If you are a regular reader then you will already know I have a bit of a button obsession. You might also have recognised the picture above from my post about last summer’s trip on the Grand Onion Canal.
Dorset buttons developed around 1600 when fashions changed and buttons became larger and more prominent. This lead to buttons being made by button-makers as opposed to tailors and, not surprisingly, this cottage industry originated in Dorset. There are several different types of Dorset button but mine are the crosswheel/cartwheel type, of which there are many different designs. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 a new mechanical button machine was displayed and Dorset buttons rapidly became unpopular and unfashionable.
Travel forward through time for about 160 years and here we are in the present day with a huge growth of interest in crafts as people have more spare time and disposable income, leading to a rekindling of interest in historical crafts like spinning, weaving and… Dorset button making.
I discovered Dorset buttons accidentally while surfing the web. I became curious and had to find out more. How did I not know about this beautiful type of button already? I googled Dorset button images and was stunned by some of the exquisite modern versions of this simple woven button. I had to learn more. I had to make some. Which lead to me buying a kit to take on our green boat travels last year.
Making Dorset buttons is not rocket science. It’s relatively simple and straightforward. It can be a bit fiddly but that really depends on the size of button you are making. You could easily scale everything up and use a hula hoop and chunky yarn or strips of cloth instead.You could even skip the first three stages if you used an old bicycle wheel because the spokes are already there! It is essentially a simple form of circular weaving. I have found some old wooden curtain rings which I might turn into Dorset buttons.
My kit contained clear instructions with photos, enough materials to make ten buttons and five different designs: the basic crosswheel/cartwheel design (completed in the picture above with the kit packaging), the Yarrell design (two different ones shown below), the Flower button (two below), the Daisy Chain button and the Ammonite button (also below). The placing of the variegated thread can make two buttons of the same pattern look completely different – compare the two Yarrell or Flower buttons.
So what can you use Dorset buttons for??? Any traditional button uses – securing garments and fastenings, but quite often they are used for jewellery now…. earrings, necklaces, brooches, etc. Sometimes just as decoration – additions to embroidery, quilts, textile art, and (scaled up) as home decor. If you want to see examples I have created a Dorset Buttons Pinterest board. Mine haven’t become anything yet but they were small and portable, quick and fun to make.