Rummaging Through The Button Box

This morning, I was rummaging through the button box, looking for a couple of small wooden toggles for a duffel coat. I thought I had some, and I was right. Once upon a time, every home had a button box, the place where you kept miscellaneous spare buttons, or buttons that had fallen off some garment or other, or perhaps really good buttons that you couldn't bear to throw away, even though the garment itself had worn out.

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.