Button, button, who’s got the button(s)?

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Like many women of her generation, my grandmother saved buttons. She clipped them from old clothing before tearing things into rags for cleaning, tying tomato vines, or polishing shoes. She saved fancy buttons from her formal wear, small white buttons from my grandfather’s shirts, and various colored buttons from dresses, slacks, and blouses. Over the years these buttons were collected in a variety of boxes and bowls, jars and drawers. My sisters and I are now the owners of various buttons from this collection.

One of my first projects with these buttons was to embellish the tab-tops of store-bought curtains for the master bedroom. I’ve also used them occasionally on clothing. But when I was on the verge of becoming a grandmother, I found myself thinking more and more about my grandma. I wanted to capture something about her long life and relationship to family. I took one of my favorite pictures of her as a new bride, posing with my grandfather shortly after they married in 1920. The piece evolved organically: fabric that seemed subtle and sturdy that felt right for the era, a piece of doily (she loved to crochet), elements that connected the couple over time, and the repeating image itself as the basis for their long marriage. The buttons were added, then the black organza before sandwiching with batting and backing and finishing with gray flannel binding.

In Sunshine and in Shadow

The remaining buttons are spread around my sewing studio – some in baskets, some in jars, some in little piles on various shelves. They are visual reminders of a woman who although not worldly by today’s standards (she never drove a car, never rode in an airplane, never traveled by herself, and never held a job outside the home) set the bar high for the role of grandmother with her infinite patience and her innate understanding of how small things over time, like saving buttons, can add up to big differences.

Advice from 1949

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I admit – I was clueless.  All these years I’ve been sewing while there were dirty dishes on the counter, unmade beds, and without putting on lipstick!  I’m surprised I managed to focus on my projects and enjoy my studio time.  Now I am wiser, thanks to my friend Jody who passed on this priceless advice she recently came across.