Thursday, July 18, 2013


When we think of the button as an item of necessity, as a fastener, we will find that it was used way back in the early time of mankind history. Since human began to cover their bodies, some sort of material was used to connect two pieces of clothing, to guarantee freedom of movement, and to prevent the garment from slipping off the skin. The creativity of those early people in terms of materials, forms and techniques to achieve closure and connection had no limits. Bone and stone and wood, snails, shells, clams, herringbone, animal teeth, and seeds of fruit and trees, all were used to fit two pieces of fur, leather or woven cloth together.

In Roman and Byzantine time those closures became, besides their practicality, more and more decorative.

The first buttons somehow as we know them today originated in France in the 13th century. They spread to Italy and throughout Europe. Many paintings of those times give us a good insight into the forms and materials of the buttons and their importance in fashion. They increasingly symbolized social status and button mills sprang up. The designs became often very ornamental and buttons were commissioned to be made of precious material, like silver, gold, coral, amber, pearls and gemstones, even diamonds, to adorn the costumes and to express wealth and power. And coin buttons were in the 18th century still accepted as payment.

Gradually, many different materials were added, which enriched the panorama of the diverse world of the button: mother-of-pearl, ivory, nut, horn, brass, clay, and finally polyester. In the 19th century the manufacture of buttons was industrialized, the button factories were established and began to flourish, and machines took mostly over the handy craft.

Till today the chosen material, natural or synthetic, is an equal part to the design and is closely associated with the button production. There are exotic substances, like the resin corozo, obtained from the nut of the tagua palm which is native to South America and leads to fine modern buttons. There is mother-of-pearl, coconut, glass, amber, plum and cherry pits, finds from the beach, leather, eucalyptus seeds. The later by the way, when they get a bit warm, release their wonderful oily scent. There are buttons created from metals and plastic, buttons covered with fabric and lace and silk. There are buttons for special needs, like professional clothing for army and police uniforms, for restaurant and hospital personnel outfits, etc.
And we should not forget about the buttons who are really small pieces of art, intricately carved or masterly painted little gems, each one individually crafted. 

BUTTONS, millions of buttons and trillions of buttons came and went, and are still here, in all colors, shapes and materials we can think of, buttons with holes and with shanks, buttons in all sizes. Today the most common materials used in button making are hard plastic, seashell, metals and wood.

We all love buttons, don't we? I get hunting instincts while visiting the flea markets, and I have no shame asking older people: "Do you have a jar or box full of buttons you saved through your life and you don't need anymore?" Sometimes I get lucky!

Many of those old and not so old buttons I use. Two years ago I found a box full of mother-of-pearl buttons at the flea-market in Yafo, there were hundreds of them inside, half of them were broken, but I had still enough to enjoy. I have been using them extensively on pouches, bags, lavender hearts, even pillows, and they are almost gone now. I have to go searching again...  But others I don't use, I just keep them and I love spilling them out of their container, looking at them closely, trying to imagine their earlier life, making up stories in my mind.

How do you feel about buttons? Do you love them? Do you feel connected to them through your clothing and through history? Are you collecting them? If you look at a button, can you tell from which material it is made? If it is old or new? Even antique? Do you have buttons to spare? :-)

All the information gathered from different sources at the Internet.


Eva said...

Buttons are incredibly creative, practical and a decoration. What a great collection!
In Japan, clothes were closed with ribbons and other binding or wrapping methods; items, like little pouches or a knife, were tied to the belt, using a string. But yet, they needed some form of button to prevent it from slipping out of the belt, which made them create the nets'ke. Nowadays, instead of ivory, mammoth is used.
You just can't do without them!

Bob Bushell said...

What a collection of buttons, lovely lovely.

Irmtraud Kesselring said...

Liebe Yael,
eine wundersschöne Sammlung von Knöpfen und Verschlüssen. Ich habe gerade eine ganze Dose entsorgt. Schade.
Danke für deine Ausführungen. Knöpfe haben demnach eine lange Geschichte.
Ich sage es immer mal wieder: Bloggen bildet ganz einfach.
Einen angenehmen Donnerstag wünscht dir

Yael said...

In case someone - like I did - wonders about Eva's comment:

"Today mammoth ivory is found during mining operations, in areas with glacial activity, as a result of erosion, and during deep-sea fishing operations. Generally, only ivory that has been in the permafrost in the far north (and therefore not subject to freezing and thawing) is suitable for use. Mammoth ivory is used for carving, to make jewelry, knife handles, and pistol grips."

TarracoStyle said...

sabes??, yo de pequeña siempre quise tener una mercería. me encantan los botones.

Bea said...

Hej Yael,

hier kann man im wahrsten Sinn den kleinen Dingen etwas abgewinnen. Manche der Kleinigkeiten sind wahre Kleinodien. Das Thema an sich war eine wundervolle Idee von Dir!!!

Grüße aus dem sommerlichen Schweden

rachel awes said...

i LOVE buttons! what an AMAZING collection!!!! WOW!!! xoxoo

Hilde said...

This is interesting, Yael, I loved reading your post!! And what an amazing collection of buttons you have there!
I love buttons too. Don't have a collection, but I have a button storage jar. However most of the buttons in there are buttons cut off from old clothes, so there are very few nice ones... You may have inspired me to go "button hunting" now :)
Hope you are having a lovely weekend.

stardust said...

Wow and wow! There are so many buttons that cannot all be used up. What a great collection! Buttons are decorative and functional at the same time. I’ll put all my saved buttons in a glass jar to display on the shelf. This is another interesting post, Yael.