I had to rifle through my sewing supplies drawer this week, looking for some thread to sew up a hem. As I did so, I came across the button box.
The button box has been a permanent fixture with the sewing supplies for almost 20 years now. It is a small wooden, hinged box which I put any spare buttons into. Nowadays, the spare buttons usually come in a plastic bag or a paper envelope, attached to the garment. As I snip off the price tags, I put the buttons aside, and they eventually end up in the box.
Which is where they stay.
I don’t think I’ve ever taken a button out of that box and sewn it onto anything. The only time I ever sew buttons back onto clothing is when I catch them falling off and sew them on, then and there.
Anyway, I had a bit of a look through the spare buttons in the button box and it was like seeing my life flash before me. There were some gold and black buttons from a 1990s suit that I remember I changed over for ‘more tasteful’ entirely gold buttons. There was a set of buttons with logos for the corporate uniform items I was required to wear once a year at the company’s AGM. There was a spare fabric covered button from a winter jacket. A large pink square button was a mystery. I have no idea what that came with. A lovely translucent black button for a cardigan I bought in New York last year came with a spare press stud.
One plastic bag contained about 40 spare tiny iridescent sequins. Yeah, like I’m ever going to sew those on.
There was a multitude of delicate small buttons in a variety of colours, the type that may have been off blouses or shirts perhaps.
So many of the buttons originally belonged to garments that have long since disappeared into the depths of charity shop collection bins.
So then I started wondering, why do I have this habit of saving the buttons when I know I won’t do anything with them?
I think the answer lies way back before our time. For generations, every household has had a button box. In frugal times, before worn-out clothing was torn up to be used as cleaning rags (in a time when clothes were worn until they fell apart), buttons were cut off and put into the button box.
When clothing was homemade, you would search through the button box for appropriate buttons rather than buying new ones. It was also the place you went to replace a vital missing button to extend the life of garment. Recycling at its best.
As a child, I took great delight in scrabbling through my mother’s button box. I would sort them into colours, or shapes. I can remember some crystal-look buttons that I was particularly taken with as they were so jewel-like.
My Aunt’s button box was like a treasure-trove of buttons, all sorted according to colour.
In the early days of my daughter’s schooling she was required to bring to school a container with “50 small objects” in it for counting games. Remembering my own childhood experiences, I turned to my button box and extracted 50 of the most interesting.
Do you have a button box? Do you ever use the buttons?