In the Georgian period (which encompasses Regency), you often see fancy embroidered buttons on various garments--justaucorps, waistcoats, and breeches. For those of us who prefer plainer garment, there are also plenty of examples of plain ones--especially towards the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th. Obviously, these are embroidered on cloth...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 coat or waistcoat.
|Mariner's Cuff on a Coat. 1785-1790|
|1800-1810 Silk Waistcoat in the Met. Yes, those offline stripes do make me twitch.|
You only need a few things for them--fabric, fairly strong 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.
When I originally wrote this tutorial, I didn't have the correct materials...since then, I purchased a couple of wooden button blanks, specifically to show how it should actually look
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.
- Tightly fulled wool or heavy canvas, cut slightly smaller than the blank--about 2/3-3/4 the diameter.
- The wood or bone blank. They are made of wood or bone, with a convex lens shape. You can also use a plastic suit button.
- Covering fabric, roughly double the diameter of the blank. It should be just wide enough to wrap around and have the edges barely touch.
- A small piece of tightly fulled fabric, roughly matching the fashion fabric in colour. It should be only slightly smaller than the blank. I actually used a heavy cotton flannel in this; it doesn't fray either.
It should look something like this after covering. If your covering material is a fulled wool, you should be able to stop here, since the raw edges don't need to be protected.
This should show why it's important a non-fraying material be used to cover the back side of the button--there is no hem to support the edge and stop the stitches from being pulled loose...and since your shank stitches to secure the button to your garment go through this piece...it needs to be sturdy.
The blue buttons were made specifically for the tutorial, and the flat white buttons went on my 1860s body-sac coat. I also made a video tutorial of the method--you will probably want to change the resolution, since it automatically goes to the lowest, even though I filmed it in much higher. On the other hand, it might just be my connection.
As for how to put them on, they were typically attached just to the outer layers of fabric, so that no stitches showed through the lining. To illustrate, I just stitched it to the knee of my banyan.
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, 2016/17. 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.