Fabrics / Textiles –
Section 5 Through the Ages

––Article and Buttons by Shelley Strick

It was generally accepted that fabric covered buttons far outnumbered buttons of any other material.� Unfortunately, fabric is very perishable, soils easily, is hard to clean and many are very plain.� They are surely thought of as the poor side of the button family and as a result, least collected.

5-1 Braided (med)

5-2 Corded (med)

5-3 Covered, molded cloth center (sm)

5-4 Handmade beaded (med)

5-5 Machine Woven Linen (med)

But I’m sure that as you delve into the Fabric Family, you will find out just how wonderful they can be.

5-6 Mounted in/on metal (lg)

5-7 Other material embellishment (leather) (med)

5-8 Painted (Blanche Knapp) (med)

5-9 Unlisted Bamboo (lg)

Our Fabric button story starts in the 1600’s.� Button references seem to agree that records of fabric buttons start here, although since most of them were very plain and matched the color of the garment onto which they were fastened, there is very little description given.

Buttons were pretty much of the same nondescript characteristics in the early 1700’s but towards the latter part, men’s embroidered waistcoat buttons, most not more than ½” in diameter show up.� Shortly thereafter, both men’s waistcoats and coats had button of silk and velvet elaborately embroidered to match the garment.

5-4.3 Embroidered (med)

5-4.3 Embroidered (med)

The embroidery progressed to such an extent that each button was very intricate.� Gold and colored foil, silver and gold thread, spangles, paste stones and beads were first embroidered on a base material of silk, velvet or linen then cut to fit over a wood or bone frame, the extra material gathered to the back and laced with heavier thread and finally sewn onto the clothing.

5-4.4 Passementerie (Silver spangles, gold thread.) (med)

5-4.4 Passementerie (Gold threads, paste jewels.) (lg)

5-4.4 Passementerie (Gold threads, gold spangles on pearl disk.) (sm)

From 1750 through 1850, thread buttons were being produced as a cottage industry in Dorset, a southern county of England.� These buttons were used mainly on shirts and underwear.� Two types are found; one made with disks of sheep horn, and the other with wire rings.

5-4 High tops were made by putting a fragment of cloth through a hole in the center of a horn disk, then building cloth up into a conical shape, which was held by hand stitches, like a spider web (dimi)

5-4 The Wire ring type provided the base wherein stitches were wrapped flat on the ring rather than being built up into a dome.� The popular name was Blanford cartwheel, but there are many other patterns. (sm)

The early 1800’s saw the introduction of covered buttons.� B. Sanders, Birmingham, England, introduced a metal shank covered button.� In 1825, his son invented the canvas or flexible shank back and in Easthampton, Massachusetts, Mrs. Williston started her own hand covered button business, which quickly progressed to mechanization resulting in fabric-covered buttons being produced in quantity.

In 1801 with the advent of the Jacquard loom, fabric of woven designs were made and used to cover buttons.� Damask was the name used to indicate the most common of these used for covering buttons in the 1800’s. �Colors most often used were white, dark brown, and black.� The design was woven in flat medallions and cut to fit over molds.� Brocade was another Jacquard fabric.� The difference between Damask was the medallions were raised designs rather than flat.� These were made from about 1850 to perhaps 1860, in darker shads of brown, blue and black and ranged in sizes from ½” to 1”.

5-5 Brocade (med)

5-5 Damask set in metal (med)

5-3 Covered, molded cloth center (med)

5-3 Rhinestone paste (sm)

5-7 OME Amber paste (med)

As we continue with our saga of Fabric Buttons, we come to William Elliott, an industrious Englishman who took out five patents with respect to button making between 1837-1851.� One improved the manufacture of the covered buttons with flexible shanks.� Another was for a machine to cover the fabric buttons only this time having a figure or design in the central position on the face of the buttons.� And his last, which is called the Elliott type, is for cloth covered buttons with glass ornaments on the face of the buttons and have a metal back.

5-7 OME clear paste /brass bracelet (sm)

To finish off our history of buttons, here are but a few other interesting facts.

In the 1880’s you could find small hand machines in garment stores which were used to cover metal molds with matching garment fabric or fabric of choice.� These came in several size molds and used flexible shanks.

In the 1880’s, Thomas Stevens in England invented an improved process for weaving designs in a continuous repeated pattern in ribbon.� They were called Stevensgraphs. These buttons were covered with silk and had varicolored woven designs.� They were only used on a few buttons.

5-5 Stevensgraph (sm)

The first time crocheted buttons became fashionable was in the 1880’s, and after a short decline in popularity, they again became stylish in the early 1900’s.� They were made by making a small crocheted cap and then placed over wooden molds.

5-4.2 Crocheted w/ pearl OME (sm)

J.J. Cash Company manufactured cloth-covered buttons with woven designs in contrasting colors.� They designs were generally woven in white fabric.� Made shortly after World War I, they ranged in size from 3/8” to ¾”.

5-5 Linen (med)

The “Death’s Head” pattern was very characteristic around 1840.� The pattern on the top was made up of 4 triangles with alternating directions of thread.� It could be found in many different shapes, as well as domed, or flat and different material threads.� 5-5 Multicolored threads (lg)

Garter buttons were made in the 1910-1920’s and were worn on the outside of stockings just below the knees.� These buttons were covered with cotton or silk and each had a painted face.� Most have a white base, sometimes pastel and are about ¾ “ in size.� 5-0 Garter

One of the newest cloth buttons to be seen are the tie fabric buttons.� Generally men’s ties with small patterns in many subjects are used to cover buttonmolds.� Many are made of silk, but you can find cottons, rayons and linens. 5-5.1 Tie fabric (med)

5-9 Metal Threads (med)

NBS defines fabric/textile buttons as “Any material of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin that is woven or felted…”

5-9 Woven Hair (med)

5-1 Braided Hair over silk (sm)

To round out our study of fabric buttons, we will summarize the mechanical makeup, and decoration of fabric buttons.� Obviously, fabric buttons come in many colors, shapes and sizes.� Some types of fabric buttons as noted before, are specialized to specific colors.� As we have moved closer to present times, reproductions of old button styles have not necessarily been true to the original colors used.� Shapes have varied as to use.� We find fabric buttons that are used mainly as specialized fasteners or even as a trim, which although still a button, would not be functional because of an odd shape.� This holds true for extra large fabric coat buttons, or extra small buttons used as trim. Although their functionality may be hindered because of size, they still remain buttons.

Construction summary –

Body types vary.�

5-1 Braided front and back encased (sm)

5-3 Damask shape (sm)

5-2 Corded Drop (sm)

5-3 Pad back or flexible shank B/M (sm)

5-5 Thread back(Linen) (med)

5-9 Background (med)

5-7 Laced Back (sm)

5-4 Boudoir Vest Button (med)

5-4 Open Ring construction (sm)

5-5 Background w/glass OME (sm)

Cover Summary –

5-4.3 Thread over thread (med)

5-4.2 Crocheted “Wheel” (med)

5-2 Laid cord center (med)

5-4 Ribbon inlaid in center (lg)

5-7 Lace covering (med)

Decorations and Trims or OME if you please… (other material embellishment) –

5-7 Agate (sm)

5-4 Cord and metal thread (lg)

5-4.1 Beaded, spangles, drops (lg)

5-7 Feather and beads (sm)

5-7 Mirror(med)

I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip through the Fabulous Featured Fabrics and have come away with a better understanding and appreciation for these humble yet varied and enriching buttons.

Thanks for joining me.�