Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The button theory

Have you noticed that when you buy clothing these days it often comes with a spare button (assuming it has buttons in the first place)?

In days past this was an indicator of a posh item; something you'd keep and wear for years, a classic, and maybe at some stage you'd lose a button and lo! you had a spare stashed away in a drawer somewhere.

These days even cheaper clothing comes with a spare button; my Mum is impressed by this and thinks it means the clothing is well-made and posh. I disagree.

These days a spare button means that the clothing is invariably made in China, to a budget, and the cheapskates who make it don't sew the buttons on thoroughly. Thread costs money. Sewing buttons on takes time and THAT costs money too.

Take two cardigans I bought last year from Woolovers, a UK company which ships to Australia. I'd had trouble finding the style and blend of wool/merino/cashmere I wanted for a price I could afford. I got two items from Woolovers for $50 plus postage, and there wasn't a place in Australia that could match that. The website had a proud "British" feel to it and I figured the items were made in the UK. Nowhere on the website did it say the items were made in China, and it doesn't say on the jumpers themselves, but the little production tab inside boasts fonts that scream 'Made in China'. I've learned the signs over the years.

At first I was impressed that each item came with spare buttons. Maybe Woolovers set high standards for production, wherever in the world it was. However... the first time I wore one of the cardigans buttoned up, 50% of the buttons popped off over a five hour period. Luckily I was at home and every time I saw one missing I scanned the carpet until I found it. I resewed them all on and resewed the remainder too. They had originally had a scant couple of loops holding them in place.

The buttons on the other cardigan looked fine and as I had yet to wear it buttoned (it is a lightweight summer one) I didn't bother about restitching them all. I wore it today though and because the temperature dropped steadily from midday you can guess what happened. I buttoned up the top two buttons and found I was missing one of them by the time I got home from my meeting. It was nowhere to be found, probably squashed underfoot now at Top Ryde City Shopping Centre.

I have a little box full of spare buttons that belong to items of clothing I've bought over the last twenty years. Most of them I haven't needed but I've kept them in case they come in useful for a future sewing project. Luckily I had the corresponding button to the one I'd lost today nestled in the plethora of tiny plastic bags.

Tomorrow, when I'm awake and it's light outside I'll be sturdily sewing on every blasted button on that cardigan. When I sew buttons on the stitching outlasts the garment itself.

The thing that is really making me scratch my head now is my button box. It's almost like my Mum's. I delighted when I was little in playing with the buttons in her box - all shapes, sizes and colours, literally hundreds of them kept in an old tin that had once held posh chocolates. As a small girl I used to sort them according to shape or colour and it would keep me amused for hours, making patterns out of them on the floor and picking my favourites. She reused some of them for clothing and I'm sure they are a collector's dream, as she still has that box full of goodies dating back to heaven knows when - at least the 1940s. Sadly my collection isn't quite as eclectic as hers, my buttons not as fancy. But I bet hers never fell off her clothes!


  1. Oh how you have brought back memories. Mum had an old sewing box jammed full of buttons. Whole sets of military buttons removed from some WWII jacket... Buttons with wings on them from her first husband's Singapore Flying Corps coat... There were big ones that had come off warm winter coats and tiny ones that would button down a collar... Some were natural materials like wood or slate... I too enjoyed hours of entertainment playing, sorting, and asking questions about different buttons, listening to the stories as mum mended something. It really is a terrible shame that so few kids today will ever know that kind of parental and self entertainment. I think mum hoicked hers when she moved out of Sydney... I vaguely recall the sense of loss.

  2. Our Mums were born in a similar era - and weren't the old buttons pretty and unusual compared to the plain plastic ones you see today? Glad you used to play with buttons too :-)