Cloth-Buttons-art - 11/22/15
"Making Cloth and Wrapped Bead Buttons" by HL Giraude Benet.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
This is the class handout from a class the author taught at the Known World Clothing Symposium 2015.
Making Cloth and Wrapped Bead Buttons
by HL Giraude Benet
As clothing in the Middle Ages became more form-fitting, garments could no longer be put on (of course) without having openings at the front, back, or sides that were laced, sewn, or buttoned closed. Tight fitting sleeves also required lacing, stitching, or buttons to conform to the shape of the lower arm. According to Crowfoot et al., buttons began to appear on clothing early in the 13th century, and were as much an element of style as a practical means of fastening a garment (Textiles and Clothing, 168).
In this class we will learn to construct two types of button. The first, used frequently in the 14th century and later, is made of a circle of cloth that is gathered and sculpted using a needle and thread to create a round button. The second type of button appeared in later period and consists of a wood bead base covered with a decorative wrapping of thread. Both types of button are fun, relatively easy to make, and will add an extra touch of authenticity to your garb.
Both types of buttons were sewn to the garment edge in much the same way. Unlike modern button placement, which has the button stitched a certain distance in from the edge of the opening to help create an overlap, both of these types of buttons were stitched to the very edge of the garment opening using either the "tail" of thread from the button itself, or using a separate stitching thread. The buttons were stitched to the edge of the garment by catching the bottom of the button at several points at the base, leaving enough space between the button and the garment edge to form a thread "shank." This shank would then be over-wrapped with the stitching thread to make it more secure. (The length of the shank would be based on the thickness of the garment edge on the buttonhole side of the garment. If the shank is too long, the garment will suffer from "gap-osis" when buttoned. If it's too short, the garment will be difficult to button securely.)
How do you determine the size of button/buttonhole? With fabric buttons, you may need to experiment with what size circle will create the size of button you wish depending on the weight of the fabric you are using. You might need to use multiple layers of a light weight fabric to get the size and firmness of button you desire, or possibly an under-layer of a different, heavier fabric. Fabric buttons might also be formed over a solid core of wood, horn, or bone, or stuffed with small fabric scraps or wool, which will also affect their size. The size of a wrapped wood button is determined by the size of the bead used as the base, and the thickness of the threads used to wrap it, possibly also the pattern of wrapping used. In either case, it is better to create your buttons first, then figure out the size of buttonhole you need to work on your garment. To determine the size of buttonhole you need, take a sturdy, flat ribbon (1/4" wide grosgrain ribbon works well) and wrap it around the widest part of your button. Pin it snugly, remove the button, then press the loop of ribbon flat and measure the distance between the pin and the fold of the loop. Place the buttonholes far enough from the edge of the garment so that there is a bit of overlap between the two edges of the garment, again avoiding "gap- osis" when buttoned.
The following is one method that can be used to create a period-style cloth button such as the examples seen on pages 166-172 of Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 and p. 170 of Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland.
Materials: A circle of the desired button fabric, and an 18" length of a sturdy thread (linen, reeled silk, upholstery thread, etc.).
1. Run a row of gathering stitches slightly less than 1/4" away from the edge of the circle of fabric.
2. Pull up the stitches so that the circle of fabric is drawn up into a little pouch. Secure the gathers with a backstitch, but do not clip off the thread.
3. Flatten the pouch so that the gathered portion is in the center of one side.
4. Using the same thread, run another row of gathering stitches along the outer edge of the disc of fabric.
5. Pull up the stitches and shape the fabric into a cup shape, making sure that the raw edges of the fabric are inside the cup. (If any kind of firm insert or stuffing is desired in the button, insert or stuff it at this point.) Continue to pull until the gathering stitches are tight and the cup closes to enclose the raw edges. Secure the gathers with a backstitch, but do not clip off the thread.
6. Continue to sculpt and secure the button by running stitches in a star pattern (five or more points) between the gathered edges. When you are satisfied with the shape, secure the thread by knotting it off, but do not clip off the thread. You will use the remaining thread to stitch the button to your garment.
Thread-Wrapped Bead Buttons
In later period in Europe, both decorative and functional buttons were made by wrapping threads or cords around a wooden bead base. Many garments shown in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560 - 1620 show buttons of this type (23-27), and these can also be seen in many later-period portraits. At their most simple, the wrapping threads were passed through the center of the bead and around the outside enough times to wrap the entire surface of the bead. More elaborate patterns can be created by wrapping the bead to create "spines," then taking the thread and weaving it through the spines in different ways to create the desired effect. A round-tipped tapestry needle, available where you can purchase embroidery supplies, works well for creating this type of button since it will be less likely to pierce and split the thread of the spines.
Materials: Wood bead, up to one yard of wrapping thread (silk cord, embroidery floss, crochet cotton, perle cotton, etc.)
1. Tie a knot in the end of the wrapping thread. Thread the other end through your needle.
2. Pass the needle through the hole in the bead, come out through the other side, then pierce the knotted end of the thread close to the knot with the needle, and tighten the thread around that side of the bead. Scoot the knot up into the hole of the bead so that it is not visible.
3. Continue to wrap the thread around the bead by passing the needle through the hole of the bead until a number of thread "spines" are made (four, five, six, eight or more, depending on your desired pattern.
4. Once the number of spines have been made, start to weave the thread through the spines. The thread can be wrapped around the spines if desired as you go to make a decorative pattern, or woven over and under in a basket weave. Keep wrapping the thread around the bead in your desired pattern until the entire surface has been covered by the wrapping.
5. Secure the end of the thread by knotting it around the last spine wrapped. If you wish to use the same thread to sew the button onto the garment, do not cut the thread.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560 - 1620 London: MacMillan, 1985.
Crowfoot, Elizabeth et al. Textiles and Clothing: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London, c.1150c.1450. London: Boydell, 2001.
Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004.
Copyright 2015 by Jill Sibley. <giraudebenet at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.