26 May 2013

Button boxes

I've sifted through one drawer of buttons in the "treasure chest", pulling out the large ones
and those of particular current interest
all the while thinking about "women who accumulate buttons" and all that this small, unnoticed action means throughout the course of their lives. Buying cards of buttons for a sewing project - keeping the spare ones - cutting buttons off worn-out clothes, to reuse later - finding a lost button - repairing clothes that have lost a button... The thrifty collecting, the careful sewing-on, the care, the tidiness. Much of the morality of daily life is tied up in a button box.

My own button collection rests in various jars and containers, some of these gathered in a big basket stored at the base of the almost-inaccessible bookshelf in the studio. Buttons from recycled shirts and other clothes - the active collection - now fill a large jam jar. I love to tip them out and riffle through, not looking for anything in particular, just enjoying the different sizes and the swirling colours.

From the amount of beige and black "serviceable" buttons in any button box chosen at random, it seems that men's clothes are the ones most in need of repair. Is this because men tend to want to wear their clothes for longer? (And do the liberated young men of today have button boxes?)

I don't know what happened to my mother's button box - though I like to think my sister is looking after it - so the contact with "surrogate buttons" in the treasure chest is important to me, giving a chance to muse on button-relativity and how buttons connect not just women in a family, but in a wider way.


irenemacwilliam said...

I used the button jars to amuse my and other young children...... sorting by colours, shape, big, little and for counting practice. I loved the sound of them being rattled round on a tray as they were handled. My buttons are from three generations of - savers and menders. Irene

The Idaho Beauty said...

You describe me in that first paragraph, and my ancestors in the rest. My collection is partly my grandmother's (actual bone buttons and a button hook for when shoes buttoned up the side, some glass ones), partly my mother's (huge ones that went on coats, incredibly decorative ones with rhinestones or plain but faceted and scored plastic ones)and partly mine from the days when I made my own clothes, and then shirts for my husband. Because of the button collection, I sometimes didn't need to buy buttons for my homemade clothes - the proper ones could be found in the button box. Thanks for sharing your collection and these thoughts on what all this means.

JAQUINTA said...

you say 'much of the morality of daily life is tied up in a button box' and I wondered what you might by that?


Margaret Cooter said...

Jaquinta, I feel that much morality is tied up in tiny decisions - like, whether to mend a garment or go out and buy a new one - which might be made by poorly paid workers, of poor fabric, needing to be thrown out and the cycle of consumption repeated. With a button box and other sewing tools - and, of course, knowhow - the garment can be mended.

That's just one example of morality/ethics in action in the small things of daily life. What bothers me increasingly is that individuals are urged to take these "redemptive" actions to "save the world's resources" -- when big companies and governments aren't making the decisions that matter on a larger scale.

Linda Bilsborrow said...

Now I know why I collect buttons that I'm not likely to use, they are as you have rightly defined them "surrogate buttons". I played with my grandmothers button box, and then my mothers buttons. But being a good housewife she cleared out her clutter and kept a card of serviceable buttons. Gone were the oversized, the shiny, the cracked and the lonesome buttons of my childhood and I obviously missed them.