The things you can do with buttons

A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference where a lovely lady had the most gorgeous cotton back with the slogan “Cute as a Button” and joy of joys, had buttons sewn onto it.  I loved that bag.

“Cute as a Button” bag

This got me thinking, I have a cotton CILIP Cymru Wales bag, I have buttons!  I know, I’ll personalise my CILIP bag with buttons.

First of all I came up with the idea of using red and green buttons as these colours represent Wales.  The first draft idea looked like this:

First button draft

I took the photo to remind me of what I had decided and went to bed.  On the way to bed I found the green square handmade buttons I bought from the shop in Cardiff Castle, which sparked another idea of how to place the buttons.  It gave me the idea to use the buttons to represent two pots of button bushes with flowers.

In addition to the buttons, I lined the back by using another CILIP bag turned inside out.  This adds to the strength of the bag, protects the back of the buttons and the extra handles provides the extra support.  I used the existing stitching around the top of the bag to join them both together with small running stitches.  A double row of these ensures the bags will not come apart.

Photos of the finished bag

Buttons sewn in place

Red buttons

Green Buttons



Identifying glass buttons

Glass buttons are the most lovely to own.  Particularly the clear ones.  They make a particular “chink” when handled en masse.  But is it glass or is it plastic?

Glass buttons have been around since the 18th century when the material was mixed with other materials to produce a button.  It was not until the 19th century that pure glass buttons were produced.  These were made with a metal shank or post.  Glass buttons with a self (glass) shank are modern buttons, and by modern, I mean from the very early 20th century.

But how can you tell a glass button from a plastic one?  This is fairly easy if the buttons are clear.  Glass buttons sparkle, they are clear, they have a clarity that just cannot be found in plastic or synthetic buttons.  Plastic buttons have a cloudy appearance.  If the button is pressed or cut, the edges are sharp, just like cut-glass crystal.  Glass is also cold to the touch (touch it to your lips, they are more sensitive to temperature).  Tap the button on your teeth, it should be a sharp clicking sound not a dull thud!  And of course glass buttons are heavy.  Plastic buttons are very light.  If in doubt check the back.  If the button has a metal shank or post it is glass.  The metal was inserted into the glass button while still hot.

Metal shanks can also be used to date the button.

In this picture there are 4 different backs.  All of them are associated with glass buttons.

1.  Loop shank with metal backplate.  There are lots of variations and date to the nineteenth and twentieth century.

2. Metal loop shank with rosette back plate. These date from nineteenth to early twentieth century.

3.  Metal box fourway metal shank, late nineteenth, early twentieth century.

4.  Built up self-shank, twentieth century.

These were in my grandmothers collection and all date from the late 1800s early 1900s.

The same criteria apply when trying to identify coloured glass buttons.  The sound, feel and weight come more into play here.  These lemon zebra buttons are a great example of vintage 1930s glass buttons.

There are a large number of particular styles of manufacture for glass buttons …. but that’s another blog post!