These are elegant little decorative buttons similar to ones that were used on clothing during the late 1500's and early 1600's. They are similar to ones pictured in books by costume historian Janet Arnold [footnote]. Though they are easy to make and cost next to nothing in supplies, they do take a long time and are tedious and fiddly. Give yourself several days or weeks to complete these for your costume.
The buttons pictured at right are dark blue with gold thread and gold beads sewn onto the top of each. The shank created by the wrapping process still hangs like a tail from each one.
What you'll need:
- a packet of 1/2 inch wooden beads
- 6-strand cotton embroidery floss
- gold or silver metallic thread
- (I suggest DMC brand on a spool)
- 2 embroidery needles
Use the smallest needle you can thread. This will become important later as you try to wrap the thread through many layers. You will use one needle for the cotton floss and another for the metallic thread.
Begin by cutting a 20" length of embroidery floss. Separate the 6-strand floss into two 3-strand twists. There's kind of a trick to this if you have never embroidered before: flatten the end of the floss with your fingernail so the individual strands separate, look for a natural split in the twist, pull three strands away from the other three. You now have two 20" lengths of floss. Lay one aside for later and thread the other through your needle.
Thread the first wooden bead onto your strand of floss, about 3 inches from one end. Hold the floss against the bottom of the bead as you begin to wrap the threaded floss around the bead using the needle to guide it through the center hole. After a few stitches you will not need to hold the "tail" end of the floss so tightly. Continue wrapping thread around the bead, taking care to lay it evenly as you go. Use your fingers to push threads together so you get nice even coverage. The first part will go easily, but it will get harder to push the needle through the center of the bead as you wrap more thread around it.
When you get down to the last couple inches of floss you should have covered your bead completely. If you were not able to cover the bead and arrange the floss well enough, consider this a learning experiment and start over with a longer piece of thread and a new bead. It's not worth unwrapping the first mistake.
When you have covered the bead completely and you are satisfied with it, tie off the last couple inches of thread to the tail you left when you began. Leave the threads hanging from the button. You will need them to hold onto and to attach the finshed button to your costume garment.
Make several buttons.
Thread the second needle with your gold thread. About 12" is enough. You will not be covering the button with as much metallic thread as you used for the first layer.
Make several loops of the gold thread as you did for the cotton floss. Space the metallic threads so that you have 4, 6, or 8 strands making a nice pattern on the button. Tie off your gold thread to the tail on the bottom like you did before.
Your button is now finished and ready to apply to your costume.
Pictured at right is a set of moss green buttons with gold thread attached to the epaulet shoulders of a green velvet gown.
Footnote: These buttons look like the ones pictured in Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620, by Janet Arnold (Macmillan/Drama Book, 1985) on pages 23-42, and in illustrations 148, 161-163, 178, 194, 268, and 298. There is absolutely NO documentation to prove that the method above is the way they were made. These instructions should not be considered as an authoritative source for documenting historical costuming techniques.
All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2000 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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