It’s Not Just Sew, Sew

The old West had a shortage of everything except hard times and backbreaking work and there was sure plenty of that. Pioneer women took extra pains with all their belongings and to lose something as small as a button really was difficult to take.

Buttons have been around approximately 4,000 years with its history dating back to Egypt. Archeologists have unearthed them in ancient tombs and in archeological digs.

At first buttons were used entirely for decoration. Men and women both wore buttons to adorn themselves. King Louis XIV of France spent $600,000 a year on buttons and King Francis I once had 13,600 buttons sewn to a single coat. The First Duke of Buckingham had a suit and cloak covered in diamond buttons. Talk about extravagant.

From ancient times, buttons have been fashioned from pearls, shells, glass, metal, wood, bone and antler, precious stones, porcelain, and leather among other materials. It appears that our ancestors made buttons from everything imaginable that was available at the time. Buttons with images of angels on them date back hundreds of years.



But buttons were not just for clothing. They could be found on purses, bracelets, belts, and shoes and still can today. Early buttons showed beautiful artistry. Artists filled their time painting portraits and scenery on them. Europe became so button crazy the church denounced them as “the devil’s snare,” mainly because of women’s front-buttoned dresses. Ridiculous I know. Even the Puritans condemned buttons as sinful.

No one is quite sure when someone came along and fashioned the first buttonhole, but it was quite an accomplishment. Everyone jumped on the button wagon. It was so nice to able to make form-fitting garments that didn’t have to be secured with a belt, hooks, or other devices.


Sadly, decorative buttons have become a lost art. Today, most buttons are mass produced from inexpensive plastic.

Button collecting began in the 1930’s. The National Button Society was formed in 1938. There are thousands of collectors today. People collect all kinds and shapes and some of the prices fetched for a single button is outrageous. Recently, a button was sold in auction for $850. People are serious about their buttons.

The Smithsonian Institution has an extensive button collection as do many other museums.

Did you know that March13-19 is National Button Week?

Most of us have buttons somewhere, either in jars or in sewing baskets. I have a zip lock bag full of buttons that I’ve cut off clothes before I toss them in the trash. I always think I’ll need one for something.

A friend of mine plays a game of buttons with her grandchildren. She lets them choose from her button collection then tells them some wild story about where it came from and who wore it. The more outrageous story the better. Their eyes grow wide as they listen to the tales she weaves.

Do you have a stash of buttons? I have some very pretty decorative ones. Can you imagine wearing a piece of clothing that has over 13,000 buttons sewn on it?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

45 thoughts on “It’s Not Just Sew, Sew”

    • Good morning, Laura! I sure wish they had designer buttons these days but if they did, they’d probably cost a fortune. I love sitting and looking at old buttons though and imagining what clothes they were once on. Have a lovely day.

  1. Good morning Linda. Both of my Granny’s sewed all their lives. My Granny Lucas was actually a stresmstress at a sewing factory.
    She had so many beautiful buttons. My mom now has her collection and I love looking through them. My mom made me a beautiful button artwork in a frame from my Granny’s buttons. I will cherish it forever.
    Thanks for letting me stroll down memory lane.
    I save buttons now just in case I might need one to repair a shirt or something.
    This was a great topic. Maybe we will see in one of your books, a button collector.
    I hope you have a terrific Tuesday. Love you my sweet sister friend.

    • Hey, Miss Tonya! I’m so glad you came. Your granny was an amazing woman. How interesting that she worked in a sewing factory. And I’d love to see that artwork your mom made from Granny’s buttons. Yes, you might just see a button collector in one of my stories. Have a beautiful day. I love you dearly.

  2. I once had a little tin from Scotch tape, the size of a roll, filled with buttons. I had rescued it when they had cleaned out the house of a recently deceased neighbor known as Granny. Our bus stop was next to her house, and all the kids found treasures.

    I loved those buttons, nothing special, but they were mine. I’d sift through them and enjoyed them. I also had a handled, tin, sewing basket. I had a regular sewing basket, too. I think I gave my mom the tins at some point. I found out she dumped the buttons into a jar with other buttons, no care they had been my special buttons from Granny.

    • Good morning, Denise! I’m sorry your mother showed no reverence for Granny’s buttons. I would love to have seen them. Bet they were sure nice. They really spark my imagination and I love to think about the clothes they’d been on. Have a lovely day.

  3. I have a set of sterling button covers to fancy up a denim shirt and the sterling points to put on the collar as well – probably from the 60’s or 70’s at least!! Wonderful story! I too cut the buttons off hubs shirts and then cut them up for the rag bag which he uses in the shop for his farming!

  4. I remember playing with my grandmother’s buttons. She had an entire drawer on her sewing machine stand full of them. They felt like treasures. I can’t remember if she had any of the special ones that you show here in there or not. I was really young and just thought them all pretty and treasure-like. I do have a little bag filled with buttons in my sewing box, but nothing special. So after reading this post, it got me looking on Ebay to see what they had listed. I found a couple that actually had people’s portraits on them. Now those are very special.

    • Hi Janine….Thank you so much for coming. I’m intrigued by old buttons and those on Ebay sound gorgeous. I’d love to have some with portraits on them. Your grandmother’s button drawer must’ve been really something. Wonderful memories. Much love and hugs.

  5. I’m always saving buttons. Usually they just take space in my craft area, but every now and again I use them.

    • Hi Jess! Have you had that baby yet? If not, I’ll bet you’re ready. I think most women do save buttons. It sure saves us from having to buy them. And I bet your kids like playing with them. Wishing you a very lovely day filled with love.

  6. I have a few buttons that was cut off of old clothes. You never know when you might need a button to fix something. My sister has a large jar full of buttons. I can remember getting a large button and putting it in a string and making a spinney thing out of it. We use to play with them at my grandmothers house.

    • Hi Quilt Lady! Those spinny toys must’ve been fun. What great memories of playing with them at your grandmother’s. Keep adding to your buttons. Have a beautiful day.

  7. Like everyone else here, I have a button box. 🙂 They are all shapes, sizes and colors and I often need to find one as a replacement. But, the coolest buttons I have are the ones Rick made out of deer horn. They are a prized possession. What a wonderful subject! Thank you for sharing, sister!

    • Hi sister! Wow, glad you came over. Next time I come visit you’ll have to show me the ones Rick made from deer horn. How cool! I can’t remember ever seeing them. You have a special day today. I love you bunches!

  8. What a fantastic post–thank you! I loved seeing the picture and learning more about buttons, something I’ve never given much thought to.

    • Hi Carrie! There are so many fascinating things around us that we take for granted, never giving much thought to. I’m so happy you enjoyed my post. Have a lovely day.

  9. I know that my mom had a couple of cookie tins full of them. I don’t have as many as she did but I have quite a few. I prefer snaps myself.
    I don’t think I would enjoy unbuttoning that many buttons on one garment. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Charlene! I’m so happy to see your name pop up. Thank you for coming. Buttons have always fascinated me. When I was a young girl I used to like to play with them. That garment with over 13,000 buttons thankfully didn’t have to be undone. They were decorative only. They must’ve been sewn every inch. That would’ve made the clothing weigh a ton. Ha! Have a blessed day, my friend.

  10. I loved buttons as a child. Different relatives would give me their buttons to play with while they visited. I remember putting a row of each color side by side with a row of metal ones, glass ones, mother of pearl, decorative, and so on. I even learned how to may cloth covered buttons when I was a bit older. My mom kept her buttons in a mason jar. There was a game ladies and all of us cousins would sometimes play also called Button Button Who’s Got the Button.
    Thank you for bringing back precious forgotten memories Linda. I have many more than what I’ve listed here. Ah, the days of old.

    • Hi Janie! I had forgotten that game they used to play. Thanks for mentioning it. I’m sure you played for hours and hours with those buttons, arranging and rearranging. I’m glad I could bring back fond memories. Have a blessed day.

  11. Good morning Ms. Linda! I, too, have a stash of buttons, I wouldn’t exactly say I collect buttons but after reading this I just may start. Back in the early 90’s I had a collection and enjoyed wearing fashion button covers and I hadn’t thought of those in ages. I had glitzy ones, animal head ones and several other kinds that I used to dress up shirts and blouses. It is now hard for me to believe that once upon a time I dressed up every single day and now I’m just a jeans or knit pants and t-shirt kind of girl but I guess that happens when it has been 16 years since you had a real job. My grandmother collected buttons and I’m sure my Aunt has that collection since she is the only daughter out of 8 children. This blog taught me things I never knew about buttons and no I can’t imagine wearing anything with that many buttons! It would be a very heavy garment because a garment covered in sequins is heavy enough, much less with buttons. Ornamental buttons would be heavier than the average button we are accustomed to! Happy Fall! Love you! Stay safe in these uncertain times. I’ve yet to ask, are you still staying quarantined and avoiding being around others or have you given up on that? Do you wear a mask when your out and about?

    • Hi Miss Stephanie! Yes, that garment with all the buttons would’ve weighed a ton. I hear you about not dressing up any more. The guys here used to say things about that to me so I started wearing skirts and dresses ever so often and it’s fun to dress up. I like how it makes me feel more feminine. Yes, I’m still staying away from people and wearing a mask on the rare occasion when I do go out. It’s the responsible thing to do…and safer. Thanks for coming. I love you dearly.

  12. Hi Linda! Guess what? I am BUTTON CRAZY! LOL I think I got that from my mom. She was a seamstress and had a TON of buttons. When I was in kindergarten, we made a button holder for our moms for Mother’s Day. I still have it. It’s a little white cardboard container with a lid (round) and we glued rick-rack on for the mouth, a piece of black felt for the nose and blue felt circles for the eyes. I have it sitting in my office, and it still has some of the treasured buttons in it that she kept. Loved this post–no, can’t imagine having 13K + buttons on one garment. That is unbelievably wasteful, isn’t it? SIGH. And how heavy! Hugs, filly sis!

    • Hi Cheryl! I should’ve known you’d be a button collector. How special that you still have the button holder you made for your mom! I love that you have it setting where you can see it. It’s a treasure. I love you dearly.

  13. I remember playing in my mom’s button drawer. It was the bottom drawer on her treadle machine and the only drawer we kids were allowed to open. She would set it on the floor to keep us busy while she sewed. My buttons are in an old round pipe tobacco can. In recent years there have been a lot of fun decorative buttons available for crafts and kids clothes.. I found some teddy bear shaped ones I put on an outfit I made for one of our grandchildren. This was an interesting post.

  14. Wow, there are some really pretty buttons right there! I also have a lot of buttons, not as pretty or as fancy as the ones on the photos for sure. My husband always takes the buttons off shirts that will be rags. Thank you so much for this awesome and very interesting post. Have a Great week and stay safe.

  15. We do has some buttons, but not very many. I cannot imagine having that many buttons that I would be wearing.

  16. I ended up with a collection of buttons purely by accident. Like you, I cut buttons off of clothing before putting them in the rag bag. I have a large jar of buttons from that plus jars and tins of buttons from my aunt and grandmother who did the same thing. I have not gone through all my grandmother’s buttons which are about 100 years old, but I doubt there are any of any value. The collection part of it all comes in about 1980. I was at an auction when they put up a stack of 4 or 5 boxes of varying sizes. (shoe box, glove box, etc.) and a book on button collecting printed in 1940. That should have been a clue for the auctioneer. He opened the glove box and it had black and brown coat buttons in it. Nothing special or different from what my grandmother had. No one was bidding on them so I made a pity bid of $1 which was countered, and when I bid $3, I won the bid. When I opened the larger boxes, there were cards with buttons sewn on them. They were grouped by types. When I got home. I got the book and the buttons out and learned an awful lot. There were cards with carnival glass buttons, jets, glass, mother of pearl, nursery rhyme characters, military, etc. It was great fun. One day I will have them framed and hung in my sewing room. I don’t think I have any of great value, but the lot was worth much more than the $3 I paid for it, as was the education.

    • WOW, Pat! What a treasure. I’d love to see those. Carnival glass has always been a favorite of mine. And those with nursery rhyme characters must be so cute. You did good! Love you dearly.

  17. Hi Linda, thank you for this blog about buttons. I never really thought about how people started using them.
    My Mother and Grandmother both had button tinsel as I grew up so I guess I just thought they had always been!!
    The last thing that I used buttons for was a cross that my sweet husband made for me for our Vacation Bible School a year or two before he passed away. The cross was five feet tall and he painted it light blue. Each night at the end of service each child got to glue a button on the cross. The buttons are all different colors and it is still pretty and still hangs in our church!! They were new buttons that I bought at Walmart but we still enjoy them!!
    Love the blog!!

    • Hi Ruth, thank you so much for coming. What a neat idea about the button cross. I’ll bet that’s so pretty. I’d love to see it. I don’t know what button tinsel is. I’ll have to look that up. You have a blessed day and know that someone in Texas loves you.

  18. Thank you for sharing your interesting post. I love buttons! I have a big button jar and have given my grandchildren their own button jars.

  19. This is an interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I LOVE buttons. I am pretty sure I got that from my mom and grandmother. My grandmother passed down buttons to me that were not as fancy as above, but so pretty and different shapes and some were hand painted, made out of different things like wood and leather. (the leather ones were the cool ones) I still have those and a huge jar besides. I love to put buttons on all kinds of things Not dish towels though. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  20. Such a great post, Linda! I love buttons and had started my own collection. I recently inherited my mom’s button collection, which included buttons that were my grandma’s, too.

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