Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Button Jar

by Shanna Hatfield

Buttons are such a simple thing. One we hardly give a thought to these days (until one pops off unexpectedly!). 

The history of buttons goes back centuries. At first, buttons were ornamental, used almost like jewelry is worn today - purely for decoration.

Dated at 5,000 years old, an ornamental button made from shell and found in Pakistan, is considered to be the oldest button in existence. Early buttons where made from shells, bone, horns, clay, bronze and wood.  Some of the buttons had holes, others shanks, but all were decorative.

Later, buttons were used for more practical duties. In ancient Rome, buttons were used to secure clothes, but they were a far cry from the functional buttons we're accustomed to seeing. 

 It wasn't until the 13th century that proper buttonholes were sewn into clothes. A nod is given to German's for developing the first button and button-hole closure system. Reportedly, returning soldiers brought the idea of buttons back to Europe when they returned from the Crusades.

 New possibilities in fashion arose, allowing for a more form-fitting shape. Buttons were still largely used by the wealthy during this period. In medieval times, buttons equated wealth, both for the maker and the wearer. It was even conceivable one who had gotten into debt could sell a precious button or two to generate funds.

Larger buttons were even used to hide keepsakes or stolen loot in secret chambers. 

Wikimedia Commons, Italy 1700s, buttons and buttonholes.
Those who didn't mingle with the wealthy had buttons, too. These tended to be crudely made, fashioned of materials found at home.

The Industrial Revolution ushered in mass production of buttons. The four-hole button we are all familiar with emerged. This period also saw popularity of brass buttons rise. Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria tended to wear black buttons so during the later years of the 19th century, black glass buttons were the most popular of all. 

Designers and fashionistas turned buttons into workhorse rather than a decorative accessory. Mass production and the invention of plastic, made them prevalent in clothing, despite the invention of the zipper. 

When I was a little girl, I used to love digging through the jar of buttons my mom kept near the sewing machine. She made many of my clothes, clothes for my dolls, and clothes for my nieces. 

The jar was filled with buttons she'd saved from clothes that had worn out, as well as odds and ends from various sewing projects. She'd learned to save buttons from my grandmother, who did the same thing - keeping every button because it might one day be useful again. 

I remember stringing buttons on a long piece of crochet thread and thinking I'd made a beautiful necklace. I also remember stringing matching buttons together on a piece of thin copper wire so they'd be easy to find when needed. There were buttons bursting with color. Buttons made of metal. And a few tiny delicate buttons that had once graced baby gowns. Mom would point out a few buttons that were special to her. 

Years went by. I moved out, got married, and started my own button jar. But the buttons in it never held the magical appeal of Mom's buttons. 

We recently lost my mother, but when I was visiting Dad over the weekend I happened upon a large tin filled with buttons. The tin used to belong to my grandmother and it was where she kept her buttons. It appeared Mom had added her buttons to the collection.

I can't tell you how much it means to me to have that tin of buttons. It's a sweet connection to my grandma and Mom, along with some wonderful memories of happy times spent playing with the buttons while listening to the whir of the sewing machine as Mom sewed something and hemmed it with love. 

In my sweet romance, Ilsa, she is a seamstress who defies the conventions of the day and runs her own business.  

One of the most talented seamstresses of her time, Ilsa Thorsen could sell her creations anywhere in the world, but she ends up on her sister’s ranch in the western town of Pendleton, Oregon. Disgusted with the dust, smells, and nearly every aspect of rural life, Ilsa wonders how she’ll survive, particularly with the arrogant Tony Campanelli constantly underfoot.
Enterprising and hardworking, Tony Campanelli embraces life in the small community of Pendleton with his sister and their friends, especially since Ilsa Thorsen moves to town. The uptight seamstress just needs to learn to have some fun and Tony’s convinced he’s the man for the job.
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USA Today bestselling author Shanna Hatfield is a farm girl who loves to write. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances are filled with sarcasm, humor, hope, and hunky heroes. When Shanna isn’t dreaming up unforgettable characters, twisting plots, or covertly seeking dark, decadent chocolate, she hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.
Shanna loves to hear from readers. Follow her online at:


  1. This was very interesting post and I have my dad’s button collection in plastic sandwich bags. After reading this might switch to a container

  2. I have fond memories of my mother's button box. It was an old, almost square, repainted lunchbox--child size. She would tell me whose clothes the big unusual buttons had been on. If I forgot, the next time I was looking though the button box I would ask her. I filled a lamp base with the bigger buttons.