On recently starting to sort out some of the sewing paraphernalia* that I have accumulated over the years I was struck how like an archive these items are. They plot changes in taste, materials and priorities and projects finished or abandoned. There are many little treasures like packets of satin blanket-binding ribbon and stocking mending thread, poppers, skirt hooks, button-hole scissors, bodkins, braids, mechanical needle threaders, needle cases, mending sets, zips, heavy button thread, ultra-fine stocking mending thread, thimbles, handy gadgets whose purpose I can only guess at, and a great many packets of bias binding in a wide range of colours and widths.
The most striking items in this collection have been the button tins and boxes. Bringing back for me, as they do for many people, memories of childhood – time spent exploring their colourful depths, the sound and smells of old Bakelite, glass, wood, metal and plastic rustling against the sides of an aging toffee or biscuit tin and the feeling of the scale-like buttons slipping through your fingers. The tins of buttons cover a period of at least a hundred years and are from family members who sewed and knitted: a distant “aunt”, my grandmother, mother, aunt, mother-in-law. My own too, I notice, has gathered it’s own patina of time.
The contents of these tins range from the most prosaic shirt and trouser buttons to beautiful glass and enamel buttons, far too fragile now to be attached to a garment. There are innumerable mother-of-pearl buttons from the most tiny usable size to undulating, sheeny, shiny discs, there are huge, brightly coloured statement coat buttons from the post-war period, edelweiss buttons, wooden floral patterned buttons. Mostly though, they are useful workaday items kept because they might come in handy. These tins also contain memories too, prompted by individual buttons such as a little white daisy-shaped button left over from my first school frock.
* According to Chambers Dictionary the origin of this word is from the mid 17th century and denotes property owned by a married woman – how appropriate!