in July but this was the first opening. Two cleanings, two small x-rays and and appointment for me to have a tooth removed and an implant installed -seems the root split on a rootcanaled, crowned tooth making it very very loose. An expensive and uncomfortable process (Don had one done a year or so ago) but luckily we can manage it. And it will be nice to chew on both sides of my mouth!
      Hugs to all and stay warm and dry and well. Maybe Mark can cut you some big rings to make bottlecap thread buttons? Oh, before I forget - what size rings did you use for your rainbow buttons? I might make some for encouraging gifts to various people. Thank you. C in C xxxx

    3. I hope the pain has subsided a bit - I know these things can take a bit of time to ease entirely. I can imagine the dentist has had a backlog! I think most here are only doing emergency procedures as we are now in lockdown.
      Thankfully our area had a break from the storm overnight and this morning, so we were able to get in and get our stuff sent. There is still a lot of standing water - and its been raining steadily all afternoon. Forecast is for it to get really bad again tonight and tomorrow. It's quite mild though, so the heating isn't on full!
      Rainbow buttons - I did 24mm (so about an inch), but it would work with any really. Just depends on how happy you are covering the ring! When I am tired I find tham quite boring, lol!
      And yes - those rings are on his list :)
      Heal quickly, stay safe and well, both of you xx

    4. Thankfully the tooth can't hurt (root canal) and the gum area is free of infection, but if I chew on that side the loose tooth mashes the gum -remember the loose tooth when you were little? I've been very lucky - so far no tooth going west has caused more than a bit of discomfort. I broke a chunk off a molar on a piece of bread !!!! in Hungary one year but it was another root canaled one, so no pain!!! But I sure love my endodontist!
      Thanks for the rainbow size -I get bored too but I would really like to make something for my fellow button people. I try to think of the boring parts as a chance for holding each person in my thoughts - I knew a chocolate dipper who prayed while dipping - she got a lot of dipping and praying done!
      Glad you could get the packages out. Stay dry and warm and well. xxx

    5. Oh well done! Sending Newcastle caps to Yoko was brilliant - she is such an inventive lady! C xx

    6. I'm glad it isn't too bothersome. I broke a molar the other year - scared me how weak my tooth was. Yes, I find weaving a bit like that - go off on my own little word. I guess that's where the expressions like weaving a spell come in...

      I sent her out a few - she's so dang talented, can't wait to see what else she comes up with. Every one better than the last.

      Stay safe and well xxx

  3. That's absolutely fascinating. Button boxes are full of interesting survivals, aren't they!