Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vintage buttons and their use

So I've been collecting vintage buttons for quite a while now. I pick them up on the internet, at flea markets, antique stores, you know, the usual. They are such a wonderful source of inspiration. My vintagey girlfriends and I sit for hours going through the boxes of them, dreaming up new things to make. There's bakelite of course, but also other celluloid plastics (just as cute), carved coconut, painted metal, glass, wood, bone, galalith. Whenever I'm feeling down about what I'm doing I just take a little dive through the stash and get a ton of ideas. But I always wonder about how to use them really WELL, respecting the history and the design of not only the button, but the composition of the entire garment as a whole.

I've started to understand that among all of the dear vintage collectors, button ladies are a special breed. There are soo many ladies who collect buttons, who never intend on making clothes. Why do people collect buttons? How do they even display them? You can't even put them into a coin slot to display, do they just sit in a drawer? Regardless, until recently, these little treasures have been passed around the antique universe pretty unmolested. Now we have the concept of epoxying them onto "brooches", dooming them to a crafty purgatory of bad taste.

I am always on the lookout for ways to approach reproduction clothing from the period mindset. The patterns, as well as the original vintage clothing, have been my key resource for proper application of these buttons. But I always wonder when I see a set or a button I like-- what kind of garment were they originally attached to? I am especially interested in the 1930s, but those original garments are very hard to find.

So my quandary about how to use these buttons in a respectful and beautiful manner is kind of a challenge, but it's a fun pasttime. I've contacted several button dealers on period usage of these lovelies, but I get a dumbfounded response every time. I think many collectors collect them just for their beauty. I know there are many gals out there trying to recreate these vintage looks. Has anyone found any good resources beyond those rare 1930s pattern catalogues that cost $150? I haven't been able to find a single website that specializes in vintage buttons still ATTACHED to clothing. This may be a tall order, but I'm a dreamer.

How about those adorable novelty buttons--the scotty dogs, sombreros, pineapples, clothespins? What kind of garments were these originally attached to? I don't really believe that they were all used for children's clothing like some button ladies have suggested. Ladies casual resort wear utilized a lot of novelty themes back in the day.

I would love to hear your thoughts on button application. Is there a book or site that I should know about? This is a call to arms! I've got a 1" wide coconut scotty dog that needs an outfit! I've got sombreros out the wazoo!! 40s painted wood! Amazing deco button/buckle sets dying for a new life...I want to make sure I'm doing it right!

Oh, if you're interested in checking out some inspiring sets, see my button collection at You can pick out the ones you like, and away we go! Or I can use yours, your choice.


  1. i love buttons! and i am one of those ladies who don't sew! :)
    i don't have a collection though, but i do spend a lot of time looking at them on line - it gives me joy!

  2. Oh my gosh, I love this!! Yum. Your buttons are SO pretty!

  3. oh I love buttons too, but I do try to use them with vintage fabric (or vintage look if I find something just right) if a vintage item falls apart I always salvage the buttons!

  4. Every time I see a vintage button broach it makes me want to cry (they're popular here in the "antique" stores right now...)

    I also think you should totally take a box of your favorite buttons to Antiques Roadshow to try and find an answer to "how they were used". If you were ever to find an expert that might be the place to look for someone to at least point you in the right direction.

  5. You have the best selection in buttons!

  6. Thanks for all the great comments Gals! Oh yes, they are so fun to collect, there are so many inspiring designs. Every day I look for them online I'm wowed by innovative variations, seemingly infinite.

    I guess I takes things too seriously. I guess if anyone objects to how I would use them, they can just cut them off, ha! I am considering looking for a Button Psychic however. I do live in LA, the land of fruits and nuts! :.)

    I finally bought the 1930s series of Sears fashions by Tammy Ward, what fun to browse the great photos!

  7. I'm fairly certain I've seen necklaces, (or perhaps neckline decoration that looks like a necklace), from the 1940s made out of buttons in true 'Make Do and Mend' style.
    I can't really suggest how you might go about finding information on their original usage, though. Hope you find something useful!
    -Andi x

  8. I tried making some bracelets to showcase buttons - here's a link to my post about them: