Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Button Box

Have you ever read anything by Wendell Berry?

His nonfiction is really good - even though I disagree with some of his ideas, overall we're on at least a similar page, with most of the same aims in mind. 

More recently, I discovered his fiction, and that's been a whole new (old) world for me. He writes about a fictional town in Kentucky whose residents over the years have been fleshed out in many books and short stories.  Most at least partly take place in the 1940s, the dividing line for farming communities - pre-war "old" ways and post-war "new" ways and technology.  Berry comes down firmly on the side of the old ways, or at least the ways of respect and stewardship for land and life before everything speeded up and got "easier". 

In "Andy Catlett: Early Travels" there's a quote that I think you all will enjoy (if you're still with me by this point):

I went to the closet - "press" was her term for it - behind Grandma's chair and took out her button box.  Every house I visited as a child had a button box.  It has disappeared now from every house I know, but then it was a necessary part of household economy.  No worn-out garment then was simply thrown away.  When it was worn past wearing and patching, all its buttons were snipped off and put into the button box.  And then when something old needed a new button, or when something newly made needed a set of buttons, the button box provided.  Grandma's was an old shoe box better than half full of buttons of all sorts.  It was a pleasure just to run your fingers through, like running your fingers through a bucket of shelled corn.  My old game with it was to paw through it in search of matching sets of buttons, especially the intensely colored glass buttons that had come off dresses.  I sat on the floor by Grandma's chair with the box in my lap and fished out a set of shapely black buttons and lined them up on the linoleum beside me.

My great-grandmom, who died when I was 8, had a button box.  So did my great aunts Margaret and Violet, and my aunt Betty.  My mom had a variation - she kept hers in discarded pill bottles and jam jars, by color.  

Inheriting all their button boxes gave me way more than buttons.  And I, too, have run my fingers through the button box, just for the pleasure it gave me.

Did the women in your family have button boxes (or jars)?  Do you?

19 comments:

Elaray said...

I vaguely remember my grandmother having a jar full of buttons. I updated the concept of the button box/jar. I recently bought two jars from IKEA. Somehow, IKEA does not stir up the nostalgia or mystique of a button box.

Lynn said...

My grandmother had a button tin--I think left over from a fruitcake. I remember playing with the buttons on her carpet in the front room, making the buttons into people and parts of the carpet into houses. Although I don't have the tin, I have the carpet...and thousands of buttons of my own.

Little Hunting Creek said...

Both my mom and grandmother had button jars and so do I. They are very convenient.

Sewfast said...
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Sewfast said...

My Mom had a coffee can of buttons which was handed down to me. When something was no longer serviceable she always cut the buttons off for a new garment.My Mother-in-law also gave me a cache of buttons. I rarely have to purchase buttons for a project...it's fun to shop the button box!

BeckyMc said...
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BeckyMc said...

My mom had a button tin. I loved running my fingers through it. I have buttons sorted by color and displayed in random vintage glass containers. But I do notice one problem. Some buttons are scratched, nicked or otherwise damaged by contact with the other buttons.

badmomgoodmom said...

Not only do I keep my own button box, but my 87 yo FIL, a tailor originally from Europe, recently gave me his.

He also wanted to give me all his old tailoring tools, but they are sized for a man's hands, not mine. His tools are all European and heavy while I prefer Kai from Japan, made for smaller people.

He's sent his old customers to a Vietnamese tailor who purchased his own shop, but the new tailor is similarly small and can't use the big tools either.

I don't know what to do with them. They are half of all his worldly goods that he took with him on the sea voyage to the US. As the only one of his children, children-in-law and grandchildren that sews, I feel responsible somehow.

AuntieAllyn said...

Oh, yes I remember that my mother had a button tin. I loved running my hands through it and sifting all the buttons through my little fingers. I don't know what happened to it, though. I have my own button collections now, on the shelves in my sewing studio in old blue glass Mason jars topped with zinc screw-top lids. It's comforting to look at them!

Lorinda said...

I do have a button box. My mother and her mother and I am sure all their mothers before them had a button box. There is charm and history in the button box.

theresa said...

My mother's button box was a woven round straw basket with a lid. I had it until recently but discarded it as it was too tattered to save. I have a button basket very much like hers myself plus several clear zip bags of buttons just waiting for garments. In our house trashed discards get the buttons removed. They will have a future life in another garment.

SEWN said...

OMG, so that's why my grandma had so many buttons. I could never figure out why since she never sewed. Must have been a depression era thing and/or sewing thing. I loved putting my fingers in her button stash. Wish I had had the forethought to keep it. Great post.

Vicki said...

I inherited my grandmothers button box too. I used to love to play with it when I was little.

Lisa and Robin said...

I have a button box. It still has buttons that were in there when my grandmother gave it to me. In fact, it has men's shirt buttons still on the card. My great grandmother instilled a sense of 'thrift' in me. Although, since I've grown up, I now realize she was just a hoarder... I find the most difficult thing is to USE the buttons!


Claire S. said...

I've got both my grandmother's and mother's button tins - couldn't tell you how old grammy's tin is but I remember it from 40 years ago, and it was old then ! Funnily enough, I was running my fingers through them yesterday LOL

Wholesale Clothing said...

I have button jar. Even i do not know how many buttons I have in that jar. but they are all useful whenever I need I can use them.

Marjie said...

I have button boxes, plastic, so they don't break. I started my first so that when the dry cleaner crushed a button on one of my husband's absurdly expensive custom made dress shirts, I'd have a match from one which was worn out. Now, all buttons go in there, and I rarely have to buy buttons for anything (my girls shop in my button boxes, too).

MelMel said...

I remember my mom having her grandmother's button purse. An old fabric purse with both the handles broken. Hideously ugly but it had a zipper so the buttons stayed inside and was soft to keep the buttons from getting scratched. I got my grandmother's buttons in a plain old paper bag. Mine are in a tin box that I think Valentine candy arrived in.

Wholesale Mens Apparels said...

We have a huge Button jar. My mom love to add buttons in it. But they are really useful at times. I do not know why every mother doing this :)