Buttons Made of Unusual Materials for Art Quilts

Button made out of compressed sawdust

Button made out of compressed sawdust

Nancy Smeltzer, MFA

If you’ve been reading these blogs for awhile, you know that I love buttons. I embellish my art quilts with hundreds of them sometimes. I think it’s because when I was a child my grandmother had a button jar. I got to run my fingers through them as if they were a pirate’s treasure, sort them, and string them on shoestrings to make necklaces. So the love for the little round things began at an early age.

Most buttons are made of plastic, metal, glass, or sea shells. However, the one on the left is made out of compressed sawdust. The pink center is glued onto the peach background, making the whole button about 1.5″ or 4 cm. I bought three of them at a bead show, and wished that I could have purchased more, but they were $7 US each. SInce I put so many buttons on my art quilts, I try to keep the prices down, but for a big showy one like this, I’ll spend more.

Coconut Shell Button

Coconut Shell Button

This next button is of another unusual material, at least for here in the States. It’s made of a coconut shell. I imagine that they were constructed by cutting them out of the shell with a punch, and maybe shaving off some of the backing, as these buttons are much thinner than the coconut shells that I’ve seen. The artist who painted the design on was quite skilled, as there was some shading and several of the motifs had several colors on them. Also, I feel that they were handpainted, as there were slight variations in the five that came in the set. Purchased off of eBay from my favorite button seller, Spirit Inc. The owner lives just 20 miles down the road from me, and is known for her glass buttons, but every so often, she’ll carry something different , like these coconut shell buttons.

Peach pit toggle

Peach pit toggle

Finally, this last button is one that I occasionally saw as a child growing up in North Carolina. It’s a carved peach stone or kernel from the center of a peach. Also know as a pit, it could be used after removing the fruit from the kernel and scrubbing it clean. Then one end could be carved to make a shank for a toggle for a coat. (You need shanks on buttons and other thick fabrics so that the button can go through the thicker fabric.) This is about 1.5″ or 4 cm tall, and once in a while. I’ve seen them sprayed colors and used as ornaments on a small Christmas tree.

Since these buttons are all of wood or wood-like materials, I wonder if they’re prone to insect infestations. I have had that problem before with feathers, so I’m not quite sure how to get around that issue. I do know that good ventilation around an art quilt when it’s hanging on a wall helps, but being in a closed box seemed to be the issue for the feathers. I guess time will tell, but since I’m not having children, my art is what I’m leaving behind. Besides, I’ve found that she who leaves the most information about herself, makes it easier for some future curator to document her work, so I hope that all of my buttons survive long past me.

Got any other different materials that you’ve seen for buttons? I think that people down through the ages have used the materials at hand, from bones to leather to fasten their clothes.

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

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  1. Daphne Lewis says:

    I love buttons, and the ones you’ve posted here are great! I especially love the one made from the peach stone. Now I’m thinking about trying to make some myself. I would think if they were cleaned well and possibly sprayed with a lacquer of some type, infestation wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m not sure. Great post!

  2. Dear Daphne, making the hole to make the shank and then enlarging the hole would take some tools. I think your idea of lacquer is a good idea, because there are Japanese boxes (20+ layers of lacquer) that are several hundred years old, now that I think about it.

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