Friday, 4 April 2014

Making 'Wash Star' or 'Lace' Buttons for 1860s Blouse

I have a delightful customer who has given me the exciting project of making some 1860s clothing items for her. She is great to work with in that she wants everything historically accurate- fabrics, construction, details such as correct buttons, etc- I will be learning much I think, as the 1860s is a period which I am very ignorant of.

She found many images of 1860s blouses with 'Wash Star' or 'Lace Buttons', as below, and has given me the task of trying to recreate them:



The Metropolitan Museum 1860s Blouse/Shirt

In my book 'Buttons- a Passementerie Workshop Manual' by Gina Barrett, Wash Star or Lace buttons are featured. Gina was very helpful in guiding me with what type of base to use for the buttons, and as she suggested Tagua nut moulds, I purchased the smallest size. However, once I had received the bases, I knew that sadly they were too domed and large for my needs.

So, back to the drawing board. A couple of weeks later I stumbled across some antique ones on etsy, and am now very pleased that I have original ones in front of me to assist in my quest:-

Antique 'Wash Star' or 'Lace' Buttons

These again are larger than the size I am aiming for. They are 5/8'' or 15mm wide. They have a hole in the centre just visible through the threads, so a hard base was used, such as wood or bone. Unfortunately I have no idea of their age. They are dark beige, and sadly have some blue colouring on them here and there.

In Gina's passementerie book, she states that these type of buttons were used during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and were sold as 'wash' or 'lace' buttons. They were normally made using bone moulds in fine linen or cotton threads.

So what next? Well I did something that I don't like to do- but I picked the least best button and cut right through it to see its construction more clearly, and what the base was made of. The threads resemble linen thread more than cotton. The base looks to me like bone. But I had to really tug the threads away from the base, which left me wondering if somehow the maker had used some form of glue to keep the threads in place as the button was worked. One major problem I had was that they kept sliding off the ends of the domed mould as I was trying to make one.

I then found another supplier of smaller bone button moulds, at They stock 1/2'', but no smaller, sadly. I do really need buttons of 3/8''. I have since searched for these smaller moulds, and to my delight finally found the size I need from Burney & Trowbridge. Yippee!! This website, and Gina B both suggest using a wax on the thread, to assist the threading process.

I will have to leave the button project here for now, and wait for the button bases to arrive from the US. Whilst I was pottering around Pinterest earlier, and looking at Katherine Bone's fabulous Regency era pins, I suddenly saw a gown from The Metropolitan Museum, c.1807 (American), and zoomed in on the back buttons (as I do. I am always fascinated with these details which can make costuming so much more authentic!). And... wow, lace buttons!! :-

The Metropolitan Museum c.1807 American

You can zoom in to have a look here:-

I think that these earlier Regency buttons (I can only assume that they are the originals) aren't as small as those on the later 1860s blouses. But how wonderful! I always get so excited when I see evidence of thread buttons- especially this new (to me anyway) button. 

Today has been a good day. I found this earlier today, and the postman just brought me an item I purchased from ebay. It was listed as a late Victorian boudoir/peignoir long coat. I was looking at the images of it thinking- I don't know, but it looks more 1830's to me, with a higher waist line, one pair of ties to fasten at the top, a layered collar, and exquisite hand stitching... and guess what? It is!! It has barely been worn, and has perfect dorset thread buttons (Blandford style) on each cuff. It is days like this when I realise how truly blessed I am to do what I do.

with love,