As I was rummaging among the glass and the brass and the plastic, I had a sudden vision of myself as a very little girl, in Leeds, saying, 'Nana? Can I play with the button box?'
My beloved nana would get out her button box - I seem to remember that it was one of those old fashioned tin tea caddies. I would sit on the rug in front of the fire, my favourite place in those days, or perhaps I would sit up at the kitchen table, and she would open the box and tip out the contents.
I don't know why I found them so fascinating, but I did. I didn't want to do anything particularly creative with them, except sort them out and look at them. But I remember that some of them were old and beautiful, and all of them were interesting. I would sort them into pairs or sets, a sort of button pelmanism. (I paused there to see if there was a word for people who collect buttons, but there doesn't seem to be, even though lots of people do it!) I would make patterns out of them. I would stack them, and lay them out and admire them. Hours of fun. I remember pretty painted glass in all colours, brass, wood and even leather.
There was always sewing going on in our household. My grandmother had been a shirt-maker in her youth, my grandad, after a career in the Royal and Merchant Navies, was working as a presser for Montague Burton, the tailoring factory. My aunts worked in tailoring too and my mother was a fine seamstress. Any spare buttons were collected and preserved for future use.
I don't know what became of my nana's beautiful button box but many years later, I acquired my own. My late mother had collected buttons over years of sewing. Later on, when I began dealing in antique textiles, I remember finding somebody else's button box in a box of old linens, so I added those to the mix. I still have the occasional rummage when I need something, but none of them, sadly, seems as magical as those old buttons from the family house.
|Honora, the original button box owner, with Mr Tubby the bear,|
Jimmy the cat and the blog author.
If you want to read a bit more about that time, you could seek out my book A Proper Person to be Detained.
Oh, and if you are wondering what I wanted the wooden toggles for, it's for a small renovation job I'm about to undertake. I'll be blogging about that in due course. Meanwhile, I expect some of you might be able to guess.