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).
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.
I also "whipped" around the perimeter, catching every other fold or so.
This covering of wool (or similarly non-fraying material) covers and protects the raw edges of the covering material.
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.
|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.
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.