There are several types of buttons known to be from the 14th century. Some of these buttons were found at the Thames River archaelogical digs and published in the Museum of London Dress Accessories and Textiles and Clothing books. Some buttons were also found at the Herjolfsnes archaeological site in Greenland.
Some of the buttons were metal but some were made from cloth. At Greenland they found that some of the buttons were stuffed with itty bitty scraps of wool that was mixed with glue and formed in little balls. But SOME buttons, in London, appear to be self-stuffing.
The Museum of London book, Textiles and Clothing, printed an instruction diagram for making these buttons. And I, as well as others of my acquaintance, found that the diagram doesn’t create a button that looks like the real buttons. Not only does the completed button not resemble the extant photos but the buttons have no interior support. They do address the support issue but in a way that was unsatisfactory to me. The MoL assumes that the running stitches in concentric circles around the top of the buttons was there for structure. But if you make the buttons their way and add the running stitches you get a mushy little pancake with cute little circles on it. Nothing firm enough to help a button push through a buttonhole. It is my opinion that the little circles are decorative. So, what to do.
This is my solution.
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Step 1. Cut a round disc of fabric. This can be a contrasting fabric, a matching fabric or the same fabric as your garment. Depending on how thick the fabric is, you may need to cut the circle to a different size. Place running stitches around the perimeter of the disc or discs as seen in the illustration to the left. The stitches should not be too close or too far away from the edge. Some experimentation might be necessary to get this right as it will depend on your fabric.
I use either wool, velveteen, or linen fabric. I use #8 perl cotton, silk button hole thread or strong upholstery thread. The perl cotton and silk are more manageable, come in more colors, and doesn’t cut your finger when you pull tightly. Always a bonus. I cut the thread at least 18″ long as the left over thread will be what I use to attach the completed button to the garment and to create a shank.
Step 2. After the running stitches are placed, gently pull the stitches until you have forced the disc into the shape of a little pouch .
Step 3. Press the pouch flat so that all raw edges point to the middle. See a side view in 4.
Step 4. Side view of squished flat disc
Step 5. Stitch a running stitch along the every edge of the disc
Step 6. Place you pinkie finger into the very center of the disc and hold firmly.
Step 7. Pull very tightly until the outside of the disc begins to rise and you begin to see what I call the “raspberry.”
Step 8. This is the “raspberry” or little cup that you should now have. Sometimes I have to do a little manipulation at this point, poking the raw edges in, pull on the thread, forcing it with my fingers into a round, concave, all edges in cup.
Step 9. Once I am satisfied that my cup/raspberry is minding my direction I begin stitching across, back and forth across. I don’t go straight across but at an small angle so that I can work my around the button.
Step 10. I’ve worked my way around the button, pulling and squeezing the button and threads. I pay special attention to any of ridges that might need a tight stitch. See #11 below for your goal. When I have this opening completely closed and as smooth as I can get it I leave the long thread tails hanging and begin on the next button.
Step 11. Completed button.
From the measurements available in the MoL Textiles and Clothing book, this is actually a fairly large cloth button. Some are .33″ in size. Tiny.
Step 12. All my happy little buttons ready and waiting for their new home.
To shank the button ball to the garment, first pass the needle through the garment and pull until the button is about a quarter to an eighth of an inch away from the garment surface (sound familiar?). Pass the needle back up through the garment and catch a couple of the tiny pleats before passing back through the garment. Do this a number of times until the button is fully anchored. Wrap the shank as with the needle woven button above and anchor the thread.