Embellish Heirloom Buttons with a Creative Twist
Try these clever and attractive variations and embellishments to enhance your hand-made heirloom buttons.
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Here are some beautiful variations and embellishments you can use to enhance traditional heirloom button styles, such as adding embroidery, beads, and even an embedded penny!
Endless variations for Dorset crosswheel buttons:
Combine different threads or change the pattern–
You can use a variety of threads and yarns to weave them and mix several threads together in a single button (see the two-toned-pink and beige button).
Change the pattern as you weave the button’s threads; for example, vary the number of spokes, make the spokes asymmetrical, or lengthen or shorten the backstitches to enlarge or decrease the spiraling thread pattern. Leave an open border between the button’s wrapped ring and the spiraling backstitches (see the ivory button).
You can sew embroidery stitches, such as stem stitch or chain stitch, over the spokes (see again the two-toned-pink and beige button), or sew a simple under-over weave instead of backstitching.
Embellish with beads–
You can even add beads to the button by stringing the beads onto the spokes as you wrap the button’s body and omitting the backstitches (see the copper-thread and clear-beaded button); or add beads to the backstitches as you weave them onto the spokes or onto embroidery stitches (see the tan and green wood-beaded button).
Dorset Diagram 1 Dorset Diagram 2 Dorset two-tone-pink and beige (front)(back) Dorset Crystal Dorset Wood Bead
Simple lace shirtwaist button enhancements:
Combine different threads–
Unlike the Dorset crosswheel’s pattern, the lace shirtwaist button’s pattern can’t be changed. Design variations are limited to the thread’s size and color, [size and weight are nearly the same in thread-it’s a matter of thickness more than anything]. You can switch to a different-sized, -colored, or –weight thread after wrapping the spokes and angles, or after overcasting the angle threads. (See the pink and blue button and the green and white button)
Embed round objects in the “window”–
You can add elements to a lace shirtwaist button by embedding thin, flat, disk-shaped objects – such as a coin or a piece of fabric – in the center of the button (it’s “window”). Simply center the object on the button’s surface spokes and then make the angled wraps over the object’s edges. The object should be at least 1/4-in. smaller than the button’s ring to enable you work the finishing buttonhole stitches. (See the pink button with embedded penny)
How to make a standard lace shirtwaist button Shirtwaist Pink and Blue (front)(back) Shirtwaist Green and white (front)(back) Shirtwaist Embedded Penny (front)(back)
TIP: Choose rings for needle-lace buttons wisely. Avoid using metal rings that have a slit – like jump rings – because the thread pulls through the slit, and the button will unravel. Look for seamless plastic or brass rings in your fabric store’s drapery notions section. Thin brass rings appropriate for needle-lace buttons are also sold through shops that supply historical costumers, such as Burnley & Trowbridge and Wm. Booth Draper. Plastic drapery rings, which come in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, create a thicker “frame” at the button’s edge. You may need to sand a plastic ring’s outer edge so the thread “grabs” and doesn’t continually slip off.
Cord toggle size variations:
The width of a cord toggle is determined by the diameter of the cord, but the length is determined by the number of times you wrap the cord. Three wraps produce a ball button (see the tri-colored blue toggle), five wraps create an average-sized toggle (see the white toggle); more than five wraps produce a longer toggle (see the blue and yellow toggle).
You can wrap two different cords together to create one toggle, as well; use cords with different textures or of different colors, but the same diameter (see the blue and yellow and tri-color blue toggles).
For toggles that match a garment, use the garment fabric to create a fabric-covered cord.
How to make a basic toggle Toggle Triple BlueToggle White Toggle Blue and Yellow
Cord monkey’s fist size and shape variations:
Variations in the monkey’s fist are limited to size and shape. Size and shape are determined by the number of wraps made in each direction, while the cord’s diameter only affects the knot’s size. Size can also be increased by using a bead in the button’s center.
To make a more rectangular monkey’s fist, rather than the traditional round button, wrap the cord twice as many times in the very last step than in the previous two steps (see the rectangular brown and blue buttons).
For a large button relative to the size of the cord, use a bead in the center and increase the number of wraps in each direction to cover the bead.
How to make a mokey’s fist Monkey’s Fist Blue Monkey’s Fist Brown
Read about the basic processes for making traditional versions of four heirloom button styles—Dorset crosswheel, the lace shirtwaist, the cord toggle—in “Make Your Own Heirloom Buttons”, Threads #169, written by Nancy Nehring.
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Do you plan on making heirloom buttons with the techniques outlined in this post? Have you made any buttons not mentioned above? Please comment below and let us know.