Have you ever noticed, as I have, that whenever there is an opportunity to view a display of vintage fashions, where you think you might get to see what kind of, and how, old buttons were worn, they always seem to be fabric buttons? Historically, fabric buttons have always outnumbered buttons of other materials and it is interesting to note that they are the least favored to collect. To me though, they hold fascination in the skills used to create them, for a great many were done by hand.
Woven, knitted, crocheted, any process of needlework and buttons covered with cloth are known as fabric buttons. They were worn possibly as early as the 1600's and by the early 1700's were elaborately embroidered and worn by men on waistcoats. From the late 1700's and into the early 1800's fabric buttons, known as passementerie, were very richly decorated with embroidery of gold braid and spangles. Gold foil, carved pearl disks and bright silver and gold metallic thread were sewn into them. Handmade buttons were used before 1850 and were primarily made by women and children lacemakers on a piece-work basis.
The needlework on trimmed fabric buttons was done before it was placed on a mold, which the fabric buttons needed to be made over in order to retain their shape. Materials for the molds included, bone, ivory, wood, metal rings, and later cardboard, plastic and even shell buttons. Cap-like covers for buttons were crocheted or knit using silk, linen or cotton thread. Sometimes the mold was covered with a contrasting color which would show through the open design of the needlework cap. Later in the 1800's, when machinery began to be used, iron molds took the place of wooden ones. In 1825, flexible shank buttons were begun being used.
The art of Buttony began very early in Dorsetshire England, There, they made buttons of thread so popular, they are well known as the Dorset button. In 1841, the introduction of a machine made linen button, used primarily for underwear, nearly put an end to the making of the thread buttons. It is interesting to note that in later times, when machine made buttons were available, it was quite a fashionable pastime for ladies of leisure to construct elaborate crochet and thread buttons. The detailed work involved with wrapping thread made the completed project very satisfying. To this day, handmade fabric buttons are still made, but interest to collectors is due, primarily to those with a pictorial aspect. Various types of construction in eighteenth and nineteenth century are also of interest. The most highly sought would be the passementerie buttons.
Different types of fabric buttons to look for include; Molded top or “Gone With The Wind” buttons, having several pieces of cardboard, covered with cloth and cording decoration, of the 1860's. Devils or death’s head buttons, where the apex of four triangles meet in the center. Crochet, popular from the 1860's to 1910, worked with a hook over wooden molds or padded with cotton. Glass center designs, first made about 1839, are often pictorial. The fabric used, being usually watered silk the least lasting of any of the fabrics, is why so many of these buttons are hard to find with the fabric intact. Fabric or velvet background buttons. The Damask button, woven on a jacquard loom. Silk and Braid buttons. Dressmakers buttons, which are buttons fashioned by the seamstress, especially for each gown they made. They often used their own small hand-operated button making machines. Embroidered buttons. Brocade, which are woven silks, also know as Florentine. Passementerie. Passement was the old french word for lace. These types of fabric buttons are worked with gold and silver thread. And the Dorset.
As you can see, it would be easy to become involved gathering the various types of fabric buttons. On close examination you will find they are a very worthy collectible button.
©Clare Bazley ~ abuttonlady