Monday, February 4, 2013

A short history of the button!

Whenever I visit a Museum I always notice the display about buttons.  There is always a display about buttons!  Something we probably all take for granted and yet we use them every day.  The humble button has it's very own place in history and I am going to share a little bit of what I have learnt with you ..... there is a lot of information out there ......


According to Ian McNeil in An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology the earliest known button is approximately 5000 years old and was found in Pakistan. It was made of shell and is thought to have been an ornament rather than being used as a fastener. From the Bronze age (3000 years ago) right up to the 13th century, buttons were made from a variety of materials (bone, wood, metal) and were largely worn for decoration. The development of a very simple loop, led to them being used in very simple fasteners. But it wasn't until the emergence of the buttonhole during the 13th century that things really changed for the humble button and clothing design.

According to some of the excerpts I have been reading, buttons were hugely popular during the 14th century. It was almost as though there was a button frenzy! Tailors were making clothes with a ridiculous amount of buttons and buttonholes. Laws were passed to limit the use of buttons resulting in the button eventually becoming a measure of wealth. The more buttons adorning your clothing, the wealthier you were percieved. Button mania continued up until the 16th century. The button still held a level of status (... think about soldiers uniforms) but wasn't used in such abundance as before.


Buttons still held their allure and became quite elaborate at one point (diamond buttons .... lovely) until eventually in the 19th century they became mass produced items. It was during the 19th century that buttons took on a new role in politics when George Washington used buttons in his politcal campaign. They have been used in political campaigns ever since.
Buttons have been widely used in advertising. I have set of Guiness buttons lurking around in my sewing box and when I look at my children's clothing there are lots of buttons advertising cartoon characters and brand names. Buttons are used as eyes and noses in children's toys, to decorate cushions and throws, as jewellery, ornaments ..... and so the list continues ...... I think the humble button is not so humble after all!

I hope you enjoyed my very short and concise history of the button.  I will be making more lampwork buttons throughout the year and have a few ideas for a couple of projects .... but that will be for another blog post ...
Sarah xx

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