Sunday, November 10, 2013

Handmade Buttons Workshop

Yesterday I attended the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild "Making Lace Buttons" workshop, with Nancy Nehring, who you can find at her website, Lace Buttons. Nancy is the author of 50 Heirloom Buttons to Make, a book that makes you just drooool over the pretties. Sadly, the book is out of print, and while there is a Kindle edition available, the Kindle e-book is only in black and white and messes up the pagination (the pictures are not necessarily where they're supposed to be). But the e-book is better than nothing.

In person Nancy is energetic, very knowledgeable about buttons, and an experienced teacher. She has the sort of technical, visual and mechanical mind that would have made her a great engineer, if she hadn't discovered a better calling.

I also want to put in a plug for workshops in general. I'm pretty good at figuring things out, but getting a chance to sit down with someone who has already spent hours figuring this stuff out is invaluable. I got tips that took me from just fiddling to making buttons in no time. I also just love the overflow of creative energy at a workshop: give fifteen people the same instructions, and you get fifteen different results. I just love that.

Anyway, here are the buttons I made:

My sample buttons.
Make no mistake: making these fancy buttons is fiddly and time consuming. But if you're really fond of tedious handwork (like me) and have at least some manual dexterity, really, go for it. Go look at the photos in Nancy's book. The results are just ridiculously lovely.

Two "wrapped braid buttons", called "Soutache Checkerboards"
in the book.

Two more "wrapped braid buttons", the "Evening Star"
 on the left, and the "Morning Star" on the right. These are
made from hemp cord. Other folks in the class used a finer,
smoother cord, which made for a more refined button,
 in my opinion.
The "Singleton" button (named after the Singleton family,
who at one point had a monopoly on this style of button).
It's fabric wrapped around a ring. I added a little bit of
chainstitch embroidery to it, for visual interest.
Two "Victorian Needle Lace" buttons, "Victorian Flag"
 on the left, and "Victorian Star" on the right. These are
silk beading cord over silk charmeuse.
Here are the backs of the buttons. The four on the right have
wrapped shanks, mostly because it helps keep the cord in place.
I didn't bother to put shanks on the three on the right, and
according the Nancy, period buttons rarely had shanks.
I stuck the buttons onto what I call my sample board, which contains a combination of, well, samples, and finished things that are waiting to be attached to a finished article (and..uhm...well, they've been waiting a very long time).

My sample board.
Kinda tells you what I was working on
at one point.
A sample board is a great way to lay out samples and experiments, and have them handy when you're looking for an idea to fill a design. I have another corkboard for more dynamic works-in-progress, a place for me to get stuff out of my head and see how it looks in real life (which is currently blank, and thus a reflection of where my time is -- or rather, is not -- being spent right now). Being able to visualize is a great design tool.


  1. Replies
    1. I'm sorry, no, I just made these couple for learning purposes.

  2. I recently bought a second hand copy of her book. Well worth it.
    Another book about all things buttons is by Gina Barrett "Buttons". A must have uf you like button making. And check out her website