Friday, April 22, 2011

Grindle Buttons

I seem to frequently end up with projects within projects within projects....

I'm stuck within one right now; just when I thought the end was in sight, I discovered the buttons I planned to use were just not "right" and neither were any others in my stash. So I'm currently creating a variant of grindle buttons, a needle lace technique.

I had made them previously for a silk vest and I've seen them used on original garments. They are formed over a mold of bone, wood or rag paper.

From a technique standpoint, they are related to Dorset buttons, which have a long history; button making was a cottage industry in the Dorset area of England dating back to at least 1650.

Initially the buttons were made from a disc of the horn of Dorset Sheep. The disk was covered with a piece of cloth and then overworked with a fine tracery of linen thread. The diameter of the buttons ranging from half an inch down to an unbelievable eighth of an inch.

During the early 1700's, the introduction of metal rings, which were cheaper and easier to use, transformed the industry.

In 1731, Blandford draper Robert Fisher opened a button “depot” at his shop, providing the cottagers with a central place to market their buttons, and other businessmen who needed buttons for their products could buy them in bulk. The buttons were sold at between eight-pence and three shillings a dozen, while the women workers averaged about two shillings a day for making six or seven dozen buttons.

While the pay was low, there were advantages: The women could work at home while tending to the needs of their families and weather was not the factor as with farm work, the only alternative. Wear and tear on clothing and shoes, and less physical fatigue, were other factors.

At the Great Exhibition in 1851, a Mr. John Ashton demonstrated a button making machine. It was a disaster for the cottage industry of Dorset, buttons could now be made at a fraction of the cost and at a far more rapid and reliable rate, all identical.

So here's the steps in making my grindle buttons:

1.) I found some domed wooden button molds in my workroom - that hole in the center is important - more later. The mold needs to covered with cloth, I picked some scraps that matched the thread I'd be using for the weaving.

I just did a running stitch around the edge of the fabric circle and snugged it up; it's important that the front be tight and smooth.

Then using perle cotton, I added the "spokes" that are used as the warp when weaving; I choose to have eight spokes. They need to be carefully spaced and stitched in place in the center - that's where the hole in mold is used. Once the molds are in place, the weaving starts; I used a backstitch. It's exciting to see the pattern begin to emerge!

It takes a long piece of thread, there's no way to invisibly add thread, so you need to start with all you need. These buttons have about 2 1/2 yards each, the black one up top has 9 yards of very fine silk thread.

The buttons can be sewn on using the fabric stub as a shank or a small buttonhole stitched loop can be added.

Here's a sneak peek at my project, I'll show more when/if it's ever finished!


  1. Very interesting post and thanks for sharing all the information of button making. You live in such a unique and beautiful place.

  2. how far to the back, do you keep weaving the spokes? thank u

    1. Hi Charline - It's not really necessary to weave much on the back, as it doesn't show when sewn on the garment; I tend to weave just a small amount on the back personally.

  3. Hello and thank you for the information! I do have a question though - How do you attach another piece of thread to complete your button? I've seen some buttons that have different colors, or if you just run out and need more. Thanks!