I had an unusual hobby when I was a kid- I used to collect buttons, different kinds of button; I had an entire box full of them in varied designs and colours. I treasured them. There are many people around the world from whom buttons are the most fascinating object and they collect buttons and for good reason. What many of us don’t realize is that as buttons have played a very important role in human civilization as the history of buttons holds many secrets about the past and the civilizations that used them.
Early discoveries of button were traced in India. Yes, I am talking about Mohenjo-Daro of the Indus Valley civilization. Button-like objects have been found in the Indus Valley of ancient India and date back to around 2000 B.C.E. These were not used for fasteners, but for ornaments. Before they were used for fastening, pins, leather lacing and belts were used to secure clothing.
Buttons were originally made of bronze or bone; they were later made of other natural materials such as antler, porcelain, paste, wood, ivory, shell, nuts, horn, pearl, glass, and eventually synthetics such as celluloid, glass, metal, and plastic. Buttons have been made of leather, china, pottery, gems, paper, metal, and many other materials.
Button and button holes were discovered in Germany in 13th Century and it soon spread like wild fire to England and other neighbouring countries. As with almost anything that is new, they became a fad. Buttons and button holes covered the clothing of the well-to-dos. The number of them and what they were made out of became a status symbol. Buttons increased in size and opulence by 17th and 18th Century. France and England were the centres of industry. American manufacturers had also begun making fine buttons; however, most were being imported from England.
For the most part, buttons were mainly made for men’s clothing. Waistcoats, shirts and outer coats were covered with beautiful buttons, as many as 24 in a set. In addition to clothing, buttons were also used to fasten shoes and gloves. However some buttons are miniature works of art, crafted by silversmiths and potters, or hand-painted with floral designs, portraits or familiar scenes from well-known fables.
Buttons have definitely come a long way and it sure has its own share of surprising stories, I have come across some so let’s take a look at them:
- It has been rumoured that King Louis XIV of France spent over $5 million on them in his lifetime.
- Ever wonder why men’s suit coats have non-functioning buttons sewn on the sleeves? Some say they are just for decoration, but there is also the story that King Frederick The Great of Prussia started the practice in the 18th century. The rumour goes that after an inspection of his troops, he ordered that buttons be sewn on the sleeves of their coats to discourage them from wiping their noses on them!
- The Scovill Manufacturing Company in America made a set of gold buttons with the profile of George Washington on them that were presented to Marquis de Lafayette during his U.S. visit in 1824.
- The first buttons made from celluloid, one of the first types of plastics, were made in the 1860’s.
- 9th century, well-heeled Victorian women generally didn’t dress themselves, so their buttons were designed to be handled by right-handed servants. Although wealthy men may have had servants to lay out their clothes, they generally dressed themselves, and so the buttons on the right side of men’s garments made more sense.
- Some Museum and art galleries hold culturally, historically, politically, and/or artistically significant buttons in their collections. The Victoria and Albert Museum has many buttons, particularly in its jewellery collection, as does the Smithsonian Institution.
- For a time, buttons became larger than could possibly be functional. In fact, men’s clothing at one point sported buttons the size of small dinner plates!
- Buttons has also been used as containers for drug peddlers to store and transport illegal substances! At least one modern smuggler has tried to use this method.
Fasteners are used to create permanent and semi-permanent bonds between materials, as well as joints that can be opened and closed, and purely decorative additions. Buttons are one of the oldest and most widely used types of fastener. Nowadays, hard plastic, seashell and wood are the most common materials used in button-making; however buttons are not left behind when it comes for designer button. Keeping up with the latest trends one can shop online for buttons too.
Buttons divide into two basic types, depending on how they are attached to a piece of material. Sew-through buttons have holes in them, often two or four, and thread is passed through the holes and the material to bind the button in place, either using a sewing machine with a special button foot or by hand. Shaft buttons have a connector on the back that is attached to the material with thread.
- Shank buttons have a hollow protrusion on the back through which thread is sewn to attach the button. shanks may be made from a separate piece of the same or a different substance as the button itself, and added to the back of the button, or be carved or moulded directly onto the back of the button, in which latter case the button is referred to by collectors as having a ‘self-shank’.
- Flat or sew-through buttons have holes through which thread is sewn to attach the button. Flat buttons may be attached by sewing machine rather than by hand, and may be used with heavy fabrics by working a thread shank to extend the height of the button above the fabric.
Stud buttons (also pressure buttons, press stud buttons or snaps fastener) are metal (usually brass) round discs pinched through the fabric. They are often found on clothing, in particular on denim pieces such as pants and jackets. They are more securely fastened to the material. As they rely on a metal rivet attached securely to the fabric, stud buttons are difficult to remove without compromising the fabric’s integrity. They are made of two couple: the male stud couple and the female stud couple. Each couple has one front (or top) and rear (or bottom) side (the fabric goes in the middle).
- Covered buttons are fabric-covered forms with a separate back piece that secures the fabric over the knob.
- Mandarin buttons or Frogs are knobs made of intricately knotted strings. Mandarin buttons are a key element in mandarin dress here they are closed with loops. Pairs of mandarin buttons worn as cuff links are called silk knots.
- Worked or cloth buttons are created by embroidering tight stitches over a knob or ring called a form.
Both button loops and buttonholes may be found singly and in sets. Loops extend beyond the edge of the fabric, while buttonholes are cut in the fabric itself. There are three standard buttonhole shapes: rectangular, oval, and keyhole; and buttonholes may be bound or overcast. Bound buttonholes are created by adding extra fabric to the area and are often found in tailored garments. Overcast buttonholes, made by machine or by hand, use stitching to keep the cut edge of fabric around the buttons from unravelling. Usually, there is an exact match of the number of buttonholes and the number of buttons, but shirt cuffs often feature several buttonholes so the wearer can choose the one that gives the best fit.
The dimension given for a button’s size is diameter. In general, sewing instructions, on store-bought sewing patterns for example, the number and size of any buttons needed is specified by inches in the notions section.
The fashion world today is filled with buttons of varied shapes and sizes which are not just functional but also more about adding character to the outfits.
At P N RAO, we make sure to use the best set of buttons for every suit or sherwani we stitch.