In my sewing room, the blue glass of the Perfect Mason jar glows in the snow-reflected sunlight, just as I imagined it would. It holds more than a hundred years worth of simple utility: buttons made of milk glass, mother of pearl, and metal.
This finely curated collection of buttons was put together by Lisa of Lil Fish Studios. Lisa calls herself a "button nerd," though Button Queen would work just as well. She creates artful button bouquets, among many other handcrafted items, and her tutorial for a Vintage Button Bouquet is featured in the book, Button and Stitch: Supercute Ways to Use Your Button Stash, by Kristen Rask. (Margie, the Button Queen of the Resurrection Fern Kingdom, is featured in the book as well.) (See Lisa's vintage button collection here; a glimpse of Margie's here.)
I try not to be greedy when it comes to objects, I really do. When I see something I love, I give myself a little pep talk to convince myself that I don't have to acquire an object to appreciate it, that I can be happy just knowing it exists. But when I saw this perfect jar of buttons featured in Lisa's Etsy shop, lil fish extras (her DESTASH(!!) site), I couldn't resist. Knowing Lisa's fine eye for craftsmanship and her knowledge of button history, I guessed correctly that I would be purchasing a collection that is a work of art itself.
The bone buttons, my favorites because of their shading and what look to be hand-drilled holes, date from the Civil War era.
Lisa reports that the milk glass buttons are from the mid-1800s, while the mother of pearl buttons are likely even older than that.
The metal buttons, stamped with curious patterns, date from the 1930s to the 1940s.
As I sifted through the buttons with my sons, we picked out ones that caught our eyes--diamond-shaped mother of pearl buttons, buttons with metal shanks and flat fronts, bone buttons rounded smooth with holes that looked like wide-open eyes, milk glass stamped with a machine-made pattern. Secreted away at the bottom of a sewing basket or in an old jar, these buttons were treasured for their utility. But put together in a collection by an artist and detached from their originally intended use, they have become mysterious and beautiful artifacts, their carvings runes that convey a lost language not easy to decode. Such a collection becomes a pathway to wonder, concludes art critic Michael Kimmelman. "A collection of things, even everyday things, promises wonderment, . . . as these things become no longer everyday, having been enshrined by a collector,” he argues in his book The Accidental Masterpiece; On the Art of Life and Vice Versa.
What a beautiful thought that the lowly, useful button can come to hold all those qualities. What collection holds a similar wealth of associations for you?
There is so much button love to explore on the web. Here are a few more links:
Sister-Diane's heirloom button collection from her grandmother. Be sure to search "buttons" on the CraftyPod site for a wealth of great crafty tutorials featuring buttons. And check out Sister-Diane's gorgeous book, Kanzashi in Bloom (book+kit=bliss), exploring the craft of kanzashi, a traditional Japanese flower craft made of fabric and buttons. Tutorial here!
Artist/illustrator/stop-motion video animator Hine Mizushima's buttons collected for her camera and iphone cases. Mizushima is also a contributor to Button and Stitch.
Button it Up, a site devoted to button crafting and the book of the same name. Check out this amazing button collection. You could get lost for ages following the button links on the contributors page. This site is a great model to follow for other crafters promoting their books--Susan Beal's passion for her craft is evident in every post.