Beautiful, Bountiful Buttons!

Nov 21, 2010 | 6 comments

Buttons! Buttons! Buttons!

     I’ve been thinking about buttons.  All kinds of buttons.  There are ‘real’ buttons that help keep our clothing together.  There are virtual buttons on our computers.  There are the non-buttons that we call ‘buttons’ like campaign buttons and belly buttons.
     Some of my earliest memories involve sitting on the linoleum floor in my grandmother’s kitchen playing by the hour with the buttons in her cube-shaped, cardboard button box.  There were fancy buttons, plain buttons, hand-painted buttons, and buttons from uniforms. Where had they all come from?  Why had they been saved?  How many times had they been re-used in those years of homemade clothing?
     Years later, I married those buttons with my own and those of my mother and took them into my first grade classroom to be used for math.  The children sorted, arranged, categorized and counted the buttons.  Sometimes they sorted by shape – square, round, triangular, hexagonal.  Sometimes they sorted by material – metal, pearl, cloth-covered.  Or, by color.  Or by size.  Or by how they might be attached – two holes, three holes, a shank.
     Buttons helped build vocabularies with words such as decorative, satin, thread-bare, mother-of-pearl, lustrous, translucent – the list could go on and on.  We also talked about various uses for the very word “button.”  “Button up your lip;” “cute as a button;” “hit the panic button;” “push someone’s buttons.”  There were probably more.
     My favorite use of the word ‘button’ occurred at home when our mother cat (with the incongruous name of Zorba) gave birth to nine kittens.  “She doesn’t have enough buttons on her vest to feed them,”  worried my (then) eight-year-old son.  He was right, of course, but Zorba was a smart mama.  She divided her kitties into two groups – four on one side of her and five on the other.  When she was through nursing one group, she turned her back on them and gave the others a chance.
     These days, I am especially fond of one particular button.  It isn’t even real.  It’s the ‘Find’ or ‘Search’ button on my computer.  If I can’t remember where I filed a photograph or a document, or if I need to review the details of something I wrote about awhile back, I simply write in a key word and hit the button.  Magically, the lost is found.  If only I had such a button for the house – a master button that I could activate in place of wracking my brain with “where did I last see that?” and “didn’t I put that in a special place?” sorts of questions.  Now that would be a blessed button, indeed!    


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    A timely post for me, Sydney. Just last weekend my best friend and I were talking about buttons…the real sort. My mother has always kept a button box or jar and when I was a child I engaged in the sort of activity you describe. I, too, wondered about the clothing from which they’d come and when anyone in our family lost a button she was likely to find the perfect replacement.

    In the 1970s when I was going to college and majoring in Early Childhood Ed I student taught at a Head Start in the Holly Ridge housing project in Seattle. The teacher I worked with had a huge coffee can of buttons that the children sorted and counted. I was impressed with the amount. She told me that her husband worked at a thrift store and saved buttons from clothing that was too worn for resale.

    I have my own button collection and add to it. Besides using them for repairing clothing, I decorate with them. I have them sorted into Mason and jelly jars. I have all the whites, which include some tiny antique baby buttons and lots of dress shirt buttons, into one jar on a shelf in my bedroom. My reds and greens are in a jelly jar with a Christmas lid and are already on my breakfront in my kitchen waiting for the arrival of my Santa collection. I have a jar of pink button that I put in Amy’s pink cottage and a jar of….can you guess?…purple buttons in my cupboard with my amethyst glass.

    Just yesterday I very nearly added to my button collection. Good Will in Warrenton has a couple of jars of buttons and I nearly bought them. I may have to go back next weekend!

    Now I will press the Submit Comment button and hope you stay warm today as the frost is definitely on the pumpkin at the beach!

  2. Wendi Peterson

    I have some beautiful button necklaces in the gallery, this gal found a way to use buttons!

  3. Diana C

    I too have “button memories”…

    My mother would tell me about working in her fathers tailor shop in New York City (Queens) when she taught me to sew. Along with some of my grandfather’s buttons, I have thimbles and wooden spools of still good silk thread, metal needle cases and tin boxes, trim and lace and a cherished pair of pinking shears.

    Throughout my life I have been pleased that she took the time to teach me to sew. It has been a therapy, a necessity and creative outlet all of my life, with memories that each piece in my sewing kit brings back, sort of a patchwork quilt, or nostalgic memory like hearing a song from past times.

    My mother is 96 this year, she still tells me stories about her childhood in her father’s tailor shop. But she is not as steady, and her eyes are “growing dim” I help her with her sewing now, we have come full circle.

    I think I understand the connection between women who gathered for a sewing circle, quilting club or knitter’s and spinners group. Part of creativity is in the sharing. I wonder if we are loosing that part of our culture, or if the gap is being filled by “social networks”?

    I have a favorite button when using a computer as well… mine is the “undo” button!!!

    • sydney

      Hi Diana,
      Thanks you so much for sharing your sewing memories! There are many times that I wish I’d been the one to write something I’ve read, but there are few times that I wish the actual experiences had been mine. Your comments fall into both categories! How lucky you are that your mother is still with you and is able to ‘continue the thread’ no matter how fragile. Thanksgiving blessings to all of your household.

  4. Betty

    Would you believe I still cut the buttons off of clothes that aren’t reusable? Why, just habit. My sister has my mom’s fruit jars with who sews on buttons today? My daughter has no clue how to LOL


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