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Get Creative with Heirloom Buttons

Instead of completing the woven pattern in a Dorset crosswheel button, add beads while wrapping the spoke threads.
Or slip beads onto the threads as you weave the backstitches around the spokes.
Before completing a lace shirtwaist button by wrapping its ring in buttonhole stitches, change to a different colored thread. This gives the appearance of a striped outer ring.
Instead of completing the woven pattern in a Dorset crosswheel button, add beads while wrapping the spoke threads.

Instead of completing the woven pattern in a Dorset crosswheel button, add beads while wrapping the spoke threads.

Photo: Sloan Howard

In "Make Your Own Heirloom Buttons", Threads #169, Nancy Nehring explained how to create four heirloom button styles: the Dorset crosswheel, the lace shirtwaist, the cord toggle, and the cord monkey's fist. The article introduced the basic processes for making the traditional versions of these four buttons. The variations shown here add interest to your heirloom buttons. Refer to the article in Threads #169 (or to the diagrams in this post) for the steps, and work in these variations as you go. Don't miss other helpful techniques like this by ordering a subscription of Threads magazine. Print subscriptions come with FREE access to our tablet editions.

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).

Add embroidery

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 

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Comments (12)

MonetViera MonetViera writes: I like it. button gives the elegant look for your garments
Posted: 12:45 am on December 7th

Suze Suze writes: I made a few matching Dorset buttons with French knots instead of beads around the centre. Hadn't got a use for 2, not enough matching yarn for a third one, so I glued them to earring backs and have worn them quite frequently.
I like this idea of adding beads and will have a go at that next.
Posted: 9:03 am on September 18th

SuperiorLiz SuperiorLiz writes: Somewhere amongst my "as yet not unpacked" books I have a 1980's British book on making Dorset Buttons. Have to locate it and find out who wrote it.
As for re-cycling buttons; some thrifts have a "end of season $5 a garbage bag full" of clothes. I have taken advantage of this to acquire garments to re-cycle as buttons, zips, trim, and fabric.
Sadly my mother "lost" her family button box, luckily some treasures had already ended up in my hands. So I have the black Jet Buttons, on their button-stand, off my Great Grandmother's "Best" Dress; must date to @ 1900 or earlier. Also the green bakelite buttons off my mothers green tweed "Costume"; skirt and jacket that she had the year of the current Queen of England's Grandfather and Grandmother's Silver Jubilee; late 1920's I think. Also Brown buttons from a winter coat from my childhood; coat made of handwoven rusty brown tweed; my Great Aunt gathered the wool while walking her dogs on the Devonshire Moors, dyed it, spun it, wove it. That was when fabrics were still wartime rationed so a gift like that "rationing stamps free" was much appreciated.
Buttons are also a great play thing for children; a big enough one can be threaded onto a string or ribbon; through two holes on one button then tied together using a 36 " or so string. Slip the end loops over first finger at each end then twirl the button so it is wound up then pull the loops apart and the button will unwind and re-wind; all you have to do is keep gently pulling the ends apart and relaxing them. You can even take two cardboard circles and draw black and white spirals, thread this over the button and make yourself very queasy!
Posted: 4:05 pm on September 2nd

Isewmuch Isewmuch writes: Love Love Love these Buttons. Buttons Enhance the Garment from Run of the Mill to Exqusite. Thank You
Posted: 9:45 am on August 30th

sewold sewold writes: I love the idea of "harvesting" off of thrift store buys. I've done this many times, but didn't think of it as harvesting! We "sew" what we reap?
Posted: 10:08 am on August 29th

Sewing2enjoying Sewing2enjoying writes: I am very fortunate to have a pretty large collection of antique buttons passed down from my grandmother through my mother to me. I absolutely love them and wonder what will become of them when I am gone (I am almost 72). I wish I could take them with me. I wonder how many of them may have come down further back from the two generations I mentioned above. I wish my grandmother had lived long enough for me to have known her so I could have received more information on the "family button collection". I use many of the buttons for embellishment but cannot stand to pass them to people outside of the family who would have no emotional connection. to them. Thanks so much for adding this wonderful article to your terrific magazine.
Posted: 8:05 am on August 28th

Sewmarj Sewmarj writes: I recently altered a mens T shirt to make it more feminine. In addition to cutting out the high ribbrd neck and making it a rounded scoop, I also re- used the neck ribbing. To do this, I separated it from the fabric, ironed it open, then cut it in half lengthwise. This gave me a piece of ribbing in exactly the same color as the T and long enough to finish the new scoopneckline with. It produced a lovely narrow ribbed band that gave the T a nice light professional look.
Posted: 4:01 am on August 28th

user-791663 user-791663 writes: Consignment/thrift stores are wonderful places to purchase unique fabrics and notions. I purchased a beautiful Christian Dior nightgown years ago for the lace. I ended up wearing it for a short time and then used the lovely lace for trim and the satin fabric for a short-sleeved blouse. As a garment sewer, I always pay attention to the button and zipper details of a garment. They can make or break the garment. I am fortunate in choices b/c so many people will comment on my buttons on what would otherwise be a plain piece of clothing. You are putting a lot of work into constructing a garment so don't minimize the last touch---the buttons. Try several buttons on the garment. Step away and look closely. You will see what works best. Think of the details of a garment as they think of location in real estate---details, details, details.
Posted: 8:51 pm on August 27th

lovethecrafts lovethecrafts writes:
I comb thrift shops for clothing that has seen its time and may have buttons, lace or other unique features that I can harvest and use in other clothing or home decor. I can see using these custom buttons (after the garment has lost its appeal) on a large linen pillow or on the top closure of my duvet.
Posted: 8:27 pm on August 27th

StashaNovak StashaNovak writes: Thank you so much, I have several ideas for your creations.

Posted: 7:08 pm on August 27th

janal janal writes: rhodeanie--you miss the point entirely! making these buttons are not just the garment--they MAKE the garment! and when that garment is 'done', remove the buttons and put them on a quilt made out of parts of that garment, along with other pieces of favorite garments! that's the stuff of heirlooms... --janal, san antonio, tejas
Posted: 6:55 pm on August 27th

rhodeanie rhodeanie writes: I greatly appreciate the craftsmanship and the artistry, but I cannot commit that much time to an article that will become obsolete as soon as the garment. Of course, one can save the buttons before retiring the garment, but then, what does one do with them?
Posted: 6:20 pm on August 27th

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