(Third in a series about the treasures in my grandmother’s sewing basket.)
Nanny’s sewing basket contained four or five envelopes of “Extra Buttons” that must have come with blouses or sweaters.
In my grandmother’s day, clothing was made to last. A tailored suit or a silk blouse might lose its buttons, but never its classic style. For the inevitable lost button, clothing was sold with replacements, which you tucked away in your button box or sewing basket.
This is still the case in fancy boutiques and upscale stores, but I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, and those extra buttons are long gone. Fortunately, thanks to my mother and grandmother, I have a lifetime supply. Every time my maternal elders made a skirt or dress, they bought buttons by the card, and tossed the extras into old metal tins. When a garment wore out, they cut off the buttons for a future project.
I grew up loving my mom’s button box, an old mint candy tin that, forty years ago, still smelled like peppermint. I’d pry off the lid, inhale the sweet smell, and run my fingers through the buttons of every size and color. They were reminders of last year’s coat, or Mom’s old sweater, or the dress she smocked for me when I was four.
After my grandmother moved to the nursing home and Mom inherited her sewing supplies, I discovered Nanny’s button box: an old, exotic pipe tobacco tin, boasting a product “manufactured from the very best quality of Virginia, Perique, Turkish and Havana tobacco.” I don’t know how old the buttons in it may be; I remember my mother telling me once that she recognized a few from her childhood. (She was born in 1926.)
Buttons were essential in those pre-Velcro days. Zippers were a newfangled but marvelous invention, and weren’t common in women’s clothing until the late 1930s. Heck, when my mom was little, even shoes had buttons. I think I found some shoe buttons in Nanny’s tin, but I won’t swear to it.
I can’t bring myself to part with any of the old buttons. I keep adding to Mom’s collection; her button box is now my button box. I dig into it from time to time, though I seldom sew anything that needs buttons. Still. You never know. Buttons come in handy. Just the other day I opened the box to put the finishing touch on a project.
I think it turned out pretty well: