When I was a child my mother kept a jar of buttons. I thought it was fascinating. The buttons were all sizes, colors and textures. Mother had saved them from clothing that had worn out and could tell you about the pieces the salvaged buttons had come from. They told stories of clothing my parent had owned before I was born in much the same way my grandmother’s quilts did of an even earlier time. If a button was lost from one of my father’s white shirts that he wore to work at the Boeing Company, out came the buttons for the search for another. My parents were raised during the Great Depression and didn’t throw away much.
I don’t think buttons have ever been inexpensive. Go to Joann Fabrics and price buttons now and you won’t want to pay $5 for a card of four buttons just to replace one on a cuff or front placket. Even now it’s good to have a jar of buttons on hands. I save several. Besides saving them from our family’s worn-out clothing I’ve purchased them, but not on expensive cards at a retail store. Obviously my mother and I are not the only old ladies with jars of buttons. Other old women pass away and their families don’t realize the treasure they’ve been left in those jars and the jars end up at barn sales and thrift stores.
My most recent acquisitions came from my ex-mother-in-law. When Mom C passed away and Dad C went to live in assisted living my children and grandchildren were invited to come to the house and take whatever they wanted. My then six-year-old grandson Gabriel wanted his Great-Grandma’s buttons. They sat untouched in his room for a year until his mother decided that space being at a premium, the buttons would have to make way for action figures and puzzles. Because Gabriel was saving money for a personal DVD player I offered to buy them from him and he readily accepted.
Mom C’s collection of buttons was huge and fascinating.
And too good to keep to myself. While sorting through the vast collection, sorting them by color, I found some so unusual that I knew that there was a future for them beyond the possibility of my children sending them to the thrift store sometime in the future. I have a friend whom I’ve known since high school who is an artist. Marlys sews what she terms wearable art from fabric she finds in thrift stores and since many pieces are shirts running the gamut from mid-century pop to the exotically beautiful. Some of the buttons were so small I could not see how they could be anything but decoration and I knew that Marlys would know what to do with them as well as some sets of unusual buttons that were just screaming her name. I popped them into the mail for what Marlys declared was Christmas in July.
My buttons don’t just sit on a closet shelf waiting for some clothing malfunction. To me they are art. The jar with the red and green ones comes out at Christmas to nestle amongst vintage ornaments on the breakfront in my kitchen. The purple ones sit in a jar with my amethyst glassware in an antique kitchen cupboard. I have oranges and yellows for fall and jars of white, blue, black and pink. I know that people sell vintage buttons in shops and on eBay and since I will be getting a pay cut come fall, I might try my hand at it.