While looking through my list of “National Days” in search of a writing prompt, I came across November 16th as National Button Day. Why? Did button makers feel threatened by zippers and Velcro? Apparently not, since it debuted in 1938 long before Velcro made its appearance. The year Momma was born. And long before Velcro made its way into the world. Still, seeing the images of buttons spread out on a table made me think of the tin of old buttons sitting on the shelf in my sewing room.
Quieting a Small Child
As a young child, I knew when Momma handed me her button tin; it was time to be quiet as she would be busy for a while. My small hands dug through the tin, ignoring the light browns for my grandpa’s work shirts. Digging down deep to find the shiny black ones with the glass centers. To my child’s eye, they were diamonds. The ones with a smooth layer of mother-of-pearl were almost as fascinating with their smoothness.
First, I learned to sort them into like groups. Then came counting and other math operations. Finally, history. History of the depression: Saving everything. They cut buttons off worn out clothing. The less worn parts of clothing became patches for other garments or quilts. Family history: The white stud like buttons were for Momma’s waitress uniforms she starched so heavily they could stand on their own. The largest ones came from worn out coats. Manufacturing history: I learned to tell by holding the button in my hand the difference between glass buttons, the oldest, and plastic, the newer ones.
In the late 1980’s Momma and I ran a shop, Grandmother’s Attic. Buttons as embellishment to crafts was all the rage. We embellished everything from Christmas ornaments to wreathes with buttons. We sold loose vintage buttons in old mason jars. Now my young children were digging through the buttons. As always, life changes and we eventually closed the shop.
I remember Momma’s sadness as we were packing her three-bedroom home while she was preparing for a downsize. Pulling her button tin from the closet, she smiled softly. ‘Here, take this home. I won’t be sewing much. And oh, take these, too.” Old Vaseline and mason jars filled with old buttons, one for myself and one for each of my four children. Since I became a nurse, I had less time for crafting, but dutifully I took the button tin home with me. Faithfully, I moved the old tin from Virginia to Pennsylvania and finally to North Carolina.
My daughter and I were trying to reorganize my sewing room a few years ago. My two-year-old grandson wanted to help, of course. Down came the button tin from its shelf. For a while, he played quietly. And then he discovered the buttons’ delightful tinkling sounds as they fell like rain. We laughed so hard as the button rain fell. I have to admit this was the last of our button showers; it made such a mess. But there are small button tins my grandchildren hunt out in my sewing room, even today.
I still don’t know why there is a National Button Day. It was supposed to “encourage the use of buttons as embellishments to crafts and sewing” according to the internet. For me, it provided a wonderful trip down memory lane as I thought about the relationship between four generations and their relationship with buttons.