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.
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