Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fabric Covered Buttons, a la Georgian

https://prinnystaylor.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/stitches-as-used-by-tailors-in-1800/UPDATED 7-4-16, with fresh pictures of the process on a /flat/ blank.

In the Georgian period (which encompasses Regency), you often see fancy embroidered buttons on various garments--justaucorps, waistcoats, and breeches.  Obviously, these are embroidered on cloth; there are also plenty of examples of plain ones, especially towards the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th.  But how do you take the cloth and turn it into a flat button without visible stitches?  It's really not difficult, and how else are you going to have buttons covered in the same silk as your waistcoat?

Mariner's Cuff on a Coat.  1785-1790

1800-1810 Silk Waistcoat in the Met. Yes, those mismatched striped do make me twitch.

You only need a few things for them--fabric, thread matching said fabric, a different fabric, and button blanks.  A couple different threads are recommended; a heavier one which you will eventually use to sew the button to the garment, and a lighter one which should match primary colour of the fabric you're covering the button in--silk is a good choice.  You also need a heavier, tightly woven fabric or two--at least one of them should be a heavily fulled wool (or felt); ideally, of a similar colour to the garment.  It doesn't have to be thick, just non-fraying.  The button blanks were typically made of wood or bone, and are a flat or convex disc with a single hole in the center--you can pick them up at Wm. Booth, Draper, or Burnley and Trowbridge.

This tutorial is very much a "do as I say, not as I do" kind--I had to make due with the materials, such as using flat(ish) glass beads, or scavenged plastic suit buttons as the button mold rather than proper button molds.  However, it should give you an  idea of how it is done.
I should also probably add that if your covering fabric is a fulled wool, you shouldn't need to cover the raw edges with another disk--just pull it into a short shank and secure.  But better safe than sorry (sorry in this case involving buttons popping off and being lost).

The blank, fabric for covering (the linen, or the white canvas), and two tiny circles of your heavily fulled wool.  One needs to be the diameter of your blank, and the other slightly smaller.
Ideally the circle of covering fabric should be just wide enough to wrap around your blank and let the raw edges barely touch on the back side of the button.

Run a needle through the larger of the pieces of wool with a length of heavy thread, knotted at the end.  You could also use a heavy, tightly woven canvas instead of a wool for this piece.

Thread the needle through the center hole of your blank, with the knot on the outside.  Essentially, you have created a washer with the bit of wool, which anchors the shank thread.

Now, run a gathering stitch around the perimeter of the covering material.  It doesn't have to be super even, but it does help.

Center your blank on the cover, knot side down and leaving the tail hanging out.  Draw the gathers around your blank, making sure it is fully enclosed.

 To secure the gathered cloth, run your thread back and forth until the folds from the gathering are secure.  You will want to do this as close to the back face of the blank as possible, while keeping the stitches mostly concealed.

I also "whipped" around the perimeter, catching every other fold or so.

Now, this step shouldn't be needed if you did it right (using flat blanks, and a properly fitted cover, etc.)--neither should the one immediately following it.  I cut a slit in the excess fabric to allow me to pull the tail to the side..

...so I could trim off the excess fabric as close to the securing stitches as possible.

You didn't remove the needle from your shank thread, right?  Pierce the center of the second wool circle and let the shank thread dangle--you can remove the needle now, unless you plan to sew the button on immediately.

This covering of wool (or similarly non-fraying material) covers and protects the raw edges of the covering material.

Whip the edges of the wool circle down to the backside of the button, being careful that you don't pull it off center.  You should be able to use the same thread as for the gathering stitches.

This should show why it's important a non-fraying material be used to cover the back side of the button--there is nothing else stopping the stitches from being pulled loose...and since your shank stitches to secure the button to your garment go through this...you can see why it could end in tears.

Button completed.  Make sure that that little wool circle is secure--don't skimp on the stitches.

 And a bouquet of teeny-tiny buttons.

The second go, with actual flat blanks.

Hope that helps when you make yours.  I swear there was another tutorial out there on making these--I didn't come up with it all on my own--but a simple search isn't coming up with anything.

These were made for a double breasted waistcoat, which is in a heavy red brocade.  The original used thread wrapped buttons; my attempts at making those were absolutely lame--they truly do require the correct materials.  When changing plans, I chose the closest coloured fabric I had on hand to cover the buttons with, since there is no way it would be possible to cover the tiny buttons (most are 1.3 cm in diameter, finished) with the heavy, easily frayed brocade.
The flat white buttons went on my 1860s body-sac coat.

Smooth Sewing!

https://prinnystaylor.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/stitches-as-used-by-tailors-in-1800/ A post describing the stitches used in 18th century tailoring, from a book (The Tailor) dating to 1801.  Cloth covered buttons are at the bottom.

http://zhozhofabart.blogspot.com/2011/08/fabric-covered-buttons.html.  Images of extant buttons made with a similar process (and history of fabric covered buttons in general).

http://thegoldenscissors.blogspot.com/2013/01/covering-button.html.  A blip on fabric covered buttons.

http://www.marquise.de/en/themes/howto/knoepfe.shtml.  Another blip of an article that doesn't actually tell you how to do it.

 p.s. Another option for make-due blanks might be to drill holes in coins (not that I'm sanctioning defacing currency); however, most of the proper button blanks have a convex surface, rather than flat.

p.p.s If you somehow found this page while looking for early styles of buttons--say 16th century thread wrapped, I have a tutorial on a basic style of them as well, which can be found HERE.

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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