I love sewing clothes. I derive satisfaction from cutting the pieces out of the smallest possible amount of cloth. The rhythm of pinning and stitching is soothing. And I like having a garment for me or for someone I love at the end of the process. I don’t spend nearly as much time sewing as I’d like, and my main projects have been clergy shirts. That’s because they are fairly expensive to buy at around £40. When you know how much work goes into them, that’s not a bad price, but I like to chose colours I want to wear and make them myself now and again.
I’d bought some very cheap bright sky blue polycotton a few months back, and have been making it into shirts this weekend. The first one went well, until I arrived at the final stage – buttonholes and buttons. I thought I had bought buttons, and I had, but they were obviously for a different project – or I’d been having a bad colour day. So I went and found the button boxes.
I don’t know if other families have button boxes. In my case they are both tins. The old tea caddy on the right was my great grandmother’s (she was always known as Granny). It is rather full, so years ago Mum started her own, in the butterscotch tin on the right.
Tipping out a button box occupies a huge amount of time. It’s better than a photo album – I can touch the buttons that my Mum, Nana and Granny saved. Some of them are singles, some of them are sets that were bought and not used. My whole life is in these boxes – from the reindeer buttons from my first Christmas cardigan that my Mum knitted, through old summer dresses, the spare from the first cardigan I knitted, from clothes I helped Mum make, the buttons she bought for the cardigan she didn’t have strength to knit before she died, spares from my wedding dress, and from the first summer dress I made for my daughter.
But the buttons aren’t all about me. There’s the ones I remember from my Grandad’s jacket, the big toggles from Nana’s Camel coat (do those even exist today?). There are old WRNs buttons, Warwickshire Fire Service buttons, tiny pearl buttons, huge plastic ones that look very 1960’s to me, and dozens of shirt buttons. Each has a story. When I was small, I used to be allowed to play with them, a great way to recognise shapes, to learn to count, and to hear family history. A trip to the button boxes isn’t like a shopping foray for buttons, it’s reaching back into my family history.
I’ve never been to the button box and not found what I need. And so it was yesterday. The perfect size, colour, shape, weight, and exactly the right number. The button boxes are a gift from the women in my family to their daughters, a linking of past and future. I add to the contents every so often – those buttons that I bought which would have looked awful have joined the collection, and one day will be the answer to a future sewing project prayer.
And the shirt? Yes, finished, with enough fabric to make another. The colour rendition in this photo is poor – it’s the colour on the bright bit of shoulder all over. I made it while the United Kingdom celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – looking forward and looking back. This shirt is my own contribution to that spirit – thanks to Mum, Nana and Granny.