Monday, December 21, 2015

Dorset Buttons

Making Dorset buttons is addictive!!! With endless possibilities for both design and use, these sweet creations keep my mind spinning, my hands busy, and my heart pulsating!

Made with a few simple materials - thread or yarn, a metal or plastic ring, and a needle - Dorset buttons can be plain, like this one on a replica of a Victorian chemise.

Dorset button on Victorian chemise
Dorset buttons can include beads, like the center button and the two on the right below.

Dorset buttons with beads, made by Robin Atkins
Dorset buttons can be fancy like these, which I designed to suggest snowflakes.

Dorset buttons, snowflake pattern designed by Robin Atkins
Dorset buttons can be light or airy, like the ones above, or they can have a bit more visual weight like the one below, which is actually the same size (1 inch diameter) as the two above.

Dorset button, star pattern designed by Robin Atkins
Dorset buttons can be multi-colored. I designed this one to suggest a poinsettia. Hmmm... maybe I should try again?

Dorset button made by Robin Atkins
Dorset buttons can be made to resemble something, such as a tree.

Dorset button, tree design, made by Robin Atkins
Dorset buttons have many uses. Here is a Christmas ornament I recently made. It looks much prettier hanging (off the card) on a tree.

Dorset buttons, Christmas ornament, by Robin Atkins
And here are a few ideas for using Dorset buttons that I found on the web:

Dorset buttons on knitted sweater

Dorset button earrings

Dorset button on knitted cuff

Dorset buttons as necklace focal
It was easy to learn the basics from an online tutorial. After that, it was just a matter of searching images for "Dorset buttons" online, experimenting until I figured out how to make different patterns, and then starting to create some designs of my own.

Dorset button by Distinctivelacemore on Etsy
One thing that took me a while to figure out, was how to make the button shank. I only add a shank if I intend the button to be used as a button, and then only if I want the button to "stand apart a bit from the surface" like for use on a sweater. For purposes like the Victorian chemise at the top of this post, the traditional method of attaching the button would have been simply to sew through the central woven area of the button.

The hardest part was, and still is, finding suitable rings. Most of mine are made on plastic cafe curtain rings, available at Jo-Ann's or hardware stores. The rings must not have a gap, so if they are metal, they need to be soldered. Metal rings made with 16ga. wire would be perfect, but to get them custom made and soldered neatly, would probably be expensive. They would have to be made with a metal that would not tarnish or rust, if the buttons were to last and stay nice looking. Recommendations, anyone?

I use tapestry needles, because the blunt point is perfect for "weaving" the button center (or "rounding" as it is more properly called). So far, I've experimented only with pearl cotton thread, size 12 and 8. Next I'm going to try Danish Flower Thread, which has a matte finish. I can think of many possibilities for using beads too. Some of the designs I've seen on the web are so heavily beaded, that the thread is not even visible, which doesn't quite "work" for me. I like the idea of making the buttons with finger-weight yarn (or any yarn) as closures for knitted sweaters, or as decorations for knitted caps and mittens.

vintage Dorset buttons as originally sold on cards
Dorset buttons, first made in the early 1600's in England, were popular for a couple of centuries, until the mid 1800's. You can read more about the history here.  Some of these buttons, such as the ones above, now over 200 years old, are cherished (and occasionally sold) by button collectors.

If I don't post again for a while, I'm either making Dorset buttons or stitching hexies... you know how it is when obsessions take over!


  1. You have elevated Dorset's to a new, high, level! I love what you are doing! I have made them too and enjoy them, but your techniques just wow me. I found these some time ago and plan to order some... They come from the UK...hope that the link will show up....
    Merry merry mistletoe!

    1. Thanks, Marie! Yes, I considered buying these hollow brass rings... They are expensive... maybe after my skills improve. Merry merry mistletoe back at ya!

  2. You have a true, creative talent, Robin! These are stunning.

  3. I've never heard of these pretty buttons before. Your posts are always so interesting.
    Merry Christmas to you, Robin.

  4. We sell the Cabone rings in a bunch of sizes at Fabrics Plus.

  5. I have made these, but for use as broaches. My pattern is the tree of life and I use embroidery floss.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!