I’ve been buying new buttons for the shop: pretty little carved coconut and shell, baby pastels, sparkly ones and sober wooden toggles. I love buttons and find the urge to buy irresistible, even though I have a tin of them at home.
It goes back I think, to my Aunty Myra, who had a substantial collection of buttons and the best sewing box ever. I used to visit when I was a wee bit younger and while the grown-ups talked, I would ‘tidy’ the box. Now my Aunty was a neat woman and her flat was always immaculate, so I now find it mysterious that her sewing equipment would require the ministrations of a 10 or 11 year old to keep it in good order. I tend to think that ‘tidying’ it largely meant opening boxes (sharp, lightly oiled pinking shears, tailors chalk, wooden spoils of thread) and poking around in the contents.
I seem to think that the box itself was wooden with one of those ingenious levering devices that lifted the top layer up and outwards to reveal the next layer: in any case all the interesting things were hidden in the darker recesses (tape measures that pinged back with a snap, assorted hooks and eyes, random zips) along with the button box. I keep my own stash of buttons in a whisky miniature tin, I don’t remember what Myra kept hers in, but it definitely made them rattle in a very satisfactory manner.
Inside it was the usual hotch-potch of random and largely indifferent buttons that most people hang on to, but stirring them with my fingers, an occasional jewel would rise to the surface and then plop back under the waves of grey suit and plain white shirt.
The odd thing about a button box, is that you very rarely find the buttons you need or in the quantity you require. I made a little baby cardigan recently and was overjoyed to find five matching pale green buttons: I usually have one less than I need or they’re far to small or much too big. I sewed them on, and found the next morning that they were not quite the right green. The button box had betrayed me again. Sadly I have always ensured that baby buttons are always sewed on especially safely. These not-quite-right buttons were staying. Whether I liked it or not.
A lovely little girl came into the shop a week or so ago and we looked at the buttons together – she loved the shiny ones, the coconut shell and the rainbow wood, the sparkly flowers too. I would like to think that one of these years she’ll be a knitter or a crocheter, with a button tin all of her own.