Friday, 6 January 2017

Why I love Dorset Buttons


Firstly, my apologies for my absence for most of the last year (at least blog wise). Unfortunately 2016 turned into my 'annus horribilis'. It was a difficult and very stressful year, and subsequently my M.E. symptoms were getting a bit too much. Anyhow, I think that I have finally turned a corner.  My work life has had to change to accommodate my health, so I have had many things to re-assess work-wise. Sadly I have had to close 'Antique Historika' (my Etsy shop). It has been such a difficult decision for me to reach. 

I will be trading in some antique clothing & accessories still, as I was unable to give it up completely. The knowledge I have accrued over the last 5 years doing this was irreplaceable. So I will still be offering a small selection on my website here:-
Historika.co

New things are afoot though. In my opinion a new year is a fresh start, and I have a lot to look forward to this year, so watch this space. 


I was asked recently to write a piece about why I love Dorset buttons. Once I had started writing I found that I had quite a bit to say about the subject, so thought that I would write a blog post as well.

I think the very first time I came across Dorset buttons was in the book “The Art of Dress - Clothes and Society 1500 to 1914” by Jane Ashelford. On page 182 there is a vibrant pink silk dress, with yellow Dorset buttons at the back opening. I remember thinking ‘oh, wow, what are those!?’. To come across those pieces of needlework, beautiful in their own right, was a revelation. At the time I had just begun sewing custom Regency clothing, so I made it my business to find out more, and then I started to add them to my spencers, dresses, underthings and chemisettes (and I was one of the earliest seamstresses to offer these buttons on clothing).  And of course, once I had mastered the basic Crosswheel button, I then wanted to go further, to create the other crosswheel designs, and then move over to the more complicated, less easy ones. I then became obsessed with finding extant clothing with Dorset crosswheel buttons on, or the older, and much more easily found Dorset cartwheel buttons (or ‘Old’ Dorsets as they are also known). So these images here show a section of clothing items that have passed through my hands:-

Early 1800s Nightgown


1820s-30s Undress/Wrapper


1820s-30s Men's Underpants



1820s-30s Lace Cuffs


1800-1830s Undress Jacket



There is a huge disparity between ‘costume’ clothing and ‘historical dress’ clothing. Apart from the obvious points such as cut, fabric, and quality of construction, it often is the little details that give the clothing a truly authentic feel, which is especially important for museums and history re-enactors. As in all things to do with my work, it is the historical context that I’m really interested in. So as well as making the buttons, I want to know what items of clothing they would have been added to.  Every time I look at or handle an extant/antique item of clothing, I can’t help but feel a thrill of excitement. I always imagine the person that wore it, made it or sold it; where, to whom, what were their lives like? 


Although I no longer make the historical dress items, I do continue to make Dorset buttons (Blandford Cartwheels, the basic Crosswheel, Bird’s Eyes and Singletons), for individuals and tv productions, and my interest in them certainly hasn’t waned. I am always finding new buttons to make, new techniques to battle with. Dorset High Tops have always fascinated me. So tiny and yet so well crafted. I was, as you can imagine, delighted to find that Henry’s Buttons are now selling a wooden mould to make them with. As of yet I haven’t quite got round to trying it out, but cannot wait to do so. Recently I also come across a book by Olivia Pass; “Dorset Feather Stitchery”, which shows the Dorset buttons being used on aprons, dresses and needlework items back in the 1950s. It was in the 1950s that more interest was garnered in the world of Dorset buttons via a WI (Women’s Institute) ‘How to’ card. And so yes, the Dorset button industry on a commercial level collapsed around the mid 1800s, yet it clearly was never truly lost. Individuals most likely in Dorset were still making this piece of their local history, even just to use on smocks and other forms of clothing or needlework items.


And lastly, I need to mention the other joy linked to Dorset button making. After many attempts, tears of frustration (and I truly mean that!), and “how the heck did anyone make these?!”, at some point along the way, something clicks, and the technique eventually slots into place in my hands or brain (or both), and that wonderful moment of “Yippee! I can do it too! How beautiful is that!” fills me with much pride and happiness, and, in turn, I feel that little bit more connected to all those people long ago who were involved with the industry that was ‘Dorset Buttony’.

Naomi x

Henry's Buttons on Etsy