This blog is a shout out to all the button snobs out there. That’s right, I admit it – I too am a button snob. When it comes to buttons, I have very strong opinions about the size, color, and texture, and how they are incorporated onto certain fabrics and garments. I know that many of you reading this are in agreement with me and that you’re probably smiling right now. Allow me to share my opinions with you on the topic here, as well as a little button story of my own.
Consider this: what is the purpose of a button? To hold the garment closed while fulfilling the job of complementing the piece of clothing? In my opinion, a button falls into one of two categories: either utilitarian or decorative. In rare instances it becomes both. An example would be a beautiful silk charmeuse evening gown finished with rhinestone buttons. Some designers use buttons as the focal point of the garment. This approach to using buttons work wonderfully if the button is the correct size, shape, color, and weight for the garment.
Just a side note, I personally don’t like shank buttons. At all. Who thought of those? I’m sure the history of the shank button goes back to someone important like Napoleon or Queen Anne… but who cares? Shank buttons are just not fun. It’s like trying to sew little tiny bobble heads on fabric – they constantly move around and never stay in place. But, enough of that.
This is the truth: Knowing how to pick the correct button is an art form.
When picking a button, consider the fabric. What is the weight and sheen of the fabric? What time of year will the garment be worn? The next question is the size and placement of the button. Is the button going to contrast with the garment or blend in to the design?
Silk noil is one of my favorite fabrics to use for garments. The colors are intense because raw silk allows for a deeper saturation of color. Silk noil can also be utilized in a variety of styles. A white shell button is perfect for an elegant business jacket. This thrown over a white sheath dress or pant suit would stop traffic. The button pictured here is unique and only one button would be needed to complete the jacket.
Silk noil is also a wonderful option for casual clothing. A lightweight dress or blouse would need a lightweight, smaller button like the small blue button in the photo here. This button would blend in and not fight with any accessories worn with the outfit.
This beautiful Ultrasuede is the perfect weight for a jacket or coat. The button pictured here is a wonderful color match. Because of the large size of the button – it measures 1” by 1” – I would place this button on a long coat, probably at the waist. Because a button like this a show stopper, utilizing it in a garment would be much like wearing a unique piece of jewelry. The length of the coat would balance the large size of the button. One button is plenty – simplicity is magical.
Another personal favorite of mine is cotton sateen – it offers so many options. Quilting this fabric with embroidery floss to create a lightweight jacket would be an excellent option. For your button choice on a fabric like this, you could do with a larger, earthier button like the brown wooden button pictured here. This fabric could also be used for a lightweight summer blouse and skirt. Using the smaller plum colored button would be more appropriate for that application.
Types of Buttons
Many of the buttons on the market are shiny and made of plastic, and these buttons have their place on the right garment. A little white blouse with a tiny, shiny button looks amazing.
Other buttons can be made out of unique materials – and finding a coordinating fabric or garment for a unique button can be tricky. I have some wonderful buttons made from deer antler sheds that we found lying on the ground in the mountains. If you own a skill saw and a drill, or know someone handy with the right skills, horns or antlers can be turned into wonderfully unique buttons. Antler buttons look excellent on jackets or heavy coats, and the end of the horn can be used as a toggle button. Heavier fabrics such as Ultrasuede, wool, or heavy linen are great options for designing with antler buttons – you’d certainly want to avoid lighter pieces like a cotton blouse or a silk dress.
Natural fibers such as silk noil, wild silk, linen, or wool lend themselves to organic buttons. Often an unfinished button made out of a material like wood can be customized to get exactly the look you want. I just finished a wonderful spring green silk noil pant suit and looked all over for the right buttons to complete the garment. I didn’t want the buttons to overpower the suit because I wanted to be able to wear it with different colored blouses. Trips to three different fabric stores left me uninspired; even though they all had huge selections of buttons most of them were shiny and just didn’t fit my fabric and design. Enter the wooden button and fabric paint.
My Button Story
A little back story on this project. At the time I purchased the spring green silk noil, I also purchased two yards of cream basket weave silk noil for a coordinating blouse. (Special shout out to my favorite fabric store, CLOTH, in Boise, Idaho!) I then mixed some fabric paint to match the spring green silk. Using a four-inch wide brush, I painted the cream silk using large strokes of green and orange fabric paint. The blouse was perfect… but again, I could not find the right buttons to complete the look.
So back to the wooden buttons. It was easy to find the right size, but the raw wood color was not acceptable. Then the little voice in my head came up with a great idea: paint the buttons! Painting on fabric is a sort of specialty of mine, so why note paint some buttons too?
I took the buttons home and lightly sanded them to make sure the wood would absorb the fabric paint. I was able to use the same green fabric paint I used on the blouse, and they ended up being a perfect color match with my fabric. The finish on the buttons ended up being a nice dull, organic tone – exactly what I was hoping for to complement the silk noil. Just for good measure, before I painted the buttons, I took a knife and cut random nicks in the top of each button.
This allowed the paint to seep into the nicks and create variations in color. To finish them off before sewing onto my garment, I folded them up in a small towel and ironed lightly. The fabric paint sets with heat.
While I may be a self-proclaimed button snob, I fully believe that the right button can make or break a garment, depending on the fabric and tone of your piece. Always remember to have intention in your button selections, and your finished pieces will look even more fabulous.
P.S. Did you know there are actual organizations for button snobs? They’re called the National Button Society and they even hold annual conferences. Who knew! I think I’ll be joining soon!
Related Video: Tips for Selecting Buttons and Button Holes
Wendy Haight Scribner is a quilter, designer, inventor, and entrepreneur living in Hidden Springs, Idaho. She began sewing when she was just 8 years old. Her passion for all things fabric has and will always be the central focus of her life. You can connect with Wendy on Facebook or visit her Etsy shop, Wendy Haight Create, to see her hand-painted apron kits and other one-of-a-kind treasures.
Get in touch! Leave a comment or email email@example.com.
I have a pile of antique buttons, some still attached to strips of the original garment, some gold plated, bone, dyed carved shell, and even one that is made of Cardboard!
My grandma lived in Pendleton Oregon and went to the woolen mill regularly. They had half barrel sized bins of buttons you could sort through. It was amazing! Lots of wool remnants too. I could sit on the floor for hours looking for “matches” to make just the right outfit. I now have her button collection.
I guess the best discription of me is “Buttonaholic” .
Any suggestions on what to do will all the leftover buttons collected over the years…….all sizes, colors, shapes? I even have some from Grandmother from over 75 years ago.
Whenever an old piece of clothing is destined for the rag bin I remove and save buttons.
I would like some look alike peal buttons chanel
I had no idea there were other button ‘snobs ‘ what a term ,I prefer aficionados, out there . My sister and I spent many happy days as youngsters playing with my Mothers can of buttons . We would string them on long strings and admire the bright colors and shapes , running them along that string , then carefully returning them to the can to play with them another day . Amazingly , we both have become if not seamstress’s at least sewers . Debbie makes the most fabulous quilts and I am a more modest crocheter and dollmaker . Lately , turning my hand to clothes making . All involved in the love of buttons for more than 60 years for both of us .
I guess I am a button snob. I often buy buttons (still on the card) at Antique and Thrift stores. They just need to be the right and well-made button. I never liked shank buttons, either.
Im a button addict, old and new, in jars, cigar boxes, tins, plastic containers. So, when I plan an outfit, I get to pick one
of my little assetts and pick my button. Feels good to have them on hand.
I too am a button snob. Changing the buttons on a garment can elevate that garment to a whole new plain. The only snag for me re ‘interesting’ buttons is how they can compete with jewelry, but that’s again a matter of choice – then it’s more about the right jewelry for the buttons. Having taken up hooking awhile ago, I did some samples one day… 1 1/2″ circles… and then used them as the tops for covered buttons. Now that really was an interesting set of buttons that added a lot of intrigue to the sweater I put them on. Pleased to see this site…. thanks
OMG! I’m so joining that society for buttons! My button story starts as a little girl at grandmas on the floor with her button tin, sorting, admiring, asking if I could please have this one and that one. Later I was given an old metal lunch box hand-me-down from my cousin – it became my very own button box. I saved all the extra buttons from my families clothes, I scoured yard sales and thrift shops, I worked at a fabric store for a time – but think I bought more buttons than fabric, and still pillage through antique shops for buttons today. I was willed the button box from grandma, and I got button stashes from the other grandma, and my husbands grandma! I still have my metal lunchbox full of buttons, but now also have jars, tins, drawers – overflowing! I’ve more than once bought the button first then the fabric & pattern to go with the buttons! Thanks for your page here!!
You aren’t alone you know! There are a lot of button snobs around……luv it!
I go to the second hand store to pick up old coats, and other garments just for the buttons.
don’t ask to see them either lol
Lovely buttons for projects!
I didn’t even realize, I am a button snob, too.
Since JHB is no longer in business, is there a source for unique buttons?
I’m not sure exactly what kind of buttons you are looking for- but Etsy has a great selection of unique ones.
Hope this helps!
Never thought of painting buttons. Genius!!!!
I to am a buttons snob. Rarely do I buy a garment and not change the buttons!